The all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf, driven
12/7/2017 Jonathan M. Gitlin
[images / Jonathan Gitlin
The second-gen EV has a longer range, more power, and is a better value for
YOUNTVILLE, Calif.—Nissan arguably doesn't get nearly enough credit for
mainstreaming the electric vehicle. Sure, Tesla made EVs cool among Silicon
Valley's venture-capital set who aspire to a clean, fast, and prosperous
future. And the Chevrolet Bolt is GM's second bite at the cherry that
actually worked, proving all those EV-1s didn't die in vain. But since 2010,
it's Nissan that has actually been selling the most cars, with more than
290,000 Leafs worldwide, 114,000 of them here in the US.
Now there's an all-new Leaf, one with better range, more power, better
technology, and for less money than before. After spending the day driving
one, I came away impressed.
The outgoing Leaf might have sold well, but there's no escaping the fact
that, by 2017's standards, it was outdated technology. The electric motor
has been carried over, but there's a new inverter, among other improvements.
Power output is boosted from 80kW (107hp) to 110kW (147hp), and it's more
torquey—320Nm (236ft-lbs) in the 2018 versus 254Nm (187ft-lbs) in the old
Previous Leafs launched with a 24kWh battery, and even when they were bumped
mid-life to a 30kWh pack, their range was dwarfed by the Model S and then
the Bolt. Lithium-ion know-how has come a long way since then, and so the
second-generation Leaf now comes with a 40kWh pack, which means about 150
miles (241km) of range on a full charge. The new pack keeps the same
footprint and still uses 192 cells, but now these are bundled as 24 modules
of eight rather than 48 modules of four. A 60kWh, longer-range battery is in
the pipeline, but we'll have to wait until model year 2019 for that one.
Although Nissan says battery management is improved, we know that some
people are still concerned that, without active thermal management,
degradation over time will be more of a problem than it is for EVs from
Tesla or GM.
Every Leaf now ships with an onboard 6.6kW charger. Supplied with such
power, the battery will fully recharge in 7.5 hours. (At 3.3kW, this will
take 12 hours, and expect to spend 35 hours charging if you're limited to a
110v supply.) The SV and SL trim levels also include a CHAdeMO DC fast
charging port at 50kW that will add 69 percent (or 88 miles of range) in 30
minutes, or 80 percent (105 miles of range) in 40 minutes. Nissan says it's
exploring the possibility of accepting greater power inputs, but there is
nothing concrete to report on that front as of yet.
Finally, at some point, it will also be possible to connect one's Leaf to
the house grid and use it as a mobile battery pack. The idea emerged in the
aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku-Oki earthquake, and between 4,000-5,000
Leaf-to-Grid installations have been completed in Japan. But Nissan USA is
still working with charger manufacturers to make that a reality over here;
the company tells Ars that it's protective over the battery warranty and
needs to be satisfied that such installations won't affect the packs'
Seven years is almost as long a time in car design as it is in battery
technology, and so the 2018 Leaf looks very different from its predecessor.
Its face now wears the corporate V-Motion grille, with a 3D-patterned,
semi-translucent center section that proved impossible to photograph. The
car is a more conventional two-box hatchback design now, complete with
must-have styling touches like the floating C-pillar and a rear diffuser
that looks more than just decorative. The coefficient of drag (Cd) remains
at 0.28—a better statistic to bench race would be the drag area (CdA), but
no one seems to give those out anymore.
The interior is similarly all new and much larger than before. Rear legroom
is easily sufficient for adults, and there's 23.6 cubic feet (668L) of cargo
room. The interior doesn't feel quite as funky as the Bolt's—perhaps the
choice of black, black, and more black on our test cars is to blame—and the
materials don't always feel as high-grade to the touch. But it's worth
remembering that the most fully loaded Leaf only costs as much as a
base-spec Bolt: our test vehicle was a Leaf SL with the technology pack, and
it retails for $37,738 before any tax credits or other EV incentives.
From the driver's seat, a chink finally appears in the Leaf's armor: the
driving position. More specifically, it's the steering wheel, which only
adjusts for rake, not reach. Even for someone as short as I that means the
"Italian ape" driving position—arms straight and legs splayed. That this was
our biggest complaint when addressing the job Nissan's designers and
engineers completed is a good sign. On the road, the steering feel was good,
as was the handling, aided as in most EVs by a very low center of gravity.
The suspension is also stiffer than the previous model, with good control
over broken surfaces and potholes.
A significant new addition to the Leaf driving experience is its e-pedal
mode. You see, first-generation Leafs drove like normal cars, accelerator to
go, brake pedal to slow, and a bit of torque creep engineered in to
replicate that side effect of an automatic transmission plus internal
combustion engine. But every EV to hit the streets since has done things
differently; pushing the accelerator pedal of a Model S, Bolt, or BMW i3
will make it go, but lifting that pedal has the opposite effect, causing
deceleration via regenerative braking. While you can (and often will) use
the brake pedal in these vehicles, for driving in traffic or at urban
speeds, it's quite possible to do everything with one pedal.
