Nissan Leaf

Debut: 2017
Maker: Nissan
Predecessor: Leaf Mk1 (2010)

 Published on 5 Nov 2017
All rights reserved. 

Despite the radical front end, the new Leaf no longer looks distinctive.

With cumulative sales of 283,000 units, the first generation Leaf was the world's best-selling EV, although it didn't quite match Renault-Nissan's original projection. Last year, it still sold 47,000 units, thanks to the lack of competitors at its price level. However, the competition is rising fast. GM’s Chevrolet Bolt offers a much larger battery for a 200 miles range. Although it is not quite as large or as accommodative as the Nissan, it is a much fresher, faster and more competent car as a whole. At the upper end of the spectrum, Tesla Model 3 is just slightly more expensive but a lot classier. Its 400,000 units-plus reservations will easily trump the Nissan’s sales volume once Tesla can ramp up production. It is time for Nissan to upgrade its competitiveness.

Naturally, the second generation Nissan Leaf is better than its predecessor everyway – except perhaps look. Well, its new sheet metal is sleeker and more sculpted than ever. You may also call its new front grille and headlights radical, but since all other recent Nissans have adopted more or less the same radical front ends, the Leaf is no longer distinctive. In fact, the only way to spot it as an electric car is the lid above its nose which gives access to the charging plug. Otherwise, it looks just like an ordinary family hatch. Some might even find the new Micra more futuristic.

Some might even find the new Micra more futuristic.

The new car is built on a platform adapted from the original car. Its lithium-ion battery pack is again placed under the cabin, while the electric motor and power electronics are situated between the front wheels like a conventional 4-cylinder engine. The battery is physically the same size as before, but thanks to improved packaging of cells, new chemistry and new electrode materials, both power and energy density are increased, so is its capacity, which is increased from the outgoing car's 30kWh to 40kWh (note: the original Leaf had a 24kWh battery at the beginning). This extends its driving range massively, from 155 to 235 miles as measured by NEDC, or 107 to 150 miles by EPA or 280 to 400km by JIS standard. Moreover, Nissan will offer an option of 60kWh battery next year, an afterthought obviously responding to Chevrolet Bolt, which offers 60kWh as standard.

Meanwhile, the electric motor gets more powerful, too. It produces 150hp instead of the outgoing 109hp, while maximum torque is lifted by 20 lbft to 236 lbft. Hopefully this will improve its 0-60 mph time from 11 seconds to just over 8 seconds, although Chevrolet and the new BMW i3s are still beyond its reach.

Platform is carried over, but now comes with more power and longer range.

The rest of the car does not change as much as its powertrain though. It is only 35mm longer, 20mm wider and 10mm lower than before, while the 2700mm wheelbase is unchanged. Aerodynamic drag is lowered slightly from 0.29 to 0.28. Suspension is still space-saving struts up front and torsion beam at the rear.

The story inside is much the same as outside. The cabin looks more conventional and boring, without anything except the TFT instrument to distinguish itself from any conventional family hatchbacks. The dashboard might be made of slightly better plastics as in any new cars in the segment, but its design is dull and the color is all-dark grey, failing to deliver the smart and cheerful ambience of the old car. Blame to the lower roof and faster windscreen, the cabin feels less airy, too. The driver seat is set too high and the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment for a perfect driving position. On the positive side, the seats themselves are quite comfortable (unless you enjoy pushing the car in the twisty, as they lack lateral support). The cabin remains roomy, with remarkable leg and headroom for rear passengers. Moreover, the boot is huge at 435 liters, up from the previous 370 liters. Nissan’s engineers have delivered the promise for more efficient packaging. Unfortunately, their styling colleagues are not as good.

The cabin is more conventional and even boring...

On the road, there is no surprise. The EV runs quietly and smoothly in urban area. Its motor provides quite a strong punch at low speed, which is sustained well into highway speed, though top speed is electronically limited to 90 mph, just the same as before. Acceleration is really much quicker, more than an average family needs in fact. A new feature – though not so new in the world of EVs – is a one-pedal driving function called e-Pedal. When you release the accelerator pedal, it applies regenerative braking for a deceleration of up to 0.2g. In this way, you rarely need to touch the brake pedal in urban driving (Nissan said for about 90 percent of time). Only when stronger deceleration is required you will need to step on the brake pedal. This makes the Leaf more relaxing to drive than conventional cars.

In corners, the Leaf is not so good, at least on the Japanese spec. model (European and US models will get different tunings, but yet to be finished). Its suspension setting is soft, returning a smooth ride but sharp bumps seem to take it out. The steering is very slow, light and numb. Even by the standards of EVs, this one is boring.

Easy and relaxing to drive in urban area, but without any excitement to speak of.

The new car offers a semi-autonomous driving system called ProPilot. It is basically an adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping and auto braking function, but it works only on single-lane roads with white lines marked (as its cameras read the lines), and it turns into corners slowly and jerkily, a sign of lacking processing and predictive power. For a C-segment car this technology is quite advanced, but we expect to see similar options on just about every new car soon. Another tech is Pilot Parking, an automatic parking feature. It is effective but slow.

With an entry price about the same as before, Nissan hopes to double or triple its sales over the last generation. While its much improved performance and range support this target, the more ordinary packaging and unexciting handling might suggest otherwise. With stronger and stronger rivals and more choices on the market, I suppose it will be difficult to maintain its position as sales leader.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4480 / 1790 / 1540 mm
2700 mm
Electric motor
150 hp
236 lbft
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
1520 kg
90 mph (limited)
8.1 (est)

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