Nissan is turning over a new Leaf this fall, one with sharper edges, new colors, a small carbon footprint and enhanced driver-assistance technology.
Unlike the dead follicles that will soon bury your lawn, this Leaf is not a leaf at all but rather Nissan’s all-electric hatchback. Redesigned for 2018, this EV rolls a single-charge cruising range to 150 miles, enhancing power output and semi-autonomous driving capabilities into a stylish new package that has the Chevrolet Bolt EV squarely in its crosshairs.
Arriving in the U.S. in 2010, the Nissan Leaf was at the forefront of today’s affordable, electric vehicles movement but with only 73 miles of range and a sloping, smooth-faced design that looked like it would be more at home in a science fiction film than an American driveway, it remained a niche vehicle.
Recent years have seen Nissan gradually expand its battery-only capabilities, ultimately stretching the EPA-rated range of the first-generation Leaf to 107 miles while still keeping the sticker price below $37,000 before federal tax breaks.
If Nissan’s projections hold up, the Leaf’s 150-mile range would beat competitors such as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric (124 miles), Honda Clarity (89 miles) and even the pricier BMW i3 (114 miles), though it will still trail well behind the Chevrolet Bolt EV (238 miles) and the Tesla Model 3 (220-310 miles).
However, range isn’t everything. Nissan has also increased power output by 38 percent to 147 horsepower and torque by 26 percent to 236 lb.-ft. while also ramping up acceleration. Overall, the center-mounted 40 kWh battery pack remains the same size as the previous generation, meaning it benefits from a 67-percent increase in energy density compared to the 2010 version.
For those still suffering from range anxiety, Nissan has promised an additional package for 2019 that will bring more power and a longer driving life.
Along with the boosted powertrain, the 2018 Leaf will also benefit from two new driver-assistance features: Nissan’s ProPilot Assist system and e-Pedal technologies.
ProPilot Assist is Nissan’s Level II semi-autonomous driver assistance package. It is, essentially, a lane-centering system paired with adaptive cruise control capable of coming to a complete stop on its own. Lane-centering requires a set of clearly defined lane markers and the driver must keep his or her hands on the steering wheel at all times, or else the system will slowly bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
Nissan said the idea behind this system is to unburden human drivers slightly, not replace them altogether.
The other system, e-Pedal, is akin to the single-pedal driving mode offered in the Chevy Bolt and other EVs. Basically, it cuts power flow to the electric motor as soon as pressure is removed from the accelerator, helping the vehicle come to a complete stop on its own, even in rush hour traffic. This means a driver can use just one pedal 90 percent of the time.
Nissan also updated the electric power steering system in the Leaf, making its torsion bar 10 percent stiffer for a more linear, confident driving experience. Similarly, an Intelligent Ride Control system manipulates torque during cornering for less vibration and more control.
Previously, Nissan seemed to go out of its way to make the Leaf look like something other than a car. With a rounded, featureless body, an anonymous face with oblong headlights and a lumpy, distorted rear end, the first-gen Leaf looked like a botched Toyota Prius.
For 2018, Nissan has put the vehicle back into its EV, applying its familial V-motion grille that flows seamlessly into a set of sharp headlight clusters. The profile, while still sloping, looks more like a traditional hybrid car and less like a doorstop and the back end is more upright and angular.
A few features hint at the Leaf’s electrified innards—including the “freezing” blue, 3D mesh pattern within the grille, its aerodynamically-low hood and its projector-beam headlights—without being too overt.
Nissan also made some changes for convenience, including changing the position and angle of the charging port so owners don’t have to bend down quite as far. Charging takes roughly 16 hours with a 3-kW outlet or 8 hours with a 6-kW source. DC quick charging takes 40 minutes to reach 80 percent capacity.
While the Leaf might not be able to match the Bolt’s battery life, it does seem to have at least one advantage over its closest competitor: interior design.
Chevrolet kept things sparse inside the Bolt, a conscious decision to keep the vehicle’s weight and price at a minimum. At first glance, it seems like Nissan put a little more effort into classing up the Leaf’s cabin, retaining a tech-centric look while also adhering to customary design practices.
In addition to the NissanConnect system, which offers its own navigation software, the Leaf also gets access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2018. The Bolt offers projection features but its baked-in tech offerings are more limited.
Keeping its cargo offering at 23.6 cubic feet, the Leaf retains a healthy advantage over the Bolt, which offers less than 17 cubic feet behind the back seat.
After seven years on the market, the Leaf was in dire need of an upgrade and Nissan seemed to scratch all the right itches: adding range, overhauling the exterior design and outfitting it with the latest technology available.
Will 150 miles be enough to alleviate range anxiety? How will the new Leaf stack up to its growing list of competitors? What can we expect from its 2019 powertrain upgrade? All that remains to be seen, but we’ll start getting answers when the second-generation Leaf arrives here early next year.