The 2018 Nissan LEAF has been on the roads for a few months now and I had a chance to get behind this redesigned version of a solid electric vehicle. I am fond of the Nissan LEAF and I drive a 2017 LEAF as my daily driver. If you are familiar with the LEAF you will notice some similarities with the previous LEAF, but Nissan has really done quite a facelift inside and out.
The first thing you will notice is all new styling and lines, there is no longer the bug eye looking headlamps that were designed to flow air around the mirrors and cut down on wind noise, nor does it have the “bubble butt” rear bumper as my wife likes to put it. Nissan creatively sculpted the hood to flow the air around the mirrors while giving it a sporty new look. The front end has also been redesigned and looks more in line with the rest of Nissan’s lineup. The bubble front bumper has been eliminated and the LEAF now has a somewhat aggressive front end. The charge port has been moved up and angled for better access without having to bend over as far to use, but remains nicely, right where I think charge ports should be, on the front of the hood.
Step inside and you will comfortability be right at home if you are a previous LEAF owner, and be just as comfortable if you have driven other small to mid-size vehicles like the Honda Accord, Nissan Sentra, or Toyota Corolla. This familiarity is what Nissan had in mind in attracting customers to its electric vehicle offering. The dash, steering wheel, and controls don’t scream “I’m an EV”, in fact, other than the familiar futuristic gear selector found on the previous LEAF, until you push the start button and are greeted with a few chimes, a battery meter, and dead silence, you won’t even know your in an electric vehicle.
Comfort and new tech
Nissan has three trim levels, the S, SV, and the fully loaded SL. The 2018 LEAF has a whole host of new features including standard automated emergency braking and Nissan’s new e-pedal that allows you true one pedal driving for all trim levels. You also get a 7.0-inch color display in the gauge cluster that shows trip information, battery information, turn by turn directions, caller ID, and other safety information. I found this display to be very clear, crisp, and easy to navigate. The S trim level provides you with a 5.0-inch touchscreen in the center console that includes audio information and a rearview camera view. LED taillights, auto headlights, and auto climate control also comes standard at all trim levels. Optional packages for the S trim level include the Charge package for $1590.00 that includes a 120 V/ 240 V charge cable and a quick charge port with a 6.6 kW onboard charger, and the All-Weather package for $450.00 that gets you heated outside mirrors, rear under seat heater ducts, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
Step it up to the SV trim and you get a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, intelligent cruise control that maintains an adjustable speed and distance from the car in front of you, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, available Nissan navigation, NissanConnect EV, and Services that lets you connect your vehicle to an app on your phone and check battery status, start charging, and set auto climate settings. Options at this trim level are the All-weather package for $900.00 that is the same as the S but includes a Hybrid climate system that takes less energy to run, which equals increased range since you will be drawing less kW to run it. I have a Hybrid climate system on my 2017 SV LEAF and it can come in really handy especially when the outside temperature drops significantly. The Technology package adds a whole host of tech features, including an electric parking brake, intelligent lane intervention, blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, high beam assist, LED headlights and signature daytime running lights, and the much talked about Nissan ProPilot semi-autonomous driver assist system for $2,200.00.
Finally stepping into the SL level trim will get you full leather-appointed seating, 8 way powered driver seat with 2 way lumbar, a Bose premium audio system, and a full 360-degree surround camera system with a bird’s eye view surrounding the vehicle. The option at this trim level is the Technology package for $650.00 and adds the ProPilot assist and electronic parking brake. The price is less for the Technology package at this trim level because the rest of the features that are included at the SV level are standard for the SL trim.
The LEAF now has a 147-hp (110 kW) AC synchronous electric motor, this is up from a 107-hp (80 kW) motor in previous years. The torque has also been increased to 236 lb-ft from the previous 187 lb-ft. You can definitely feel the difference in torque in the new LEAF and it may even put a little smile on your face. The previous LEAF had plenty of power to dive in and out of lanes during traffic at will when needed and you will find no problems with maneuvering with the increased e-powertrain of this new LEAF.
The battery has been increased to a 40 kWh lithium-ion pack from the previous 30 kWh pack found on the 2016 and 2017 LEAFs. The pack is the same dimensions but is reported to be denser allowing for the increased kWh. Nissan does not have active cooling for the battery pack and instead uses passive cooling to cool the battery. Passive cooling is done by flowing air when the vehicle is in motion. This was a surprising choice by Nissan to use passive cooling since it is one area that many current owners, including myself, would like to see changed to active cooling like Telsa’s or the Chevy Bolt. This is important since you can tend to see an increased degradation of battery capacity over time due to heat. With the 40 kWh battery, you can expect a 150 mile EPA rated range. This range will of course change based on driving conditions and weather.
