The second generation of Nissan’s pioneering electric vehicle has now arrived. But is it the game changer its manufacturer claims it to be?
On the road
On the road
Nissan’s Leaf was a pioneer when it launched in 2010 – the first ‘proper’ full electric car. It’s now the first electric car to reach a second-generation model, with the arrival of the all-new Leaf, a car the brand has been describing as a “game-changer” on several levels.
The three main pillars Nissan is focused on are ones it brands Intelligent Power, Intelligent Driving and Intelligent Integration, while it also highlights the styling improvements, swapping to a more edgy design than the rounded predecessor.
Intelligent Power covers the new 40kWh electric powertrain that offers more performance and significantly improved battery range, Intelligent Driving covers the safety equipment designed to reduce driver fatigue, and Intelligent Integration is the longer-term goal of using the car to help combat power shortages at peak times by feeding stored energy back into the grid, and then recharging the car overnight when there’s less stress on the network. That last one is a more distant goal, but the others apply right now.
For the uninitiated, the Leaf is a full-electric car, which means it runs solely on battery power, with no hybrid systems providing petrol- or diesel-engined back-up.
The key thing with these cars is range. And for the Leaf it’s very much a good news story, although much of that message is lost in the general Government-orchestrated chaos of the move from the old NEDC efficiency tests to the new and more ‘real-world’ WLTP measurements.
Comparing like with like, the range of the new Leaf is 67 miles better than the outgoing car’s. So, under the old NEDC test, its range figure is 235 miles, which is beaten only by the smaller Renault Zoe or the much more expensive Tesla Model S and Model X. Under the new test regime, the official figure is actually 168 miles, and in our experience it’s a very realistic one in everyday usage. For example, we found the predicted range dropped by 57 miles on a 55.6-mile journey taking in motorways (at a 65mph cruise), urban and single carriageway roads, and a 10.9-mile urban run took only nine miles off the projected range.
Pick up the speed or accelerate more aggressively and that drops away; more rapid journeys were recording around 90% of the indicated range, which still means a fairly comfortable 140 miles between charges. That’s plenty for the majority of journeys, and if it’s not enough on a regular basis then that user is doing the miles to justify sticking with diesel, whatever the newspapers may be coming out with. If it’s not enough on an occasional basis then it takes very little time to get into the EV mindset of planning a recharge stop. From the low battery alert to 80% full using a 50kW quick charger takes 45-60 minutes, while a full wallbox charge overnight from empty to full takes 7.5 hours. On top of all that, the navigation system offers real-time information on charging points. All-in-all, there’s not much of a mental adjustment required for most people to settle into an EV lifestyle, given the financial benefits in terms of fuel, taxation and maintenance costs, and the Leaf makes it a straightforward process.
This latest Leaf went on sale earlier this year with five trim levels, but Nissan has now lopped off the top and bottom ones; the launch trim of 2.Zero has sold out, and the entry-level Visia has been dropped due to a claimed lack of demand as buyers go for the higher models.
That leaves Acenta, N-Connecta and the top-spec Tekna version driven here.
All get a very impressive level of safety technology, covering blind-spot alert, autonomous emergency braking including pedestrian recognition, cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and intelligent lane intervention, and the Leaf was recently the first car to take, and earn the maximum five stars in, the more stringent updated Euro NCAP crash test.
In addition, every trim of Leaf comes with alloy wheels, keyless entry, climate control, the 7.0-inch NissanConnect infotainment and navigation system including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and intelligent cruise control. On N-Connecta the £1700 extra cost pays for alloys that go up an inch to 17-inch, and the car also gets privacy glass, electric folding door mirrors, heated part-leather seats and the clever around-view monitor giving a bird’s-eye view of the car for parking manoeuvres, combined with parking sensors and moving-object detection.
The more extravagant buyer can also add another £1500 to the price and go for the top Tekna spec, with its full-LED headlights, full-leather door trims and seats, electronic parking brake, Bose premium audio system and the ProPilot system that is effectively another step to autonomous driving by using cameras and sensors to keep the car in-lane on motorways to cut fatigue.
One feature fitted to every car is the e-Pedal accelerator. Regular driving is possible through the normal Drive setting, or you can increase the regenerative braking function by slotting the car into the Brake setting, or there’s a third option by flicking the e-Pedal switch. That massively increases the regeneration to the point where Nissan claims up to 90% of driving can be undertaken using just the one pedal. It really works, too. The downside is that you don’t get the regular creep function of an automatic, as you do with the Leaf when e-Pedal is switched off, but with a small amount of mental adjustment and forward planning, it’s genuinely possible to drive the Leaf, in both urban settings or at higher speeds, using just the accelerator pedal and the regenerative braking when you lift off. It’s powerful enough to bring the car to a pretty smart full stop, and Nissan says it creates a maximum of 0.2g. In truth, it’s a slight gimmick to call it e-Pedal when it’s ‘just’ a much more severe setting for the brake regeneration, but it works effectively and intuitively to help extend the range.
