In many ways, the new Nissan Leaf e+ with its 239-mile range on the WLTP Combined cycle neatly summarises both the advantages and the advances tied up with electric motoring. On the advantages front it has a drivetrain that no petrol or diesel engine can match for response and refinement, and so long as you have the means to recharge it at home or at work, running costs can be tiny.
Meanwhile, as a demonstration of how advanced electric cars are becoming, how about the fact that the e+ has more than double the real-world range of the first-generation Leaf? To achieve that level of progress in what is just under a decade shows just how fast things are moving in the world of EVs.
It’s no surprise that Nissan is among the frontrunners. It has, after all, now produced 410,000 Leafs that it says have together covered 10 billion kilometres. And so while it might be Tesla that tends to dominate the EV agenda, it is actually the Leaf that serves as the world’s (as well as Europe’s and the UK’s) biggest selling electric car.
NISSAN’S MOST ADVANCED ELECTRIC CAR TO DATE
All of which makes the arrival of the Leaf e+ somewhat significant. This is the most advanced of Nissan’s electric cars to date with the longest range and the strongest performance. Nissan says that the £36,095 e+ is pitched into the same kind of market as the £34,170 BMW i3s.
Given the i3’s premium badge, exotic construction and first-class interior, that comparison might sound risky. However, the Leaf e+ does at least comfortably beat it when it comes to the bare numbers. So Nissan’s 62kWh battery beats BMW’s 42kWh unit, it has more power (214bhp versus 184bhp), more torque (251lb ft vs 199lb ft) and a greater range (239 miles vs 193 miles). Both cars will get from 0-62mph in a brisk 6.9 seconds.
Of more concern perhaps are the higher output versions of the Kia e Niros and Hyundai Kona Electrics of this world, which not only outpace the Leaf for range, but are usefully cheaper to buy. Nissan’s cause isn’t helped by its decision to only offer the e+ in flagship Tekna specification, for while this gives you lots of equipment (including the company’s ProPilot driver assistance technology, LED headlights, a Bose stereo, and 100kW charging capability to take advantage of the latest range of rapid chargers) it also necessitates the higher price.
DRIVING THE 2019 NISSAN LEAF E+
Clearly the Leaf e+ needs to offer something in the design, packaging or driving experience that others in the class don’t. With design being so subjective you’ll have to decide on that part for yourself, although perhaps it is at least worth pointing where the e+ differs from a standard Leaf. So, the ride height is 5mm higher due to Nissan altering the suspension settings to cope with the 130kg heavier battery pack, plus there’s a blue finish to the front grille and an e+ logo on the charging port. And that’s about it.
On the subject of the battery pack, it should be noted that while both capacity and energy density have increased compared with the standard 40kWh Leaf (by 55% and 25% respectively), the physical size of the pack hasn’t changed. This means that interior accommodation is unchanged, and at 405 litres boot space in particular is far more generous than an i3 or Renault Zoe.
Less impressive is the driving position, which thanks to the absence of telescopic adjustment on the steering wheel column makes it difficult to get comfortable. At least the infotainment system has been revamped, with smarter graphics, faster responses and TomTom premium mapping, as well as Apple Carplay and Android Auto (Nissan describes these as “hygiene factors”, which a cynical person might say is a term that should also apply to reach adjustable steering in a near-£40,000 car…).
One thing you can say about the Leaf e+ is that it is quick. Not just quick for a Nissan family hatchback – but quick full stop. Once you are rolling the Leaf e+ positively leaps forward each and every time you give the throttle a meaningful prod, and offers sustained acceleration right up to motorway speeds. This translates as excellent overtaking punch, and even at higher speeds the Leaf e+ will dart from 60- to 70mph with the kind of urgency you’d only achieve in a petrol or diesel-engined car by dropping down a couple of gears.
The other defining feature of driving the Leaf is the level of regenerative braking it produces when you lift off the accelerator. Nissan calls it e-pedal, and says it allows you to drive for 90% of the time without needing to touch the brakes. It’s a neat system, once you’re accustomed to the idea that the car won’t coast when the e-pedal is switched on.
Ultimately, as is usually the way with electric cars, it is the drivetrain that dominates the driving experience, and serves as one of the primary reasons for choosing something like a Leaf over a petrol or diesel alternative. And so while the ride in the e+ might be somewhat fidgety, and the safe and steady handling setup in no danger of ever increasing your heart rate, driving Nissan’s electric car can still be an enjoyable experience.
However, for those who can live without the added range of the e+ it’s hard not to conclude that a standard 40kWh Leaf would make a good deal more sense. Admittedly, you don’t get quite as much accelerative punch (and still need to live with the flawed driving position) but because it is available in lower trim levels the standard Leaf is significantly cheaper to buy. For many buyers it will surely remain the Leaf of choice.
Nissan Leaf e+
Price: £36,095 (including £3,500 plug-in car grant)
0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
Top speed: 98mph
Range: 239 miles (WLTP Combined cycle)
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