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LEAF still a hatch

Nissan’s new LEAF has got a lot going for it, but the most important attribute is that it’s fun to drive.

It needs to be too as Nissan’s standard bearer for its vision of future of mobility — an electric future needless to say.

Nissan says the just launched, second generation LEAF redefines the way people drive and live by offering them a new and completely different car ownership experience, including the ability to use it as a mobile battery to power up your home — bold, practical and a money saver.

The latest LEAF remains a hatchback, but is larger and easier on the eye, although the cabin is small and busy, with too many different surfaces for those who prefer an uncluttered work space.

Equipment levels are impressive and the seating smart, supportive and comfortable.

There’s just the one model and one price — $49,990 plus on road costs. Recharging hardware included is CHAdeMO for public charging, and a 6 metre 32A Mode 3 cable for home. 

The new LEAF is a serious improvement over its predecessor. Incidentally that first LEAF, a funny little Noddy car, sold 635 units locally, mainly to early adopters with a green tinge (and local councils). It was hardly a stunning success. Pioneering is tough.

Using an increased battery capacity of 40kWh, the new e-powertrain in the latest LEAF delivers a punchy, linear driving performance with a power output of 110kW, or 38 per cent more than the previous model.  

Torque, always an EV strong suit, has been increased 14 per cent to 320Nm. Australians love their off-the-line response and the LEAF delivers. It reaches 100km/h in 7.9 secs. 

This is more than acceptable especially as the LEAF is no lightweight, tipping the scales at nearly 1600kg. But it steers in a nimble way, provided you don’t expect it to have the dynamics of a Golf or i30N.

The softish, supple suspension irons out most of the bumps of city roads.

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But LEAF is a high-riding hatch

Three power choices include regular Drive, battery-saving Eco, and e-Pedal. The latter, with a deceleration rate of up to 0.2g, introduces some serious regenerative braking power and allows the driver the simplicity of starting, accelerating, decelerating, stopping and holding the car — using the accelerator pedal alone.

For example, come up to stationary traffic, Stop sign or roundabout, and simply releasing the accelerator pedal brings the LEAF to a smooth and complete stop, and holds without the need to press the brake pedal. It takes only a couple of goes to understand how swiftly the LEAF comes to a halt.

Studies overseas reveal the e-Pedal reduces the number of times the driver must apply the brakes while commuting in heavy traffic.

While the conventional brake pedal must still be used in aggressive/emergency braking situations, the e-Pedal lets drivers use a single (go) pedal for more than 90 per cent of driving needs.

With Auto Hold, once the vehicle reaches a complete stop, hydraulic brake pressure is applied to all four wheels to hold the vehicle. To release, simply accelerate as normal. 

Though we didn’t have time to validate comparisons between the different modes during our 100km drive around the ‘burbs in Melbourne, the combo of Eco and e-Pedal would be the optimal setting to minimise battery drain. Our kilometre-to-empty number sometimes barely changed as we motored through a succession of roundabouts. In these situations the claimed 270km range seems realistic.

Safety gear extends to six air bags, Intelligent Around-View Monitor, Intelligent Driver Alert, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Intelligent Emergency Braking (with pedestrian detection), Intelligent Lane Intervention, Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. 

Other features include heated seats front and back, heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, intelligent cruise control, power fold heated door mirrors, 8.0-inch touchscreen, satnav, Apple Car Play/Android Auto, voice recognition, seven-speaker Bose audio including digital radio, 17-inch alloys, and more.

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LEAF dash looks normal enough

Listening to the ABC – the station of choice for eco warriors and chartering classes, is easy with the absence of nasty exhaust and engine noise. All you hear is the light musical hum of tyres on tarmac.

Does Nissan research conclude that EV owners like a drink?  A bottleholder in each of the four doors begs that question. There are also two holders in the centre console for takeaway lattes.

BUT there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel (though excellent turning circle), and we didn’t like the fat windscreen pillar which hurt visibility at times.

Seats are also adjusted manually and the spare is a space saver.

Being a latte sipper and wine guzzler from the Sydney suburbs, I could live with the LEAF. It is economical, and drives pleasantly. Additionally, I really like the prospect of using that bi-directional charging to future proof our home from blackouts and get a no-cost access at peak times.

Most owners will plug in at home. Based on running 50km a day (in Australia, the average distance travelled per day is 38km), Nissan calculates the cost of charging your LEAF will be around $764 a year versus roughly $1800 for a petrol-fueled car.

As well, servicing costs are not steep.

But LEAF still needs to be cheaper to buy — 10 grand cheaper.

Given the popularity of SUVs here (and Nissan’s SUV-heavy catalogue), I wonder too if the LEAF would have more charm if it were a small, high-riding vehicle rather than a hatch? 

Ben Warren, Nissan’s manager of electrification and mobility, demurred, suggesting it was more important to re-introduce the LEAF with appealing packaging and specification, plus a practical range and right pricing.

“The cool things about the LEAF,” Warren went on, “. . . it’s a spacious, small car with good ground clearance and excellent overall packaging.”  

He did say however that electric SUVs are also part of Nissans electric vision.  

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The LEAF boot could be an issue

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McKay

Peter McKay started in journalism writing about rock music, then motor sport, before easing into general motoring at a Holden Sunbird launch in 1976. Not a great start. But went on to edit Motor magazine ever-so-briefly before starting an unbroken freelance career in 1981, around the time of his first of seven Bathurst 1000 starts. Byline has lobbed in Wheels, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Sun-Herald, Sunday Telegraph, The Australian, Top Gear, Australian Penthouse, Motor Trend, F1 Racing, Men’s Health, Inside Sport. Still admits he prefers driving cars to dissecting them.