Editor's choice
30 Jan 18

First Drive Nissan Leaf: a serious Re-Leaf

To appeal to a broader customer base, Nissan has toned-down the stylistic eccentricity of its electric model and invested in connectivity, semi-autonomous driving and one-pedal control. The best news, however, is probably the bigger battery. Not only does it offer a range of 270 real-life kilometres, it also allows bi-directional charging, and that’s good news for the TCO. 

You may find it absurd to fly 3,500 km and back – in a weekend, can you believe it – thereby emitting tonnes of carbon dioxide, for the sole purpose of testing a new vehicle. A zero-emission vehicle, ironically. Not an exotic sports car, but a very mainstream one. But exactly that is what convinced me to sign up and sacrifice a slither of the atmosphere. The new Leaf is just too important a car not to create awareness about, especially from a fleet point of view.

What makes it innovative?

If there is one car maker that has gathered experience with electric vehicles, it’s Nissan. Together, their 300,000-plus customers worldwide have driven over 1 billion battery-powered kilometres. Much to their satisfaction: according to the carmaker’s surveys, Leaf drivers are the happiest customers of them all. Still, there is always room for improvement and Nissan has taken customers’ feedback seriously.

The result is a car that arguably could become the first electric vehicle satisfies the needs of the majority of C-segment company car drivers. First of all, it turns its back on the outlandish styling of its predecessor and swings from fluid and rounded off to edgy and sculpted. Second, it features a 40-kWh battery, offering 378 km based on NEDC and 270 measured by the WLTP. Third, it offers class-leading semi-autonomous driving capabilities and something called e-Pedal.

One-pedal driving

This e-Pedal is basically a drive mode in which regenerative braking is maximised. This means you practically do not need the brake pedal anymore, unless for an emergency stop. Just release the throttle and the car comes to a full stop. It can even hold its position on a hill. The force of deceleration is determined by the degree in which you keep the accelerator pedal depressed.

Indeed, it is a matter of finding the right pedal position to either accelerate (or maintain speed) or slow down. It is incredibly easy to get used to, but if you prefer more coasting and less regen, it’s good to know that e-Pedal is not compulsory. In fact, you have to activate it by pushing a button on the centre console. The advantage of using it, is that a maximum of kinetic energy is recovered and stored back in the battery, and that the (conventional) friction brake hardly ever comes into action, meaning brake pads are likely to last a very long time.

Not a mini-Tesla Model S

Equally contributing to the agreeable driving experience is the constant push of the electric motor, which now puts 110 kW and 320 Nm of instant torque onto the front wheels. It’s not Tesla or even BMW i3-fast, but it’s good fun. The steering is relatively direct, while the low centre of gravity means that body roll is contained ‘naturally’. The suspension has been tuned to European taste, but it still is a family car, and a heavy one at that.

What really impresses, though, is the serenity aboard the new Leaf. Even on motorways it is very quiet – Nissan has clearly worked hard to eliminate road noise. The ProPilot system works like a charm, too. No less than 12 sonar sensors and 4 high-resolution cameras scan the road and the surroundings, keeping a safe distance to predecessors and correcting the trajectory if need be. Contrary to other systems we tested, the Leaf’s adaptive cruise control works progressively. There is no panic braking as soon as a car moves into your lane, and overtaking is smooth and confident, aided by the blind spot monitor.

It has stop-and-go functionality as well, but Tenerife did not provide opportunities to test this feature. We did however try out the ProPilot Park feature, in a real-life set-up. Reverse bay parking was more than adequate, but our test car refused to parallel park between two stationary e-NV200s (which also feature a 40-kWh battery from now on).   

V2G: turn your Leaf into a money-maker

The time has come to see an electric vehicle as much more than just a means of transport. In fact, it can take the shape of a money-making storage unit, as is the case already in Denmark and the UK – other countries will follow, Nissan promised. How? By taking a holistic approach and providing an entire ecosystem around the car.

The key part – next to the Leaf’s battery itself – is a static battery pack combined with a bi-directional charger. The latter can take power from the Leaf’s battery and put it in the static battery pack, use it to power your company’s grid or send it to the mains. This static battery pack consists of re-used Leaf battery cells and can be scaled up to whichever size your company needs. Ideally, it is also fed by home-grown electricity, i.e. power produced by solar panels – which can indeed also be bought from Nissan.

When connected to the mains, the power company can use both the static battery and the Leaf’s battery as buffers. They are topped up when there is more energy supply than demand, at a very favourable tariff. When power consumption increases, the power company takes energy back from the Leaf’s battery – down to a minimum level that is predetermined by the customer – and pays a higher tariff than what it billed to charge it.

Thumbs up all the way?

No, unfortunately. First, the thick A-pillars block the three-quarter view in corners. Second, the steering column has no telescopic adjustment. That is simply incomprehensible and inexcusable. Also, even in the lowest position, the seats are relatively high. Result: people with tall upper bodies will struggle to find a good driving position. There is no lumbar support adjustment, either, while the seatback lever works in steps, making micro-adjustments impossible.

It’s not really spacious, either. Rear legroom is so-so, at least for the average European adult. The boot can contain a decent 435 litres, but you have to lift your luggage over a high sill. If you are a tall person suffering from a weak back, this is not the best car to choose, then. Finally, Nissan sticks to the ChaDeMo fast charging standard – at least for another 3 years, a spokesperson said. That could be a disadvantage if all other competitors are going for the Combined Charging Standard (CCS), which is likely to be the case.

The bottom line

Nissan knows how to build electric cars and make them attractive for both the fleet manager and the company car driver. Compared to the BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq and VW e-Golf, the new Nissan Leaf offers the most comprehensive technological package (e-Pedal, ProPilot, connectivity) and the longest range. Remarkably, its major drawbacks seem to result from poor design decisions. The V2G element could certainly contribute to lowering the Leaf’s TCO to an ICE-competitive or even ICE-beating level. All depends on the market, though. Once this solution is available across Europe, the Leaf will have yet another competitive advantage over other EVs.

PLUS

  • 270-km real-life range (WLTP)
  • Smoothly operating ProPilot
  • Driving pleasure and comfort (e-Pedal, power, suspension)
  • Interesting TCO-lowering potential with V2G integration

MINUS

  • Driving position for tall people (high seat, no telescopic steering wheel adjustment)
  • Thick A-pillars block view in corners
  • Below-average interior space, high loading sill
  • ChaDeMo fast-charging standard likely to become obsolete

 

Fact sheet

Battery 40 kWh Lithium ion
Range WLTP: 270 km (NEDC: 378 km)
Motor output 110 kW
Motor torque 320 Nm
Tyre size 205/55R16V
Weight        1,535 kg
Boot capacity 435 litres

Main competitors

BMW i3
VW e-Golf
Hyundai Ioniq Electric

new competitors in 2019: Hyundai Kona EV & KIA e-Niro

 

Authored by: Dieter Quartier