Otherwise, the Leaf is a bit of a mixed bag on the road. The instant delivery from the electric powertrain is excellent, and makes the car feel quicker than the on-paper stats, which themselves are in line with those of a 150hp diesel hatch. But the ride quality isn’t the best, with the car letting you know about bumps in the road, rather than cossetingly absorbing them. The brake pedal also had a slightly odd spring effect that pushes against the foot (when you have to use it rather than the e-Pedal system!).
On the inside, this top-spec trim is nicely appointed, although the lower trims don’t get the leather seats or interior trim, and there’s a decent amount of interior storage. The armrest is a little odd though, set quite high, and with the elbow spot seemingly set for left-hand drive cars so there ends up being a gap where you’d want to put your arm. The stowage beneath it is deep but not very wide.
Rear legroom is more than adequate, but overall headroom isn’t quite as good, with taller drivers brushing up against the roof lining. Boot space is class leading in as much as it’s better than any similar-sized electric vehicle, from a very limited pool; the space also beats those in many lower medium hatchbacks, so will cope just fine with day-to-day family life.
Residual values have been rising for plug-in vehicles, and the Leaf has now passed the 30% mark, according to values experts Kee Resources, which puts the electric car on a par with or ahead of mainstream diesel hatches. A slightly higher purchase price for the top Tekna-trimmed Leaf puts it behind its Hyundai Ioniq and VW e-Golf full electric rivals, but the running costs equation now tips towards electric vehicles over internal combustion engines if the car is doing high enough mileage to save the money on fuel that you’ve had to pay out up front on the higher purchase price, even after the £4500 Government grant. And the savings for company car drivers on plug-ins over regular internal combustion engine vehicles are big, and amplified for full-electric models over plug-in hybrids, if journey patterns allow drivers to embrace battery-powered electric vehicles.
The Leaf does genuinely move the game on in terms of styling, practicality and range, while also offering great levels of safety equipment, and could well become the poster child of electric vehicles being ready for mass adoption.
The first-generation Leaf was a bit of a success, with Nissan selling more than 280,000 cars worldwide, making it the number one electric car since it went on sale in 2010. It has remained by far the biggest-selling pure electric car in the UK, grabbing almost half of full EV sales.
In fact, during the gap from old to new at the turn of the year, the downturn in EV sales was so noticeable that ill-informed commentators that hadn’t made the link were asking if electric car sales were dying off, when the plunge was caused solely by one model not being available.
The first-generation car, which Nissan describes as the “first mass-market electric vehicle”, won the European Car of the Year award in 2011, a first for a plug-in vehicle, and the new model got off to a flying start at the beginning of this year, with Nissan claiming 12,000 orders in the first three months worldwide. That has since passed the 20,000 mark, taking the Leaf over 300,000 sales across its two generations.
The original Leaf had an official 124-mile range, which was raised in 2016 to 155 miles with the addition of a 30kW battery, compared to the new car’s 40kW and 235 miles, all using the same NEDC test figures.
What they said
What They Said
“The fleet channel is highly important for Nissan and our competitive advantage lies with the insight we can offer via our experienced EV fleet field team, along with a leading EV product line-up."
"Historically, we’ve seen a fleet mix of around 15% with Leaf, which has tended to be lower at the time of new model introduction, as retail demand tends to spike and reduce fleet mix. However, this trend has reversed with the new generation Leaf, and we’ve seen early demand from the fleet sector. So far it has accounted for around a third of all orders and sales - up more than 15% over the old car.”
Iker Lazzari, fleet director, Nissan GB
Need to know
Three things we like...
Parking new next to old highlights the big styling improvement
It’s good that the e-Pedal defaults to how it was set when last driven
There’s a nice angle to the armrest, rather than the usual flat arrangement
...And one we don't
As with most EVs, charging requires the non-textbook nose-first parking
Lovely punch of acceleration from the electric powertrain, but the Leaf is still not as dynamically rewarding as regular rivals.
It’s hard to argue with a 0g/km figure and the cost benefits that come with that. Driven sensibly, the Leaf’s range comes down pretty much in line with the miles covered, helping peace of mind.
Decent space all round and a good size of boot.
The amount of safety kit fitted as standard is excellent, and overall equipment generous. Although the lack of options is good for some fleets, but does mean less flexibility.
Big improvement over the last car, with creased lines replacing the more rounded first Leaf’s design.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
Refinement is obviously excellent as the engine noise is replaced by a slight whir, but ride quality isn’t great; you feel bumps rather than them being properly soaked up.
Great quality and reasonable storage, with the biggest criticism being the small armrest storage and the armrest itself not being set at a great height to rest an arm on.
The screen is a bit shallow, but the system all works well and gives plenty of EV-related info.
Whole life costs 9/10
The cost case for EVs is coming into sharper focus and the Leaf reinforces that, although the top trim is pricier than rival models.
CCT opinion 9/10
Not perfect, but clearly the next stage in EV development.
The range, looks, safety kit and improved residual values all make sure the Leaf is more appealing than ever. In the right application, it’s a cost-effective fleet vehicle.