Early drive: 2018 Nissan Leaf Hatchback

PROS

  • Easy to drive, silent and refined
  • Intuitive e-pedal set-up a pleasure to use
  • Boot larger than before; bigger than many hybrid rivals

CONS

  • Not very involving for keen drivers
  • Longer range but still not comparable to tank of petrol
  • Less polarising hatchback styling second time around
Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3

Nissan Leaf 2018 summary page

The Nissan Leaf Hatchback enters its second generation, just as many rival manufacturers are readying themselves to launch their first electric cars.

That puts Nissan in a very strong position, to do well in the battery electric vehicle (BEV) market, just as sales are expected to explode – following the government announcement concerning the banning of sales of non-electrified vehicles in 2040.

Even though electrification is a hot topic, the Leaf still finds itself with very few direct rivals – the smaller Renault Zoe might find itself on a number of shared shopping lists, but beyond that, there’s the Hyundai Ioniq and the Volkswagen e-Golf to contend with.

Nissan Leaf 2018 headlight

Consider this the calm before the storm, and by 2020, we’ll probably not be able to move for electric cars, let alone plug-in hybrids.

The Leaf has steadily been building sales since its launch in 2011 – and the company has produced almost 300,000 of them globally, many at its British plant.

So, it’s important that the company’s second effort is not only good, but that it appeals to newcomers to electric motoring, as well as existing Leaf owners.

What’s new about the 2018 Nissan Leaf?

With the Leaf established on the marketplace, Nissan decided that for its second generation, it would try to encourage new buyers into the fold.

In order to tempt the sceptics, it’s extended the range (to a maximum potential 250 miles), as well as make it quicker thanks to a new 40kWh power pack, and look more like a conventional hatchback in the process.

Nissan Leaf 2018: under the skin

At its launch, Nissan claimed a 248-mile range for the new Leaf – but that in real-world driving this will drop to between 180-220 miles. That’s a massive improvement from the original 90 miles for the 24kWh Leaf, and 140 for the revised 30kWh model.

Nissan has confirmed that a more powerful, longer-range Leaf will follow in 2019.

The additional power and range for the second-generation model comes via a higher-density lithium-ion battery pack. This arrangement is more efficiently packaged and cooled, and as a consequence, is worth an additional 40hp – for a total of 150hp, fed through the front wheels.

Performance and design improvements

The second-generation Leaf gets from 0-62mph in approximately 8.5 seconds. Engineers wouldn’t confirm the exact figure at launch, but given that the first-generation Leaf took more than 11 seconds to complete the same test, this is a marked improvement.

Maximum speed is unimpressive, though, at 90mph, but capping it at a relatively low figure helps preserve the battery range.

The way it looks is so much better than before. Some will bemoan the loss of the individuality of the original car, but the new one will have wider appeal to potential converts to electrified motoring, who are continuing to waver.

Nissan Leaf interior space

That it looks so different is impressive, because the proportions are pretty much the same as the original.

But whereas before, it was bug-eyed and peculiar, the second-generation version gets a new grille like the bold one they fit to the Micra and Qashqai, while the floating roof, and swish new rear lights, mark this one out as much more striking looking.

Other new additions

Inside, it’s more appealing than before. Quality has taken a notable lift, while the new dashboard and controls feel altogether more conventional and inviting than before.

Nissan is yet to confirm specifications ahead of its 2018 UK launch, but it’s expected that the range will comprise of Acenta, Connecta and Tekna trims, with a generous equipment tally across the board.

Nissan Leaf cockpit design

At 435 litres with all five seats in use, the boot is usefully large compared with its electric (and hybrid) rivals.

There are three new-to-the-Leaf features, which Nissan boasted about at the launch.

Its new e-pedal system is designed so that you can drive merely using your right foot. Lift the throttle, and the regeneration system (where charge is put back into the battery) slows the car down markedly. This works in conjunction with the brakes for true single-foot driving.

Nissan Leaf 2018 features lots of driver assistance technology

You also get active cruise control and lane-keeping assist, together called Propilot, for semi-autonomous driving on dual carriageways and motorways.

Also, there’s Pilot Parking Assist, which uses a 360-degree camera system to choose your parking space, and put the car in neatly for you at the push of a button.

These systems are found on many rival cars, although Nissan says it’s made many improvements in terms of functionality and ease of use.

Driving impressions, and what about that e-pedal?

We only managed a short drive of a top-of-the range Leaf near the company’s Yokohama headquarters, so will wait for a more definitive verdict. But it made some strong first impressions, most notably that it’s a big improvement over the outgoing Leaf in many ways. Which is exactly what Nissan set out to do.

So, it’s smooth to drive, and the feeling of refinement and well-being are all-enveloping; much more impressive than before. As soon as you step off, the e-pedal’s effects become abundantly clear – you lift your foot sharply off the throttle, and the car comes to a sharp halt.

Nissan's e-pedal makes its first appearance in the Leaf

You soon learn to be gentle with the accelerator, and before you know it, instinctively start moderating your braking with it. Only when a car pulled up sharply in front of us did we need to use the brake pedal.

It has other benefits, too – the e-pedal makes town driving easy, as you’re using the single pedal the majority of the time. Head for the hills, and it will hold you on an incline without any driver input.

Like all good driver assistance systems, if you don’t like it, you can turn it off with a flick of a switch – but we doubt you will.

And away from the city?

The Leaf is as light and undemanding to drive as it always was. The main stress you’ll encounter is that of how much juice is left in the battery – known as range anxiety – which should be lessened thanks to its longer range.

It’s blessed with a soft ride and an undemanding nature, which suits the more relaxed driver, and it’s none the worse for that.

Put your foot down and it goes very well, with instant and smooth acceleration – a key appeal of any electric car.

Nissan Leaf 2018: early driving impressions

On the motorway, and with the optional Propilot system engaged, and it pretty much drives itself, with excellent lane-keeping abilities, and smooth distance control. On the Japanese-market car we drove, it would remain effectively hands-free for a little more than 10 seconds.

We didn’t get a chance to investigate too much into how handles corners, but if it’s anything like the last Leaf, it will do so very well, but without any feel or sense of driver involvement.

But that’s not what this car is about, and we’d certainly not mark it down in this respect.

The Parkers Verdict

The second-generation Leaf is significantly better to drive, thanks to its extra performance. The additional range certainly doesn’t do it any harm either – if Nissan set out to make the old Leaf more appealing to new buyers without frightening the old ones, then it has succeeded in those aims.

Does that make it a highly-recommended choice? Yes, and it would be, even if the marketplace were brimming with rivals.

It’s relaxing to drive and shrugs off city driving with ease. It’s practical, will no doubt be reliable, and for anyone who doubts the viability of an electric car, and who has a lifestyle who can support one, then the 2018 Nissan Leaf looks like a compelling – but not exciting – proposition.

Keep an eye out for the full in-depth Parkers Nissan Leaf review over the coming days

Nissan Leaf 2018 rear three quarter shot