The Leaf’s improved styling is a great step forward
It’s hard not to underestimate just how much influence the predecessor to this new Nissan Leaf has had in that change. When the original arrived in 2010 it was a niche product; the first mass-market fully electric passenger car. But its 300,000 sales since then have made the Leaf the UK’s best-selling electric vehicle.
Electric cars are growing in acceptance at all levels (sales of those and hybrids are up 24 per cent on 2017) and with the introduction of Jaguar’s I-Pace, plus Porsche and Audi bringing out all-electric models in the next 12 months, there’s no doubt that battery power will increasingly be seen in showrooms.
Niche product or not, the first generation Leaf’s success gives the new one a head-start on rivals, especially in the non-premium sector.
The other good news is how much easier this second-generation model is on the eye. With looks only a mother could love, the original Leaf was never a design classic. This version is much improved, with some family styling cues from the Micra supermini.
We especially like the sharp-edged rear lights but could do without the Zero emission badges on both the lower half of the front doors and rear tailgate, which seems a bit over the top.
Thankfully the changes go a lot further than skin deep. There are now more powerful 40kW batteries (up from 30kW), equivalent to 150bhp and enough to give the Leaf a 0 to 60mph time of 7.9 seconds and an 89mph top speed. More importantly, the official fully-charged range has been extended from 124 miles to 235 miles.
However, the idiosyncracies of the economy testing regime mean that Nissan claims a higher real-world figure of 168 miles. It’s a step up on the previous model but perhaps not quite as large a step as expected. When we fully charged the car it only showed a 155-mile range, dropping to 151 miles after overnight parking.
When it comes to electric cars, where every mile matters, these small drops in range really start to count. Thankfully a larger battery version with extra range is due later this year.
The Leaf’s driving experience isn’t that different from before. Nissan claims to have made it more involving but in reality this isn’t a car that’s going to put a smile on your face down a twisty B-road. That focus on efficiency at every level becomes all-permeating throughout the driving experience and, to be fair, most owners are unlikely to want to drive it that hard.
The steering gives very little feedback about what the car is doing beneath you and while the ride quality is pretty good, this just isn’t a car that you’ll want to be cornering on its door mirrors.
For us, the new Leaf’s interior is probably its weakest area
To try to put miles back on your range, Nissan has introduced an ePedal function that increases the level of the regenerative braking and, it estimates, can reduce the use of the brakes by 90 per cent.
It certainly takes some getting used to on the road. You do much of your driving by using your right foot on the throttle pedal but the lack of any ability to allow the car to coast means it’s best used away from faster cruising roads. We’d also prefer some more graduated options than simply having the system on or off.
Helping that efficiency is the central infotainment screen and menus in the main instrument binnacle that show how economically you’re driving and how much extra range is gained switching off the air conditioning.
However, this screen’s other functions aren’t the most intuitive to use on the move and it isn’t the clearest. On the main map setting, for instance, street names are in black with a white surround on a scrolling grey background that are hard to read when driving.
In fact, for us, the new Leaf’s interior is probably its weakest area. While many of the plastics have been improved, there are still too many cheap surfaces and other odd absences such as the lack of a movable armrest and only a single USB port in the front.
It will undoubtedly do well in showrooms as more drivers look towards electric power
Nissan had a big head start on its rivals and the Leaf’s improved styling is a great step forward but it hasn’t capitalised on that initial advantage and rivals will be closing that gap
The worst, though, is the driving position. Even at its lowest the driver’s seat feels too high, while the dials are set quite low and – unforgiveably in our opinion – the steering wheel only adjusts for height, not reach.
The result is that, especially for taller drivers, you can feel as if you’re sitting on top of the car rather than in it. Even after short journeys we started to get back ache from this lack of wheel adjustment, which on a £28,000 car is just not acceptable. In the back too, there are seat heaters but no USB charge points.
Nissan had a big head start on its rivals and the Leaf’s improved styling is a great step forward but it hasn’t capitalised on that initial advantage and rivals will be closing that gap.
It will undoubtedly do well in showrooms as more drivers look towards electric power but we wonder if history might show this as an opportunity missed.
The Leaf’s driving experience isn’t that different from before
Price: from £28,390 (after Government grant)
Engine: Electric – 40kW
Power: 0 to 60mph in 7.9 seconds, 89mph top speed
Range: 168 miles
Recharge time: 7h 30m (6.6kW charger)
Rivals: Hyundai Ioniq Renault Zoe, Toyota Prius Plug-in