Nissan Leaf — The new face of EVs

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Nissan has redesigned its all-electric Leaf for 2018, the first total remake since its introduction in the fall of 2010 as a 2011 model. Electric vehicles in general and the Leaf in particular have come a long way in those seven years. For instance, the new Leaf has a noticeable change in styling, considerably more horsepower, more range, a bigger battery, more technology and more cargo space than the 2011 model — and it doesn't cost any more.

The best-selling mainstream electric Leaf now has 147 horsepower compared to the 107 generated by the original model, battery power has increased from 24-kWh to 40-kWh. Driving range has gone from 84 miles to 150 miles on a charge. And the new-found horsepower and torque have turned the Leaf into a solid road warrior with 0-to-60 time measured at 7.4 seconds. Nissan says there’s a Leaf+ model coming for 2019 with a 60.0 kWh pack and a range above 200 miles.

One thing that hasn't changed with the new Leaf is the range anxiety it can inflict on its users. That's the fear that you will run out of charge before you reach your destination, a fear made real by the fact you just can't pull into a station like a gasoline-driven car and "fill it up." Charging stations are few and very far between in most areas of the country and even a fast charge will take 40 minutes to replenish the Leaf to 80 percent.

We experienced range anxiety in the 2011 model. And that anxiety was repeated during our test of the 2018 model. This time we were about 30 miles from home base arriving at one of our favorite restaurants with only about 35 miles left on the clock. Could we make it home? We decided not to risk it and Googled up five or six public charging stations nearby.

It gave us the electrified relief we needed. Problem was that all these stations were 240-volt units, not the fast chargers, and we sat making conversation for nearly an hour while adding only about 20 miles range — but it was enough.

Inside the new Leaf, the cabin felt quite roomy, more upscale and modern looking. We found the seats to be comfortable. Disappointingly, the inability to telescope the steering wheel did make a difference in driver comfort. It does, however, adjust up and down.

Nissan chose, for the most part, to stick with buttons and switches and a fairly unresponsive and dated seven-inch touchscreen for operational controls. Some drivers still prefer the buttons and knobs, but for those who don’t, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available options.

Nissan made a strong point for the two new features they are most proud of: e-Pedal and ProPILOT Assist. Nissan’s e-Pedal is a one-pedal driving mode where regenerative engine braking can bring the car to a complete halt without using the brake pedal. Once stopped, in a feature unique to Nissan, the e-Pedal uses friction brakes to actually hold the car on an incline; no energy is lost in the process. It didn’t take long to get used to it, and we used it effectively.

ProPILOT Assist works like a mild form of autopilot. It works well, using painted lines on road surfaces to keep the car in the lane, using adaptive cruise control. The best part of the feature is that it keeps you in the center of your lane rather than ping-ponging right then left, etc. One need only keep a light touch on the steering wheel for the system to detect your hands, which we think is counterintuitive for
autonomous driving. Taking your hands completely off the steering wheel will trigger an audible and haptic (steering wheel vibrates) warning to put your hands on the wheel. Failure to do so will cause the vehicle to slow and come to a complete stop. Also know that the system does not work well on winding roads will not change lanes for you.

Standard on all Leafs is e-Pedal, while ProPILOT Assist is available as pa
rt of the $2,200 technology package option on SV models and included as a $650 option on SL models.

The standard Leaf 2.0 sells for about $30,000; our loaded SL trim level test car carried a bottom line of $38,510. Note there are still federal government subsidies in the form of tax credits up to $7,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Additionally, several states and even some cities offer incentives on top of the federal incentive.

Base price: $30,875; as driven, $38,510
Engine: Electric
Battery power: 40 kWh
Horsepower: 147 @ 3,282 rpm
Torque: 236 foot-pounds @ 0 rpm
Transmission: One-speed direct drive
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 176.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,508 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 23.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 150 miles (electric)
EPA rating: 125 city, 100 highway, 112 combined
0-60: 7.4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Bolt, Volkswagen eGolf, Hyundai Ioniq EV

The Good
• Longer range than outgoing model
• Excellent performance
• Loaded with safety equipment

The Bad
• Over-hyped ProPILOT Assist system

The Ugly
• We expected more driving range