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The new version of the world's best-selling electric car gains a bigger battery and more power. How does it compare to rivals such as the Volkswagen e-Golf?
James Attwood, digital editor
21 March 2018

What is it?

The first-generation Nissan Leaf, launched back in 2010, will likely be remembered as a landmark machine in the development of electric cars. 

It might not grab the headlines as the likes of Tesla models do, but the Leaf was a game-changer: one of the first truly affordable and viable EVs. Eight years on, it is the best-selling electric car of all time.

Which makes this second-generation Leaf kind of a big deal: arguably the first second-generation mass-market EV, the all-important sequel to a critically acclaimed and hugely popular movie.

And it’s a sequel that arrives at an interesting time. Not only have a string of other electric hatchbacks shown themselves to be a match for the Leaf, just about every car firm you care to mention – from Ssangyong to Hyundai, Audi to Jaguar – are lining up to flood the market with battery electric cars, many of which promise to break new ground in terms of range and performance.

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The pressure is on Nissan to respond, then. And expectations that this second-generation Leaf will be as ground-breaking as its predecessor are high. Perhaps unreasonably so.

Predictably, viewed through that somewhat uncharitable prism, the new Leaf could, like most Hollywood sequels, be considered a little disappointing. Sure, it’s bigger than before, and better – it has a WLTP driving range of 168 miles (up from 124), and a 148bhp motor (up from 107bhp) – but it’s all steady increment, rather than a mighty leap. 

It’s evolution, not revolution. Which, if you look at this new Leaf removed from any weight of unfair expectation, makes it arguably the most compelling option on the market right now for anyone considering an electric car.

We've already driven the Leaf abroad, but this is our first taste on the UK's rougher - and, during our test, snow-covered - roads.

What's it like?

Essentially, a refined and improved version of its predecessor. Thanks to the underfloor battery it has the same high driving position, and it’s easy, comfortable and confidence inspiring.

The electric drive is responsive and direct, yet never wild, and the steering is weighted, proportionate and a little quicker than before, without offering much feel or dynamism.

It is, as with many electric cars, all a little detached, and it’s not going to rival a combustion-engined alternative for sheer thrills on a flowing road. But, even with its improved range – made possible by a 40kWh battery replacing the 30kWh unit from the old car – it’s unlikely most would-be buyers will ask it to: most will spend their days as urban runarounds, an environment in which it will thrive.

The most notable driving feature of the Leaf is the new ‘ePedal’ setting which, when selected, kicks in regenerative braking as soon as you lift off the accelerator pedal. The heavy deceleration that kicks in when you lift off is initially jolting, but quickly becomes second nature. Once you adjust your driving style to fit – slowly easing off the accelerator on approach to junctions, for example – you’ll rarely need to make use of the brake pedal.

The interior of the new Leaf is an updated, generally improved version of the old one: pleasant, comfortable and reasonably mature. Our Tekna model also came with plenty of kit, including a Bose sound system, heated seats and semi-autonomous driving functions. All that said, the touchscreen and other general material quality can’t match the perceived quality of traditionally powered cars at this price level.

This new Leaf is slightly bigger than the old one, making it more spacious inside, and practical: the boot is 405 litres, up from 370. Combine that with the extended range and the added appeal of this car against some of its class rivals becomes clear.

Should I buy one?

Perhaps the most ground-breaking thing about the new Nissan Leaf is, conversely, it it isn’t all that ground-breaking. At a time when many car firms are aiming to push the electric car market into the future with giant leaps, Nissan has made a car for the present, taking small but significant strides. It takes everything that’s good about the previous Leaf, and improves on it in every area that matters. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of early buyers will be existing Leaf owners seeking an upgrade.

Notably, the areas of improvement include price. This is a car that has more battery range, motor power, torque and space than its predecessor and yet, depending on trim level, is up to £1500 cheaper.

It’s also here – and right now. The many bold, potentially game-changing models being developed by other car firms aren’t - and many are still years away. And, when they do arrive, they're likely to be expensive. For those whose lifestyle fits a small electric hatchback, few machines on the market at the moment offer as compelling an argument in terms of price, available charging infrastructure and practicality.

Nissan Leaf Tekna

Where Surrey On sale Now Price £27,490 (including £4500 government grant) Engine AC synchronous electric motor Power 148bhp at 3283-9795 rpm Torque 236lb ft at 0-3283rpm Gearbox Direct drive reduction gearing Kerb weight 1580kg Top speed 89mph 0-62mph 7.9sec Battery capacity 40kWh Range 235 miles (NEDC/168 miles (WLTP combined) CO2, tax band N/A Rivals Renault Zoe, Volkswgen e-Golf

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Comments
15

21 March 2018

... but must it look so dull, the interior especially ?

bol

21 March 2018

Because the anything but dull looks of it’s predicessor put a lot of people off. People like dull in this segment. 

21 March 2018
Dull? No worse than a 308 or a Golf, or a Megane, or an Auris/Corolla, or a ?
It's a five door hatch with some tricky 'C' pillar detailing and no grill and a modern plastic and cloth interior. No duller or brighter than any others. People don't want too different, it's already different enough being fully electric. That's enough for anyone.

21 March 2018

When using the e pedal function, which largely negates braking, do the brake lights come on to warn others that you are slowing so drastically?

21 March 2018

...how does it compare with rivals such as the e-Golf? Or was it only a rhetoric question?

The lack of an answer is an answer by itself I guess, considering the very... ahem... special Autocar-VAG relation, materialized in +4 stars verdicts for the german cars.

In my opinion, the gradual evolution of the Leaf is OK (and that of the smaller Zoe also, taking advantage of the common Nissan-Renault e-tech deveopment), although far from the expected leap forward.

This would be quantifiable in a 25% minus (for the price) and an equal 25% plus for the range.  A credible situation in a few years, but would the government grants subsist by then?

-- Old fart with petrol in veins, so off the e-cars grid literally --

21 March 2018

It's quite incredibly ugly.  And why the sombre interior (Toyotaesque)? The BMW i3 isn't beautiful, but it is quirky, and is therefore appealing - and it has a great interior, bright and airy.  But this, well this is just plain ugly.  I don't know what's happened to Japanese design, with Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mitsubishi all producing weird, angular designs that are offensive to the eye.

21 March 2018

"168 miles (up from 124), and a 148bhp motor (up from 107bhp) – but it’s all steady increment.. " Steady? in one gen that's something like a 30%+ improvement that's much more than steady. Especially when considering it's cheaper and MUCH QUICKER!!

 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

21 March 2018

These are substantive improvements - now Nissan needs to offer a telescoping steering column, to fix that remaining gripe. The price effectiveness of the Leaf, is clearly ahead of anything else on the electric car market. That being said, it's possible Hyundai is about to offer substantive competition. With something that may cost similar while offering comparable range - remains to be seen yet what price their new electric car model shall be offered at.  

21 March 2018

At the moment that is - but for the interest of electrification, what matters is that what's on offer is - cost effective. In comparison with the BMW I3 there is really no competition -- the new Nissan Leaf is leages ahead, if range on offer in combination with price is considered ahead of all other considerations. But clearly the new Leaf is thousands cheaper than I3 yet offers greater real world range than any all electric version of I3 on offer at the present time. In other words -- the new leaf makes the I3 already appear, obsolete. 

21 March 2018

As a comparasion at £26,500 the slower,rougher, noisey accelerating an automatic 2.0 TDCi Titanium X Focus is only a grand less, you'd make this up in months in fuel cost alone let alone the taxation savings over 3 years.

Ideal for 2 car families with the EV being nr 1 car

 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

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