2018 Nissan Leaf First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Nissan Leaf First Drive

The Second Generation of an Electric Pioneer

It's hard to believe, but with the debut of the 2018 Nissan Leaf, the company's groundbreaking battery electric vehicle has been part of the automotive landscape for eight years. Nissan's distinctively shaped first-generation Leaf quietly became the best-selling electric vehicle in the world during a period when other EV manufacturers stole all the headlines.

Granted, EV sales still pale to those of conventional cars — in the U.S. this year, twice as many 2017 Toyota Tacomas were sold than all EVs combined — but if we were wearing a cap, we'd tip it to Nissan for its accomplishment nonetheless.

The Nissan Leaf was comprehensively revised for 2018, but its mission brief remains intact: This is an EV for the masses.

Now 150 Miles of Range
While revised exterior styling is the 2018 Leaf's most obvious tip-off to newness, a much larger battery capacity is the new car's highlight. Packing revised battery cells — and more of them — into the space carved out by the previous battery has raised the new Leaf's battery capacity from 30 kWh to 40 kWh. The purpose of this endeavor is to increase range, which in the new Leaf rises to 150 miles (up from 107 miles). Finally, a new inverter helps boost the 2018 Leaf's power and torque to 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, representing increases of 40 hp and 49 lb-ft over the outgoing car.

By concentrating its resources on the battery, Nissan has made big strides in its EV's functionality without having to raise the price. In fact, the new Leaf is priced a hair lower than the outgoing model and delivers longer range than similarly priced EVs.

2018 Nissan Leaf

New Skin, Familiar Bones
The 2018 model certainly looks like a much different car inside and out, yet it retains much of the existing Leaf platform under the skin. The Leaf's fundamental floorpan, steering and suspension geometry are intact, albeit with revised tuning.

The new Leaf's exterior design eschews its predecessor's decidedly unconventional styling and will likely resonate better with a mainstream audience. Among its functional improvements is a more upright nose to ease charge-port access and help it better comply with European pedestrian collision standards. As before, the car is front-wheel-drive only and the battery is housed in the floor.

Charging Ahead
Gone is the old base Leaf's weak-sauce 3.3-kW onboard charger. All 2018 Leafs are equipped with a 6.6-kW onboard charger that will provide a full charge in 7.5 hours when connected to Level 2 (240-volt) charging. A DC quick-charge (CHAdeMO) port is standard on SL and SV models and optional on the base S. These fast chargers are capable of replenishing a depleted 2018 Leaf battery to 80 percent charge, or 105 miles of range, in 40 minutes.

Efficiency-wise, the new Leaf matches its predecessor, consuming 30 kWh per 100 miles.

Now Caters to One-Pedal Drivers
For 2018, Nissan has added a feature to all Leafs called e-pedal. It's a mode that facilitates one-pedal driving, which is the ability to slow the car appreciably without requiring the driver to apply the brake pedal. Push the e-pedal button and the Leaf's regenerative braking effect is amplified to the tune of 0.20g deceleration (compared to 0.12g when slowing via the console selector's B mode). E-pedal mode provides a satisfyingly strong braking effect that makes one-pedal driving a breeze.

Once the car reaches a stop, the system automatically applies the conventional friction brakes to hold the car stationary rather than expending electrical energy by allowing the motor's torque to hold it still. All without requiring any foot input on behalf of the driver. Nissan is especially proud of the e-pedal's ability to make even steep grades a stress-free affair. After driving in mixed conditions with the system on, we predict experienced EV drivers will instantly love e-pedal mode.

ProPilot Assist
Another new driver assistance feature available on the 2018 Leaf is ProPilot Assist. This system essentially adds a juiced-up lane keeping system to the adaptive cruise (also new this year). Nissan took pains to explain that ProPilot Assist is not an autonomous driving mode and that it is intended only to reduce drivers' fatigue when they're on the freeway.

That's true enough, given that it will tolerate a hands-off-the-wheel situation only briefly before it sounds alarms, vibrates the steering wheel, then taps the brakes. If it still doesn't sense any hands on the wheel, the Leaf will ultimately ease itself to a stop and put on the hazard lights.

In our experience the system coped well on freeways with well-marked lanes and gentle turns, but it was readily flummoxed by secondary roads. ProPilot Assist works in its intended environment but doesn't strike us as a must-have option. Fortunately, users can switch ProPilot Assist's steering assistance off when using adaptive cruise or simply use conventional "dumb" cruise.

2018 Nissan Leaf

Revised Interior
The cabin has been modestly overhauled, too, with a new dashboard, steering wheel and center console. The old dual-display instrument cluster has been binned, replaced with a more conventional — and more legible — single display. As before, base models get a 5-inch infotainment screen, while SV and SL models have a 7-inch screen.

The interior execution has moved on from the somewhat dour surroundings of the previous Leaf. There's a bit more cheer and higher-spec material on frequently touched surfaces. Although there's little wow factor, it's perfectly acceptable given the Leaf's relatively low price of entry.

Driving the New Leaf
The driving position is still not ideal for taller drivers, owing to a seating position that's perched up high and a steering wheel that doesn't telescope (!) and has minimal tilt range. Despite these drawbacks, there's plenty of headroom even for tall drivers wearing a tall hat.

Its ride quality strikes an amicable middle-of-road compromise between comfort and agility, though its relatively basic rear suspension transmits more quivers to its occupants than you'd experience in, say, a Honda Clarity EV. On the plus side, its floor-mounted battery keeps the center of gravity low and helps it to corner with a minimum of body roll.

The new Leaf feels reasonably spry when threaded through a series of bends and doesn't instantly wilt when driven with spirit, even if its ultimate grip is predictably modest. That and the calibration tweaks made to its steering have resulted in a better-weighted helm than that of the outgoing Leaf.

Best of all is the new Leaf's acceleration, which is considerably more vigorous than the first-gen car. Off the line, the new Leaf squirts forward enthusiastically and at higher speeds feels more energetic than its 147-hp rating suggests.

Trim Levels and Pricing
The 2018 Leaf will be available in the same three trim levels as before: S, SL and SV. All of them share the same fundamental hardware, and the differences among them pertain mostly to driver assistance and convenience features. Base S models have 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry and automatic emergency braking and start at $29,990.

SV trim levels ($32,490) are likely to be the most popular Leaf, adding 17-inch wheels, the DC quick-charge port, adaptive cruise, a telematics system to remotely control charging and the climate control system, a larger infotainment screen, and navigation with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Creature comforts are the main draw of SL models ($36,200), which add leather seats, LED headlights, premium audio, and heated seats, mirrors and steering wheel.

A host of driver assistance features are now available on SL and SV models, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, the aforementioned ProPilot Assist and a lane keeping system.

More Car, Fewer Dollars
Stick with the SV trim or lower and you'll save thousands compared to, say, a Chevrolet Bolt, which has undeniably compelling range. The 2018 Leaf will be available at the end of January 2018. Or wait for the longer-range version of the Leaf that is set to debut in late 2018, armed with a 60-kWh battery that will boost range to around 225 miles by our math.

With its improved driving dynamics, longer range and additional poke, the 2018 Nissan Leaf is a comprehensively improved car. That it is no more expensive than its predecessor is a pleasantly unusual bonus.

Leave a Comment