Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf


What is it?

Most carmakers are still up to two years from launching their first proper standalone mainstream electric cars. Yet here’s Nissan launching a full second generation of the Leaf. Even in its final months of production, the outgoing Leaf was outselling in Britain all other pure-EVs put together.

That original Leaf has amazingly loyal and satisfied customers. They loved the tiny running costs, convenience of home charging, silence, and simple practicality. And they liked that at the top and bottom it was just a car - five seats, good boot, easy to drive, affordable to buy. People who have owned electric cars almost never return to combustion.

But that first Leaf had weaknesses. In a world where Tesla got the headlines if not the sales leadership, it was slow and lacking in range (though it got better with the 30kWh battery upgrade). It looked odd. And as all cars got better connectivity and driver assist, the Leaf needed upgrades there too.

So those are the new Leaf’s promises. Quicker, further-reaching between charges, better-looking, more assistance. And prices are lower, model for model.

The motor is the same as before. But a new inverter – the heavy-duty electronic device that supplies and controls the electricity going around the car – is more powerful. So the motor can now develop much more power, 150bhp, and the 0-62 time falls to 7.9sec.

The battery is the same physical size as it always was, but new chemistry and management means it has a capacity of 40kWh. Nissan has tested it in the new more realistic global test protocol, WLTP, and got 168 miles’ range. On the existing if discredited EU cycle it gets 235 miles.

Nissan is also busily installing more high-power DC chargers – it already has twice as many across Europe as Tesla has Superchargers. But then with shorter range than a Tesla you need visit them more often in a journey


What is it like on the road?

It’s all very simple and relaxing if you fall into its way of doing things - smooth and silent and serene. Try and drive it like a GTI and of course it’ll push back at you.

It’s not slow though. Up to about 50mph it has a definite spring in its step, and even at motorway speed there’s enough acceleration. And it’s practically silent as well as bewitchingly quick-witted. It gives the impression it was always impatient to accelerate and was just waiting for you, by pressing the pedal, to allow it to do so.

Don’t get carried away on the motorway though. Doing outside-lane speeds drives a coach and horses through your range.

Uphills do the same, but of course what goes up must come down. On our test route we drove up a 2,400m mountain. The battery charge fell scarily on the way up. Then on the way down to sea level we clawed back 11 percentage points by careful use of regeneration.

But that’s an odd style of driving. You try to avoid sudden acceleration and braking. But in bends you’re frantically conserving your speed. So there’s an unnatural combination of low longitudinal g but high lateral.

Still, hooning up and down mountain passes isn’t what this car is for. In normal driving, the silent exactness of its power is what enchants you.

A new ‘e-Pedal’ system means you can get strong regenerative braking, and also some blended friction braking, just by lifting off the accelerator. It means you can avoid the brake pedal most of the time. It’s a surprisingly relaxing and simple way to drive. You sharpen up your anticipation skills, and that’s quite fun in itself.

The e-Pedal’s electronics take care of deciding when to bring in the friction brakes and, by separate calculation, when to illuminate the brake lights. It generally (unless the battery is full so can’t take regen energy) will favour electric retardation over the brakes until very low speed. You need only use the actual brake pedal for events over 0.2g.

Flat and predictable cornering is a natural result of a low centre of gravity. Swinging through open bends is surprising fun, partly because you can meter the power with such precision and the responses to the steering wheel are nicely progressive. The Leaf sits stable on a motorway too. But the steering is depressingly remote of feel and the low-resistance tyres don’t cling very gamely, and the damping can get flustered.

The top-rung Tekna version comes with radar cruise control including lane following and traffic jam assist. Nissan calls the bundle ProPilot and makes rather a fuss of it. It’s unusual in the hatch segment, but not unique, and bigger cars frequently have it. Like every other such system, the steering assist is easily caught out by things like repair lines in the road, or glare.

All except base trim get radar cruise, but without the steering function. All Leafs also get radar sensors feeding cross-traffic assist for reversing, and blind-spot warning. Much more useful.

The ride isn’t too hard, but it can get a bit bobbly if the road excites that frequency. The absence of engine noise means you notice the sound of tyres and wind, but actually those things are decently subdued and you don’t have to turn up the stereo.