Great Leaf forward: Second-generation Nissan EV has more power, 150-mile range

December 22, 2017

Nissan is ready to turn over a new Leaf Its redesigned EV for the masses will be on showrooms in early 2018 and the updates are so extensive, they invoke comparisons to another technological sea change: the flip phone vs. the smartphone.

Consumers have more and more EVs and hybrids to choose from every year. To keep its competitive edge – more than 290,000 Leafs have been sold globally since its 2010 introduction - Nissan knew the second-generation Leaf had to have more power, more range and more technology to keep its competitive edge. Out the gate, the new Leaf has 37 percent more horsepower, a 26 percent bump in torque and it will go about 150 miles – a 40 percent improvement.

But there’s also reason to cheer what there is less of.

First and foremost are prices. Nissan has reduced the MSRPs across the board – in one case by as much as $1,710.

Walking the line between worry-free battery range and affordability, Nissan starts the lineup with the Leaf S at $29,990; the mid-level SV stickers for $32,490 (the 2017 version was $34,200), and the top-of-the-line SL model runs $36,200. However, a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 drops the S to $22,490; the SV to $24,990 and the loaded SL would theoretically still be priced under the 30-grand threshold at $28,750. (Most Leafs on dealer lots will initially come with technology packages that could add up to $2,200 to the as-equipped MSRP.)

There’s also less weirdness with the Leaf’s styling. When it debuted as a 2011 model, the Leaf may have been a pioneering EV but its nerdy look had grown tired, if not clichéd. The fix: the 2018 Leaf has a styled, more conventional “grille” and significantly better-looking, “faster” lines and proportions.

At the heart of the second-generation Leaf is a larger-capacity battery and a higher output motor. The 2018′s lithium-ion battery pack now stores 40kW vs. the 30kW unit in the 2017 Leaf. What’s more, it has the same dimensions of the first-gen Leaf’s and occupies the same space - down low in the floor for optimal weight distribution and center of gravity. Nissan credits more efficient packaging and improved electrodes and chemistry for the 33 percent boost in energy storage.

The 2018 Leaf’s 110 kW motor produces 147 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque; the 2017 Leaf’s 80 kW motor was rated 107 horses and 187 lb.-ft.

A level 1/level 2 charging cable - standard on the SL and available on the S and SV - can now be plugged straight into a standard 220-volt outlet; there’s no need for additional hard wiring.

A full “fill up” with the upgraded 2018′s standard 6.6-kW onboard charger (6.0 kW output) will require roughly 7.5 hours on 220 volts. In a rush? An hour’s worth juice is good for about 22 miles.

What about a 110-volt circuit? Here’s the downside to the 2018 Leaf’s larger battery capacity - fully recharging from a household plug will 35 hours. If you don’t feel like taking that supreme test of patience, DC fast chargers like our local eVgo station happens to have will be your salvation. A half-hour buys you 88 miles while you go shopping or grab a meal.

The 2018 Leaf’s lithium-ion battery pack is covered by an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty against defects or excessive capacity loss.

All Leafs have an aerodynamic belly pan and rear diffuser, automatic temperature control, automatic emergency braking, LED taillights and rear-facing camera, 60/40 folding rear seats, Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming audio.

Though there’s a Leaf that sneaks in at just under $30,000 - the S - it comes at a cost. Instead of 17-inch alloy wheels and 215/50R17 Michelin Energy Saver tires, the S runs 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers and makes do with a four-speaker, AM/FM/CD audio system with 5-inch color LCD display. Leaf S buyers will find manual six-way driver and four-way passenger seats while forgoing the leather-wrapped steering wheel that’s standard on SV and SL. But the prospects of finding the lowest-cost Leaf may be academic; Nissan said the S model will be in limited supply.

Though the SV runs $2,500 more, the midlevel Leaf is outfitted with more of the technology EV buyers demand. So the SV is likely to be the mainstream Leaf. In addition to those 17-inch wheels and tires, a quick-charge port and upgraded cruise control, the SV includes NissanConnect with navigation and NissanConnect EV.

These Leaf apps can help the driver find the closest charging station, schedule charging at off-peak hours for lower costs and enable the user to monitor the Leaf’s status – including temperature and state of charge – from a smartphone. When the cabin is too hot or too cold, the apps can be used to adjust the vehicle’s temperature. Users can also lock and unlock doors remotely using a PIN and the app supports push notifications to the owner’s smartphone or connected accessories like Apple watches. NissanConnect with Navigation also adds Apple CarPlay- or Android Auto-compatibility. On another high-tech note, the 2018 Leaf officially supports home-to-car communication via Amazon’s Alexa. Code warriors have been coming up with hacks to get the Leaf to communicate with Amazon’s cloud-based virtual assistant.

If you a loaded Leaf, you’re looking at the range-topping SL trim which adds an eight-way power driver’s seat (but the passenger’s remains manual), leather seating (fronts are heated), cargo-area cover, automatic dimming inside mirror, Bose premium audio, portable 120V/240V charging cable and 360-degree camera system that Nissan calls its Around View Monitor. In addition to HomeLink universal transmitter and LED headlights and daytime running lights, blind spot and rear cross traffic alert warning systems are also standard.

The new Leaf is sprightlier and better mannered. Using windshield-mounted cameras, the Nissan’s available new ProPilot Assist system, under ideal conditions, can take over much of the steering, accelerating and braking from the driver for a while. To ensure safety, sensors require periodic hands-on operation of the steering wheel – sensible and comforting, especially when we were testing the semi-auto pilot on a two-lane road and a cement mixer was coming the opposite way.

Many, if not most, SL and SV models will come straight from the factory with their own optional technology package.

The SV tech bundle ($2,200) includes portable charging cable, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, high-beam assist, electronic parking brake, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink garage door opener, power driver’s seat, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and ProPilot Assist.

The SL tech package runs $650 because several of the SV tech package’s features are already included on the SL. The Leaf SL’s tech bundle adds ProPilot Assist, automatic braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping intervention, electronic parking brake and high-beam assist.

A helpful novelty that could easily find its way into other EVs and hybrids is the Leaf’s new single-pedal mode. Activating Nissan’s “e-Pedal” with a flip of its console-mounted switch adds a deceleration function to the Leaf’s accelerator pedal. Letting “off the throttle” initiates braking.

Once the Leaf comes to a stop, the vehicle stays put until the accelerator is pressed again, even on hills. Of course, the traditional brake pedal is there for conventional braking or emergency stopping but we quickly learned its tricks. Nissan said drivers can wind up using the single pedal more than 90 percent of the time, giving the brake pedal - and the operator’s right leg - a break.