2018 Nissan Leaf EV takes you even Further

The car has more pep, taking you to a new high of 241 kilometres in range.

  • 2018 Nissan Leaf EV


    • LOVE IT:  Design, Roominess, Weather package, Most technology
    • LEAVE IT:  e-Pedal

LAS VEGAS-The timing couldn’t have been better for Nissan to unveil its 2018 Leaf electric car.

First, you had the hurricane in Texas that shut down the Gulf of Mexico gasoline refineries, resulting in a spike in at-the-pump prices across the continent. In Southern Ontario, that meant 30 more cents a litre.

Then Irma flattened Florida. As of this writing, most of that state is without power. We don’t often get hurricanes, but ice storms can create similar emergencies.

So, a Nissan Leaf would look good in your driveway right now, wouldn’t it? You’d never have to worry about gasoline prices again, and in a pinch, you could possibly use the power from your car to keep the fridge going.

Who knew?

The unveiling of the Leaf — the first “next-generation car” since Nissan introduced the first one in 2010 — came at Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center 10 days ago and Jose Munoz, Chief Performance Officer and Chairman of Nissan North America, did the honours.

2018 Nissan Leaf EV

The instant the coverings were pulled off the cars — and there were three on the stage in front of a huge screen where, moments before, the global launch of the EV had been shown taking place in Tokyo with president and CEO Hiroto Saikawa front and centre — you knew that Nissan had, with reservations, a winner.

And that is because of a very small but significant change in the design: instead of a chevron shape at the end of the roofline over top of the trunk (which, frankly, always said to me: “Hi, I’m an electric car and aren’t I special?”), the roofline now continues to swoop to a logical conclusion further along, which makes the car look aerodynamically superior to not only other EVs but many other cars, generally.

In short, the car looks racy where, before, it looked boxy. And in keeping with its racy new look, this new-generation Leaf can now go further before running out of juice — significantly further than it could previously, in fact.

Before the 2018 was introduced, the Nissan Leaf could go 172 kilometres between charges. Now it can go 241 km, the company says. The new e-powertrain (149 horsepower, 236 pound-feet of torque) means acceleration is improved, and the car, generally, has more pep.

And that’s not all. With a suggested price of $35,998, minus up to $14,000 in province of Ontario rebates (these can differ province-to-province), you will be able to drive a brand-new car off the lot at one of Nissan Canada’s 97 EV-certified dealerships early next year — when the new Leaf will go on sale across the country — for about $21,000 before taxes.

Which is to say, not bad.

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On top of the aerodynamically improved exterior, the Leaf boasts a newly designed interior that contains advanced high-tech technologies like ProPILOT Assist (it has a trademark sign after the “T” in PILOT, but we’ll just forget about that for the moment) and a (to me) strange thing called an e-Pedal (which we will return to in a few moments).

Other technologies include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus Nissan Connect EV and Services telematics.

Translation: there is a smartphone app that lets motorists outside the car control the heating and air conditioning inside the car, keep track of the charging schedule (the phone will order charging to start when power is cheaper, for instance), install GPS mapping, and locate charging stations. (It might also let the cat out at night, because who knows where technology and artificial intelligence is going, but nobody said anything, so I let it pass.)

Inside, the centre display has a screen that dispenses all the necessary information, like level of charge and so on. All of this, by the way, is just the first step in a reboot. In 2019, Nissan plans to introduce a Leaf model that will have more battery capacity — hence, even more range — and increased motor power. It will also cost more, but that’s to be expected.

Nissan has left nothing to chance with this Leaf, though. It even changed the angle of the charging port at the front of the car so owners wouldn’t have to bend down to plug in. I don’t know how many backs were thrown out when owners leaned over to plug in the previous Leaf, but I’m delighted to see that the potential has been eliminated.

Nissan says it has sold more than 5,400 Leafs in Canada and more than 283,000 around the world, and in his remarks, Munoz said that, “The new Leaf is the culmination of everything we’ve learned from more than 2 billion miles of real-life, on-road driving and the feedback of hundreds of thousands of owners around the world and particularly customers here in North America.”

Nissan Connect EV

Which means that in Canada, which is a northern climate, the Leaf will have a standard weather package that includes heated seats — in the back as well as the front — a heated steering wheel (leather covered, too) and a battery heater. A Level 1/Level 2 (120 volt/240 volt) charger cable is also standard.

In conversation with another journalist, I learned that if I have a stove in my house (and don’t we all?), it operates on a 240-volt charge, and I just have to get an electrician to add a 240V socket to my garage. When I put the Leaf away for the night, I just have to plug it in, and its lithium-ion battery pack — same dimensions as the original Leaf, by the way — will be fully charged up in the eight hours it usually takes me to get a good night’s rest.

The Leaf is longer (4,480 millimetres), wider (1,790 mm) and higher (1,560 mm) than the first generation car, and five people can fit into it comfortably. I can attest to that, having scoped out the back seat. I didn’t take my golf clubs to Las Vegas — my usual test of cargo capacity — but the Leaf specs say the trunk has 668 litres of space, enough for two suitcases or three airline carry-ons. I can’t say for sure, because I didn’t have time to do a test, but an eyeball estimate suggests that what Nissan claims to be fact would not be an exaggeration.

2018 Nissan Leaf EV

OK, now to focus on several areas in which the corporation is particularly proud. The first one, called the “embodiment of Nissan Intelligent Mobility,” is the advanced single lane driver assistant technology it calls ProPILOT Assist. The company says that the technology helps “ease driver workload by reducing the amount of driver acceleration, steering and braking input under certain driving conditions. While a ‘hands-on’ system, it previews Nissan’s ongoing developing of future leading edge autonomous drive technologies.”

