21.7.2019Nissan Leaf e+ first drive
The electric vehicle market moves forward at such pace that Nissan, despite having only launched it’s second-generation Leaf in the UK last year, has added to its best-selling EV by boosting the range with the Leaf e+. A larger capacity battery, more powerful motor, and improved equipment look set to significantly improve the pure-electric hatchback. NGC attended the launch to have a first drive of the Nissan Leaf e+.
Review by Chris Lilly
Although headlines for the Leaf e+ are around the larger 62 kWh battery and longer range, Nissan has fitted a more powerful motor under the bonnet at the same time, making for a noticeable improvement in performance. The Leaf 40 kWh has a 110 kW (150hp) electric motor, good for a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds. This new model has a 160 kW (217hp) motor, producing a hefty 340 Nm of torque, and allowing for a sprint time of 6.9 seconds 0-62mph. Although not hot-hatch territory these days, a sub-seven second sprint time is still more than averagely nippy, and the Leaf - as with many EVs - feels even faster than its performance figures would suggest. The instantly available torque on tap means that shorter sprints at low speeds are completed in only a few seconds, and the Leaf will pick itself up and get a lick on despite a fairly high kerb weight. The combination of damp roads and low-rolling resistance tyres saw the traction control light flicker when booting the Leaf’s throttle, a surefire indicator that there is plenty of power on offer. It’s so easy to access too, with no gears to worry about, and a highly digital driving experience. The new Leaf is comfortable at motorway speeds and can be fun to drive on country roads, but it is in town where the Leaf e+’s performance excels. Instant throttle response means darting in and out of traffic or junctions is incredibly easy - but this was the case for the Leaf 40 kWh, and even the first-generation Leaf. The increase in power makes the Leaf e+ more comfortable at higher speeds, where it never felt out of breath within the speed limits.
This new Leaf e+ is heavier than the 40 kWh model, and this has had an effect on handling. The new battery has seen Nissan’s engineers need to raise the ride height by 5mm, and although this is only half a centimetre, the ride has been stiffened because of this. Although these sound like marginal changes, the Leaf e+ does feel different to drive when compared to the Leaf, though in truth you would have to be really analysing the ride to tell the difference. From a driver’s point of view, you can feel the added weight when the Leaf e+ is driven over lumpy roads - not surfaces with harsh changes, but those routes where the tarmac gently undulates, such as in rural areas or on the motorway. Smooth surfaces are dealt with beautiful, but these lumpy roads will make the Leaf e+’s extra weight felt, and equally, you can tell the Leaf is a heavy car for its class when cornering enthusiastically. The grip available is good though, and thanks to the stiffened suspension, body roll is kept well in check. Around town, the Leaf e+ will complain a little after hitting a pot hole or drain, but overall it’s nicely set-up to protect occupants from the harsh surfaces so often encountered.
This new Leaf sees a revised front bumper on both 40 kWh and 62 kWh models. No, really. Nissan said as much in the press briefing, but having looked at pictures of the new model and last year's version side-by-side, I can't tell the difference. Surprisingly, there is no indication that Leaf owners are driving an e+ or 40 kWh model, with a lack of badging to distinguish the longer-range model from the original. Hyundai hasn't done it with the Kona Electric either, but then buyers get a model with the same name and just specify the battery size/motor power. Nissan has gone to the effort of giving the larger battery model a name that differentiates it from the 40 kWh model, but no outward signs of this choice for buyers. It's no criticism, and I like the idea of a 'sleeper car' but it is something interesting to note. Also, there is little else to talk about in this section, since the design is basically the same, with identical levels of load and occupant space as before. It's practical but not extremely so, though as the Leaf I ran on long term test proved, it manages to cope with the demands of life as a workhorse for a young family, which is about as demanding a set of circumstances as you can find. This Leaf e+ will prove no different in terms of practicality.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Leaf e+'s interior is largely the same as the 40 kWh model - just like the exterior. However, there is a new infotainment set-up, which is a definite improvement over the older model's. Both battery sizes get the upgrade, which has improved graphics, a cleaner design, and seems to work quickly too. The design is similar for familiarity, and only increased time with the system will confirm its certain improvement or prove otherwise, but early indications are good for an element of the Leaf that I have previously criticised. Otherwise, again, the controls will be familiar to current Leaf drivers, which is both no surprise, nor is it a bad thing. Controls are placed logically around the dashboard and centre console, and everything feels well put together, if not of the highest materials in places. The Leaf isn’t pitched as a premium hatchback though, and it’s interior is a nice one, with a certain degree of style, a high degree of functionality, and a few nice touches that improve the overall experience.