New car review: Nissan Leaf e+
Nissan goes the extra mile with new extended range version of its Leaf EV.
Here’s a little-known fact: Nissan built its first electric vehicle (EV), the Tama, more than 70 years ago following World War II when fuel shortages demanded alternatives.
That truck and the four-seat passenger version that followed were slow and heavy, hauling around trays full of lead acid batteries but they did the job until oil began flowing again and the auto industry largely forgot about electrification for six decades.
Fast forward to 2010 and the beginnings of the current EV era, when Nissan became the first car maker to release a mass-market EV, with its revolutionary Leaf.
History will show the Nissan wasn’t alone for long, with first Tesla and then a range of other car makers piling into the EV space and battery electric technology soon being widely hailed as the future of personal mobility.
In the decade and a bit since, Nissan released a second-generation version of its electric five-door hatchback in 2017 and, at the end of 2020, celebrated the milestone of 500,000 Leaf sales, making it one of the world’s best-selling EVs.
Now comes the latest step in the company’s EV journey in the form of a new variant dubbed the Leaf e+ which boasts a larger battery, more performance, and more range.
The new model will sell alongside the existing Leaf, effectively broadening the range and offering consumers the choice of the regular Leaf, or this more-expensive extended-range version.
At the heart of this new model is a is bigger 62kWh battery, which is 22kWh larger than the battery in the regular model, representing a 55% increase in battery capacity but not size.
Nissan says that due to advances in battery technology it has been able to package the new battery, with about 25% greater energy density, into the same space as the standard Leaf.
This also means the Leaf e+ suffers no loss of interior space due to its larger battery although the new model’s ride height is 5mm higher due to the new battery being slightly thicker.
The Leaf e+ is also about 115kg hezvier due to the battery, although any weight penalty is easily offset by the performance gains.
The bigger battery pushes the Leaf e+ range out to 385km (WLTP), which is a handy extra 115km over the standard Leaf.
It also liberates an extra 50kW and 20Nm from the Leaf’s electric motor, boosting outputs to 160kW/340Nm and shaving a full second off the standard model’s zero to 100km/h time at a brisk 6.9 seconds.
Perhaps more importantly, the new model is 13% quicker in the crucial 80-120km/h overtaking zone which means it’ll get out and around slower traffic more efficiently.
Pricing for the Leaf e+ is pegged at $60,490, which is a hefty hike over the basic Leaf’s $49,990 sticker price, but for that you get more range and performance, and the ability to use DC fast charging.
While charging the Leaf+ is slower than a regular Leaf for the most part, due to its larger battery, the Leaf+ can accept 100kW DC fast charging, so can be charged via this means from 20-80% in just 45 minutes.
Otherwise, flat to full charge times vary from 32 hours on a household AC plug, to 11.5 hours on an AC Wallbox, and 1.5 hours on a standard DC charger.
For those questioning the extra cost, Nissan says it’s pretty much all in the battery.
In fact, an interesting bit of “back of the envelope” analysis by Ben Warren, the company’s National Manager of Electrification and Mobility, suggests the Leaf’s extra battery power equates to about 12,000 triple A batteries, which would set you back about $17,000 at a supermarket. Maybe less at Aldi.
In launching its latest EV model Nissan went all out to emphasise the Leaf’s environmental credentials, hosting the event at a sustainable farmhouse in rural Victoria.
In an impressively innovative marketing move, the audio-visual presentation for the event was powered by a Leaf, using the vehicle’s bi-directional charging capability.
The Leaf is one of the few EVs on the market capable of Vehicle to Grid (V2G) connectivity, meaning it can put its battery power back into the electricity grid as well as draw from the grid.
Nissan claims the Leaf e+ has enough battery power to run an average Australian household for two to three days.
Globally, Nissan has been pushing ahead with V2G and says the technology is ready to go, but Australia doesn’t yet have the standards and regulations in place to allow this to happen at scale.
Nevertheless, Nissan Australia is involved with a trial in the ACT, known as the REVS Project (Realising Electric Vehicle Services), which uses V2G technology via a fleet of 51 Leaf EVs deployed across the territory.
MD Stephen Lester believes Australia is uniquely placed to leverage the broader sustainability benefits of EVs, because so many Australians live in their own homes, with garages and car ports that makes home charging relatively easy.
Add to this the fact that about one in five Australian homes already have solar capability and it’s possible to glimpse our sustainable energy future, he says.
Meanwhile, back with the Leaf e+ which is barely differentiated from the existing model styling-wise.
In fact, if you’re hoping to spot a Leaf e+ on the road you’d best have your trainspotting gear on.
Look out for some additional paint colours, more two-tone options, and the inclusion of a blue finisher on the front of the vehicle.
It's a similar story inside where the current Leaf’s styling and fitout carries over, meaning a comfortable and well-finished cabin that stops short of being luxurious.
The main features are the 8.0-inch infotainment screen and 7.0-inch advanced driver display screen, with a variety of menu options providing information on battery charge status, navigation to charging points and so on.
The driving experience is quiet and relaxed with Nissan claiming interior noise levels are as low as 21db, compared with an average 76db for a petrol or diesel vehicle.
That means the Leaf e+ is officially quieter than a library, which has an average noise rating of 30db.
Acceleration is smooth and linear, as it is in most EVs we’ve driven, but even with its extra performance the Leaf e+ doesn’t feel to have the same eye-raising speed off the mark of a Tesla, or some other EV rivals.
A quirky track-ball transmission selector on the centre console offers three driving modes: D-Mode for normal driving; B-Mode for increased regenerative braking; and Eco-mode, which reduces energy consumption by shutting down vehicle ancillaries and maximises regenerative braking.
In its e-Pedal mode the Leaf can be driven with a single pedal, avoiding the brake pedal unless it’s an emergency and allowing the car’s maximum regenerative braking setting to slow the car to a halt when you lift off the accelerator, while at the same time partially recharging the battery.
Nissan claims to have reprogrammed the e-Pedal software for smoother operation and enhanced pedal feedback, especially for operation in reverse, and for smoother and more rapid deceleration, making it easier to stop the car using e-Pedal, even when reversing.
You sit up high in the cabin for a hatchback, with good visibility out through the extensive glasshouse.
The ride quality is tuned for comfort and is decently plush over small to moderate bumps but can get a bit niggly over corrugations and larger bumps.
The steering is light and lacks feel but the Leaf nonetheless goes faithfully where you point it.
A foot-operated park brake, lack of steering reach adjustment and the relatively small infotainment screen all date the interior somewhat, which is understandable given that this second-generation model is now almost four years old.
In summary, the Leaf e+ is a pleasant, comfortable, and competent EV that brings the benefits of extra performance and range to the Leaf range, albeit at a price.
It doesn’t have the wow factor of a Tesla or an Audi e-Tron, but at a whisker over $60k, it’s competing more with the likes of the Hyundai Kona and new Kia Niro EV.
Against this set, the Leaf has competitive range and performance, and for buyers looking to get into the EV market but baulking at the limited range of the standard Leaf, the Leaf e+ is certainly one to consider.
MLP: $60,490 (MRLP).
MOTOR: AC synchronous electric (160kW/340Nm).
BATTERY: Laminated lithium ion, 350v, 62kWh.
ANCAP CRASH RATING: Five-star (2018).
ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION (Wh/km): 180.
FOR: Greater range, better performance, interior space, 100kW DC fast charging ability, well proven technology.
AGAINST: Price, dated interior, space-saver spare.