The Nissan Leaf is the number one selling EV car in the world, with 300,000 getting around globally. Although less than one per cent of all cars sold are fully electric, it’s clear that Nissan has created a viable product for those who choose to skip petrol stations. Today in Las Vegas I had the chance to drive the 2018 Nissan Leaf out to the scenic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
The new Leaf is a clean sheet design with a more powerful 40kWh battery and subsequent improved range of up to 400km. It no longer looks like an annoying little EV bug, instead it has transformed into a rather sharp, dynamic and even handsome package.
Nissan has also crammed in a couple of key new technologies. ProPilot assist introduces level two autonomous driving to the Leaf. While a new e-Pedal concept allows for aggressive engine braking, basically removing the need for touching the brake pedal at all in day-to-day traffic conditions. This kind of tech is already found in Tesla vehicles, but is a worthy addition to an EV car at this price point.
The interior is semi-premium, the top of the range SL model I drove featured comfortable leather seats and unique blue stitching throughout the cabin. The 7-inch, full-colour TFT display instrument panel and steering wheel are a feature found in all Nissan electric vehicles such as the Rogue, the American version of the Pathfinder. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto has also been added.
Like all EV cars the Leaf does things a little differently than a conventional car. Engaging drive is done via a kind of ergonomic gear mouse, the electric handbrake automatically releases when throttle is applied and off you go in complete silence. In normal b-road traffic, you immediately flick the e-Pedal slider switch to engage throttle lift-off engine braking. It takes a little getting used to the fact you literally need to feather the pedal gently enough to avoid pulling up way to short at a set of lights for example. At first, it’s a little disconcerting but when you see how effective it is at sending power back into the battery it all makes sense. In fact it’s a far more efficient way of conserving range rather than using actual regenerative braking.
The ProPilot Assist in terms of already established technology is near perfect in it’s execution. Some poorer calibrated systems tend to bounce from left to right when trying to stick to a lane. I felt the system on Vegas’ multi-lane freeways did an admirable job of sticking dead on centre, even around reasonably long sweeping bends. Of course, the very last thing Nissan wants is for people to feel this is “hands off” driving. But you can relax you hands and let the array of sensors and radars do their work. Should you try to take your hands off, the car will start to warn you after seven or eight seconds and eventually come to a stop.
The ride is serene and well insulated, there’s a level of tyre and road noise but this is not uncommon for otherwise silent EV cars. Dynamically the Leaf performs quite well, with the battery sitting under the cabin, the low centre of gravity certainly aids balance. However the ride was a little floaty on some of the more curvy, undulating roads leading up to Red Rock. The steering was reasonably light and not conducive to having a red hot go. I also doubt the eco tyres would like to be pushed too hard either, but hey we are taking about a Leaf.
The new drivetrain produces 110Kw and a torque figure of 320Nm that is on tap instantly. Power off the mark is adequate without being a dramatic stunt like some other EV efforts. The instant torque is most useful for the sprint to 50km/h, the dash to 100km/h is sluggish taking eight seconds.
Charging the Leaf is a 16-hour affair with a 3Kw connection or 8-hours with a more powerful 6Kw station. Public charge points, that are everywhere in the US, provide a quick 80 per cent chargein 40 minutes.
Estimates suggest the Leaf will sit around the $50,000 mark once it arrives late this year, solid money for a hatchback but significantly cheaper than the BMW i3
EFTM Rubber Stamp of Approval.
The Nissan Leaf is not a car I’d ever personally consider because I’m just not into EV cars yet. I’d also like to see how it drives in Australian conditions. But the 2018 car has a level of autonomous tech that rivals the best in class, has a practical range and now looks the part as well. After my brief stint I suspect the Nissan Leaf would sit in the EFTM Credit Rubber Stamp of Approval category.