The Nissan Leaf offered early adopters zero-emission driving at an affordable price well before Tesla became a household name. The segment has grown considerably since the original model hit the streets, and it’s going to get even bigger in the coming years as electric vehicles continue merging into the mainstream lane. The company hopes the brand-new, second-generation, 2018 Nissan Leaf will return to the top of its class — and make our list of the best electric cars.
What can it do?
While you may not think that electric vehicles can hold their own against traditional gas guzzlers, an older version of the Nissan Leaf recently completed a Mongol rally, which is fairly strong evidence that they can. The competition (against yourself, really) of sorts begins in England and ends in Ulam Ude in Russia after passing through, you guessed it, Mongolia. It’s a 10,000 mile journey, and one that a Nissan Leaf just completed.
Nissan Leaf owners Chris and Julie Ramsey recently set forth on this adventure after making a few modifications to the Leaf (mostly to tires and a roof rack), but they did nothing to either the 30-kWh battery pack or the electric motor. As such, it’s pretty impressive that it managed to make it 10,000 miles, and in 55 days no less.
As Auto Evolution noted, “The Ramseys are big advocates of electric power and saw this as an opportunity to show people EVs are capable of more than just sporting a lecturing vanity plate.”
So if this is what the older brother of the Leaf can do, just imagine what next year’s EV will be capable of.
What is it powered by?
We know you’re dying to find out the 2018 Leaf’s range: it’s certified to travel for up to 150 miles on a single charge. There’s much more to the story than numbers, though.
Electricity is stored in a 40-kWh lithium-ion battery pack neatly integrated into the space under the passenger compartment. It’s a packaging solution which allows the Leaf to offer space for five passengers and 23.6 cubic feet of trunk space. Charging the battery pack takes between eight and 16 hours depending on the type of charger it’s plugged into, though a quick charger provides a usable 80 percent charge in just 40 minutes.
A revised electric motor zaps the front wheels with 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of instant torque, generous increases of 40 horses and 49 pound-feet over the outgoing model. The power bump is a little bit offset by over 100 extra pounds, but the hatchback should still feel peppier than the outgoing model.
While 150 miles is a massive improvement over the current car’s 107-mile range, it’s not nearly enough to compete against other electric cars like the Chevrolet Bolt, which offers nearly 250 miles of range, and the Tesla Model 3, which goes up to 310 miles if you spend enough money. Nissan promises a second version of the Leaf with more power and more range will join the lineup in time for the 2019 model year. Industry rumors indicate it could offer over 200 miles of range, and we expect it will be priced closer to its American rivals.
What tech features does it have?
Crucially, the new Leaf inaugurates Nissan’s ProPilot Assist technology. As its name loosely implies, it’s a suite of electronic driving aids designed to give the driver a hand when driving becomes tedious, dangerous, or plain boring. It doesn’t turn the Leaf into a full-on autonomous car; that’s still years away from becoming a reality. It can take over in stop-and-go traffic, according to Green Car Reports, and it’s capable of controlling acceleration, braking, and steering on single-lane highways when the right conditions are met. The system is available between 18 and 62 mph, and goes well beyond mere lane-keep assistants and departure warnings.
Nissan will continue to improve its ProPilot Assist technology in the coming years. The software will soon enable a car to drive itself through an intersection in a busy city, and the company says it will eventually give cars the ability to drive on their own while the driver sleeps, reads, or gets work done.
The Leaf also ushers in Nissan’s e-Pedal technology, which lets the driver start, accelerate, decelerate, and stop using only the accelerator pedal. Strong regenerative braking is applied as soon as the pedal is fully released, bringing the Leaf to a full stop if necessary while sending electricity back to the battery pack. The Leaf still comes with a brake pedal, of course, but it sounds like it’s only needed in an emergency. Nissan predicts motorists can use the e-Pedal to stop more than 90 percent of the time.
What does it look like?
The modern electric car was still in its infancy when Nissan developed the original Leaf, so a stand-out design was a must. Just look at it; it practically screams “I’m electric!” into a loudspeaker. The second-generation model grows up by falling in line with the company’s newest design language. Up front, that means a chromed V-shaped grille and sharp, elongated headlights in lieu of the previous model’s bug-eyed look. From the side, blacked-out C-pillars create the illusion of a floating roof. Out back, there are sharp boomerang-shaped LED headlights.
Its designers’ goals were to make the hatchback more aerodynamic in order to maximize range, and to make it more stable on the highway to provide more sure-footed handling. The familiar two-box shape remains, but it was evaluated in a wind tunnel and given a more rakish look inspired by airplane wings. It looks more like a “normal” car than its predecessor, though emblems on the doors and a sprinkling of blue accents tell on-lookers it’s capable of moving forward without using a drop of gasoline.
The cabin is toned down, too. The seven-inch touchscreen is now neatly integrated into the center console, the two separate instrument clusters have been merged into a single digital unit with a more logical layout, and the steering is now commanded through a sporty looking three-spoke wheel. The funky gear selector is the only remnant of the outgoing model’s spaceship-esque interior.
When can I buy one?
The 2018 Nissan Leaf will go on sale in early 2018 with a base price of $29,990, a figure that makes it $690 cheaper than the outgoing 2017 model. Nissan stresses the Leaf will be available in all 50 states from the get-go, unlike the Bolt which quietly debuted in a small handful of states before attempting to conquer the entire nation.
“When we launched the Leaf in 2010, it instantly became the most affordable mass-market EV in the world. We are not walking away from that proposition,” promised Nissan Chief Performance Officer José Muñoz.
Official pricing information for the rest of the Leaf lineup will be released in the coming months. Leaked documents suggest the lineup will be initially broken down into three trim levels named S, SV, and SL, respectively. The same documents claim the SV trim is priced at $32,490, while the range-topping SL commands $36,200. These figures don’t include the mandatory destination charge or the government incentives that some electric car buyers are eligible for.
Update: A Nissan Leaf just drove 10,000 miles in the Mongol Rally.
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