There are more than a dozen electric vehicles on sale in America, but it was the Nissan LEAF that led the charge (pun intended) when introduced as a 2011 model. Now the world’s best-selling electric vehicle, LEAF gets a fresh, new look for 2018, including a roomier interior as well as better performance and efficiency. Most importantly, the LEAF has become more mainstream, feeling more like a regular car than simply a novelty — and we mean that in a good way.
“When we launched LEAF in 2010, it instantly became the most affordable mass market EV in the world. We are not walking away from that proposition,” said José Muñoz, chief performance officer of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. and chairman of Nissan North America, Inc. “The value equation for the new LEAF is even stronger than ever before — beginning with a starting MSRP under $30,000. That’s a lower price than the LEAF in market today and it includes more power, range and technology, all wrapped in a beautiful new exterior and interior design,” Muñoz noted.
The new look is a great improvement over the previous LEAF. When introduced, LEAF needed to stand out as something unusual, but now that the car is established, a more mainstream design makes more sense. The new style features the familiar Nissan V-Motion grille, but since air flow is not a requirement, there is layered blue paint behind the Nissan badge that looks like liquid in the sunshine. The overall silhouette is much sleeker than the outgoing model and features what Nissan calls a “floating roofline,” since the roof flows to the rear without seeming to reconnect to the beltline.
The 2018 Nissan LEAF is available in three trim levels: S, SV and SL. In an unusual move, Nissan has priced the new LEAF below the outgoing version while adding considerably more standard equipment, as well as offering an improved driving range and better performance.
Nissan LEAF S
The entry trim of the LEAF lineup, the S has a base price of $29,990. Standard features include automatic climate control, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with four speakers, a 5-inch color display, a trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton start, a rearview monitor and 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers. The LEAF S also comes with automatic emergency braking as well as traction control and vehicle stability control.
Nissan LEAF SV
With a base price of $32,490, the LEAF SV upgrades the S with a 7-inch color touchscreen display, GPS navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an upgraded audio system including HD radio and six speakers, adaptive cruise control, fog lights and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The SV also gets NissanConnect EV that allows remote connectivity to the vehicle via a smartphone app. The applications provides battery charge status and control over the vehicle’s HVAC system so the car can be heated or cooled remotely. Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection is available as an option on the SV and SL.
Nissan LEAF SL
The top-level LEAF is priced at $36,200 and includes a heated steering wheel, an 8-way power driver’s seat, leather trim, heated front seats, rear HVAC ducts, an all-around view monitor and a Bose premium audio system with seven speakers. The SL also stands out from other trims with LED headlights and running lights. Blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are also standard on the SL.
Like the exterior redesign, the interior of LEAF evokes the feeling of a premium sedan. The large display screen is nicely integrated into the dashboard, surrounded by buttons and knobs for easy access to the most important functions. Climate controls are also accessible via hard buttons below the display. We like this type of redundancy in the controls since a touchscreen can be difficult to navigate while trying to concentrate on the road ahead.
Although the 2018 LEAF is a small car, it still feels roomy inside. The peak height of the roof is directly above the front seats, so even tall drivers won’t feel cramped. Side bolsters on the front seats feel snug yet not tight, providing a comfortable ride even for long periods of time.
Although the new LEAF has decent legroom in the rear seat, the sloping roof providing ample headroom for front-seat occupants creates some limitations in the rear seat. The culprit in this case is the battery pack, which is stored under the rear seat so it sits higher than in a typical car of this size.
LEAF offers an acceptable amount of cargo space with easy access through the rear hatch. Multiple grocery bags or suitcases will fit with ease; however, the charging cable takes up a bit of that room if it rides along. Folding the rear seats does provide additional space, but the folded seatbacks are considerably higher than the cargo floor, which can make it difficult to take advantage of the additional space.
Under the Hood
The 2018 LEAF is equipped with a high-response 110-kW AC synchronous electric motor producing 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. That represents a 37 percent bump in horsepower and a 26 percent increase in torque — quite noticeable from behind the wheel.
More Powerful Battery
The LEAF’s power supply is a new 40-kWh laminated lithium-ion battery made up of 192 cells, generating 33 percent more energy than the outgoing model. The pack has the same physical size as the previous version; however, the cells have a higher density. The increase in battery power gives the vehicle an expected range of 150 miles, which is what we experienced during our drive.
Charging with a standard 110-volt household outlet can take up to 35 hours from empty. A 30-amp 220-volt outlet can have the LEAF back to full charge in 7.5 hours — easily accomplished overnight. With a DC fast charger, a 30-minute charge will provide almost 90 miles of driving, while 40 minutes will bring the battery up to 80 percent full for more than 105 miles of range.
The EPA hasn’t posted figures yet for the new LEAF, but Nissan estimates its updated electric car will achieve 124 MPGe city / 101 MPGe hwy / 112 MPGe combined — the same figures as the previous generation.
