Nissan Leaf

When Nissan handed over the keys to a brand new Nissan Leaf Tekna and told me we would drive it 2,400km up to the top of a volcano, my interest was certainly piqued.

Convening at ITER in Tenerife, amongst bioclimatic domiciles powered by solar and wind, I tested the Nissan Leaf and updated E-NV200 within a living space that completely defines Nissan’s vision of the future.

The stunningly angry, red-raw landscape (thanks to active volcano Teide’s last eruption in 1909) is an idyllic setting to test the latest Nissan tech. There is certainly a poetic juxtaposition when driving through nature that is visually screaming at you in one of the quietest electric vehicles I have ever experienced. The Leaf is 30% quieter thanks to additional noise insulation on top of the existing insulation present in the previous generation.

What’s new?

The Leaf has been given a bigger battery, has more power and range is now stated as 235 miles NEDC. The car is also one of the first to undergo the new Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). WLTP offers Europe’s new range definition, giving customers more usable information over the evermore unrealistic NEDC figures used since the 80’s.

WLTP figures claim the Leaf will travel 168 miles in a combined city and highway environment, and 258 miles in city conditions. The accuracy of this will have to wait until I can drive one on a longer-term basis, but the shift towa rds giving WLTP figures can only be positive in terms of empowering drivers with range confidence.

The new powertrain gives a greater amount of efficiency: a 38% increase in power to 110kW (147hp), and a 26% increase in torque to 320Nm, turning the driving experience from ordinary to fun. Acceleration to 62mph takes just 7.9 seconds, compared to 11.5 seconds in the previous generation. Top speed is a modest but sufficient 89mph. Efficiency worked out at around 4.2 miles/kWh, which is more than the comparable e-Golf at around

  • miles/kWh, but less than the results I have seen in the Hyundai loniq (upwards of
  • miles/kWh).

A maximum 50kW CHAdeMO fast-charge takes between 40-60 minutes for a 0-80% fill. UK drivers will be pleased to know that there are more Nissan chargers in the country than any other type and they are heavily investing in fast chargers across Europe, with nearly 5,000 already in place.

150kW charging is sadly absent, despite Nissan investing in the placement of 150kW Fast-E chargers across Europe (a sign of future plans perhaps), but their priority at the moment is providing low-cost charging to customers, as opposed to super-fast.

For home-charging, the 7kW wall box (type 2) allows you to charge in around 7h30 and in the UK comes with a £500 OLEV grant.

Does it handle any better?

The chassis has been given a tune-up and you can tell from the ride comfort. Shock absorbers and springs have been balanced, the roll improved, as well as adjustments to body tension stiffness and centre of gravity. Those familiar with the previous generation will find that the driving experience has become smoother and more comfortable. Aerodynamics have also been improved and now take into account the effects of side winds.

In terms of handling, the Leaf sticks to the road incredibly well in corners and you feel confident when taking tight turns at speed. The steering wheel is a little on the light side for me, although this is true of the BMW i3, Tesla Model S and X. However, firmer steering is a personal preference and despite the lightness, it is very responsive, with a steering ratio of 3.2 to 2.6 lock-to-lock.

As before, there are two driving modes to choose between: D-mode, which gives you that instant sporty power, with maximum torque and engine response, or В-Mode, which aims to give more range through greater regeneration.

D-Mode is built for fun and one of the brilliant things about electric cars is that each and every one of them has the capability of giving the driver that sportscar-feel.

The drive has become lighter, smoother and more effortless compared to the previous generation. Pedals are a comfortable level of firmness with no give at the top, thankfully, although the accelerator has an odd bit of give at the very bottom when flat to the floor, for those “boost effect” situations.

I’m happy to see that Nissan has transformed the bug-eyed, bubble-booted design of the original model into something sleeker too and I am resolute that this now is a car that looks good for its class.

How practical is it?

The back seats are easily accessible, as the Leaf is a 5-door car and legroom is comfortable compared to other vehicles in a similar class. There is a slight increase in boot space too, now at 435-litres and the back seats are foldable with a 60/40 split bringing the maximum storage capacity to 1,176 litres, or 400 litres with the seats up and parcel shelf in place.

Unfortunately, there is no additional room in the rear for child seats compared to the previous model, which was an improvement some families had hoped for.

The interior is functional and a huge improvement but not particularly exciting. Top-spec leather is simple and stylish (if you like leather -1 don’t) but the dashboard and centre console feel cluttered with buttons that give the interior a 1980s Back to the Future Delorean vibe. This is a little surprising in such a modern, high- tech vehicle, although the finish itself feels high quality with some nice design accents highlighting the electric vehicle ambience.

The gear selector is confusing in its placement, with the stick itself completely remote from the diagram explaining how it functions.

And the infotainment system is disappointing too, with only a 7-inch low-quality colour touch-screen, surrounded by yet more buttons. The Leaf is in dire need of an update to the navigation system, which looks dated and emits strangely vague directions: “In about two kilometres, take a left.”

“In about 300 kilometres, take the first exit at the roundabout.” It’s polite, but disconcerting at the same time and the graphics are basic at best unlike the system in the e-Golf, for example.

Despite these shortcomings, in terms of connectivity the Leaf offers great mobile integration, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available as standard in Acenta trim (£24,290) and above or as an option for Visia.

It also features real-time information about nearby charge points, though sadly I was unable to test this in Tenerife. And of course the customer favourite; dimate- control was also present. This enables remote control of the vehicle’s temperature via an app, with defrosting, pre-heating or cooling possible at the touch of a button.

