13.7.2018Nissan Leaf review
The Nissan Leaf is a hugely important model for the electric car market. Having tested it on the car's UK launch in Scotland earlier this year, we've now had the chance to drive the Leaf for a week to get further into the minutiae of its capabilities. Having covered more than 700 miles in six days of driving, we've now got a good idea as to what the Nissan Leaf's strengths and weaknesses are. Find out what we think of the Nissan Leaf 40 kWh below.
Review by Chris Lilly
With a 110 kW electric motor powering the front wheels, the Leaf provides a decent amount of punch for a driver to make the most of. A 0-62mph sprint time of 7.9 seconds isn't going to make you feel as though you're driving a racing car on the road; however, it's far from shabby either. I never felt wanting for more get-up-and-go when driving the Leaf, and the acceleration of the EV is typically . . . well, electric. Low range punch is excellent - particularly when driven out of eco modes - and the Leaf feels far more comfortable at motorway speeds than the model it replaced. The extra power not only allows you to keep pace with faster traffic, it also makes for a more relaxing drive at higher speeds.
One key element to the Leaf's performance though is the use of those aforementioned eco modes. There are two main strings to this after Normal, which provides good all-round driving performance. There's an Eco setting that seriously restricts throttle response. After a bit of experimentation, I found I barely used it. It's almost too restrictive for day-to-day driving in an EV now - especially one with the claimed range available of the Leaf. It does prove very useful though if you need to stretch that range a little, eking out some extra miles from the battery if needed. The other tool in the Leaf's arsenal is the ePedal. This uses a blend of regenerative braking and physical braking to slow the Leaf to a complete stop when necessary. As such, it offers very strong levels of braking and regen, but since the ePedal is constantly measuring throttle inputs when active - even under acceleration - it also trims back the performance. Switching between the three modes - Normal, Eco, and ePedal - will see performance levels tailored to suit what's required, and the set-up is a versatile one if used well.
Many EVs are described as refined, primarily because the lack of engine noise makes everything in the cabin seem quiet. The Leaf really is refined though with the suspension designed to provide a comfortable ride, but one that doesn't tend to wallow through corners. The handling - like the performance - isn't going to provide encouragement for an enthusiastic driving style. Instead, it suits the car far more, providing the foundations for the driver to have a relaxed drive, thereby making greater use of the battery's potential for range. When pushing hard, the Leaf copes well enough, but never offers much feedback through the steering wheel to give added impetus for an engaging drive. Instead, the springs soak up a large amount of the UK's harsh road surfaces, and the Leaf is an accomplished cruiser. Around town, the suspension kept things pretty level when taking tight turns, and the same attributes work well at higher speeds on an open road. The Leaf is well suited to motorway driving from a suspension point of view too, and the electric Nissan is an accomplished performer all-round as a comfortable and refined way to get about the place.
The Leaf is a much better-looking model than the version it replaces - at least in my opinion. The first-generation Leaf put some off with its combination of bulbous styling mixed with sharp creases. As such, the Leaf 40 kWh model is a more well-rounded proposition aesthetically, and one that isn't likely to dissuade customers in the same manner. What can said as fact, rather than opinion, is that the Leaf looks more 'Nissan'. The latest Leaf uses many of the current design elements seen on the likes of the Qashqai and Micra, and overall it's a reasonably stylish car. The Leaf's not likely to turn heads by dint of style alone, but the more mature design hints at a model more likely to be accepted by more buyers. Inside, and the Leaf is a practical proposition as a family car. It's not the most spacious model in its class, but neither is it cramped at all. There are no compromises in internal space to be made because the battery pack for example, though occupants will feel as though they are sitting higher up in the Nissan than normal because of the underfloor battery storage. Head, leg, and shoulder room are all good though. Having been discussed in the First Drive review, the A-pillars are wide and can inhibit visibility for the driver. However, after more time spent with the Leaf, it didn't prove to be an issue the majority of the time - only occasionally.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
One of the main features that I wanted to put to the test with prolonged time in the Leaf was interior comfort. On the launch, I found the Leaf a little uncomfortable after a fair amount of time spent driving it. The seats were supportive enough but not particularly comfortable after about an hour. This was the same either as a passenger or a driver, though when behind the wheel the situation was exacerbated by driving position. I prefer sitting low in the car but this isn't possible in the Leaf, even when the seat is in its lowest position. Also, because the steering wheel only adjusts for rake and not reach too, I found I had to sit closer to the wheel than my right leg would have liked. This caused it to be permanently more bent than I would have wanted while driving - made worse with the constant throttle modulation when ePedal is engaged. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as I had remembered in the end, and with a bit more time in the driving seat, I managed to get a better set-up. However, the Leaf still isn't the most comfortable car around to drive, and compromises must be made to make sure long-distance trips are completed without the need to spring out of the car and immediately stretch your legs. I managed to complete a few long-distance journeys, so it is possible without discomfort; and what was looking like a deal-breaker after the launch proved to be fine when 'living' with one for a week. It's just a shame the driver can't get more comfortable considering the refined ride the Leaf offers.