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Here we come to the key section for the Leaf e+ - how it gets on in terms of increased range. Nissan says that this 62 kWh model will cover 239 miles on a single charge. That’s based on WLTP tests, which we’ve found to be an attainable figure for those driving economically, and reckon that if you knock around 10 miles off when driving ‘normally’ - with no focus on efficient driving and sitting at the speed limits where possible - it’s a good guide. This launch didn’t push the limits of the car’s range at all, but we can calculate how it did based on the figures over the run. We had an afternoon in the Leaf e+, covering around 50 miles over a mixture of roads, heading from the docks in Southampton, out to the motorway, and then through the country roads and villages of the New Forest to the coast, before a return run of a similar theme. Leaving base, the Leaf e+ was showing an indicated 193 miles available on 79% charge. After completing the route, the battery was at 55%, good for a calculated 200 miles of range. This is a conservative estimate, and I would expect the Leaf e+ to get closer to the 220 mile mark with a longer drive, though only more time in the car will tell for sure. The efficiency figure wasn’t reset before the run, and finished on 3.8 miles/kWh - a figure that had risen in our stint in the car, and one that should have improved further still with more time. That indicates that around 230 miles should easily be possible.
There are all the usual features you would come to expect with electric cars fitted to the Leaf, plus a few of Nissan’s own to boost efficiency further. Brake energy recuperation tops up the battery’s charge under braking or when heading downhill, and there are various settings available. Drivers will find the Leaf e+ almost coasts in D mode, and has much stronger region in B mode, plus there is an Eco setting that boosts both of those driving options. Then there’s Nissan’s ePedal, which effectively allows for one pedal driving, with very high region levels, and radar control to balance how much region and/or friction braking is required to bring the car to a complete stop when travelling behind another vehicle. Nissan has improved its NissanConnectEV service, which we didn’t have much of a chance to play with, but was an aspect of the Leaf before that was on sore need of improving reliability. This allows drivers to pre-condition the car’s cabin temperature, defrost it while plugged in (to save battery charge), check on how much range is left when parked up, and start or set-up charging times. The Leaf’s shape is extremely aerodynamic, and Nissan says that 99% of the car can be recycled when at the end of its useful life. Nissan has a big battery recycling programme too, repurposing its old EV batteries into energy storage systems. The headline-grabbing feature is the battery though, which has a 55% improvement in capacity and around 25% increase in energy density. Charging can be carried out via the Type 2 inlet, with a 6.6 kW on-board charger, or the CHAdeMO inlet for rapid top-ups, with the Leaf e+ capable of charging at up to 100 kW DC. According to our calculations, the Nissan Leaf e+ tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 21
The Leaf e+ is available in top-of-the-range Tekna trim only, keeping equipment levels nice and simple. Included as standard are 17-inch alloys, LED headlights, the revised suspension set-up, automatic air conditioning, keyless entry and start, e-Pedal, ProPilot driving assistance systems, a comprehensive suite of safety systems, NissanConnect EV connectivity, 8-inch infotainment system with sat-nav, Bluetooth, USB, DAB & Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, Bose stereo, heated seats throughout, part leather trim, parking sensors and camera, and automatic headlights & wipers. The Leaf e+ starts at almost £36,000, but there are few options available, and Nissan has kitted out the hatchback pretty comprehensively.
Nissan’s Leaf e+ builds on the good work of the initial second-generation model. Having run one of those for the better part of four months, a few flaws became clear; namely the poor range compared to newer mass-market EV rivals, and the infotainment system. Both of these have been addressed, and although the Leaf still doesn’t lead the driving range charts, it will comfortably cover 200 miles on a charge, which is plenty for most drivers. It’s also faster to charge, just as practical as before, and the new ride will suit many buyers even more than the 40 kWh model. It’s a good update to what is already a very popular EV, but perhaps the key advantage is that you will be able to get your hands on one far quicker than if you ordered one of its rivals.
Model tested: Nissan Leaf e+ 62 kWh
Body-style: Family hatchback
Engine / CO2: 160 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Tekna
On-road price: From £35,895 (exc. PiCG)
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles - battery: eight years/ 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars