GATINEAU, QC: As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most of the time, that’s very right; if you’re an artist churning out hit after hit, you don’t want to change too much for fear of alienating your longtime fans, but you may have to in order to grow your fanbase. While the Anaheim Ducks have gone through about 80 jersey styles and team colours since their inception in 1995, the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs would be loathe to deviate from the colour combos that have made them famous for years.
And if you’re a car manufacturer—let’s say, Nissan—and you’ve got an advanced electric car—let’s say, the Leaf—that has sold over 300,000 units worldwide since 2010 (and over 6,100 in Canada since 2011), you really don’t want to mess too much with a good thing. EV drivers are a unique breed, displaying a unique passion for their cars, so much so that Nissan couldn’t build enough Leafs last year to satiate the market.
They couldn’t build enough because they were gearing up for this: the all-new, 2018 Nissan Leaf. It’s got more range, more power, new looks and more features than ever before, because according to Nissan, that’s what had to be done to avoid those issues our recording artist and pro hockey teams have had to deal with for eons.
More anything? More everything!
As unique as Leaf buyers may be, they want what all car buyers want: more features, tech, power (and unique to EV buyers, more range) than they had before, without having to spend too much more money. Don’t we all.
Regardless, Nissan has listened and the figures are there: the 2018 Leaf now gets a 110 kw EV motor, a 40 kwh battery, it makes 37 per cent more horsepower than previous (147 hp up from 107), 26% more torque than previous (236 lb-ft up from 186), and its claimed 242 km range is up 67% over last year’s Leaf. Of course, “more” isn’t always the case; “less” is more when it comes to charge times, and the 2018 Leaf comes standard with Level I, II and III charge ports in Canada.
Nissan claims that on a level III CHAdeMO charger, you can go from 0% capacity to 80% in about 40 minutes. Every Leaf trim sold in Canada (there are three: S – $35,998, SV – $39,598 and SL – $41,998) comes with a level I and II charge cable, as well as a level II-ready charger that you can plug directly into your home. A charge from 0-100% takes 7.5 hours on a level II charge.
There isn’t more room inside than previous but it should be noted that while the battery is larger and heavier, it takes up no more room in the cabin thanks to its being more dense. Just as it had previously, it sits below the floor, well out of the way and helping contribute to a lower centre of gravity and better handling.
One pedal will do
One of the biggest adds for 2018 is the “e-pedal”. The feature is activated either via a toggle switch mounted above the shifter (if you can call the small joystick protruding from the transmission tunnel a “shifter”), or if you’ve set the car to always start in e-pedal mode in the settings menu displayed on the 7” infotainment screen. Once activated, you really can drive in any condition with just a single pedal, like an old ford Model T.
Through use of the brakes and drive motors, as soon as you release the throttle pedal, the car slows as if you were actually braking (the brake lights come on), as the system automatically applies the traditional friction brakes or uses the EV motor for mechanical slowdown, all the way down to a compete stop.
It’s an eerie feeling at first – especially at highway speeds, where you can feel the car slow slightly once you activate e-pedal, whether you release the throttle or not—but as I continued on my test, it started to feel natural, and I started getting a feel for when to release the throttle when coming to a full stop.
The advantage of the e-pedal is less driver fatigue (although I found that though I was using the e-pedal, I’d still rest my foot on the brake at stop as it felt more comfortable for me than lifting off the throttle, or constantly moving my foot flat to the floor), as well as more power regeneration. If you want even more, there’s an eco button that works in conjunction with e-pedal to make for more efficient driving by deadening the throttle.
There’s also a “B” mode activated via the shifter that increases regen, but that’s overridden by the e-pedal.
The one instance I never quite got used to the e-pedal, however, was during low speed parking manoeuvres. I’ve trained my whole life to use the creep function that every car has to do this, but in e-pedal mode this doesn’t exist, so you’re left to your own devices to “creep” via careful throttle manipulation.
Same goes for stop and go traffic; as soon as I got in these situations, I switched e-pedal off because I found it took too much effort to actually manipulate the throttle, rather than let the car creep along with traffic.
