(Pocket-lint) - It's fair to say that the original Leaf was something of a pioneer. Nissan was a long way ahead of rivals in getting an electric car on the road and many lessons from the first vehicle roll into this newer second-gen version.
We were impressed with the Leaf when it first launched in this new guise - and we've been living with the standard edition for many months - but as range continues to be one of the big challenges that electric cars face, Nissan's solution is this: the Leaf e+.
In 2018 the Nissan Leaf was the best-selling electric car in Europe, but there are now a lot more challengers and choices. Does the e+ see Nissan keeping up?
From the exterior, there's no way to tell the difference between the Leaf e+ and the lower range and lower power Leaf. This "new" model has the same advantages as the regular version, with the same overall design, options for some great two-colour finishes and all the drama of those angles.
It's not exactly unique though. These design features now flow across the Nissan family and you can see this wide V-shape grille surrounded by angles in the smaller Micra and the larger Qashqai. The Leaf e+ sits in the middle, not only as an electric car, but as an electric hatchback.
In some ways it's avoiding the crossover trend, not really sitting high enough on the road to compete with the visibility of popular SUVs. But at the same time the Nissan Leaf isn't small and it will accommodate a family of four in comfort, with a fairly generous boot space too, thanks to the proportionality of the interior.
What's interesting about the boot is that it has depth rather than a flat floor - as there's no spare wheel - but we like these boot designs because it means that your shopping doesn't fall out when you open the rear door.
As we said, this car is exactly the same design as the standard Leaf, but it only comes in Tekna grade. While that means you get a great spec of vehicle, you don't get the option to pick a lower trim to keep the price down. It's perhaps a shrewd move from Nissan, but does mean that it feels rather expensive compared to some competition.
There are options for colours, as well as the option to take smaller wheels. Those looking for efficiency will likely take the smaller, while the larger might suit those wanting to boost the exterior looks.
More power, more range
While the car looks the same as the 'non-plus' version, the big difference is the increase in battery from 40kWh to 62kWh and a boost from 150PS to 217PS (with more power coming from the motor). The most critical factor will be that the range is boosted up to 239 miles - according to Nissan's figures.
Our standard Nissan Leaf 40kWh puts in around 150 miles per charge on average (the official figure is 168 miles combined) and the Leaf e+ can see that rise to about 240 miles - a difference that's not to be sniffed at.
That increased range brings the Leaf e+ closer to the likes of the Tesla Model 3, which is similarly priced, and the Kia e-Niro, which is a healthy bit cheaper and manages to squeeze more range out of a battery that's only a little bit larger. Driving an electric car with well over 200 miles of range brings relief from range anxiety.
What's important, however, is how efficient the car is. While the Leaf e+ is more powerful, it means there's greater potential to use that battery at a quicker rate. Flip off eco mode and put your foot down and the Leaf e+ comes to life, sprinting off the line with great pace, dumping battery life as it does so.
The increase in power is perhaps of questionable value, so we're firmly in the camp of leaving it in eco and using Nissan's e-pedal to keep getting as much regeneration going as possible (where auto-braking pushes some energy back into the battery for greater efficiency, hence the term 'regen' cropping up a lot).
The e-pedal is highlighted as one of the benefits of the Leaf over some other models: it essentially means you drive the car without using the brake pedal at all. The e-pedal will slow the car to a complete halt when you lift off the accelerator, varying the level of regen based on the conditions.
When at slow speeds the e-pedal is rather heavy on the regen, slowing the car quickly - and in some cases rather abruptly. On the motorway it's a slightly lighter touch - but there's no coasting, so if you ease up on the power, the car will slow down. There's a slight learning curve here, but after a few days you get a feel for it and you can get the car to stop exactly where you want it with some skill. And it's not like there's no brake pedal, that's always there if you need it.
We get the sense that Nissan is using its regen a little better than some competitors and you're rewarded in stop-start driving as a result. It's not an exact science, but that's the perception we have from living with e-pedal. Where the Leaf e+ doesn't seem so efficient is out on the motorway where range seems to fall away faster than you might expect. Certainly, in mixed driving with motorway miles, we weren't able to get the sort of efficiency that we got from the Kia e-Niro: in the Leaf e+ we averaged about 3.7 miles per kW, which would result in a real-world range of about 230 miles.
