• New Leaf Plus model has 226 miles of range
  • Battery increased in size from 40 kWh to 62 kWh
  • Power upped from 147 to 214 horsepower
  • Hits 60 mph in 7 seconds (standard Leaf takes about 8)
  • Full charge at home with 240-volt charger: 11.5 hours
  • With 100-kW quick charger, 80 percent charge available in 45 minutes
  • On sale in March. Pricing starts at $36,550

 

The Nissan Leaf, a KBB 5-Year Cost to Own winner, is the most successful electric vehicle of all time. Some 390,000 have been sold worldwide since 2010, with more than 130,000 of those in the U.S. alone.

When the new 2nd-generation Leaf arrived for 2018, its range of 150 miles was significantly better than that of the 1st-gen LEAF. However, this figure paled in comparison to the 238-mile range of the contemporaneous Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Now, with the debut of the new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus, that range disparity has shrunk considerably. Equipped with a new 62-kWh battery (the standard Leaf has a 40-kWh unit), the Leaf Plus has a range of 226 miles, an increase of 51 percent. Also, the front-mounted electric motor has been tuned for higher output, so it now produces 214 horsepower versus the 147 still available in the standard Leaf. As a result, the new Leaf Plus is about a second quicker to 60 mph (7 versus 8 seconds), and Nissan says it accelerates from 50 mph to 75 mph 13 percent more quickly, in 53 feet less distance. More range and more power. All good.

Competitors for the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus include the Chevrolet Bolt, the Hyundai Kona EV and the Kia Niro EV.

It’s all about the battery

One of the best ways to gain range is to use a larger battery, and that’s exactly what Nissan has done with the Tennessee-built Leaf Plus. The new lithium-ion battery – increased in power from 40 kWh to 62 kWh and still mounted low in the chassis -- has 288 cells versus 192, an increase of 50 percent. The cells are now stacked 3-deep instead of 2-deep, and although the case is taller by 40 millimeters, it doesn’t intrude on interior space in any way. There is one slight difference: The ride height of the Leaf Plus has increased by 10 millimeters, an imperceptible amount.

Of note, the Leaf Plus battery, made at Nissan’s Smyrna plant in Tennessee, weighs 934 pounds, 285 pounds more than the standard Leaf’s 40-kWh pack. Also notable: The new battery pack, which does not have a cooling system, can be charged using a 100-kilowatt DC fast charger.

Using a 240-volt system at home, the standard Nissan Leaf can be fully charged in 7.5 hours. The Leaf Plus, on the same charger, takes 11.5. With a 50-kilowatt quick charger, the standard Leaf reaches an 80-percent charge in 40 minutes, whereas it takes 60 minutes for the Leaf Plus. If you have access to a 100-kilowatt quick charger, the Leaf Plus (not a standard Leaf) can be brought up to an 80-percent charge in 45 minutes.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

Driving the Leaf Plus

This newest electric Nissan is quiet, smooth and quick, and power is so immediate that it can chirp its front tires when the driver accelerates with gusto away from a stoplight. The Leaf Plus is an easy car to drive, and it feels substantial, in no way a glorified golf cart. Getting up to freeway speed is easy, and because so much of the vehicle’s weight is down low between the axles, the Leaf Plus is far more fun to drive on curvy road than you might expect.

In e-Pedal mode, it’s fun to experiment with one-pedal driving, with the driver lifting off of the accelerator to use regenerative braking instead of the brake pedal to slow the Leaf Plus and bring it to a complete stop. The e-Pedal system works well, and the lift-off deceleration force can be so strong that Leaf’s brake lights will illuminate.

As a beginning Leaf driver, I found it hard to be smooth with e-Pedal. It was tough to calculate when to lift off the accelerator as the Leaf Plus approached a stop sign. Typically, I ended up stopping well short of the line.

While I did get better at it with experience, I found it easiest to be smooth with the Leaf Plus in Eco mode, which is accessible via a switch on the center console. While Eco makes the Leaf Plus more efficient but noticeably less peppy, its lift-pedal deceleration is much less pronounced and far more natural, which made me a much smoother driver on the roads around San Diego. While I did have to use the brake pedal in the final few feet before stop signs, it was far less than the amount I’d use in a typical car with an internal combustion engine.

The Leaf Plus models

Like the standard Leaf, the new Leaf Plus is available three versions: S, SV and SL. All are handy 4-door hatchback models with rear seats that fold forward to increase cargo capacity:

S Plus

16-inch alloy wheels

Automatic Emergency Braking

Quick-charge port

Level 1 and Level 2 portable charging cable

Intelligent Forward-Collision Warning

SV Plus

17-inch wheels

Leather-wrapped steering wheel

Fog lights

Intelligent cruise control

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

SL Plus

LED headlights

Heated mirrors with integrated turn signals

Leather-covered seats

Heated front seats and steering wheel

Cargo cover

7-speaker Bose sound system

Around-view monitor

Electric parking brake

Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection

Intelligent Lane Intervention

Exterior differentiation

The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus looks much like a standard Leaf, but there are a few subtle changes. The word “Plus” has been added on the rear hatch, appearing right below the S, SV or SL badge. Moreover, an e+ logo has been added to the quick-charge port beneath the Leaf’s front charging flap. Last, the lower edge of the Leaf Plus front bumper is trimmed in EV Blue to match the blue already appearing on the standard Leaf’s rear bumper.

Interior changes

Most noticeable is a horizontal infotainment screen on top of the center stack, which has grown from 7 to 8 inches and controls Nissan’s next-generation platform for navigation and audio. As such, it’s more intuitive, and it features an icon-based interface, a customizable home screen, and a map that can be expanded or shrunk with pinch-type gestures. Software updates will be handled by Wi-Fi, and three years of map updates are provided for free.

With the NissanConnect EV & Services app, Leaf Plus owners can remotely control certain vehicle functions while also keeping tabs on their car from their smartphone. Owners can access NissanConnect via a computer, a smartphone, a wearable device like an AppleWatch, or a home device such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

Final Thoughts

Nissan is in the middle of a big push toward electrification, with eight new EVs — including a crossover-SUV EV — planned by 2022. The Leaf is the forefather of that movement, and the new Leaf Plus, available in March, is a solid next step in the plan. With its 226 miles of range and added performance, it’s more acceptable as an everyday car than a standard 150-mile Leaf, which will continue to be available. Note: Nissan says a typical EV user will need to charge a standard Leaf twice in one week, whereas the new Leaf Plus can get by with a single charge. That’s a big difference.

In our San Diego test drive, KBB drove the new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus 112 miles and ended our day with a battery at 44 percent and 103 miles of estimated range. While the math doesn’t quite add up to Nissan’s claimed 226 miles of range, it’s important to note that we filled our afternoon with several high-speed acceleration runs to see how well the Leaf Plus merges onto a freeway and passes other vehicles at speed. Without those simulations and with more typical everyday driving, we’re confident the new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus will meet or exceed its EPA range of 226 miles.

Pricing for the new Leaf Plus starts at $36,550 for the S model, $38,510 for the SV and $42,550 for the opulent SL. Destination charge is $895. For the record, the standard 2019 Nissan Leaf starts at $29,900, while the Chevrolet Bolt begins at $36,620 and the Kia Niro EV is expected to be about $37,000.

Want to go electric for less? Consider a used electric car instead.

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