The key benefit of the new Nissan LEAF e+ compared to previous versions of the LEAF is the increased electric driving range, which is now 239 miles based on the WLTP combined cycle.
The Nissan LEAF was the first mass-produced all-electric family car and since its original launch it has sold well in the UK and Europe (it was the top selling electric vehicle in Europe in 2018). Early models had a real-life driving range of around 100 miles, or less in winter, which provided a barrier for many drivers of petrol and diesel cars who might have considered switching to an EV. The latest LEAF e+ has a 239 mile range according to the new, more realistic WLTP test, which should make it a more viable offering for motorists.
The LEAF is a 5-door, 5-seat hatchback with 385 litres of boot space. The exterior styling of the latest LEAF now looks more mainstream and in our eyes – and seemingly in most people’s – is an improvement compared to the first generation LEAF. The interior has also been improved on this latest model.
Few major engineering changes have taken place under the skin – aside from the larger 62 kWh lithium-ion battery in this new LEAF e+. This offers 55% more capacity and a 25% improvement in energy density while retaining a similar shape and size to the 40kWh LEAF battery pack. Maximum power output and torque have been also improved to 217PS and 340 Nm, delivering more powerful acceleration.
The battery sits in the vehicle floor (the low centre of gravity helps with handling), there’s an electric motor under the bonnet, and the LEAF is front-wheel drive.
The Nissan LEAF e+ shares the driving characteristics of most electric cars: it moves off swiftly and silently, with the constantly available 340 Nm of torque giving a strong, linear feel to its acceleration. Our driving during the week that the LEAF was on test covered all imaginable types of road, from motorways to urban areas, with everything in between, including winding country roads and the hilly Peak District. At all times the LEAF is easy to drive and eager to accelerate (it has a very respectable 0-62 mph time of 6.9 seconds), whilst being comfortable, quiet and refined – as well as being zero emission.
The LEAF has automatic transmission, with ‘D’ and ‘B’ settings. The B setting captures more regeneration, simulating the feel of engine braking – which is useful for driving through areas such as the Peak District, with lots of hills and corners.
However the LEAF also has an ‘e-pedal’. When activated, this provides maximum regeneration – to the extent that ‘one-foot driving’ is possible, ie. you just need to lift off the accelerator and the car will brake itself using the regen system. There are some times when having the e-pedal switched on is helpful, and some times when you might prefer it to be off, but overall the e-pedal is either ‘on’ or ’off’. We preferred the B setting on the transmission, which is a bit more of a ‘half-way house’ setting, but ideally a range of regen levels controlled by steering wheel-mounted paddles would be best, which is what many other EVs offer.
There’s also an Eco button – which proved useful when two public rapid chargers didn’t work and there was an urgent necessity to maximise the LEAF’s range.
Drilling down to more detail highlights a few issues to be aware of. We went to Oslo to see the unveiling of this latest ‘version 2’ of the LEAF back in October 2017. The first thing we did was jump in the car (which was on static display only rather than being available for driving) to see if Nissan had introduced a reach adjustable steering column for this latest model. After releasing the steering column mechanism and spending a few moments trying to pull the wheel to see if it moved, it became obvious that the one improvement that we wanted hadn’t been made. This is still the case for the LEAF e+ 3.ZERO, which means that many people will not be able to get the right driving position, as the steering wheel is in a fixed location close to the dashboard and a long way from the driver’s seat. So although the LEAF – like most EVs – is basically very good to drive, ultimately the driving experience is compromised by the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment.
Aside from this issue, the driving experience is generally pleasant overall, but at higher speeds the car feels ‘floaty’ rather than planted to the road. At lower speeds, if you’re accelerating quickly to get into a gap in traffic, especially in the wet, because the LEAF is front-wheel drive, all that torque can lead to wheelspin and torque steer.
And compared to many rivals, the infomedia system feels dated, and in particular the satnav could really benefit from improvement. The screen is small, and when using sat nav on motorways and dual carriageways, half of the screen is often taken up with a list of roads junctions or service stations ahead, leaving very little space for the map. The mapping graphics don’t feature much detail, and the colours of red and blue for roads and your route aren’t very clear, especially at night when the map background is black.
The whole point of the LEAF is that it has zero tailpipe emissions. And this latest version offers a more practical 239 mile combined electric driving range according to the new, more realistic WLTP test. We managed 243 miles on one charge in the real-world, suggesting that the WLTP figure is pretty accurate. On the WLTP City cycle, the range increase to 319 miles.
Most people charge their EVs at home, when a 7kW home charger would take 11 hours 30 minutes to charge the car from empty to full. This would take 32 hours on a domestic ‘3 pin plug’.
In our week with the LEAF we drove from Manchester via Nottingham to Melton Mowbray and back. To achieve this journey we had to use public charging. We’ve reported on our latest experience of public charging in a separate story, but in summary, let’s just say that the 99% of motorists who are yet to make the switch to electric cars will not put up with having to register with lots of different apps for different charging providers to charge their cars around the UK – especially when the charging points then don’t work.
If you can find a public charger that does work, then the LEAF has a 50kW CHAdeMO quick charger with 100kW capability. Nissan says that the LEAF is equipped with charging safeguards to protect the battery during repeated rapid charging sessions in a short period of time; the time taken for successive rapid charging can take longer if the battery temperature activates the battery safeguarding technology. This basically means that you can’t necessarily carry out repeated rapid charges of the LEAF.
The Nissan LEAF e+ 3.ZERO, including Magnetic Red Metallic Paint (£575), costs £36,670. This is after deduction of the £3,500 Government Plug-in Grant. Our test car had the option of a Two-Tone Pearl Black Roof (£350), taking the total price of this car to £36,820.
There’s also the (non e+) Nissan LEAF, with 150PS and a 168 mile range, from £27,995.
There’s one factor that’s likely to steer many people towards the Nissan LEAF, as well as towards other EVs: Benefit in Kind company car tax will drop to zero percent in April 2020 (reflecting the lack of joined-up government thinking, the BIK rate for EVs is currently 16%).
Although EVs may still be more expensive to buy than similar petrol or diesel cars, the running costs of an EV can be around one-fifth of those of a petrol car.
The Nissan LEAF e+ 3.ZERO is essentially a good car to drive, and with zero tailpipe emissions, it makes much more sense for journeys that are primarily in urban areas than petrol or diesel cars. It also has improved styling compared to the original LEAF model, and is reasonably practical in terms of space. Critically, the 239 mile electric range means that more people are likely to consider it.
However the main challenge for the LEAF is the presence of rivals such as from Hyundai and Kia, in the form of the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Kia e-Niro, and the forthcoming new Kia Soul EV. All three of these cars have longer WLTP electric driving ranges (of around 280 miles), and they cost less than the LEAF – in the case of the Hyundai KONA Electric, it costs £32,845 after the government’s £3,500 Plug-in Car Grant – so it’s £3,825 cheaper than the LEAF. The Hyundai and Kia EVs also have steering columns that adjust for reach, so you can enjoy a better driving position. But perhaps the key issue is that if the 40 or so miles of extra driving range means that you don’t have to fight with the current UK public charging infrastructure as often, then that could be the deciding factor in your buying decision.
The Nissan LEAF e+ 3.ZERO is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.