by Roger Biermann
Nissan pioneered the EV segment. Long before Tesla's meteoric rise to fame, before BMW's carbon-tubbed i3, there was the Nissan Leaf – a strange looking EV that featured premium build and mostly car-like driving dynamics. But the competition caught up. The competition overtook and surpassed the gas, and Nissan let it wilt a little. Now, the Chevrolet Bolt is the go-to in segment, unless Nissan can turn over a new Leaf, a new second generation EV to restore Nissan to the top of the heap.
The main focal point of the Leaf's interior is the simplistic horizontal dash, crowned front and center with a 7-inch touch screen infotainment screen. The instrument cluster features an ironically analog speedometer, with a customizable TFT display alongside it for other information. The dash is still predominantly hard plastic in its make-up, though softer color palettes make it feel warmer and less harsh than before.
In the way of seating, there's accommodation for 5 occupants, with available perforated leather and microfiber upholstery on supportive seats. Head and leg room throughout the cabin feels vast, and even 6 foot tall rear occupants will be comfortable behind a similarly sized driver – despite the sloping roofline. Trunk volume has increased to 23.6 cubic feet, thanks to revised battery packaging and a redesigned cargo area compared to the old model.
The old Leaf offered pretty decent car-like driving dynamics for its time, but that was an eon ago in technological terms. The new one has taken great strides to improve in all areas. With the battery mounted low and between the wheelbase the center of gravity is kept low for better stability and cornering. Nissan has included an electronic power assisted steering system into the Leaf, with upgraded software, steering angle sensor, and a stiffer steering torsion bar. The result is linear responses to steering inputs, with ample weighting and decent levels of feedback. The new system also includes Intelligent Ride Control, which alters torque outputs when cornering to mimic a traditional differential better, reducing vibration, and improving cornering stability and cornering control.
For those wanting to embrace electrification fully, Nissan has introduced e-Pedal to allow single-pedal driving with increased brake regeneration that mimics braking off throttle while recharging the battery.
The 2018 Leaf utilizes the same twin-electric motor setup as the old model, but the motors and drivetrain have been revised to increase power outputs to 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. The battery is an all new 40kWh lithium-ion one, that Nissan says will allow the Leaf to achieve a 150-mile range. That's still short of the Chevy Bolt's 200 mile+ range, but a 60kWh battery will be introduced in late 2018 to target the Bolt. Charging takes 16 hours on a 120v system, 8 hours on a 240v system, and quick charging will give you an 80% charge in about 40 minutes.
The 2018 Leaf is available in 3 trims, S, SV, and SL, with a range of features and technologies. Among the available features across the range, e-Pedal and autonomous emergency braking are the highlights. SV models get intelligent cruise control and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the Leaf SL gets a Bose premium audio system, surround view camera, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. ProPilot Assist will also be available, a semi-autonomous traffic system that reduces driver stress in traffic jams. The Leaf hasn't yet been crash tested by local authorities.
Nissan left it late to release a 2nd generation Leaf, but it looks like the wait was worth it. Enhanced styling is matched by new technologies and improved range. The 200-mile, 60kWh equipped Leaf will be the one to have when it arrives in 2018 as a 2019 model.