Nissan redesigned its groundbreaking Leaf all-electric car for 2018, which includes improving the electric drive system -- and extended the driving range on a single charge to an estimated 150 miles, up from 107 miles on the 2017 model.
The exterior and interior have been restyled, and the new model has a 147-horsepower electric motor, up from the previous 107 horsepower. Torque was increased 36 percent, to 236 foot-pounds, giving the Leaf quicker starts.
Although the Leaf’s new 40 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is the same size as before, it has higher density to provide more power, allowing for the increase in driving range.
And coming for 2019 will be a higher-priced Leaf model with an even more-powerful battery and longer range.
Many electric vehicle experts believe that a minimum range of 200 miles is what consumers want to avoid having anxiety about whether they will run out of power prematurely.
But Nissan insists that the new 150-mile range “should satisfy the daily driving needs of the majority of Leaf owners.”
There are three trim levels: the S model, starting at $29,990 (plus $885 freight); the SV, beginning at $32,490; and the SL – the model we tested – which lists for $36,200.
The biggest difference in the price between the entry S model and the midlevel SV is that the S doesn’t have built-in quick-charging capability. But it can be added as an option for an additional $1,590.
Among other new technology in the 2018 Leaf is the e-Pedal, which lets the driver use a single pedal for more than 90 percent of everyday driving, including most braking. But the conventional brake pedal must still be used when fast or aggressive braking is necessary.
With the e-Pedal, when the driver takes his foot off the accelerator pedal, the car will come to a complete stop without the driver having to press the brake pedal. To activate the e-Pedal, the driver must pull back on a switch in the center console, but it does not stay activated once the vehicle is shut down – it defaults back to the “off” position.
Of course, the e-Pedal also does not take over and slow the vehicle if the Leaf’s radar cruise control is active and the driver moves the foot off the accelerator pedal.
During my week in the Leaf, I tried to remember to engage the e-Pedal whenever starting out, and found that in most driving conditions, I really didn’t need to use the actual brake pedal. Although I was not in a position to see for myself, the brake lights do come on when the e-Pedal is bringing the car to a stop, Nissan says.
Also new is the ProPilot Assist system, included on our test vehicle in a $650 package. It includes a combination of the radar/adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency forward braking with Pedestrian Detection, Steering Assist, Intelligent Lane Intervention, High-Beam Assist, and an electric park brake.
Once it is activated, which happens when a button is pressed on the right side of the steering wheel, ProPilot Assist can actually keep the Leaf centered in its lane on the highway.
But even though it can do this, it doesn’t want the driver to depend on it, for sure. When I was trying it out on a not-too-busy rural interstate highway, and took my hands off the steering wheel to see how well it worked, I was admonished by a warning notice on the dash that my steering input was required. It knew that I had let go of the wheel, and was quite nervous about that – if a computer can actually get nervous.
Also with this system, if the car in front stops, the system will apply the brakes to bring the vehicle to a full stop if necessary, and, after stopping, the vehicle will remain in place even if the driver’s foot comes off the brake pedal.
When traffic begins moving again, the car will start moving if the driver touches the cruise switch or lightly presses the accelerator pedal.
Among other advanced safety gear are Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and the Intelligent Around View Monitor with moving object detection.
Also new is a system that can share power between the vehicle and homes, buildings or power grids.
“Using vehicle-to-home systems, the battery makes it possible to store surplus solar power during the daytime and then use it to help power the home in the evening,” Nissan says. “The customer can also recharge the battery in the middle of the night, when prices are lowest in some markets, and then use the electricity during the day to reduce energy costs.”
The Leaf’s chassis has been beefed up for improved stability, with heavy components such as the battery pack put in the center of the car to help improve directional stability and bring smoother cornering.
Leaf’s new exterior design makes it look more like a traditional hatchback than it did. It has the Nissan V-motion grille, “boomerang” light signature and floating roof, making the car look similar to other current Nissan models, such as the Rogue compact crossover.
There are new projector-beam headlights with dual, direct-lens low and high beams; unique rear combination lights; an integrated spoiler; and a new low hood.
The angle of the charging port at the front has been reconfigured for greater convenience, letting the customer connect the charging cable without bending down. The charging cable that came with our test vehicle would allow for connecting to a 240-volt or 120-volt outlet.
We charged the car twice overnight through a standard 120-volt outlet in our home garage, about 14 hours each time. That allowed for about 50 to 60 percent of a full charge, but because we didn’t let the battery run even close to completely down, we managed to get it back up to nearly full charge both times.
The new Leaf is 1.4 inches longer than the previous model, and seats up to five people, although we found to be truly comfortable for just four adults. The hatchback lifts up to reveal 23.6 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands with the rear seatback folded – which we did to take home a boxed 55-inch LED TV from the store.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability have been incorporated into the infotainment system in models that have the navigation system, which included our SL. The audio and navigation functions can be set using a steering-wheel switch, without taking hands off the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The NissanConnect system running through the audio/navigation system can help find charging stations, and give the driver the stations’ operating hours and availability. Owners can also use their smartphones to check the car’s battery-charge status.
A new front console has dual cupholders between the front seats, allowing for a storage tray at the base of the console for smartphones and wallets. There is also a 12-volt power outlet and a USB port.
The cabin air conditioning is energy efficient, and a smartphone app allows for remote pre-heating or -cooling of the vehicle’s interior.
The Leaf is assembled at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., near Nashville, which also produces other Nissan vehicles.
Besides the ProPilot Assist package, the only other extras on our Leaf SL were the premium Scarlet Ember (red) exterior paint ($395); splash guards ($190); and carpeted floor and cargo mats ($190).
Total sticker price was $38,510, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2018 Nissan Leaf
The package: Compact, five-door, five-passenger, electric-motor powered, front-wheel-drive hatchback electric vehicle.
Highlights: Nissan has completely redesigned its Leaf all-electric car for 2018, extending the range on a single full charge to about 150 miles, giving it lots of available new technology, including some self-driving features, and making it more practical for everyday commuting and family use. The car has plenty of power, lots of standard and optional features, and a roomy interior.
Negatives: Range is limited to about 150 miles before recharging of the lithium-ion battery pack is required, so long road trips can be a challenge.
Engines: 110-kilowatt AC synchronous electric motor.
Transmission: Single speed.
Power/torque: 147 HP/236 foot-pounds.
Length: 176.4 inches.
Curb weight range: 3,433-3,508 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Cargo volume: 23.6 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 30 cubic feet (rear seatback folded).
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 40 kWa lithium-ion battery pack; range about 150 miles per charge.
EPA fuel economy (mpg-equivalent): 125 city/100 highway/112 combined.
Base price range: $29,990-$36,200, plus $885 freight (before any federal and/or state tax rebates/credits, if available).
On the Road rating: 8.5 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.