Now the Leaf can do that, too, using a feature activated by a button just
ahead of the transmission controller. Nissan has tuned the regen effect to
be quite strong—similar to the BMW i3. Lifting the pedal will slow your roll
at 0.2G and activate the brake lights. Completely lift off the pedal and the
Leaf will slow to a full stop with the friction brakes coming in seamlessly.
Nissan says the system has been tested extensively on the hilly streets of
San Francisco, the toughest real-world test it could find.
Performance is right where you'd expect a car with about 150hp and 3,500lbs
(1,587kg): a little slower than the Bolt, but less than 10 seconds to 60mph.
Mid-range acceleration felt strong, and you'd never be worried about joining
a busy Californian freeway or darting into a sudden gap. And Nissan's
estimate of 150 miles of range on a full charge seems about right.
New driver assists
All Leafs ship with automatic emergency braking as standard, but if you want
the latest-and-greatest advanced driver assistance systems, you'll have to
opt for either the SV ($32,490) or SL ($36,200) trim levels and then spec
the $650 Technology Package. That gives you an electronic parking brake,
high-beam assist for the LED headlights, blind-spot warning and rear cross
traffic alerts, and adds pedestrian detection to AEB. It also includes
ProPilot Assist, Nissan's latest level 2 semi-autonomous driving system. (If
you just want adaptive cruise control, it is standard from the SV trim.)
Come to think of it, Nissan might not like my characterizing the system as
such; it wanted the assembled journalists and influencers on the drive to be
under no false impressions that ProPilot Assist was a not self-driving
feature. It's a combo of adaptive cruise control (which uses radar to keep
your speed constant to a car ahead) and lane-keep assist (which uses optical
sensors to read lane markers and then the steering to keep you centered
within them). Nissan's product specialists were unambiguous about the fact
that you need to keep your hands on the wheel, and they bristled when I made
the mistake of asking if the car had a specific driving behavior. (Since it
doesn't drive itself, it has no behavior.)
I made extensive use of ProPilot Assist on our drive route. While the
adaptive cruise control will function at any speed up to 90mph (145km/h),
the active steering assist is only available above 37mph (60km/h) or when
there's a car ahead. It's also somewhat picky about detecting lane markers,
but, once it has done so, it works at least as well as Audi and Volvo's
class-leading systems, holding you dead-center in the lane.
Should you ignore the copious instructions not to go hands-free, you'll be
treated to an ever-more insistent series of alerts. At five seconds, a large
red icon on the dash appears. By 15 seconds there is a second warning,
followed by increasingly frantic audio alerts. Attempt to go hands-free for
more than 30 seconds and the car will assume you are incapacitated, slowing
to a stop in the lane with the hazard lights on. All of this can be
cancelled at any time by moving the steering wheel.
The Leaf UI is extremely good about removing any ambiguity when ProPilot
Assist is running (there are also visual and audio notifications when it has
detected or lost the lane markers), perhaps more so than any other system
I've tested recently.
The dreaded connectivity
The Leaf also incorporates plenty of connectivity, a topic which I know
enrages much of our audience. Perhaps with good reason; the previous
implementation of NissanConnect on the first-gen Leaf was discovered to be
surprisingly insecure. Nissan told me that was the result of a
man-in-the-middle attack made possible because the system used 2G; now that
the new Leaf is on 4G, such attacks should be impossible.
Smartphone and wearable apps (available for both iOS and Android) let you
check battery status, turn on climate control, remote lock or unlock the
vehicle, start it charging, find its location, or remotely activate the horn
and lights. There is also Alexa integration—from Alexa to the vehicle only,
via Nissan's API—that lets you use your Amazon device to perform those
NissanConnect requires an SV or SL trim level vehicle, but you will probably
want one of those because it also means a better infotainment system. This
system uses a seven-inch capacitive touch screen and comes with both Android
Auto and CarPlay, as well as satellite radio. The infotainment system is
unobjectionable—neither class-leading nor frustrating to use.
All in all, the 2018 Nissan Leaf was a remarkably competent car, one that
incorporates the company's experience selling hundreds of thousands of EVs
together with the advances in the field that have occurred since 2010. The
40kWh battery pack gives it a range that falls in-between the short-range
"compliance cars" (like Fiat's 500e or the Ford Focus EV) and long-range EVs
(Tesla and GM). But it's competitively priced, and 150 miles of range is
going to be more than sufficient for the vast majority of the population.
And with the knowledge that a longer-range (but more expensive) Leaf is
about a year away, it seems to me that the electric-car segment is only
getting stronger and stronger.
[© WIRED Media]
Nissan Leaf Holding Electric Car Sales Back
Many believe that the Nissan Leaf might have played a role in the drop of
sales last month as it is believed that many of the green car fans are
actually waiting for Nissan to release the new Leaf before they purchase the
vehicle ... the Tesla Model 3 might also play a role in the drop ...
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