(Pocket-lint) - While many manufacturers are posturing and pontificating about plans for the electrification of their cars, Nissan is releasing a proper second-gen electric vehicle, the new Nissan Leaf.
The world has changed a lot since the 2010 launch of the original Leaf and electrification is very much on the agenda for everyone.
While a company like Tesla might be taking many of the headlines and adding a spark to electric cars, it's Nissan who has the wealth of experience and in reality, the Leaf is probably the car that suits more UK drivers.
So is this the hottest electric car on the road?
Design: Turning over a new leaf
- New sportier design
- 435 litre boot
One of the first electric cars we ever saw was the G-Whiz. We say car, but it's difficult to politely say what it actually looks like. Suffice to say it was weird and there was a hint of weird about the original Leaf too. Some of this comes down to aerodynamic design, looking for efficiencies and it's something we see in the likes of the Hyundai Ioniq and the Toyota Prius, for example, too.
The new Leaf, however, very much removes the stigma of EV weirdness that the old Leaf design might carry. This is now a much more contemporary-looking car, with creases and angles in the bodywork as you might find on any other 5-door hatch. In many ways, it's a car more ordinary.
On the positive side, people are less likely to look at the design and then decide to buy a Golf instead (remember, there's an e-Golf too), but at the same time (and this could be a negative), the new Leaf might not stand out as an EV as it did before. Place it alongside the new Micra or Qashqai and you can see the family resemblance and it's no way as grand as something like the BMW i3.
There's a lot we like about the design though. It's well proportioned, there's a competitive boot size (larger than the old Leaf) and the option for a two-tone finish with a contrasting roof colour makes it thoroughly modern, with the pearl white body and metallic black roof looking dashing.
Touches of blue remind you that this is an electric car (because blue has become colour de rigueur for EVs), while new headlights give you a sportier look. With so much change, there's lots of appeal to the new Leaf, whether you're buying for it for zero tailpipe emissions, or just because you want a new car.
About the only downside is that the rake of the windscreen has resulted in rather thick A pillars and there's no option to make the steering wheel higher - fairly minor grievances.
New Leaf interior
- Lift in quality over the older, but won't match higher marques
Slip into the driving seat and the contrast with the old Leaf is remarkable. Again, it's a move towards a feeling of being more normal. About the only throwback to the older Leaf is the drive selector knob and some remaining black glossy plastic trim in places. However, everything feels more considered now, with quality touches across the cabin.
We've only driven the Tekna grade - the top trim level - so we can't be entirely certain how this trim changes on lower tiers, but at this top level there's plenty to like. Leather carries blue stitching, bringing a lift to the leading edge of the dashboard and elbow touch points, as well as the seats.
Those seats are plenty comfortable, offering support to stop you rolling around when you hit those fast corners and leaving a sporty impression. On this level you also get heated seats in the front and rear, as well as a heated steering wheel.
The new layout of the interior shares switches with other Nissans, with the central 7-inch display (again, depending on your trim level) offering both touch and buttons. While you can hit the map button on the display, pressing the physical buttons keeps fingerprint mess to a minimum. That said, 7-inches isn't huge and Nissan could have probably evolved away from those physical buttons with a larger display with a keener focus on UI.
In terms of quality it's bettered by the likes of the BMW or VW e-Golf, but it does have the edge over the Hyundai Ioniq - although this is reflected generally in the prices across these models. The new Nissan Leaf starts at just £21,990, but in the Tekna trim rolls out at £27,490
At the base of the centre pillar you'll find a USB socket sitting above a small cubby hole which is perfect for dropping your phone into - and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on offer (yay!) it's a convenient layout.
The strange flattened drive selector remains from the old Leaf and we're still puzzled by its design. Why, when there are plenty of other implementations for automatics, does the Leaf have this strange nubbin? Still, it gives a little character and reminds you that you're sitting in a Leaf.
Slip into the rear and you'll find there's appreciable headroom - even as an adult over 6 foot, even if the knee space isn't huge - but then what 5-door hatch is huge in the back seat? The boot space is also now larger than before at 435 litres, competitive for this class of car, achieved thanks to Nissan rearranging some of the internals to give you more usable space than before.
What is the range of the new Leaf?
- 40kWh battery
- 235 miles (NEDC)
- 258 miles WLTP city cycle, 168 miles WLTP combined cycle
- 0-62 in 7.9 seconds
The Leaf offers keyless entry and start on all models, so it's simply a case of punching the power button. About the only noise you'll get is the climate control fans turning on as the driver display blinks to life. This is a split display, with a regular speedo sitting on the right and occupying about a third of the space, with the rest being a digital display.
This gives you the chance to change a lot of the information around to your preference, or flick through various other information displays. We suspect that most will opt for the power meter a lot of time, which shows you how much you're expending and how much you're recouping through regeneration.