Speaking of careful throttle manipulation: low speed parking manoeuvres are one thing, but when you’re getting ready to pass that big rig ahead, well, that’s a bit of a different story. Thanks to the Leaf’s direct-drive powertrain, power is transmitted instantaneously as soon as you depress that go pedal. Give it the beans, and Leaf suddenly turns into a properly fast car that will have you in the 100’s in very little time. Oh, sure; you’ll watch as your battery drains faster than a five-year-old iPhone streaming Netflix, but you’ll never be left wanting for power; remember: that’s over 230 lb-ft of torque you’ve got in a car whose footprint is similar to that of a Versa Note hatch. You’ll want to keep an eye on your speedo which, incidentally, is now analog; making it easier to read, according to Nissan. I agree.
Tech beyond the pedal
While e-pedal is a step in the autonomous direction, the addition of Nissan ProPilot Assist (PPA), standard on SV and SL trims, is an additional upgrade. With the press of a wheel-mounted button PPA is activated, and through a camera and radar sensors, active lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise and stop-and-go assist are all a go.
That’s all well and good, but for me the highlight was the active lane keep assist that isn’t completely governed by lane markings. Those types of systems work, but they can have the car “bouncing” between lanes as it goes from left- to right-hand markings. What the Leaf’s system does is follow a virtual line down the middle of the road to keep the car centered, even through gradual curves. It works pretty much as advertised, but if the wipers are going full chat the system deactivates since the wipers can interfere with the cameras required to keep things copasetic. It doesn’t help with parking, though, but you do get Nissan’s Around View monitor on the SL trim to help with that.
In addition to PPA, the Leaf gets all sorts of tech including standard fitment of front and rear heated seats (that’s a Canadian market special), as well as Android Auto/Apple CarPlay on SV trims, and premium Bose audio on SL trim. It should be noted that while the sound is good, the subwoofer stretches the length of the rear cargo area, leaving precious little in the way of a flat loading surface. At least the charge cable stores somewhat compactly in a case that attaches to the cargo bay wall.
Raising the stakes
In addition to the lower centre of gravity and keeping the ride comfortable and body roll in check, Nissan has furthered their quest for maximum occupant comfort by tuning the dampers to better keep the Leaf anchored to the ground, plus they’ve added more sound-deadening materials in the wheel wells and ‘round the engine bay. I’ve spent lots of time in the older car, and this is a big step up.
The thing with EVs is they’re so quiet that certain sounds normally covered up or deadened by the droning of an engine are revealed. Add the aerodynamic shape that’s slightly more slippery than previous (it also gets a much less frog-like appearance, thanks to the addition of Nissan’s patented V-Motion grille, new headlight shape and 370Z-esque boomerang taillamps), and the Leaf rides like a proper luxury car, and that’s no exaggeration. It’s smooth, it’s silent and aside from a slightly snug rear seat and a slightly higher front seating position, quite comfortable overall.
The competition in the compact EV segment has greatly increased since the original Leaf debuted, but Nissan maintains the advantage of being one of the first to the table, and you can tell they’ve applied the lessons learned to this new car. There will be those that will raise an eyebrow at the fact that even this new Leaf is till out-ranged by the Chevrolet Bolt, but there’s more car here than there is there, and with the standard fitment of level III charge capability (as well as an app that gives you the ability to manipulate your charge timing and so forth), a lot of that range anxiety should be reduced.
It will sell in droves. Count on it.
2018 Nissan Leaf
BODY STYLE: Compact hatchback
DRIVE METHOD: Front-mounted EV motor, front-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 110 kw electric motor, 40 kwh battery; Power: 147hp; Torque: 236 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: Direct-drive auto
CARGO CAPACITY: 668.3 litres (rear seats up) 849.5 litres (rear seats folded)
FUEL ECONOMY (EST): 1.9/2.5 Le/100 km city/highway
PRICING: $35,998 (S), $39,598 (SV), $41,998 (SL)
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