For the rest of the cabin, controls are nicely fitted and the steering wheel is a good one. The infotainment screen is nothing for occupants to get excited about, as it is relatively small compared to other models in the sector. The graphics aren't great either and it's slow to respond if you consider rival efforts. There's nothing particularly wrong with the infotainment set-up, it's just not as good as other systems. The rest of the switch-gear looks as though it should last well, mainly because many of the buttons seem to have been carried over from the previous model. If it ain't broke . . . I suppose. The Leaf's interior is saved from mediocrity at least by the previously mentioned steering wheel, the driver's instrument display, and dashboard design. The dash suits the exterior design well, while the driver's screen is very good. There is one analogue dial, and then a large digital display with a huge number of menu options to select. Everything from range and efficiency, to charging times and battery condition can be displayed, and there are a few different screen designs that prove very useful while driving. I settled on one view quite quickly as the default screen, but often flicked about the options a bit to find more information.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The Leaf's battery capacity is not a big leap forwards over the previous model's, something that can be explained partially by the promise of a second, longer-range Leaf due in the future. It's a shame Nissan didn't move the game on more with this model, but their reasoning - costs and product positioning - are easy enough to understand. In actual fact, the range available with the Leaf is more than enough for a great many drivers. I was impressed on the launch and, after a week with the Leaf, I was even more so by the end of my time with it. The car was delivered showing a calculated 142 miles of range - with Eco mode and ePedal off. After a bit of driving, that quickly improved to 157 miles by the time I had it fully charged again, and the best realistic figure I saw was 166 miles - again with Eco and ePedal off. That mileage is made even more impressive by the fact that a good number of those miles were covered on the motorway, with a cross country trip limiting what might have been displayed. The weather was clement, and conditions dry, so winter will take its toll I'm sure. But I would be confident in saying that 130-150 miles (dependent on weather), including motorway driving at the speed limit, is easily possible and almost a worst case scenario.
Add in Eco mode and the ePedal, and the display jumped up to an indicated 180 miles, which I would be confident to complete if conditions suited and I needed to do a spot of frugal driving. In short then, the Leaf is a very efficient EV, with a highly usable and pretty impressive range, with the flexibility to be driven 'normally' or hypermile as needs change. All of this tallies with what I discovered on the launch, so with a huge variety of routes, speeds, traffic, and weather conditions encountered, the ranges I found possible are solid recommendations. Considering the official WLTP figure is 168 miles, Nissan's engineers have done a good job, since that figure is eminently achievable in the real world. I ended my time with the car showing an average efficiency figure of 3.9 miles/kWh which is far from shabby considering it included plenty of motorway runs. It also displayed that I had added 9 miles in regen braking, and a figure of 4.6 miles/kWh gave an indication of what was easily possible if faster trips were kept to a minimum.
The big news in terms of green features from Nissan is the ePedal. With one-pedal driving largely possible thanks to combinations of motor and brake deceleration, the system can prove very useful - particularly in town. On the open road I found the constant restriction in performance and lack of coasting function a hindrance rather than an aid, but it's easy to switch off so that's no problem. In traffic or built up areas, it's an excellently thought out system that can really improve EV driving. Using a mixture of Normal, ePedal, and Eco modes - plus switching in and out of B mode - proved the most effective way to maximise the Leaf's range. The set-up is more flexible than BMW's i3, which effectively has its version of ePedal permanently on. The VW e-Golf and Hyundai Ioniq though have an easier way to switch between brake energy recuperation strengths - but neither offer a system like the ePedal. The addition of a 6.6 kW on-board charger as standard means charging times are quicker for all Leaf owners, and the charging inlet is now Type 2 for most applications.
