The unlikely looking Nissan Leaf has been a trailblazer for electric vehicles ever since it launched nearly decade ago. Yet despite a revamp that saw it gain a higher capacity battery, it hasn’t had a proper redesign.
With the clamour for an all-electric car future growing, and the reality of such an eventuality looming large, it is perhaps fitting that the new Nissan Leaf arrives now, then, with a completely upgraded design and a few other innovations along the way.
And it sure does look different. The dumpy, teardrop-shaped blob of a car is, at long last, a thing of the past, to be replaced by something far more modern, far more, well, normal. There’s still something intangibly electric about the design, something a tad Jetsons, but otherwise, it looks like any other petrol or diesel conveyance, with a broader, squatter, more dynamic look a rakish profile and an edgy look.
That is the way things are going, of course. When all — or at least the majority of cars — are electric, car designers won’t need to make them look … special.
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Nissan Leaf 2018 review: e-pedal, drivetrain and range
The Nissan Leaf 2018 is far from your normal road-going fossil-fuel guzzler. That’s not just because its all-electric drivetrain and 40kWh battery, capable of achieving a Tesla-rivalling range of up to 258 miles in the city (168 miles of combined urban and motorway driving). It’s also not because it charges from the low capacity alert (10%) to 80% in as little as 40 minutes with a 50kW quick charger. Although, those things are, in themselves, pretty darned impressive.
It’s because the new Nissan Leaf 2018 has what the firm is calling an “e-Pedal”: that’s one pedal used to both accelerate and brake. Wait. What? One pedal? How does that work? Is Nissan completely mad?
Well, not exactly. The car still has a brake pedal and the e-Pedal isn’t a world away from the B-mode regenerative braking that most EVs have already. It recharges the battery when you decelerate and it slows the car down while doing so.
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What Nissan has done is smooth out the braking response, making it practical to use as your day-to-day deceleration method. To be more precise, it applies a braking force of 0.2G which is strong enough, if not for use in emergencies, certainly for steady driving on both the motorway and in the city. You use it to bring yourself to a complete stop, it’ll hold you still on a hill and, yes, the brake lights do come on when the e-Pedal is applied.
It certainly does feel a little odd. At first, you and your passengers will be nodding like you’re keeping time to Bohemian Rhapsody, but you’ll quickly become used to it. It requires a change in driving style to smooth things out, especially at low speed but as a guide to its effectiveness, when I first engaged it on my first test drive up Mount Teide in Tenerife I used the car’s regular brake just once in my first half an hour of driving. On my second stint, driving back down again, I needed it when I’d got a little over-enthusiastic approaching one corner, but otherwise, again, I needed it only once.
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This pedal may not be revolutionary, then, but it is effective and you can disable it easily if you want, with a simple flick of a switch.
If the ePedal is going to take some getting used to, the rest of the car is much more easy-going and practical. The range, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is up 50% to a maximum 238 miles, which, while nowhere near as good a modern petrol or diesel car, should be enough to eliminate range anxiety on most short to medium length journeys.
It looks great, and the interior has had an equally dramatic makeover. There are still some hard plastics here, but they’re far less common than on the original, and the sweeping design of the dashboard is easier on the eye, too. I would prefer the 7in screen of the infotainment system to be set in slightly, though. As it is, it catches the sun rather too easily and there are moments when glare completely obscures what’s on screen. Plus, as you’ll see below, the Nissan Leaf 2018’s infotainment system still hasn’t been given the update it so desperately needs, despite an improvement in features.
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Driving the Nissan Leaf 2018 is an absolute pleasure, though. It’s no sports car, but the electric motor whisks you from 0 to 62mph in an entertaining 7.9 seconds. It made mincemeat of the army of over-cautious ageing motorists crawling their way up the road. It rumbled smoothly and comfortably over rough surfaces without getting uppity, and it made its way around corners without wobbling all over the place. It’s quiet, too; quiet enough that an extended session listening to Mozart’s Requiem shouldn’t have you reaching for the volume knob every time the music goes quiet.
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And, once you get home, or to the shops, charging is pretty quick. Connected to a regular 7.5kW domestic wall box, the Leaf will go from the «alert level» to 100% in 7hrs 30mins, and it will quick charge at compatible charge stations to 80% in 40 to 60 minutes.
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Nissan Leaf 2018 review: Driver assistance and safety tech
The Nissan Leaf 2018 represents the first time I’ve had the opportunity to try out Nissan’s semi-autonomous driving system: ProPILOT. I had been hoping to try this out at the launch of the Nissan Qashqai in the summer of 2017, but it wasn’t quite ready back then.
See related Nissan Leaf review (2016): The UK’s most popular electric car, driven The best electric cars 2018 UK: The best EVs for sale in the UK
It’s perhaps fitting that it sees its first full outing in the new Leaf, the firm’s flagship technology-driven car. If I’m honest, it isn’t all that groundbreaking. I’ve seen this sort of system in umpteen cars before and, like most such systems, it didn’t work perfectly when I enabled it (briefly) on my test drive.
