Our test car is different to what we’ll get in the UK. The suspension will be stiffer on the UK car, the e-Pedal smart regenerative braking system gentler, the dashboard more Micra-like, and it won’t get a rear-view camera and display in the rearview mirror.
The UK-specification car will benefit from that upgraded dashboard from the Micra because the interior of the Leaf isn’t exactly inspiring in Japanese spec. There’s a lot of grey plastic.
The e-Pedal in the Japanese-spec car is a little aggressive and Nissan expects UK customers to prefer a gentler deceleration when easing off the throttle. Nissan couldn’t say by how much it’ll be reined in, but there’ll be less head-bobbing from passengers when the driver’s foot comes off the accelerator. When you're on the accelerator, this new Leaf has got a real lump of torque to fire it down the road – 20% more than before, in fact, at 236lb ft. 148bhp of power gives a rather pedestrian top speed of 89mph, but that's of little concern to the average Leaf driver.
Stiffer suspension might not be such a welcome tweak for the UK, though. The Leaf is slightly firm already. Bumpier surfaces make themselves known at low speeds, with a little more shake than you’d hope. Nissan promises that cornering ability will be improved, although there’s nothing noticeably wrong with that. From first impressions at least, it doesn’t need it.
Although the new car is slightly squatter than the first-generation Leaf, headroom inside is excellent – unexpectedly so for the rakish-looking hatch – although its exterior dimensions make it almost as wide as the Ford Focus, and larger than one in every other direction.
A seating position that’s slightly too high compared with the shallow windscreen makes the interior feel a little less spacious than it deserves, though. Otherwise, the dashboard has the perfect button-to-screen ratio. Important functions aren’t relegated to a sub-menu in the infotainment, but the dash is nevertheless satisfyingly uncluttered.
The blue button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel unlocks a key feature of the new Leaf; Propilot is the name given to Nissan’s semi-autonomous driving system. It’s as easy to operate as adaptive cruise control: just set the speed, wait for the system to confirm that it’s ready, and relax. Let go of the wheel, though, and a reminder tells you politely to keep your hands on it.
The reminder is less polite the second time around. Propilot Park - an extension to the Propilot system – makes light work of automated parking, albeit slowly. There’s no setting to make it faster as it rolls into a space, so it’s certainly not suited for city parking, but it’s accurate and intuitive, even allowing for situations where space isn’t marked - you move a box into your desired space. It’d be brilliant if it wasn’t so timid in its speed. Luckily Nissan will be updating that too.
Steering is where this Japanese Leaf loses a sizable chunk of driver appeal. It feels numb, and not all that direct, either. It’s far from where it should be. And guess what? That’s getting updated too; Nissan is tightening up the rack to be more responsive on UK-market vehicles; it’ll take closer to two turns lock-to-lock than the Japanese market’s three.