The new Leaf is equipped with a 40kWh battery, so this is larger than all previous models. This larger battery gives greater range although physically it fills the same space as the old 30kWh battery did. The official figures come in at 235 miles (NEDC, if you want to compare to other electric vehicles - the old Leaf was 155 miles on this test), but the new Leaf has also been measured using the new WLTP testing (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure).
This is a new testing standard that you'll probably be hearing a lot about in the future as it's designed to test in much more modern conditions than the old NEDC test. The Leaf comes in at 258 miles for the city cycle, or 168 miles on the combined cycle on the WLTP test.
Along with increased range over the older model there's more power too, generating 110kW, which is about 150ps and meaning you can get from 0-62mph in about 7.9 seconds. But the thing that you really feel is the 320Nm torque. We all know that electric vehicles are good at delivering all their power instantly and that's how the Leaf feels.
So that 0-62mph figure is a little misleading, because when you put your foot down, the Leaf silently leaps towards the horizon. That makes it a pleasure to drive, because pulling onto the motorway sees no lack of power to get you up to speed, or overtaking a cyclist heading uphill is a breeze.
The result is that the Leaf feels rather nimble on its wheels. It's a spritely little car as happy keeping pace on the motorway as it is being the first away from the lights in urban driving; it feels distinctly without compromise.
The car has been setup for more of a sporty feel than you might expect, extending some of those design characteristics to the drive. We like the weight of the steering, which brings positivity, with the control to keep you headed where you're pointed. It's a lot of fun to drive and it's very comfortable too.
There isn't a huge amount of noise either. Naturally, there's no engine noise or exhaust tune to think about, just the soft whirr of the aircon fans. As you get going there's tyre noise and at higher speeds some wind noise, although it's certainly not bad at all. Travelling at 70mph on the motorway, there's still a feeling of relative tranquillity.
How does the Nissan Leaf e-Pedal work?
- Accelerator offers lift-off regeneration
- D, B and eco drive modes offered
One of the "innovations" that the new Leaf offers is the e-Pedal. Nissan says this will change the way you drive, so it's worth talking about a little more. For those familiar with the EVs, what e-Pedal really does is link energy regeneration with lifting off the accelerator. That added braking effect from the motor means you have to use the brake less, effectively reducing wasted energy.
Saying it will change the way you drive might be a little over the top, but it's certainly an interesting feature. The e-Pedal is optional, something you have to toggle on using the switch - and exists alongside eco mode and the D and B driving modes.
Using e-Pedal, regeneration starts as soon as you lift off, so the car won't coast. It's a similar set-up to the regeneration in the Hyundai Ioniq Electric (although the implementation is much simpler for the driver in the Leaf) and the result is that you can use the motor to slow the car rather than hitting the brake. The BMW i3 offers the same setup with lift-off regeneration, so also offers a similar one-pedal driving approach.
The e-Pedal also smartly balances its action based on the charge state of the car, so if you're at 100 per cent charge and you lift off, then it's the friction brakes that then slow the car - but it's a seamless balance between the motor and the brakes, so it's just a smooth slowing of the car.
We put this to test descending Mount Teide in Tenerife, about a 2000m descent and there was no need to use the brake. However, there is a decision to be made on the balance between regeneration and maintaining momentum - because losing too much speed will mean you have to accelerate again. Such is the fun of EV driving. Importantly, once you're driving, e-Pedal makes perfect sense so you'll barely have to think about it.
What's less fun is the eco mode. As in the old Leaf, hitting the eco button will give you the longest range, but at the same time the throttle response is tempered (amongst other things) and with the pace goes a lot of the fun of driving this car.
How do I charge the Nissan Leaf?
Nissan aims to make charging as easy as possible, because the change in mind-set from petrol station to power point is one of the barriers to ownership. The new Leaf is setup for three methods of charging:
- 50kW - fast charging, 40-60 minutes to 80 per cent
- 7kW - wallbox, 7.5 hours - offered free
- Domestic wall socket, 21 hours
These are the official numbers that Nissan supplies, so we'll just pick them apart. The fastest charging is from installed CHAdeMO chargers that use DC to charge your car. From when you get the low battery warning on your Leaf, you can be back to 80 per cent charge in 40-60 minutes.
These CHAdeMO chargers are dotted around the UK (checkout www.plugshare.com to locate them) in places like supermarket car parks, petrol stations, pubs and so on and have the cable attached to them.
Nissan supplies the cables for both the other types of charging, connecting to an installed domestic wallbox (new Leaf customers are also eligible for a free installation of a charger, which is a great benefit), some installed public chargers, or simply plugging into a wall socket.
That bigger battery means longer charging times, although the charging rate in the car has been increased over the old Leaf to keep things moving along.