On the Road
We love the smooth power that comes from an electric motor. With peak torque available right from the start, LEAF accelerates easily up to freeway speeds. In fact, if drivers are not careful they will spin the tires when launching from a stop. Even from 30–40 mph, full throttle will push occupants back in their seats.
Smooth Power and Braking
We had the opportunity to test the 2018 LEAF on winding roads around Napa, California, and found the steering and handling better than expected. Thanks to plenty of torque coupled with smooth power flow, the LEAF is an enjoyable drive. Stopping power comes from either regenerative brakes or typical friction brakes. Often with EVs the transition from regeneration to friction can be difficult to modulate, but braking in the new LEAF is seamless and smooth.
While on our route, which included highways, back roads and stop-and-go traffic, the range readout on the trip computer indicated we would run out of power after 152 miles — right in line with Nissan’s estimated range. We were not particularly conservative during our testing, so this range seems realistic for everyday driving. The range showing in this image was after we had already driven 120 miles.
More Range Coming Soon
Nissan recently announced that an even newer version of LEAF will arrive sometime next year, and it will feature an even larger battery pack with a range of more than 200 miles. No pricing or other details have been released on this future LEAF, but it’s likely that customers will have to pay a premium for such a vehicle. Stay tuned.
A switch on the center console of the 2018 LEAF activates a new feature called e-Pedal. Once activated, e-Pedal lets drivers operate LEAF by throttle alone. Acceleration is as expected, but letting up on the throttle activates the regenerative brakes to slow the vehicle all the way to a stop.
With some practice, a driver can determine when to let off the throttle in e-pedal mode to come to a full stop at a stoplight or stop sign without applying the brake. Once the car comes to a complete stop, the standard friction brakes automatically take over, keeping the car stopped until the throttle is applied again. The friction brakes will hold automatically on slopes up to a 30 percent grade.
Easy to Drive
Not only does e-Pedal capture the maximum amount of energy from braking, it is very easy to get uses to and makes driving more enjoyable. However, drivers need to remember that when they return to driving a car without e-Pedal, the car will not slow on its own. This little fact caught us off guard after becoming accustomed to the e-Pedal system and then immediately switching to a car without it.
Pro Pilot Assist
Recognizing that our driving future includes autonomous vehicles, Nissan has begun preparing drivers for the inevitable by equipping the new LEAF with Pro Pilot Assist. That said, Pro Pilot is not a self-driving system. Nissan describes Pro Pilot as a “hands-on driver assist system,” designed to be used in specific situations such as a multilane freeway. Pro Pilot Assist is available on LEAF SL and SV trims.
Adaptive Cruise With Steering
Pro Pilot is what we would call an advanced adaptive cruise control. After engaging the Pro Pilot with a button on the steering wheel, the driver sets the cruise control to a specific speed. The LEAF will remain at that speed until it meets a slower vehicle in its lane, at which point it remains a set distance behind that vehicle, matching speed all the way down to a stop if necessary. Pro Pilot also provides steering assistance — as the road curves the steering wheel will turn on its own, keeping the vehicle in its lane.
Pro Pilot in Action
We employed Pro Pilot on the freeway as well as on a few back roads in Napa. The adaptive cruise works perfectly, pacing behind the forward vehicle, and stopping on its own when the car in front stops. It feels eerie when the steering wheel first turns underhand on its own, but the system works well, even following curves of the road.
As mentioned, the system is not designed to drive itself, but in the interest of road testing we took our hands off the wheel to see what would happen (don’t try this at home). After about 10 seconds a visual alert appears for the driver to retake the wheel. If this gets ignored, an audible alert begins. The audible alert continues to get louder and more frequent until ultimately the vehicle brings itself to a halt.
Nissan offers a smartphone app that lets LEAF drivers stay connected to their vehicles. The app communicates battery status, time to charge, and even provides an alert when charging completes. Other functions include remote lock / unlock as well as setting the climate control, so the car is warmed or cooled when the driver gets in. The app will even help locate the car if a driver can’t remember where it’s parked. Many of these functions are also accessible via wearable technology such as smartwatches.
Nissan has integrated many of the smartphone functions with Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service. A driver can tell Alexa to warm the LEAF’s interior, or ask it if the car has been charged.
Right for You?
The array of electric cars in America has grown considerably since that first LEAF went on sale. Even though electric cars are a miniscule portion of total cars sold in America, the market for these cars is still competitive. With its fresh design, roomy interior, higher performance and improved efficiency, LEAF is even more relevant today than it was when it was at the forefront of the electric car wave. Affordable and usable as a daily driver, the LEAF should once again introduce a new set of customers to the wonders of driving an electric car.
Pros: Smooth performance; extended range; smartphone integration.
Cons: Low headroom in rear seat; lengthy charge time on 110-volt power.
Bottom Line: LEAF offers more performance for less money and an attractive new look.