You’ve three seconds to pick the auto world’s buzzword of the year. Go! You only needed one, didn’t you? Electric it is.
Matter of fact, it’s been so for a long time now. Long enough for Japanese motorhead Nissan to sell almost 300,000 game-changing Leafs to date. That’s an undisputed high score in the game. So, when they told us they’ve made a new one, our ears perked up instantaneously. Any hope to rid us of the haze outside our homes, right? Even if that means packing our bags for a full day’s worth of flying across the globe from Bombay all the way to Vegas to see what the brand’s on about.
In the eight years since the birth of the first iteration of the Leaf, this second-gen model has transformed in leaps and bounds. Gone are the quirky electric looks of the past, and in its place, we get an edgy new form with more mainstream intentions. It fits right in with the rest of Nissan’s fleet of cars. But, this ain’t no ordinary urban runaround anymore. Here are some headline stats to chew on: 148bhp all-electric drivetrain, 378km range, 430l boot.
It all sounds like your sensible next potential car, doesn’t it? And that’s even before we’ve even gotten to what’s in store inside it in terms of tech. Rest assured, there are massive surprises to look forward to. A solid 40 mile trip around Red Rock Canyon was organised to familiarise ourselves with all of the new Leaf’s extraordinary skills over a healthy mix of congested city roads and fast highways. Enough time, in fact, for us to consider ourselves qualified enough for a rundown of our first impressions and future expectations from this next-gen electric vehicle. Sit, back, strap in, and join us for a ride of the future.
Nissan Leaf (2018) design: Same same but different
In the flesh, this second-gen Leaf is a proper revolution of the idea. It’s a five-door hatchback that features angular lines, a low bonnet and aero shaping. Rather than stick out like some quirky cousin, it blends in with Nissan’s familiar designs even if it is a bit on the generic side. By design of course, quite literally. Nissan intends for it to be an everyday car of the future without appearing to be any different from normal runarounds - that’s not to say it hasn’t been infused with a bit of electric sexiness that hints at its forward-looking intentions. All in all, it’s got enough highlights to give it a bit of flair and character, with relatively aggressive headlights and a contrast upper body that belies its true 1.5m height. Build quality isn’t anything to scoff at either. It obviously varies based on the trim you select, but at any level, it’s a solid, middle of the range experience. It fits right in between rattly plastic and wallet-crushing luxury. If the intention is to bring electric joy to the masses, it’s the path to take in our minds. The displays inside are quick to mesmerise while the rest of the cabin feels more functional and sturdy rather than inspiring in any aspirational way. It’s more of a sensible family runaround rather than an e-powered jaw-dropper like Renault’s bonkers Trezor concept.
Nissan Leaf (2018) performance: Range for days
They may seem like unassuming family runarounds, but don’t even, for a second, mistake the EVs for slouches. Ever seen a six-seater Tesla Model X smoke an Audi R8 V10 Plus in a drag race? In eerie silence that too? The Leaf has all the perks of EVs flowing right through its DNA making it nippier than you’d expect. Hit the go pedal, and you leap forward rather rapidly.
That’s the effect of 100% torque, 100% of the time. No gears to work through equals no time to waste. The 110kw electric drivetrain recalibrates your senses with the urgency of its moves. Enthusiasts will have enough power to extract some play out of the motor without the unnecessary racket or tree-decimating emissions of ordinary ICEs. That said, we’re yet to see how close it comes to its promise of delivering that enticing 378km range but in terms of performance, the car feels surprisingly connected to the driver. The steering may feel light but it’s responsive, power’s aplenty and the driving position is comfortable as well.
NISSAN LEAF (2018) E-PEDAL: SOLE SAVIOUR
One pedal to rule them all? What may seem like overstatement of the year is one monumental change in driving style. Well, at least our right foot concurs. Nissan calls it the e-Pedal and its sole aim is to reduce driver inputs to the maximum possible degree. A standard accelerator in appearance, it's definitely Nissan’s biggest innovation with the 2018 Leaf: a single pedal that can control acceleration, braking and stopping - all thanks to the power of regenerative energy tech.
In start / stop traffic, it’s astounding just how quickly the e-Pedal stops feeling surreal and starts feeling like a logical, game-changing development. Get it right, and you’ll seldom even look for the brake pedal coming to a complete halt just where you to want. It’s immensely liberating to just have to worry about one single pedal.
Not only does the system save you the sweat, it delivers more energy back to the car - now if that isn’t win-win, we don’t know what is. The Leaf automatically applies the friction brakes when you stop, so even on a hill it’ll hold you. Driving essentially becomes push to go, ease off to slow down, lift off altogether to stop.
To see the whole system in action effortlessly transport you, brings two kinds of tears to our eyes in quick succession. First, the ones of sheer relaxation in bumper traffic with massive workloads lifted off our legs immediately followed by the thought of going back home to the old ways of driving and the pain it brings along.
NISSAN LEAF (2018) PROPILOT: PARALLEL SUCCESS
Here’s a system that Nissan’s been rolling out for a while now, but finds its most advanced form to date in the new Leaf. Allow us to explain how the ProPilot brings the joy of video game controls to real world driving and so much more. We knew all those endless hours of NFS would be put to good use some day.
Roll past a space, and with the parking mode enabled, the Leaf will detect it with its suite of cameras and radar sensors. Then it’s as simple as tapping the icon over the space you want and holding down the park button. The Leaf then proceeds to spookily park itself, handling braking, speed and steering. Provided that it can detect an open space, it works like a charm. Now, at this point we know you’re wondering how often you’ll encounter a similar situation. Precisely why we’re more excited for the system’s capabilities on open highways and congested cities alike.
With ProPilot activated, the Leaf will detect highway lanes, cruising at a user selected speed while ensuring your car stays on track. It’s more hands-on assistance rather than hands-free automonomy buzzing the steering wheel if you deviate too much. But it works like a charm. More importantly, it’ll maintain a safe distance from the car in front even coming to a complete stop if required.
Here’s the best part: in bumper traffic, it’ll crawl along with the rest of the cars with zero driver inputs maintaining a safe distance while closing gaps every time the traffic moves. Once things speed up a bit, simply use the steering controls to reach highway speeds from a complete standstill. All this without a single touch of the pedal. Where we come from, that feels like pure magic. It’s absolutely addictive, this thing.
Nissan Leaf (2018) initial verdict
On American roads, the Leaf’s capabilities are impressive in abundance. But, what’ll happen to it on our godforsaken streets? There’s a lot that needs to be tested before that question can be answered. On first impression though, there’s enough in the new Nissan Leaf to make it an EV game-changer.
It isn’t extraordinarily stylish but there’s nothing wrong with Nissan’s focus on practicality either. It’s a satisfying mix of spacious cabin, useful boot and plenty of power. Will it ever make it to our shores? And if so, will it make you break that bank? As far as availability is concerned, we certainly hope that fellow drivers get to experience what we just did. Also, going by Nissan’s pricing in international markets, the second-gen Leaf could be well within reach for a lot of folk if priced similarly (from $30,000).
Throw in a host of tech that enhances the daily driving experience like we’ve never seen before - from ProPilot to the arguably revolutionary e-Pedal - and Nissan could have a properly appealing car for the masses. We’ve had a little taste of the car’s incredible capabilities and it truly feels a car of tomorrow, today.