Being able to charge from a regular domestic wall socket means that in most situations, wherever you find yourself, you'll be able to somehow plug the car in, but with an ever-expanding electric charging network, routing via a charger or finding one in a public car park isn't difficult. That may change over the next few years as demand increases - but we suspect that the vast majority of owners will be charging at home most of the time.
Of course, the prices you'll pay depend on lots of factors - at home your domestic tariff and in public, which charging service you might choose to join, for example, Polar Network. Ultimately how you arrange your charging will be dictated by how you use your car: if you make short trips to school and the supermarket, charging at home might be all you need. If you roam wider on a regular basis, then that needs to be considered too - can you charge at your place of work and so on?
An EV loaded with technology
- ProPilot Parking
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Parking cameras and all-round detection
- Banging sound system
There's no shortage of technology in the Nissan Leaf. Leaving aside the fact that it's electric and there's a lot of technology involved in that, there's a lot of driver assistance features too.
First up, there's the option for ProPilot - something that's included on the top Tekna trim. ProPilot offers a combination of adaptive cruise control with active lane guidance. It's really designed for use on motorways and dual carriageways and can be engaged with a press of the steering-wheel button.
This can then set and monitor the distance from the vehicle in front and then handle acceleration and braking to keep you at your chosen distance and speed. It will then identify the lane markings left and right to keep you in the lane - and in this case it's not just a warning about departure, but it physically handles the steering to keep the car in lane too. For those of a more technical mind, this counts as SAE autonomy level 2.
It is, however, like all these systems, designed as driver assistance, so if you let go of the steering wheel, it will alert you, before eventually slowing you to a halt with your hazard lights on - because it will assume you have been incapacitated in some way.
In practice ProPilot works very well in motorway driving. The adaptive cruise control works as many other similar systems do and we found the steering could handle most motorway driving without intervention. However, if the roads are poor, it might struggle to identify exactly where the lines are and revert control back to the driver - which happened to us on some rougher patches of road.
There's also automatic parking in the form of ProPilot Parking. This will execute a parallel or straight parking manoeuvre, identifying the space and letting you park the car - with steering and movement handled by the vehicle, for total simplicity.
Outside of the driving features there's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offered at some trim levels, meaning you can change the central touchscreen into the platform of your choice, with easy access to music, calls and navigation, if you wish.
The car's own navigation is pretty good and will give you features like finding charging stations, as well as highlighting if you won't have the range to reach your destination, so you can include a charging stop on the route (remember, if you stop at one of those CHAdeMO chargers, you'll only need a coffee and a comfort stop and you'll then have a good charge again).
We also had the enhanced Bose 7-speaker sound system on our Tekna grade test car and it's very good. The lack of background noise helps here too.
Finally there's the NissanConnect EV app. This gives you a link to your car from your smartphone so that you can do various things from outside the car. One example is preheating - so that while your car is still connected to the charge, you can pre-condition the internal temperature, demist or defrost the windows and so on, so the car is ready to drive as soon as you step out of your front door.
The new Nissan Leaf very much takes the lessons learnt from the old Leaf and results in a car that's practical, comfortable, and a lot of fun to drive. There's greater appeal in the design, greater range and lots of technology in this electric car, so if never feels like you're missing out - in fact, it feels very much the rival of any other hatchback you might be considering.
But the competition has stepped up in recent years. Some might be drawn to the Hyundai's affordable Ioniq or more familiar and conventional e-Golf, but the new Leaf's bigger battery puts both in the shade. There's the badge appeal of the BMW i3 which is much more of a statement on the inside - but much more expensive too.
For us the new Nissan Leaf is something of a triumph. It's a hatchback with few compromises, it drives well, it's comfortable and there's plenty to keep you connected, entertained and safe on the roads.
The new Nissan Leaf shouldn't just appeal to those looking for an electric car, but anyone looking for a new compact hatchback.
Alternatives to consider...
Hyundai's pure electric is one of the more affordable electric models on the road, but is still very well equipped in terms of technologies. It can't match the Leaf's range because it houses a smaller battery and the paddle-based regeneration options are a little less easy to grasp than Nissan's e-Pedal. The Leaf also offers a higher quality interior, but the Ioniq offers a little more space and a little lower price.
The BMW i3 has become rather iconic and is certainly a leader when it comes to design, especially on the interior of this car. That badge also carries some pedigree with it, but then it's a slightly more expensive model too and again, the battery isn't as capacious as that of the Leaf, so it can't match the range.
If cost is a concern, then the Zoe comes up trumps. It's the smallest of latest breed of electric vehicles as well as having one of the shortest ranges, but if you're after a compact city car, the Zoe is where you should be looking. It's fun and well engineered, if not trying to reach to the higher levels that some of the alternatives are. What you do get, however, is emission free motoring for not a lot of money.