Charging rapidly comes courtesy of CHAdeMO which sits alongside a standard type 2 socket on the front of the car for slower charging. The Nissan Leaf e+ will charge at up to 100kW, if you can find a high rated charger. Naturally, having a bigger battery means it takes longer to charge than the regular version, but we suspect most buyers will be looking at home charging overnight.
How does it drive?
The Nissan Leaf e+ is actually a sophisticated drive. The suspension gives a firm but controlled ride; firm enough to keep the car stable, but also benefitting from the lower height than some crossover rivals - meaning it doesn't lean quite as much in the corners. It feels a little smoother over suburban speed bumps than the Kia e-Niro, able to take them at a little greater speed.
The steering can be exceptionally light at low speeds, fantastically easy to manoeuvre when parking, but also feeling a little disconnected as a result - it weights up a little as the speed increases.
We mentioned the increased power and it would perhaps be remiss not to talking about that further. Flip off the eco mode and the Leaf e+ really does rocket. It's long been said that the advantage of electric cars is the instant delivery of all that power - and you'll turn some heads when you do. The Nissan Leaf is perhaps seen as a sedate drive, but it doesn't have to be - it can be a little more hair-raising if you want it to be.
We've mentioned the e-pedal, which can dictate how smooth the Leaf feels when driving, as lifting off can slap on that regeneration pretty hard giving a bit of a jolt, but you can turn e-pedal off if you prefer. Overall, the Leaf e+ is a great car to drive - it's fun, nippy and responsive, with plenty of pace when you want it.
Tech that lifts it a level
We mentioned that the Leaf e+ is only available in the Tekna trim. That skips over Nissan's lower levels, so while that means the price is pushed up, you also get a lot of tech for your money. There's a range of safety features that will alert you to just about everything, including emergency braking if it thinks you're going to hit the car in front. Sometimes we've found this alert sounding when in normal slowing traffic, so it's a little jumpy.
There are cameras all around the Leaf, providing 360 vision - which makes for easy parking. There is an automatic parking option but you'll have to pay extra for it - so we'd be tempted to stick to the 360 cameras, because they make it really easy to put a car into a space.
The central display natively offers a full range of services, like the ability to find a local charging station as well as effective mapping and navigation. Comparing it to a near rivals Kia and Hyundai, we'd say that Nissan is a step-up in terms of the user interface - it just feels more modern and is nicer to use.
It's also worth mentioning ProPilot. That's the name that Nissan applies to its driver assistance package, similar to Tesla's Autopilot. In fact, Nissan's system is a fusion of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping, able to steer the car around corners on the motorway, for example. It's not designed to drive for you, it's designed to help you - but we found ourselves using it a lot on motorways because it means you can set that constant speed and relax, without the fear that you'll be engaging regen and losing speed should you lift off slightly.
The Nissan Leaf remains one of our favourite cars. It's a hatch rather than a crossover or SUV and that might cause some to pause - but it offers more space than you might first think. The interior tech and the overall comfort is appealing, making it a very easy car to live with.
The real decision point, however, comes down to cost. You can get all this in the shorter range version for about £4k less - so how much is that boosted range and added power worth to you? For those hitting longer drives on a regular basis it has plenty of appeal, but with excellent cars like the Kia e-Niro or Hyundai Kona Electric on one side and the Tesla Model 3 on the other, the Leaf e+ is a little squeezed.
Ironically, for those who really want the Leaf, the standard version, which starts at £27,995, offers a lot more choice. In that sense, the range available here - as desirable as it is - is not without cost.
Alternatives to consider
The Kia e-Niro rides higher than the Leaf, so has more of an SUV feel to it. It also only comes with a 64kWh battery in the UK, offering close to 300 miles of range. It's a healthy bit cheaper than the Leaf, but waiting lists are long. There's a lot of tech bundled in, but the user interface isn't quite as nice as Nissan's
Tesla Model 3
Tesla is the name in electric cars and the Model 3 is the model that brings affordability with it. Priced close to the Nissan, it offers a choice of setup offering even more range, comes with a huge internal display and Autopilot tech. It also offers 250kW charging, making it one of the fastest chargers on the road - if you can find a V3 Supercharger.