Review: Nissan LEAF

Review: Nissan LEAF
Review: Nissan LEAF

Worthwhile advances in ability, styling and tech for the new-generation Leaf

Did you know that ‘LEAF’ in ‘Nissan LEAF’ is actually an acronym? The clue is in the capital letters. LEAF stands for ‘Leading Electric Affordable Family’.

Yes, you have to stick ‘cars’ on the end for it to make sense, but there’s no need to massage the sales figures for the ‘leading’ part of it to ring true. Since 2011, Nissan has sold 280,000 LEAFs (or possibly LEAVES) worldwide.

We’ve tried out a Japanese-spec version of the new second-generation Leaf, a car that sets out to address some of the style issues of the old Leaf and to extend its full-charge range. It does both, but the sharper looks and new range of 235 miles are just the start. There’s a raft of tech upgrades too. Depending on spec, these can include semi-autonomous functionality in a single motorway lane.

UK cars won’t be the same as the one we’ve just sampled on a public road outside Yokohama. British LEAFs will have firmer suspension, less aggressive e-Pedal operation (the car’s smart regenerative braking system), and a more Micra-ish dashboard without the Japanese-spec car’s rear-view camera or rear-mirror display.

Nissan Leaf

Price: £26,490
Engine: 40kWh electric motor
Power: 148bhp
Torque: 236lb ft
Gearbox: single-ratio reducer
Kerbweight: 1535kg
Top speed: 89mph
0-62mph: 8.6sec
Range: 235 miles (NEDC)
CO2 rating: 0g/km

That upgraded dash is a good thing because home-market Japanese buyers get a pretty grey and uninspiring one. We also approve of the softer e-Pedal operation for UK cars as it will reduce the amount of braking (and head-jerking) that happens when you take your foot off the throttle. Putting your foot on it reveals a healthy slug of torque – there’s been a 20% uplift to 236lb ft.

We’re less sure about the stiffer suspension, however, as the Japanese model we tried is already quite firm. You’ll certainly know when you’re on lumpy roads. We’re promised better cornering as a result, but that feels a bit like the answer to a question nobody asked.

You might not expect there to be lots of headroom in such a rakish hatch, but in fact it’s excellent. Dimensionally, it’s bigger than a Focus in every way other than width. It’s a pity that the combination of a high seat and a shallow windscreen reduces the sensation of space, but the dashboard is well designed with a pretty much perfect buttons-to-screen mix.

Press the blue one to the right of the steering wheel to launch Propilot, Nissan’s semi-autonomous driving system. It’s as easy to operate as adaptive cruise control: You simply set your speed, get the go-ahead from the system, and unwind. Not completely, though. If you take your hands off the wheel, you’ll be reminded to put them back on, politely at first, then more insistently.

The Propilot Park extension does what you’d expect it to do, but not quickly. As it stands, you can’t ask it to speed itself up a bit because the shop is about to close, but Nissan will be sorting that out. Speed apart, it’s great.

Thankfully, they’ll also be taking a look at the steering. It really needs that at the moment, with three turns needed to go from one lock to the other on our Japanese car. UK cars will be regeared to something nearer to two turns. We hope that Nissan will manage to find something approximating to feel while they’re carrying out this revision. There’s precious little of it now.

With things set to change in the dynamics department, we’ll restrict ourselves to a still impressive four-star rating until the UK cars come out. When they do, in the guise of a special Launch Edition, the price is expected to be on a par with the current car at £26,000.

At that, and the mods carried out, you’ll be looking at something that’s not just a strong electric vehicle, but a strong vehicle full stop, and one that should keep the LEAF up there with the best of its type. The competition isn’t standing still though.

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