During our volcano expedition, I paid a great deal of attention to battery capacity as we made the ascent. The incline takes a big toll on range and by the time I had wound my way to the top, a 36-mile journey, the battery was down to 40%. The 55-mile return journey would not have been possible, so it seemed a great time to put the car to work and see how much energy could be recuperated on the way down. Reaching the bottom, some 2,400m below, the battery still reported 40%, so no additional energy was spent despite the extra 19 miles travelled.

What about technology?

One of the biggest talking points of the new Leaf is that it is absolutely packed full of tech with 12 sonars, 5 cameras, and 3 radars to bring a host of driver assist functions.

And the e-Pedal?

First, we have the highly anticipated e-Pedal, which is the new Leafs trump card and impressed me the most. There has been a lot of hype about e-Pedal and having spent a lot of time in a BMW i3 that offers one-pedal operation which is, perhaps, the closest comparable system on the market, I got behind the wheel (and pedals) with great expectation.

Put simply, e-Pedal means when you push on the accelerator you accelerate as usual, but by releasing it, you brake – and regenerate the battery. Win-win. The big difference is that it’s switchable, whereas the i3 isn’t.

Tenerife has roads with more twists, turns and inclines than I could have possibly imagined, plus quite a few terrifying cliff-drops, so this was perfect territory to test the e-Pedal. I engaged the function via the shifter button on the centre console as soon as the roads got interesting. The hype is justified.

E-Pedal is designed so well, that it is intuitive and feels like it can read your mind. The release of the pedal is intelligently responsive, so if you pull your foot upwards quickly, the car will brake heavily and if you release it gently, the car slows smoothly. If used correctly, there’s no sudden jolting and it should give passengers the smoothest drive of their life.

Nissan claim e-Pedal will reduce the use of the brakes by up to 90%. For me, it was 100% and I didn’t even feel the need to nervously hover near the left pedal, which for me makes this function the crowning achievement of the new Leaf.

Are there any autonomous functions?

Nissan’s semi-autonomous ProPilot system is an intelligent cruise control. Out on the highway it was easy to set up: the system is controlled via yet more buttons on the steering wheel. The first press activates the system in standby mode. A second press sets the desired speed, as is typical for a standard cruise control.

ProPilot then begins to monitor lanes and once the dash display turns green, the car has autonomy.

This is SAE Level 2 autonomy and of course, the driver must remain in control at all times with hands on the wheel. The car will shout at you, then eventually come to a complete stop with hazard lights on if your hands are off the wheel for too long… because it assumes you’ve died.

The function is generally good and similar to other lane assist software. The system does briefly waver close to a junction, as the car in front slows down and pulls off towards an exit ramp, but this is a common flaw with this type of system – they just don’t know where other traffic is headed and cannot yet anticipate like a human driver can.

ProPilot is sold as a complete system and therefore will not require over-the-air updates, as you often find in other vehicles’ autopilot systems.

In addition, there’s a ProPilot park function that claims to park the car autonomously with ‘no-hands no­feet’ input necessary, in both bay- and parallel-parking scenarios. Simply line the car up near to the desired space using the on-board cameras, select the space on the touch-screen, let go of everything and press and hold the ProPilot Park button. The car does the rest.

It’s definitely a function to show off to your friends, but as with all park-assist systems, it would be quicker to do it manually. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive function that could prove useful to those lacking in parking confidence.

So what do you think?

Nissan has been an instrumental force in the electric car revolution and its knowledge stems from a healthy foundation of experience, with over two billion electric miles driven by Nissan customers. In fact, one in every four electric cars on the road today is a Nissan.

More than solely selling you a car, Nissan wants to encourage an entirely new lifestyle as the company launches its ‘Electric Ecosystem’. The concept encompasses charging solutions for the home, business, on the road, recycling batteries with a second-life and selling solar panels.

The goal is to give customers ‘free’ power and therefore free (or as low cost as possible) charging of electric vehicles. This has been prioritised over charging speed, because Nissan believe the focus on cost-friendly options such as overnight charging is what their budget­conscious customers care about most.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf will hit European showrooms in early February, with four different trim levels to choose from, all equipped with the new 40kWh battery.

Pricing is extremely competitive, with Nissan sticking to its promise to keep the new model no more expensive than the previous Leaf – instead, it is up to £1,500 cheaper with like-for-like trim.

The two-tone monochrome exterior is the most flattering version, but Nissan also offer a range of 10 colours to choose from.

Entry-level VISIA spec starts from £21,990 and the highest-priced model, containing every bell and whistle you could wish for as standard, is available from £27,490. Both these prices are inclusive of the £4,500 plug-in car grant available in the UK.

But I’m tempted by a Model 3…

If you’re on the Tesla Model 3 waiting list but are worried if it will ever arrive (and the eventual cost after adding all the desirable options) then it might be time to rethink things and it’s well worth taking the new Leaf for a spin before committing. Either way, Nissan will launch a bigger battery version at the end of the year that should take the fight to Tesla more directly than this 40kWh model… and you never know, it might benefit from a nice new infotainment screen, updated navigation system and fewer buttons!

Overall then?

All jokes aside, keen pricing combined with its timing to market and the compelling execution of the product is what Nissan believes to be the crucial ingredients for the new Leafs success. And with 12,000 pre-orders made in just 90 days, plus a thumbs-up from me, I think Nissan has achieved its goals.

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