2018 Nissan Leaf First Review
Likeable yet funny-looking, the first-generation Nissan Leaf quietly did its job as a capable electric car. Despite getting overshadowed by other alternative-propulsion vehicles, it was the Leaf that held top spot as the world’s best-selling all-electric vehicle. But several compelling new models have entered the EV market, and it became time for the Leaf to go more mainstream. If you think fresh, new styling is all that differentiates the new Leaf from the previous model, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
Now that there are multiple electric cars that offer sub-125-mile range with prices starting around $30,000, the Leaf found itself surrounded by newer, more viable competitors. Nissan responded in the most logical way: it gave the new Leaf more range, now at 151 miles–a huge step up from its previous 107–and lowered the starting price, which is now $690 lower than it was for 2017, while adding more equipment and increasing value. That puts the Leaf’s range above its new competitors, while pricing is lower than most of them. It’s also lower than the pricing of the benchmark Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3, which both have 220 miles of range or more.
More Than Just Good Looks (But Those Matter Too)
As you can see from the photos, the nose of the Leaf uses similar front-end styling that you’d expect to see on other Nissan models. The Leaf looks more grown-up, more fully formed than the first generation, yet its style is still unique. Slightly longer, wider and taller than the outgoing Leaf, passenger room is similar, with a smidge more legroom for rear-seat passengers. (A quick note: the person sitting in the middle rear seat will have less foot space than in the other two seats, as there’s a hump on the floor that’s used as battery and repair access.) Fortunately, even though the car offers more range, this is due to an increase in efficiency, and the footprint of the new 40 kWh battery pack remains the same as the previous 30 kWh unit, meaning passenger room wasn’t sacrificed in the process.
While the dimensions of the cabin are about the same, what’s inside is very different. The materials quality has improved, as has the layout. Cream seats use vibrant blue contrast stitching, and the monochromatic beige cabins from the previous generation have been replaced by a tasteful black, taupe and cream color scheme. The center stack has been reorganized and cleaned up, giving the interior a finished, quality look that the previous gen lacked. All models that have navigation–in other words, every Leaf except the base S–also come with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.
On the Road
Part of the Leaf’s new appeal is its newfound combination of more power plus the aforementioned increase in range. The 110-kilowatt electric motor puts out 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, up by 37 and 26 percent respectively. Starting up the Leaf, we always enjoy the near-instant torque response you get from an electric car. After that initial response, the car feels quick and had plenty of power to stay at speed. Passing power is also good, and the Leaf feels more confident when cornering. In addition, the cabin was quieter than the previous model’s.
The Leaf is capable when driving it as a regular car, but we had the most fun testing two of its new technologies: the e-Pedal and ProPILOT Assist. The e-Pedal comes standard on all models, and when using it, you don’t need to step on the brake pedal to slow down. You drive with one pedal–the accelerator–and as you reduce pressure on the pedal, the car slows down, eventually coming to a stop. You’d still have to use the brake pedal for hard stops, but in rush-hour traffic, the e-Pedal is a welcome feature. Even nicer: as the vehicle decelerates, the Leaf’s brake lights come on, even though you aren’t stepping on the brake pedal. When using the e-Pedal, the Leaf uses regenerative braking to slow the car, which also helps recharge the battery.
ProPILOT Assist uses a forward-facing camera, which reads where the left and right lane lines are to determine the center of the lane, Once it figures that out, which is a quick process, ProPILOT Assist keeps the Leaf centered in the lane. Since PPA works in conjunction with adaptive cruise control, it will also slow the Leaf down if it gets too close to the vehicle in front of it.
Nissan made it very clear that with ProPILOT Assist, the Leaf is not an autonomous car. In fact, if you try to take your hands off the wheel, there are alarms and lights that will remind you to put your hands back on the wheel. If you go long enough with your hands off the wheel, the car will eventually come to a stop and the hazard lights will flash. Torque sensors in the steering wheel indicate whether you’re following the rules.
We discovered that the system works as it was meant to as long as it can read the lanes. If the system can’t detect one or both lanes, the system won’t work and you are in full control again. Which brings up an important note: with PPA, driver input is always the higher priority. If you want to steer harder than it does, you can easily take over. If you don’t want to use the system, you don’t have to. PPA reacted well in traffic, but we’ll admit that when we were cut off by another car, we followed our natural instincts and stepped on the brake instead of letting the system work. The only knock we had on the system was there is a little unexpected fatigue: you rest your hands on the wheel as if you are steering, but with a lighter grip than that, which means you can’t entirely relax your arms when driving. That’s something that you could get used to over time.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf is available in S, SV and SL trim levels. The base S, which has a starting price of $30,875, costs $690 less than the 2017 Leaf S. The midrange SV, at $33,375, is $1,710 less than the same model in 2017. At $37,085, the SL’s price is $590 less than in 2017. And all three models come with more safety, technology and convenience features than last year. Keep in mind that the Leaf is eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, and possibly more credits, depending on what state you're in. For comparison, the Kia Soul EV starts at $33,145, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric starts at $30,385, and the Chevrolet Bolt EV has a starting price of $37,495–but with significantly more range than the Leaf. However, by offering more range than similar vehicles while costing the same or less, the Leaf makes a strong value statement while becoming a more viable primary vehicle than it once was.
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