2019 Nissan Leaf Review - A New Leaf

 

The Gen II Leaf promising more range and performance has been a while coming via official channels. And it’s still at least six months away. We drive one to get a feel for the future

Words: Peter Louisson   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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In the news the same day I’m driving Nissan’s latest Zero Emission offering, the Gen II Leaf, is an article about the new global killer, PM2.5. If this sounds like a new resistant strain of Ebola virus, you’re wide of the mark.

It refers to tiny particulates from vehicle exhausts and smoke stacks that lodge in your lungs and have long term health implications. This is a global issue, affecting everyone, except President Trump, of course; if you can’t see them they don’t exist.

In developing countries the PM2.5 problem is due to a mix of burning wood and fossil fuels, whereas in developed countries it’s mainly from the transport sector and coal-fired power generation, though wildfires are also to blame.

The PM2.5 particulates, so named because they’re smaller than 2.5 microns, enter your lungs and set up a low level inflammatory response, as with a minor infection. These small particles can get into the blood and cause problems in the heart and brain. Authorities reckon that PM2.5s were the fifth-leading cause of death in 2015, ahead of diabetes and suicide.

Today, they are far and away the leading cause of environmental death and illness.

Around 90 per cent of the world’s children breathe air polluted with PM2.5 particles, adversely affecting their health and development long term. Anything that can be done, therefore, to reduce our reliance on burning fossil fuels will limit the harm caused by PM2.5s.

That’s yet another reason why auto makers are convinced the vehicles of the future will be electric. [Hopefully they are all recharged with electricity generated from renewables then-Ed] Nissan must have been in quite a quandary, wondering how to follow-up on the world’s best selling EV.

The original didn’t feel any part of quick but the new one never feels anything other than lively

They’ve retailed over 350,000 of them since 2010 when Leaf first launched. It won major awards when new, including European, Japanese and World Car of the Year gongs. The US is the major market, followed by Japan and Europe.

And if you’re wondering why it has taken, like, forever for the new Gen II/III model to arrive (the naming is debatable; new shape) it’s because of high demand in these major markets. It’s battery production, naturally, that constrains global numbers.

Quietly clean

The new Leaf proudly displays its blue Zero Emission logo. Why not Zero Emissions? I’m not quite sure. Anyway, to characterise this guilt-free vehicle, think George Jetson’s ride, only without the hover-ability nor the hum. It’s silent at “start up”, producing only the slightest of whirrings as it accelerates. And it has a battery that loses charge in reassuringly slow fashion so as not to raise too much in the way of low-level range anxiety.

Unlike some other EVs we’ve driven, you’re not constantly distracted by how quickly you’re losing battery percentage points. And with fast chargers it takes roughly one-quarter of an hour to replenish the pack from 50 per cent to 85 per cent, or from roughly 100 to 200km of range. So no, it’s still not as quick as a conventional tank refill at the servo, but it’s nowhere near as expensive either. Fast charging is currently free.

Our particular Leaf didn’t have provision for three-pin charging, so I was mighty surprised at how quick fast chargers effect a top-up. Shouldn’t have been; home chargers are roughly 1.5-6kW, faster chargers 50kW, so are an order of magnitude quicker at doing the same thing. And that’s all you really need on a day-to-day basis, the occasional top up, given a full battery is supposedly good for nearly 250km.

As to how it goes? Getting behind the wheel of a new Leaf has been a bit of a mission. The one you see on these pages is the only new one from the distributor at present. We were due to drive it a month ago, but it was snaffled by Nissan Australia for launch use over there.


More range and grunt

Nissan is proposing to bring in the model with the 40kWh pack. Initially Gen 1 Leaf had a 24kWh battery and a range of 175km, and then a 30kWh model, the battery of which seemed to deteriorate more quickly than the original. Nowadays, with a 40kWh battery the range is EPA-rated 243km.

Nissan is hinting more (320km) is to come next year (thanks to a 60kWh battery pack so it can compete better with Kona Electric). Motor power is up from 80kW to 110kW and torque from 250Nm to 320Nm. Need to make it to the next charge point? Hit the Eco button and it reins in performance, but nothing like what it seems to do in a regular car. Where performance in Eco mode often feels nobbled in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, in the Leaf it still goes quite acceptably well, only the ‘fuel’ gauge drops slower than normal.

You’d genuinely get your 230km range claim, especially if you were also using the B setting instead of D for drive. That enhances the amount of kinetic energy that’s regenerated into potential energy during deceleration and braking periods. You can also use the E-pedal in which the motor acts as a brake, so the regen effect is even more profound.

Only it seems to impact on performance, so we tended to turn E-pedal off and use the B setting of the ‘shift lever’ which is actually a little round mouse-like device where the gear stick would normally be.

Better performance too

Performance, as is so often the case with e-machinery, is surprising. It covers off the 0-100 run in 8.1sec (vs 11.3sec for Gen I). An overtake is dusted in under 6sec, more than quick enough to get the job done safely. Last time we briefly drove the Leaf, it was on a test track in Japan, was the old shape and had a 30kWh battery.

It didn’t feel any part of quick but the new one never feels anything other than lively. In the real world, gapping it onto a motorway on-ramp from the feeder lanes, this outruns whatever else might sidle up beside you (okay, perhaps not a P100D).

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That’s mainly because you get the drop on them every time off the line. Peak torque from zero revs will do that. In normal day-to-day driving it feels brisk.

We admired the ride and handling of this car too. It feels light up front with the motor hardly crowding the ‘engine bay’, and even with Eco-tyres it changed direction in convincing fashion, and grips pretty well midcorner. The ride quality is good too.

Wait over midyear

The not so good news is you’re unlikely to be able to buy a new Leaf officially here until winter of 2019. And no, there’s no indicative pricing available as yet. Nissan NZ is still going through that process with head office. However, a brief perusal of TradeMe listings suggests near new highly specified models have an asking price of around $63k.

That means Nissan NZ would need to sell Leaf here in the late 50s to steal sales of new used stock. Perhaps they can trim things by offering two spec levels.

The model coming to NZ will likely be the range topping Tekna which gets ProPilot technology, offering lane centring, active cruise and self parking where you essentially do nothing except hold down the Park button (for both parallel and bay parking). The car does the rest automatically.

There’s quite a lot of other gear aboard too, including seat heaters, AC, leather and Alcantara seat trim and even a cooker for the steering wheel. Tekna alone gets the fast charging facility, fog lights, reversing and overhead camera, and Bose stereo with subwoofer.

For a vehicle costing this much the lack of a four-way adjustable steering column is an oversight (up and down only) and there’s too much hard plastic in the cabin we feel. However, for the powertrain we’re willing to forgive a few minor indiscretions.

Apart from its electric drivetrain then, this is more or less a regular five-door hatch. The Tekna has a Bose subwoofer at the base of the boot which, to my mind, makes it vulnerable to damage. The system does, on the other hand, do good bass. And being a pure EV you get to hear more music, less drivetrain.

Where the original had luggage space of 330L, the latest has a higher floor but the charger moves to the front, increasing capacity to 435L (expanding to 1176L with two-tier split folding). So hopefully Nissan NZ will bring it on; this is a marked step-up on the original and deserves to sell well.

Whether or not Nissan NZ can achieve competitive pricing and indeed secure product will become clear within a few months.

The Stats

Image of badge

Model Nissan Leaf  Price TBA

Engine n.a.cc, , , 110kW/320Nm

Transmission , front-wheel drive

Vitals 8.08sec 0-100km/h, 0L/100km, 0g/km, 1584kg

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