I was able to get my hands on a nicely equipped SV trim model with the All-weather and Technology package options. I have to say I had a smile on my face just walking up to the all-new LEAF. The new styling and sporty lines give a whole new feeling to the LEAF and surprisingly it is built on the same form factor as the previous LEAF. The LED headlamps and the signature running lamps are a welcome upgrade. The color scheme with the two-tone colors and floating roof design add to the attractiveness, and the blue highlighted stripe at the rear of the vehicle just below the back bumper gives you a hint that this is an electric vehicle, if only in a subtle way. The 17-inch alloy wheels look very similar to my 2017 LEAF wheels and work well on the new LEAF.
Stepping into the new LEAF I felt right at home, the sitting position felt very similar to the previous LEAF, and although the controls on the steering wheel have changed and the instrument cluster is different, especially with the analog speedometer, the rest of the interior felt very familiar to me. Nissan did a great job with the 7.0-inch instrument cluster screen, the information I needed to know during actual driving conditions is right front and center and at my disposal when needed. I was able to easily navigate through each screen with the steering wheel controls and obtain information like miles/ kWh, averages, battery percentage, battery capacity, battery temperature, current audio settings, all safety system information, and ProPilot feedback when in use.
The biggest differences I noticed was the e-pedal switch and ECO switch located on the console between the driver and passenger seats. I must say, positioning my seat with 8-way electric adjustable controls was pure bliss. I really did not think I missed that much on my 2017 LEAF, but you realize how much easier it makes it when adjusting your position. I am still perplexed as to why Nissan did not include full adjust for the steering wheel, you can still only adjust the height up and down, but no telescoping to be found.
The biggest first difference I noticed with the LEAF was the firmness to the seats, they definitely felt more premium and supportive. As I pulled out onto the road I immediately noticed the firmer and more responsive steering of the LEAF. The increased road feedback is a welcomed surprise. The feedback is not to the level of, let’s say, a Mazda 3 for a fair comparison, but it is a huge improvement over the previous LEAF. The acceleration was quick and responsive, and you can feel the torque kick in. The LEAF happily steered through corners with increased firmness and less roll
I am a private pilot, and if I could best describe Nissan’s ProPilot system, I would say it is a great co-pilot. It is there to assist you, but not take over, and that is what Nissan was aiming for, and it does it well. Once I was on the highway I was able to engage Nissan’s ProPilot, semi-autonomous, driving assist system. I found ProPilot to find the lane lines very quickly and the system provided me with immediate visual and auditory feedback that ProPilot had been activated. The system kept the vehicle within the center of the lane and I did not find any ping-pong effect as you find in some other vehicles with driver assist systems. The system did equally as well around long sweeping corners on the highway that I tested it on. The other nice feature I found was, that even know it will not actually change lanes for you, it will kick back in after you make the lane change manually and it picks up the lane lines again.
The system is activated very similar to activating any cruise control system with the exception that you need to push the blue ProPilot button on the steering wheel to engage it. Nissan is clear that this is not a fully autonomous system and requires driver attentiveness during operation. The system will give you visual and auditory feedback if your hands are removed from the steering wheel for more than a few seconds. If you continue to leave your hands off the steering wheel the system will attempt to alert you with a couple of brake taps, after that the vehicle will start to slow it’s speed and put on the hazard lights automatically, and then bring you to a controlled full stop.
60 kWh LEAF is coming
Nissan is expected to release a 60 kWh LEAF sometime in 2019 and its estimated to have over a 200-mile range, and include active thermal battery management. It is also rumored that it will be the first CHAdeMO quick charge EV to offer 100-kW charging, which is double the standard 50-kW quick charging today. 100-kW charging will be game-changing for the average EV owner outside of the Tesla world, but the charging infrastructure will have to be in place to take advantage of it.
How I see it
At over 300,000 LEAFs sold worldwide to date since the LEAF first launched in 2010, and 2018 sale numbers pushing Nissan to the number one spot, Nissan knows the EV market and has done a great job with the re-design of the 2018 Nissan LEAF. Being an experienced EV driver and owning a current 2017 LEAF, in my opinion, Nissan was smart offering a 150-mile electric vehicle with the current competition out there. You see, there is a sweet spot with EVs, and most of us do not need 200, or even 300 mile EVs, we might like the idea of it, but those miles come at a steep price with current battery technology.
Nissan has managed to offer the LEAF starting at $29,990 MSRP for the base, S level trim, and you can pick up a top of the line SL with leather, heated seats, heated steering wheel, and the technology package with ProPilot for $38,380 MSRP. That undercuts the competition like the Tesla Model 3, or the Chevy Bolt EV, and gets you more for less. The Tesla and the Chevy are great EVs and will offer you more range and active thermal battery management, but it is hard to not place the Nissan LEAF at the top of your EV shopping list if you don’t need the bigger battery and range. What do you think? Is the LEAF going to be on your shopping list? Leave a comment below.