Last year wasn’t a great one for the new car industry. Sales fell overall across 2017 but while traditionally fuelled models struggled the alternatively fuelled market enjoyed a boom.
Sales of electric and hybrid cars rocketed by 35 per cent in the UK. They still represent a relatively small portion of all new car sales but there’s no doubt they are on the up and one of those leading the charge is the Nissan Leaf. It’s the world’s best-selling EV and since its launch in 2010 Nissan have shifted nearly 300,000 of the first-generation car.
Now there’s a new model looking to build on everything that has made the original Leaf a market leader. The whole car has been re-engineered from the ground up to be better to drive, better to look at and, crucially, offer better performance from its all-electric drivetrain.
Nissan Leaf Tekna
Price: £27,490 (range from £21,990)
One of the biggest improvements is in the motor’s output. Power is up 38 per cent to 148bhp and torque has increased to 236lb/ft. They’re good figures for the segment and make for a 0-62mph time of a respectable 7.9 seconds. Due to the nature of electric motors all that torque is available instantly, making the car ideally suited to the ruthless stop-start cut and thrust of our cities and serving it well when it comes to high-speed overtaking.
Of course, if you’re using all that torque all the time you’ll never see close to the official range but Nissan point out that every driver’s circumstances will have a different effect on how far their Leaf will go.
Nonetheless, the official testing figures show a major improvement over the old car as well. Under the standard NEDC test the new model returns 235 miles on a full charge. That’s a whopping 50 per cent jump over the old car. More importantly, the Leaf is the first EV to undergo the more realistic WLTP testing, which better reflects real-world driving. That revealed a range of up to 258 miles in city conditions and a combined driving range of 168 miles.
One of the other big changes to the Leaf is the e-Pedal. It uses software and an actuator to control how power is output or harvested, meaning you can use the accelerator pedal as both a throttle and brake. Under full or part-throttle it propels the car but as you lift off it engages the regenerative braking, increasing the force the further you release the pedal. What’s astonishing is how well it works and how quickly you adapt to it. Within a couple of minutes it feels totally natural and Nissan reckon it will reduce use of the brake pedal by up to 90 per cent.
Away from the drivetrain and technology, the exterior is a big improvement on the old one. There’s less of the “look-at-me-I’m-electric” styling and more conventional C-segment hatch. The front’s still a bit droopy but the rear has been tidied up and the two-tone finish of the test cars worked well.
The interior, however, is still a weak point. It’s not bad but it’s a long way from the best in the segment. Nissan say that more than 100 changes in the new car were influenced by customer feedback so maybe Leaf owners are happy with the interior but the layout and materials could be better.
Rear legroom is impressive for the class but it comes at the expense of those in the front. Average drivers and passengers will manage fine but those much over six feet will notice a lack of legroom and adjustment.
Countering the disappointing elements of the interior is its astonishing refinement. The motor is virtually silent but without the noise of an engine to mask it you might expect road and wind noise to be obvious. However, it simply isn’t. Even at motorway speeds the Leaf is as hushed as some £100,000 luxury saloons – not bad for a £30k C-segment hatchback.
While it’s no sports car, the new Leaf’s handling is also a marked improvement on the old one. The bodyshell and chassis have been stiffened, steering response quickened and springs, dampers etc tuned for European roads. It shows in a drive that feels secure and direct, if not particularly engaging.
The new Leaf is priced from £21,990. For that you’re stuck with steel wheels and no touchscreen but you do still get auto lights and wipers, keyless start, cruise control, timer-controlled auto air con, lane intervention, intelligent emergency braking and cross traffic and blind spot warning.
Higher-grade cars add better wheels and upholstery as well as a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Intelligent cruise control, around view monitor, an upgraded heater and full LED headlights are also available, and the top-grade Tekna adds ProPILOT driver assist. Combining adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist systems it will keep the car at a set distance from the vehicle in front and centred in its lane without driver input. It’s hardly ground-breaking but it’s still a welcome option for those who spend a lot of time on jam-struck motorways.
The Leaf was a pioneer of affordable EVs in 2010 and this latest model marks a significant improvement over that car. It’s more powerful, better to drive and will go further on a charge. The only black mark is an interior that still needs more work. Despite that, and growing competition, the Leaf looks likely to remain a serious player in an increasingly important market.
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