The all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf is here, and not a moment too soon. The original 2011 Nissan Leaf wasn't the first electric car ever made, but one could argue that it was the first practical volume-selling electric car, one that proved EVs could be more desirable than some glorified golf cart.
It helped that the Leaf was no boutique sports car or a captive fleet car available only to utility companies, or even a lease-only special you'd need to return after three years. The Leaf debuted with 73 miles of range — decent for the time — and it was the first EV built with the much-needed SAE J1772 standard charge socket, which helped public charge networks and 240-volt home charging technology to flourish.
Since then, EVs have grown to include numerous new vehicles with interesting designs, higher-capacity batteries and increasing range. Nissan added modest range enhancements occasionally, but facing new competition, the Leaf felt increasingly dated. Nissan has finally gone off and redesigned it, but it's clear that the 2018 Nissan Leaf is rooted at the value end of today's EV spectrum.
What Did We Buy?
The 2018 Nissan Leaf represents another EV milestone: It's the first electric car in production long enough to undergo a full redesign. It's not the most complete redesign we've ever encountered — it rides on the same basic chassis and offers the same interior dimensions — but the changes are nevertheless significant.
Power comes from a more energetic electric motor that can churn out 147 horsepower and a healthy 236 pound-feet of torque (up from 107 hp and 187 lb-ft, respectively). It can travel 151 miles on a full charge thanks to a redesigned lithium-ion battery pack with 33 percent more capacity. And the new Leaf can finally be driven in one-pedal fashion thanks to its new e-Pedal lift-throttle braking feature.
As before, there are three trim levels: S, SV and SL. The base S is equipped with 16-inch steel wheels and a basic four-speaker AM/FM/XM stereo, but it offers automatic emergency braking and a smart-key system. The value-driven SV adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, foglights, adaptive cruise control and a CHAdeMO DC fast-charge port. Inside, there's a nicer 7-inch touchscreen audio and a navigation system with HD radio, voice controls and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.
We chose the SL, which has all the SV gear plus leather seating (with heated front seats and a power-adjustable driver seat), rear seat air-conditioning ducts, LED headlights and running lights, a cargo cover, and a seven-speaker Bose premium audio system. It comes with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Nissan's wonderful 360-degree camera system, and an additional line of defense with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems.
What Options Does It Have?
The SL isn't missing much, but it doesn't come standard with all that the new Leaf offers, including the ProPilot Assist (PPA) system. An advanced lane-keeping system, PPA does a pretty fair approximation of Tesla's Autopilot, but for a lot less than the $5,000 Elon and company charge for theirs.
To get it, we added the $650 SL Technology package, which includes the two main components of ProPilot Assist: Steering Assist and advanced adaptive cruise control. Steering Assist guides the car between the lane lines instead of merely preventing lane departures in the style of most lane-keeping systems (although it'll do that too when PPA isn't engaged). Advanced adaptive cruise control is an upgrade to the standard system than enables it to slow down to zero mph in stop-and-go situations, with a hold function to keep the car stationary until the traffic flow resumes.
That's not the end of it. The SL Technology package also adds an electronic parking brake, automatic high beams, and pedestrian detection integrated into the automatic emergency braking system.
Beyond that, we equipped our Leaf with splash guards ($190) and thick carpeted floor and cargo area mats ($190). Add another $395 for our car's Scarlet Ember finish, a premium paint color and, all told, our loaded Leaf SL test car cost $38,510 before adding state-dependent variables such as tax and license fees. Note that our cost doesn't reflect crucial offsetting incentives such as the $7,500 federal tax credit or assorted state rebates such as the $2,500 EV mail-in rebate most buyers can get here in California.
Why We Bought It
We liked the 2011 Nissan Leaf well enough when we hosted one in our fleet seven years ago. But it was a bit of a slug, and the phrase "range anxiety" crept into our lexicon almost immediately — 73 miles of range just wasn't enough.
Now the Leaf has the beans to get out of its own way and it can go more than twice the original range on a single charge. But is it enough? After all, the Chevrolet Bolt is rated for 238 miles, and the mythical $35,000 Tesla Model 3 will be good for 220 miles, if it ever arrives.
Battery capacity costs money and consumes space, so there's no point buying and toting around more than you need. Perhaps the Leaf is "right-sized." We own both a Bolt and a long-range Model 3, so we're in an excellent position to get to the bottom of this.
Beyond that, we're eager to play around with the new e-Pedal system, and we plan to put ProPilot Assist through its paces, especially since Nissan intends to offer the system on the Rogue and its other mainstream cars.
More than anything, we're interested to see how Nissan managed to pull off a significant price drop in the face of many significant enhancements. After all, the S costs $690 less than before, the volume-selling SV is a full $1,710 cheaper, and the SL is only $590 more than last year. Will we see any evidence of cost-cutting or has EV technology simply become cheaper to make?
Follow along as we put our 2018 Nissan Leaf through a full year of daily rigor and duty. You'll find detailed impressions and regular updates on our 2018 Nissan Leaf SL during our long-term road test.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing @ 1,103 miles