The Nissan Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric car, but how does the new version compare to its predecessor?
When the original Nissan Leaf was launched in 2010, it made other battery-powered vehicles of the time feel like golf buggies. Put simply, it was the first modern electric car that drove like a proper family hatchback.
Small surprise, then, that it outsold all its rivals. However, things move on, and with competition now much tougher, Nissan has launched an all-new Leaf. The question is, does it retain the strengths of its predecessor while adding enough to justify its higher price?
Nissan admits that the look of the original Leaf ‘isn’t popular with most people’, so the new car has been given a more aggressive design in the style of the latest Micra, and horizontal rather than vertical headlights to make it appear wider.
It’s only really when you look at the two generations of Leaf from the side that you can see any family resemblance, with them having much the same silhouette.
performance and driving
On the mechanical side, the electric motor in the new Leaf produces 148bhp – an increase of 41bhp. That means 0-62mph takes just over 8.0sec, compared with 11.5sec in the old car.
But of greater importance is the vastly better driving range that the new Leaf provides. Nissan claims you can travel 235 miles between charges, which is 81 miles more than the old top-spec Leaf was capable of. And while we couldn’t get near the offical figure, it should be noted that our tests were conducted in chilly weather (3-5deg), which has a huge impact on battery performance.
The other big news is a feature called the e-Pedal. Most electric cars, including the old Leaf, have regenerative braking, where the energy that is usually lost when you lift off the accelerator is instead used to put some charge back into the battery, with the side effect that the car slows noticeably. But when the e-Pedal is activated it intentionally exaggerates this so that you can drive around town without ever touching the brake; it takes a bit of getting used to, but makes life easier once you have.
There’s less change elsewhere, with both generations of Leaf jostling you around a bit in town, before smoothing out nicely with speed. However, the new car feels more composed than its predecessor on twisty roads and lets in less wind and road noise.
dashboard and driving position
Most of the controls in the new Leaf are laid out in the same way as they were in the old car, but that means they’re pretty user-friendly.
Unfortunately, there’s still no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, so the driving position remains compromised; there’s a good chance that you’ll be forced to sit closer to, or farther away from, the wheel than you’d ideally like.
The old car always felt like it was pretty well screwed together – an impression backed up by the fact that the Leaf was the best performing electric car in our 2017 Reliability Survey. But the new car still manages to move things on a bit, with dashboard plastics that are more appealingly textured.
Both cars feature a 7.0in touchscreen that’s mostly simple to use, thanks to big icons and logical menus. And both have physical shortcut buttons that flank the display to make it easy to hop between functions.
The new car still has the edge, however, because it features both Apple CarPlay and Android Autosmartphone mirroring to let you control apps while driving.
space and practicality
Rear leg room has been improved, but the Leaf remains better suited to carrying four people than five, because the central rear seat is still narrow. What’s more, six-footers will probably have to slouch a bit to avoid having their heads touching the ceiling.
Similarly, boot space has grown from a competitive 370 litres to a class leading 435 litres, but it could be more usable; there’s an enormous lip at the entrance, and a step in the floor of the extended load bay when you fold down the rear seats.
The new Leaf costs from £26,490/$36,556, whereas the old car kicked off at £21,180/$29,228. That’s quite a price hike, but then you are getting a classier, better equipped and more usable car.
The new entry price also ensures that the Leaf undercuts similarly-sized rivals such as the BMW i3 and Volkswagen e-Golf, even though our tests have shown that it has a better real-world range than either of them.