Translation (I say that a lot, don’t I?): it automatically keeps you centred in your lane, controls the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, and helps you steer. If you are in a traffic jam, and the vehicle in front of you stops, you will stop automatically, too. The car will not move until the vehicle in front moves, at which point it will follow along. I suggest it would not be a good idea to read the news on your phone while this is happening, but you could.

In addition to the Gee-Whiz technology described above, the Leaf also has, among other things, lane-departure warning (it lets you know if your car is “wandering”), blind-spot warning (I like this feature), automatic emergency braking (the greatest invention ever, in my estimation), and an intelligent around-view monitor, which lets you know if something or someone is coming at you out of nowhere.

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Now, while attending vehicle unveilings like this one, automotive reporters usually get to drive around in the subject automobile for a while — usually a couple of hours minimum and a good part of the day, otherwise. This allows writers to get a pretty good idea of how the car performs and what the technology does and doesn’t do.

Unfortunately, my drive in the new Leaf took only about 20 minutes. I was not alone — nobody got more time than I did — so to say that this worked well or that didn’t work well is something that, to be honest, I can’t do. I just didn’t have enough time in the car to come to any solid conclusions about performance.

Having said that, the technology is very user-friendly. I have gotten into the cars of other manufacturers and had difficulty finding the cruise control. A couple of years ago, I was in a car that had so much stuff on the steering wheel that I inadvertently kept turning on the steering wheel heater, which was annoying considering that I was driving around in the middle of summer with the air conditioning at full blast because it was 26 C outside.

In the Leaf, however, there are switches that have identification. There’s one, for instance, that says, “e-Pedal.” You can easily switch it on, and you can switch it off, depending on your needs at a particular moment in time. There is no confusion.

Now, while I can appreciate the Pro-PILOT Assist (it more or less does the driving for you, but you are supposed to keep your hands on the wheel, and if you move them too far away, it [the car] gets cross and can be VERY insistent that you get them back where they belong, pronto), I am not a fan of the e-Pedal assist. I think Nissan has tried to reinvent the wheel, and I don’t think it was necessary.

To explain: when you switch on the e-Pedal, you do all your driving with the accelerator. This means you accelerate, decelerate and stop by the pressure you put on the gas. Unless it’s an out-and-out emergency, you don’t ever have to touch the brake pedal.

2018 Nissan Leaf EV

Nissan says it’s invented this system in order to take regenerative braking to the next level. As soon as you lift your foot off the gas, the immediate braking sends energy to the battery, which can maximize your mileage.

During my 20-minute test run, I was on a Las Vegas expressway and I switched on the system and I got going faster than the posted speed limit. I took my foot off the gas. Instead of coasting and gradually slowing down, as I have been used to for the last 55-plus years, the brake went on immediately, and I found myself stopping. In order to keep from being rear-ended on that expressway, I had to get back on the accelerator — fast.

If I had not done that — goosed it — the system would have stopped the car completely. Nissan says the car won’t move, even on uphill slopes, until the driver hits the gas pedal again.

I suppose …

I imagine the e-Pedal is something that a driver could get used to. And, remember: you don’t have to switch it on. But Nissan has gone to a lot of time and trouble with this, and there is an expectation that it will be used, so if you purchase a new Leaf, be prepared to adjust your driving accordingly.

SCORE 8 out of 10

Nissan Canada’s President talks up the 2018 Leaf EV

2018 Nissan Leaf EV

Nissan Canada President Joni Paiva was front-and-centre in Las Vegas 10 days ago at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, where the 2018 Nissan Leaf EV had just been introduced. He looked excited.

“It’s a brand-new car,” he answered, when asked if he was happy with the product.

“It’s always exciting to launch a brand new model into the lineup,” he added. “It’s our flagship; an EV with a full set of Nissan technologies — proPILOT Assist, connectivity, automatic emergency braking. There’s a long list.”

Here are some other questions and answers:

Q. Have you tried the e-Pedal?

A. Yes. I was always impressed to see my kids, they were 3 or 4, and they would grab an iPhone or an iPad and it was so intuitive for them to use. I got the same impression with the e-Pedal. It’s so intuitive. It takes you no time.”

Q. Is the e-Pedal the most interesting thing about this car?

A. The e-Pedal is new; everything else is an improvement on something that already exists. But it’s a tough question. Are you asking me to make a choice?

The car is more powerful and the car has very good acoustics. The e-Pedal is definitely the thing you’re going to talk about when you go back home. Is this the thing I find most interesting? That’s difficult. There are so many things …”

Q. How you going to market this car? City, commuter, or what?

A. The first customers we’re going to get are people who are EV educated already. These customers are the people who are immediately going to recognize the value of this new car and its potential.

We found out that many of our customers would buy the Leaf initially as a second car in a household, but it became the first car in many cases because it is so convenient to use and fits people’s needs so well. So, first steps will be to address the EV educated, and then to grow the numbers from there.

Q. Big question: are you (and other EV manufacturers) working with governments on charging stations? You can’t have EVs without them.

A. First, we are in the business of selling EVs, not selling public charging stations. It’s always the question when we interact with governments whether it is the chicken or the egg. Would we sell more EVs if there were more charging stations? Or do we need charging stations to encourage people to buy EVs?

The governments are mindful of the citizen money, the taxpayer money. They are providing incentives for people to buy electric cars, and they say they will put up the money to develop the infrastructure, but they also need manufacturers to come up with a plan for supply and development. We are doing that.

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