First drive: How does the Nissan Leaf e+ stack up against the regular Leaf?

And does it hold its own against newer competitors?
by Paul Horrell | Jul 1, 2019
PHOTO: TopGear.com
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A new Nissan Leaf already?

No, it’s an extra Leaf—a top-end version called the Leaf e+. It has a 62kWh battery, and a 385km WLTP range. The existing—and continuing—Leafs have 40kWh capacity and 270km range. The e+ also has a more powerful motor.

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Is Nissan playing electric-car catch-up here?

Some rivals have similar range, the base Tesla Model 3 and the range-topping Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric among them. But to suggest Nissan is an EV laggard is hardly fair. The Leaf has a mammoth track record of providing dependable electric transport—400,000 have been sold in nine years.

Dependable equals dull?

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The new version isn’t just about more energy storage. It’s also got more power—the equivalent of 217hp, up from 150hp. That drops the 0-100kph time to 6.9sec despite a 130kg weight rise. The springs have been stiffened to cope.

Does that make it more fun?

The performance is lively, though you’ve got to push through a detent in the accelerator travel to get the full beans. Overall, the urban and B-road poke is satisfying, progressive, and sharp-witted. The stiffer springs do make for a fair bit of jiggle in the ride, though.

Steering is precise and roll is well-contained, but the energy-saving tires mean solid understeer if you overdo it in a corner. But because you sit lower down in the Leaf than in the BMW i3 or rival electric crossovers, it doesn’t pitch and toss like they do.

The rest of the experience?

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Just like the rest of the Leaf range, so our review still applies. The e+ gets all the top-end kit: connected navigation, LED headlamps, advanced highway driver assist (they call it ProPilot), and rather nice suede-y seat trim.

Does the bigger battery eat up trunk or footwell space?

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Nope, it’s more or less the same size as the standard one, but the cells are more energy-dense and physically packed in more tightly, thanks to a new laser-welding of their case.

Does more energy mean longer charge times?

Er, yes. Two things limit rapid DC charging times: the power of the charge post, and the ability of the car to accept that power without overheating.

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The Leaf has a Chademo port for DC charging, and they’re available at all highway stations in the UK, and many other places besides. But most of them are 50kW, while the rival Tesla system goes toward 150kW, and in some places, even more.

Now, there are a few 100kW Chademo charge posts, and in theory, the Leaf can draw that power. But because the battery is air-cooled and not liquid-cooled, it would overheat if it drew that power for long. So, the car’s protection system throttles back the power. Result—this Leaf will never charge more quickly than 20-80% in about an hour and a quarter. It’s a car for occasional long journeys, but not routine ones.

Does it make the quoted range?

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Driving gently, on a route of urban and suburban roads and some 65kph speed-limited rural stuff in the New Forest, I was well on target. The trouble with the WLTP test is it includes little highway driving, and if you cruise fast, no EV will hit the quoted range.

And the cost?

It’s about £5,000 (around P325,000) more than the 270km Leaf. Do you really need to carry all that extra lithium around with you? How many long trips do you do? But, Nissan people say, the extra range is enough to take the Leaf from second car to only car.

Anyway, the actual price is £35,895 (around P2.33 million) after the grant. Which is a problem as the base 2WD Model 3 is not vastly more at £38,900 (around P2.52 million), and does 0-100kph in under 6sec, can charge faster, and has similar range. But of course the Tesla isn’t a hatchback, and more seriously, it’s on a long wait list. And Tesla’s headline features—big performance, self-driving, AWD, long range—are all expensive extras.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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