PASADENA, CA.—Each iteration of the all-electric Nissan Leaf has come with more battery power for greater range and faster charging, and the all-new new 2018 Leaf is no exception.
I had an opportunity to check one out as part of a World Car Awards test drive program here, in advance of the car’s official launch.
Its 40 kWh battery (up from 30 kWh last year) is now good for an average range of 241 km, which puts it squarely between the long ranges of the more expensive Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3, and the sub-200 km ranges of the cheaper Kia Soul EV, Hyundai Ioniq EV and Ford Focus EV. Oh – and the old Leaf.
Here in the U.S., Nissan is quick to point out that the new Leaf is cheaper and better equipped than the previous version, coming in this time at just under $30,000 (U.S.) In Canada, however, it doesn’t quite work the same. The new Leaf will start at $35,998 when it comes available early in 2018, but the old model was selling for $33,998 in 2017, with $3,000 off that for a cash purchase. A Canadian-equipped car is different from an American one, don’t forget.
(That price is almost certainly not what you’ll pay, however. The Leaf qualifies for a $14,000 government rebate in Ontario, or an $8,000 rebate in Quebec, or a $5,000 rebate in British Columbia. Very few Leafs are sold outside of those three provinces because nowhere else offers a rebate.)
The more powerful battery supports an electric motor output of 147 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, which is an increase of 40 hp and 49 lbft from last year’s ratings.
It will take 7.5 hours to recharge from empty if it’s plugged into a 240-volt household clothes drier-type outlet or Level 2 charger. A regular 120-volt outlet is much more of a slog, of course, taking around 35 hours for a full charge. If you can find a Level 3 charger, which is still both costly and rare, you’ll get around 140 km of charge in just 30 mins.
Those are the figures that relate to the Leaf being an electric vehicle, which its early adopters pore over with every iteration, but there’s a lot more to this 2018 model than just range and charging – the e-pedal, for instance.
All hybrids and pure EVs use regenerative braking to help recharge their batteries. Early models, such as the first- and second-generation Priuses, were fairly clumsy about it – take your foot off the throttle and the brakes would clamp down, grabbing as much retardation energy as possible from the discs and storing it in the battery. The prototype Mini-E was so heavy on the brakes when not holding down the throttle that the brake lights would come on.
Recent electric cars are much smoother, and a couple – the Hyundai Ioniq EV and the Cadillac CT6 PHEV – even allow you to set the level of regenerative braking with buttons on the steering wheel: pump up the level when needed to act as an extra brake and you can avoid using the brake pedal.
The Leaf’s e-pedal goes even further. Flip the console switch to activate it and the software allows very smooth acceleration when the throttle pedal is pressed, smooth coasting when the pedal is steady, and graduated braking when the pedal is released.
I generally do not like regenerative braking, finding it harsh and distracting, but I loved the smooth operation of the e-pedal. It turns the Leaf into a big golf cart with true, one-pedal operation. It was fun to drive around town and never use the brake, judging the moments to release the throttle to stop at precise points. If I owned a Leaf, I’d use it all the time; Nissan estimates it will reduce brake wear-and-tear by at least 80%.
The new Leaf also includes ProPilot Assist, which combines active lane assistance with active cruise control to achieve Level 2 semi-autonomy. This makes sure the car cruises at the same speed as the vehicle in front and does not get too close to it, while also adjusting the steering to keep its place in the lane.
Many other vehicles now offer similar astonishing technology, but they’re all more expensive – this technology debuted in the $100,000 Mercedes S-Class just five years ago. If the vehicle in front stops, so will the Leaf, and then it will resume driving with no input if the vehicle ahead moves within three seconds. This technology is quite incredible for a car at this price level.
All its other technology is also updated, of course, for both driver’s assistance and convenience. A notable addition is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, to ensure simple and effective connectivity and keep the phone out of the driver’s hand.
The new Leaf is not the last word, of course. Just another step in the progression.
There’ll be another model later in 2018 with a 60-kWh battery, which will presumably get the range up to the same near-400-km distance as the Chevy Bolt. That version will be the EV equivalent of buying either a four-cylinder turbo or a V-6, instead of a normally-aspirated four in a conventional car..
Nissan expects the cost will be just under the cost of the Bolt, but isn’t saying any more just yet. After all, in the world of electric vehicles, even a few months can seem like a lifetime.