2018 Nissan Leaf EV First Drive.

Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf

The 2018 Nissan Leaf is the latest edition of the brand’s all-electric mobility solution. Improved in almost every way, it has turned the corner, away from the awkward looks of its predecessor, to a style resembling other vehicles in the Nissan lineup. Along the way, it receives a lot more content for a lot less money.

And lest you think Nissan is a relative newcomer to the electrification game, think again: The brand introduced its first electric vehicle more than 70-years ago with the 1947 Tama EV, which was built by Tokyo Electro Automobile Company, which was later to become part of the Nissan corporate umbrella.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf features a look that brings it more in line with the internal combustion engine side of the family, even going so far as to incorporate the floating roof of its big-brother Nissan Murano. The V-Motion grille is also along for the ride and a new revised charging port appears directly above the company logo, which requires less effort and bending to plug in the charging cords. We photographed it in the Napa Valley and at Trefethen Family Vineyards.

Three-Legged Stool.

Along with the new 2018 Nissan Leaf, the company introduced its new Intelligent Mobility initiative. Built like a three-legged stool, it is comprised of Intelligent Driving, Intelligent Power and Intelligent Integration. It’s the next step towards autonomous driving, at least as far as Nissan is concerned. To that end, they have introduced a lot of innovation that along the way makes way for a surprising amount of driving fun. That’s a big deal for us to say as we have found totally electric vehicles generally less than engaging.

Intelligent Driving.

The triumvirate starts with Intelligent Driving. Nissan’s ProPilot Assist offers a hands-on driver assistance function that tracks highway lines to assist in keeping the Leaf within its lanes. Combined with adaptive cruise control, the system uses cameras and works best on a limited access highway. It helps to make lane keeping a less fatiguing task, thanks to torque generating sensors that check the positions of the vehicle within the lines or when making lane changes. Hands ARE required, otherwise an alert will subtly remind you to replace them on the tiller. Failure to do so results in a visual, dashboard-based alert, followed by an annoying fast beep that will have your hands back on the wheel in no time.

Also a part of the Intelligent Driving suite, the Leaf’s e-Pedal simplifies driving controls to a single pedal although the brake pedal remains. With the e-Pedal, control is placed in the accelerator only, which delivers power while being pressed by the foot, and conversely offering braking when the accelerator is released, bringing the vehicle to a slowdown and complete stop depending on speed and following distance. Similar to the operations seen in the Chevrolet Bolt EV, it makes the operations in the Leaf more satisfying and engaging. A multi-function pedal, engaged by flicking a switch on the center console, it is capable of accelerating, decelerating, stopping and holding the Leaf on grades up to 30-percent. Along the way, it can also use regenerative and friction braking to send power back to the battery, which in turn helps extend the range of the vehicle. When it feels the e-Pedal feels won’t do the job, the standard brake pedal is still there for the driver to apply full braking pressure.

Intelligent Power.

Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf

Power for the 2018 Nissan Leaf comes from a new electric motor making 110 kW, a 37-percent kick in the pants, going from 107- to 147 horsepower. Torque has improved from 187 to 236 lb-ft of torque, a gain of 26-percent. Both help to present instantaneous torque and more than enough power to safely merge onto high-speed motorways.

The Leaf’s battery pack is larger, climbing from 30kW to 40kW. That’s a 33-percent increase in power from a series of battery cells that fit the same footprint. The range has increased, give or take a few miles depending on driving style and power regeneration, but with an expected range of 150-miles, it sits within a white space that Nissan says is not currently being served. The battery cells sit under the front and back seats, just as they did on the previous version. Charging is improved, with a portable Level 1 and Level 2 charging cable included. It supports 240 and 120 volt charging and no longer requires a 240 charger hard-wired into the garage. Using a DC Quick Charger, an 80-percent charge, good for approximately 105 miles, can be had in 40 minutes. A Level 2 charger can do the same task in 7.5-hours while the Level 1 120V charger can do the job in about 35 hours.

Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf

Inside, the Leaf features three grades of interior ranging from fabric to leather-faced seating. A seven-inch display helps to control nearly every aspect of the car, including the navigation and Bose premium audio system. The Leaf provides a comfortable ride with a couple of caveats: The steering wheel does not telescope which might make for a difficult driving position for some bodies, and the center console only sports a single USB port. With most Leaf buyers, and their friends, likely to be tech-geeks, there is a good chance of charge-port wars breaking out.

From the standpoint of competitors, the 2018 Leaf goes up against the Ford Focus Electric, Hyundai’s Ionic Electric, Volkswagen’s E-Golf, the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Intelligent Integration.

Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf

The 2018 Nissan Leaf takes a full buy-in on the concept of connected car. Nissan Connect with Navigation is front and center, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Integration is included. From a safety standpoint, Standard Automatic Emergency Braking, and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection are now part of the suite.

NissanConnect EVs and Services incorporates features from the smartphone app that includes Find My Car, Cool My Car, a customizable dashboard and remote door lock and unlock. Amazon’s Alexa is part of the effort and includes such functions as saying “Alexa, cool my car or set the radio to Sirius Outlaw Country.”

A Value Proposition.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf plays the added-value game, being loaded with a lot more content for a lot less money. Available in three levels ranging from base model S at $29,990, it features $4,500 more content for $690 less dollars (2.2-percent decrease). The mid-ranged Leaf SV includes an extra $5,000 in content and a price reduction of $1,710 (5-percent decrease) starting at $32,490. Finally, the top-shelf Leaf SL that we sampled on the roads around California’s Napa Valley, arrive with an additional $6,783 in value and a 1.6-percent price reduction to $35,200.

Behind the Wheel.

Our previous ride in the 2014 Nissan Leaf, had us in a mood that can be summed up as anxious. Anxious because of the limited range of +/- 87 miles per charge; it had us driving with one eye on the road and the other on the power meter. We needed a shower when finished.

What a difference a few years makes. We found the 2018 Leaf more elegantly refined over its predecessor, offering an inviting interior that didn’t dwell so much on the electrification of the car as much as the enjoyment of the ride.

Acceleration rivaled a high-performance hot-rod, without the Brrrrrrrrrrrp from the tailpipes, because truthfully there are none. Instead, think of it as a slot car without the slot. There’s no gas cap either. Just some subtle blue badging to let you know that this is an e-vehicle.

In standard mode the Leaf is very car-like with a ride that is less artificial than the previous version. But our real joy happened while driving in the e-Pedal mode, which applied the brakes as soon as the accelerator is released. Truly engaging and exciting, it turned out to be our favorite available driving style.

The new Leaf is the perfect car for those needing more than an around town cruiser, but not as much as a higher mileage Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt EV. It bridges the gap between both realms, but if you need even more, sit tight until 2019, when Nissan announced they will bring a Leaf with battery range that reaches over 200 miles.

2017 Nissan Leaf

Story and photos © by Mark Elias

Leaf S $29,990

Leaf SV $32,490

Leaf SL $36,200

 

Configuration: Five Passenger, four door midsize hatchback.

Power:           147-horsepower electric motor

Torque:         236 lb-ft

Charging:     220V-7.5 hours

110V-35 hours

Range:          150 miles

Battery:        40kWh Lithium-Ion battery. 192 cells.

Drive:           Front Wheel Drive

Transmission: Single Speed Reducer

Drive Mode: Normal

Eco-Mode

B-Mode

Wheelbase:   106.3-inches

Length:          176.4-inches

Width:            70.5-inches

Height:          61.4-inches

Ground Clearance: 5.9-inches

Curb Weight: 4,453 pounds

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