Nissan Leaf 30kWh review
Next Green Car was one of the few UK publications to be sent on the European launch of the new Nissan Leaf 30kWh. The headline news coming from the new model is the electric vehicle's (EV) longer range - a 25 per cent increase over the old version. This takes the official figure to 155 miles available on a single charge. The question is though, can it live up to the promise? Making the most of a varied route in the south of France, taking in the congested cities of Nice and Monaco, a climb up the Col de Turini in the Alpes-Maritime, and runs along wide motorways, we really put this new Leaf to the test.
Review by Chris Lilly
Although the Leaf features a new battery, power output hasn't changed with 109hp - or 80Kw in new money - available under the driver's right foot. This sees 62mph come around in 11.5 seconds from a standstill and a top speed of 87mph when you are really pushing it. However, as with all EVs, the sense of acceleration feels far quicker than that and "in-gear" acceleration is sprightly thanks to the electric motor's instantly available torque. There is only one gear so there is nothing you can do as a driver to make the Leaf any faster in a sprint, but there is a way to make it slower thanks to Nissan's installation of an Eco button. This dulls the throttle response to help boost range, making it easier for drivers to keep the motor in the most efficient rev range.
The Leaf 30kWh shares the same handling set-up as the current 24kWh model which is no bad thing. Nissan has created a suspension setting that is pretty much spot on for what is needed in this type of car, offering a supple ride but one that isn't too soft. This means the Leaf is extremely easy and comfortable to drive, allowing the car to soak up the miles or deal with congestion with ease. The steering has been designed in a similar manner and has a decent weight to it, while the electric power steering remains light enough to let you spin it around a car park at slower speeds. There isn't a whole lot of feel communicated through the wheel, but the steering is precise and provides enough feedback to let you pilot the Leaf confidently through corners or around town. There is a surprising amount of grip available, helped by the car's low centre of gravity, and when you get near the limits of traction, the car behaves safely, sensibly and without undue fuss.
As the best-selling pure EV both in the UK and worldwide, the sight of a Nissan Leaf will be nothing new to most. The design remains that of a family hatchback with a style that differentiates itself from the rest of the Nissan range, but doesn't particularly stand out as a plug-in car in the way BMW's i3 does. The Leaf's design has been finely honed in a wind tunnel to help it slip through the air easily, reducing the strain on the electric motor and batteries, and minimising wind noise. The biggest difference between the Leaf and a more conventional car is the lack of a large grille up front, which would be largely redundant because of the reduced cooling requirements of the electric powertrain. Other than that, the Leaf looks like a normal hatchback, which is a clear benefit in helping make EVs more appealing to newcomers to electric driving.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Like the driving experience the cabin is rather comfortable, and you could sit in the Leaf all day long without feeling tired or gathering little aches and pains. The seats don't offer much side support but don't need to because of the Leaf's naturally relaxed driving style. The one downside to prevent the Leaf from getting full marks in driver comfort is that the steering wheel only adjusts for rake, rather than reach as well. It must be said, it didn't prove too much of a problem though. The rest of the interior has loads of space for four adults and their luggage, while a fifth could squeeze in for shorter journeys. The sub-woofer for the Bose sound system configured on our car took up some of the boot space which is a shame, but there is still ample room for most requirements. It is only when packing the boot tightly that you would really be cursing the speaker unit and the car's charging cable bag.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Here we get to the car's raison d'Ãªtre. The new Leaf, as you might have gathered so far, is not much different on the surface to the current 24kWh model. It's greatest change comes under the skin though and offers a longer range than before. The new battery takes up the same space as the current 24kWh model's, but changes to the internal chemistry and design mean that a 25 per cent improvement in range is available, while weighing only 20kg or so more. Officially, the Leaf 30kWh will cover 155 miles between charges, compared to the 24kWh's 124 miles. In the real world though, official figures can never practically be achieved regularly. The new Leaf 30kWh will reach around 130 miles under normal driving conditions though, and that is without trying particularly hard. What that equates to is a real-world range in excess of the previous model's quoted figure, which is rather impressive.
As with all EVs, the Leaf produces no tailpipe emissions and therefore incurs no VED road tax costs. Nissan quotes a cost of 2p per mile to run the Leaf, though that's a calculation with everything going well for you. Expect around 5p per mile and you won't get a nasty surprise. This is still significantly cheaper than a conventionally-fuelled model. Other benefits include free access to London's congestion charging zone and a future-proof vehicle against increases in tax or fuel costs.
Charge the car at home and work as many do, and electricity bills will only rise a little, with the cost offset by a huge reduction in petrol or diesel spending. This new model will even let drivers cover more than 100 miles without any range anxiety, something that isn't really possible in any other EV unless you own a Tesla. Nissan is confident enough in its new battery to offer an eight year/100,000 mile warranty on it, protecting against failure and a loss of more than 25 per cent capacity in that time. To help coax more out of the batteries the Leaf, as with most plug-in vehicles, has a braking setting on the automatic gearbox. This recuperates much of the energy lost under braking and recharges the car's batteries. For example, climbing the Col de Turini, we used around 65 per cent of the car's charge. Coming back down, we topped back up to 55 per cent.
In 30kWh form, the Leaf is available in either Acenta or Tekna trim - though the 24kWh model will still be available with the entry level Visia trim added to those two specifications. Standard kit includes parking sensors and rear camera, alloy wheels, climate control and an excellent entertainment/information system. This last point is the new NissanConnect EV system and replaces the previous Carwings set-up. Navigation is clear, and the map can show charging points available and which are being used. The unit also allows for Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio, while the whole set-up is controlled via a seven-inch touch-screen. Other features include cruise control as standard, while a bronze paint colour, leather trim and all-round parking cameras are available on the higher level Tekna package.
Apart from the new infotainment system, the biggest change is the Leaf's new longer range. During the test, there was never a feeling of range anxiety kicking in, even when driving constantly up hill for more than an hour - an EV's nemesis route. In fact, the new battery takes the Leaf a step ahead of the model's closest rivals - the Kia Soul EV, VW e-Golf and BMW i3 - in terms of range, and is likely to turn even more heads towards the potential of buying an EV. With a round-trip commute of 110 miles, I for one would be confident of taking it to work and back without the necessity of topping it up somewhere en route. That's more than can be said of most EVs. Extra range will always be wanted, and in the next three to five years Nissan reckons technology will allow more miles to become available. In the meantime though, there are few EVs that make more sense than the Leaf when you look at size, cost and range.
Model tested: Nissan Leaf 30kWh Tekna
Body-style: Five-door family hatchback
Engine/CO2: 109hp electric motor / 0 g/km CO2
Trim grades: Acenta and Tekna
On-road price: From £24,490. Price as tested £27,940 - including the UK Plug-in Car Grant
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: December
Review rating: 4.5 stars