It’s an SAE level 2 driver assistance system, so it’s basically adaptive cruise control with lane keeping, but it covers most of the situations you’d hope it to. It works at up to 89mph, it will stop-start in traffic (as long as you’re stopped for three seconds or less) and, using a combination of radar and camera sensors, it’ll keep you in your lane and maintain a safe distance to the car in front, adjusting its speed automatically.
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It’s enabled using the blue ProPILOT button on the steering wheel and the driver can set and adjust speed just as with regular cruise control, while the distance to the car in front can be adjusted in three increments.
The big issue with driver assistance systems like this, at least in my experience, is they have to work pretty much perfectly to inspire the confidence for drivers to trust them and they have to be simple and straightforward to use. On the latter count, I’ve no qualms at all. The system is simple and straightforward and it’s easy to see when it’s working — the icons are clear and large on the dashboard.
However, while most of the time it was fine, there were occasions when the car veered rather too close to the edge of the lane for my liking and one point at which it gave up entirely and disengaged, complaining of poor road conditions.
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Fortunately, there’s a pretty good range of standard safety tech installed in the Nissan Leaf, too. Lane departure warnings, rear cross traffic and «intelligent lane intervention» are part of the standard equipment. That’s when the car detects you’re drifting out of lane and applies the brakes on one side to bring you back into line. You get blind spot warnings and traffic sign recognition available as standard as well.
As for the automatic parking, it does the job, and it does it mostly with minimal driver intervention. In other words, you press the button in the centre console, select the type of parking you want to do (bay front, bay reverse and parallel parking are all supported) and drive past the spot you want to park in. Once it’s identified the spot, you press and hold the park button and the car does the rest.
There’s even a manual mode, which allows you to identify the space using the touchscreen. When I tried it out the results were, again, mixed. Parallel parking worked well, with the system manoeuvring us into a surprisingly tight space with very little effort; the reverse bay parking, though, was stymied by a car parked slightly over the white line.
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Nissan Leaf 2018 review: Infotainment
Probably the least exciting part of the new Nissan Leaf is its central control screen and infotainment unit because not much has changed. In some ways, this is a good thing. I’ve always liked the simplicity of the Nissan infotainment system. It’s easy to find your way around, it’s responsive and does most jobs you need it to without fuss. The buttons next to the display are slightly different from the Qashqai I drove last year, but otherwise, the look and feel is familiar.
I like having shortcut keys for things like the Map, audio and camera, and a physical volume knob is essential, too. All these things are in place here, and Nissan has, at last, added both Android Auto and Apple Carplay support as well. This worked, as you’d expect, perfectly and it plays pretty nicely with the in-car satnav as well. Kick off a track on Spotify, for instance, and when you switch over to the in-car maps, the track name is displayed in a narrow strip along the top of the screen.
It’s worth holding out for the the seven-speaker Bose sound system as well. It comes as standard on Tekna models and the limited edition Leaf 2.Zero and it sounds fantastic. The bass is composed and firm and never gets out of shape. If you turn up the volume, there’s very little cabin buzz and the quietness of the engine means you can listen comfortably to classical music without having to crank up the volume during the quiet bits. It perhaps doesn’t quite have the depth, three-dimensionality and sheer raw power that the B&W system in the BMW 5-Series does, but it’s pretty darned good for a car in its class.
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The satnav worked fine during my test drive, too, and because this is an electric vehicle it has charge points plotted in and these can be built these into your routes. As with the outgoing model, the system will also warn you if you’re not going to be able to get to your final destination on the charge you have remaining.
It’s all perfectly nice, and easy to use, and the Nissan EV Connect app adds to the car’s smartphone-based capabilities, including the ability to remotely view charge status and schedule pre-conditioning (heating up the car before you get in it).
I would just have liked some extra bells and whistles and, perhaps, an updated look and feel. Instead, the Nissan Connect EV system operates pretty much as it does on all Nissan group cars, except with added EV features. It has drab blue graphics and the 7in touchscreen could have been bigger, too.
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Nissan Leaf 2018 review: Price, release date and verdict
Part of the Leaf’s appeal, however, has also been its reasonable price and that continues with the new model. In fact, surprisingly, there’s very little difference between it and the outgoing model.
You have four levels of trim to choose from: Visia, Conecta, N-Connecta and Tekna, with a «special version» — the 2.Zero — available to 1,500 customers at launch. Prices start at £21,990 with the government grant of £4,500 applied and the price rises to £27,490 for the Tekna. ProPILOT is standard only on the range-topping Tekna model but as a £400 option, it’s very cheap to add, and it’s also worth pointing out that new Leaf customers get a 7kW wall box for free, too — partly funded by government grant, the rest covered by Nissan.
At those prices, it’s a practical family car with a reasonable amount of passenger and luggage lugging space. The bigger question is whether it’s going to be the class leader of the next generation of electric cars like its predecessor was.
That’s certainly a possibility because while Nissan can’t solve the irritating fragmentation of charging networks, the new Leaf does its best to mitigate such problems, through extended range and faster charging. And, with its redesign, it’s ensuring the image of the Leaf is no longer the barrier it once was.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the Nissan Leaf 2018 is a pleasant and occasionally fun car to drive. If my family didn’t need the camping gear-lugging space of an enormous estate, I’d be seriously considering one as my next family car.