Motoring

EFTM Garage: Nissan Leaf Review

Make: Nissan
Model: Leaf
Variant: 40kWh
Engine / Transmission: electric
Manufacturer Claimed Fuel Economy: 0L/100km combined. 
Price: From $53,190 drive away

In a Nutshell: Full electric, family style. 

First Impressions: 

Electric cars – everyone is asking themselves the same question. Will our next car be electric? The answer is, if you recently purchased a new car and you change your car relatively infrequently, then it probably will be. Electric cars are advancing at a great rate with range improving simultaneously with price decreases. The Leaf is Nissan’s effort at all electric family transport. 

Tech Inside:

Nissan has thrown the kitchen sink at the Leaf. Along with leather trim, heated front seats and steering wheel, the Leaf also sports what Nissan labels ‘Nissan Intelligent Mobility’ – Nissan talk for automatic headlights, autonomous braking, active cruise control, 360 degree camera with front and rear parking sensors, and (a rather intrusive) lane departure warning system.

The Leaf’s most impressive feature is it’s electric drivetrain. Electric cars are just so much fun to drive and the Leaf is no exception. An additional element of fun is provided by Nissan’s ePedal. Selecting the ePedal really ramps up the Leaf’s regenerative braking capacity to the extent that, if you time it right, you won’t need to touch the brakes.

ePedal mode means that the driver can start, accelerate, decelerate and stop using just the throttle. Lift off the throttle and the e-Pedal “mimics stepping on the brake pedal, allowing the vehicle to slow down and even come to a complete stop”.

Nissan claims that “the e-Pedal makes driving simpler and more engaging”. It’s bloody good fun trying to see how long you can go without touching the brakes using just the ePedal and good anticipation of traffic movements.  

Most Impressive:

The 110kw and instant torque offered up by the Leaf’s 40KwH motor is ample and the 270km range is adequate for most circumstances. The five door mid-size hatchback platform used by the Leaf is also roomy and practical. It’s a good car, but I’m still not convinced that full electric is the answer for me. 

Not So Impressive:

My beef with the Leaf has nothing to do with Nissan and everything to do with the flexibility offered by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). For most of us, PHEV gives us most of the benefits of an electric car, with the range confidence offered by a back-up petrol engine. Unfortunately, range anxiety is real.

In the time the Leaf has been visiting the EFTM Garage we never ran out of charge, but I always had to think about it. How far am I going? Did I remember to pop it on charge? Is there somewhere to charge it when I get there? PHEV vehicles do away with all of these concerns.

Furthermore, with the exception of its rather special drivetrain, the Leaf is a bit plain. It has a perfectly adequate chassis, but provides very little feedback to the driver. The fit and finish seem fine, but regularly accessed buttons are often hidden among less commonly used switches.

For example, the button used to unlock the charging cable is placed next to the identically sized and patterned button for activating the heated steering wheel. I was constantly leaning into the car to unlock the cable before walking to the front of the car to hoick the cord, only to discover that I had hit the hot wheel button.

Mercedes-Benz has a much better solution, linking the cable lock to the central locking system. Meanwhile, small item storage in the cabin is limited by what seems to be an unnecessarily large and odd looking gear selector. Furthermore, the heated seat buttons look like they’ve been lifted from a JayCar catalogue.

Small issues such as these irritate. They are perhaps forgivable in a sub $30k family hatch, but the Leaf’s electric drivetrain pushes the price up to just over $50k; a price where these kinds of irregularities are far less easy to forgive. 

WHEN ON A TEST DRIVE: 

Take it on a good, long drive through the ‘burbs – I think you will find the ePedal addictive. 

EFTM Garage: Nissan Leaf Review
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