Rapid charging remains CHAdeMO, though Nissan's engineers have made what some will see as a mistake by not adding a battery temperature management system to the new model. The problem is that the Leaf can't rapid charge three times on the trot - or even in the space of a day really. The first two rapid charges will draw maximum power at about 50 kW no problem. However, because the battery gets hot whilst both being charged and driven, the third rapid charge in a day will only draw 21 kW in my experience (see images below), something that fits with a number of other user reports.
My situation involved a 180 mile motorway route in the morning with one rapid charge to make sure there was mileage to work with at my destination. After arriving, I spent a few hours in one place, drove a few miles to a coffee shop and back after a spot of lunch, and then a short while later headed 15 miles or so away for another two hour-ish stop. By the time I was heading back, I wanted to rapid charge nearby to give me a good set-up for a homeward run, which also went well. About halfway back though, I decided on another rapid charge to make sure I could return at pace and not dread running the gauntlet of hills and lack of rapid EV charging infrastructure that faced me in south east Wales. This third charge was where I found the rapid charging problem, with 21 kW supplied in an hour's stop. Luckily I was having some dinner, so it didn't prove as much of a problem as it could have done, but the issue is there. This might sound like a very personalised situation, but what I wanted to make clear is that the situation was typical of a day-trip somewhere.
To be honest, very few Leaf drivers will look to be covering around 350 miles in a single day, within the space of about 12 hours. Some will though, and it is something to consider for potential buyers. For reference, Nissan's statement after asking them about the set-up is: "The 2018 Nissan Leaf has charging safeguards to protect the battery during repeated fast charging sessions in a short period of time. While the safeguards may increase charging times after multiple fast charging sessions, they are important to maintaining battery life over an extended time period." It's sensible, but I reckon a fair few Leaf buyers would have preferred having a battery temperature management system - or at least the option of one. Costs must be kept down though, and the issue will never crop up for the majority of buyers.
Other green features include vehicle-to-grid (V2G) connectivity for all new Leafs, which opens up the possibility of using the Nissan as a portable energy storage unit for peak demand, and/or selling power back to the grid. There's a charging time calculator on the driver's display, along with other graphs and statistics to help with driving style, and public charge points can be found on the car's sat-nav. Nissan's Connect EV system allows live charging updates, pre-conditioning settings, and scheduling of charging times as is common with many EVs. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 24.
The Leaf is kitted out with a high level of equipment across the board. All models get ePedal, 16-inch alloys, illuminated charging port, 7-inch instrument display, keyless entry and start, automatic headlights and wipers, air conditioning, and 6.6 kW on-board charger. Acenta trim adds features such as front fog lamps, electric folding door mirrors, leather steering wheel, Intelligent Cruise Control, Nissan Connect EV 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto over entry-level Visia. N-Connecta builds on Acenta by adding 17-inch alloys, privacy glass, heated steering wheel and part leather seats, auto-dimming mirror, and parking sensors, while Tekna trim includes full LED headlights, leather trim throughout, electronic parking brake, 7-speaker Bose audio system and ProPILOT. All models get a suite of safety systems that include Intelligent Emergency Braking, lane departure warning, lane assist, cross traffic alert, and blind spot warning. ProPILOT adds features such as automatic cruise control and lane assist.
The Leaf is such an important model in the EV market that I have been tough in its criticism about certain elements. Naturally I believe that the comments are fair, but what should be taken away is that I reckon the Leaf is a very good EV. The range on offer is more than enough to persuade most drivers that EV ownership is a sensible choice, and the overall practicality is plenty good enough for a young family with all of its clobber. There are some excellent mass-market EVs available currently, including the i3, e-Golf, Ioniq, and Renault Zoe. The Leaf is comfortably back amongst them after having lagged behind for a while with the previous generation. The Leaf is refined, easy to drive, offers a flexible range, and a number of handy technologies to keep running costs low. It simply must be seriously considered by anyone in the market for a new EV - and for many looking at a new hatchback in general.
Model tested: Nissan LEAF 40kWh Tekna
Body-style: Five-door hatchback
Engine / CO2: 110 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Visia, Acenta, N-Connecta, Tekna
On-road price: from £21,990. Price as tested £29,155 (both inc Cat 1 PiCG)
Warranty: Three year / 60,000 miles - Battery & drive unit: Eight year / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars