Nissan LEAF: Same song, different tune

2021 Nissan LEAFe 4

What is it?

Although it’s no longer a major player in the electric vehicle scene, Nissan LEAF holds an important role in automotive history as the first mass-production vehicle of its type at launch back in 2010.

Over the next decade more than 500,000 LEAFs were sold, mostly in Europe, making it one of the most popular ever EVs.

When it arrived here in 2012, LEAF had the EV market cornered, but that has changed with the introduction of vehicles such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3.

Now, in 2023, almost every car brand has either a full or plug-in EV in its range.

With many competitors offering extra equipment and increased driving range, LEAF sales have steadily declined.

To meet this challenge the second-generation LEAF was released here 2019 with the option of a more powerful and longer-range version called the LEAF e+.

Gen-two LEAF was given a mid-life upgrade in mid-2022 with some exterior styling changes and key technology updates.

2021 Nissan LEAFe 2

What’s it cost?

Our review vehicle is the extended range LEAF e+, priced from $61,490.

The profile of LEAF hasn’t changed significantly during its decade on the road.

It comes with the same semi-coupe/SUV body that many competitors have adopted.

Its lines are clean and simple with a sloping roofline, flowing headlights and blacked-out B and C pillars.

Changes for MY23 include new badging, revised front faux grille, darkened headlight trims, new rear diffuser and spoiler.

Likely to be most noticeable change is a new design for the 17-inch alloy wheels which seem to polarise opinions. We love them, but others have immediately cringed.

A big plus is that the charging point is located at the front making it much easier to connect than most rivals which have them on the rear or side of the body.

Apart from the closed front in place of a traditional grille, the only exterior clues to LEAF being an EV are ‘zero emission’ badges on the sides and rear and a blue and white
diamond on the number plates.

New in the MY23 LEAF is Canto.

Because EVs make no engine noise this can cause problems for pedestrians and other road users.

Activated at speeds up to 30km/h, Canto emits an artificial sound that varies in pitch depending on whether the vehicle is  accelerating, slowing or reversing.

There are two screens, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for the NissanConnect infotainment system in the centre of the dash and a 7.0-inch Driver-Assist display in the instrument cluster.

Infotainment features in both versions include embedded satellite navigation (including the location of the nearest public charging stations), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and DAB+ digital radio.

There is a single USB port located directly above a deep opening that’s perfectly sized for storage of a smartphone.

Both models get Bose seven-speaker energy efficient premium audio.

Standard safety features in both versions include front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning, intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, around view monitor, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, driver inattention alert, traffic sign recognition, high beam assist and blind spot warning.

The two outer rear seats have Isofix child seat anchors.

2021 Nissan LEAFe 12

What’s it go like?

At around $60,000 plus on-roads LEAF sits at the more affordable end of EV pricing and it shows with a relatively bland interior compared with the spectacular
presentation of newer, but more expensive cars like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6.

There is no powered seat option and height-only steering wheel adjustment.

Having said that the dashboard is neat and functional with most controls logically placed and easy to reach.

One of our pet hates are functions that require constant attention controlled via small keys on the touchscreen.

In contrast LEAF uses four large round knobs – two for audio volume/channel change on the sides of the screen and two below for air conditioning temperature/fan speed.

It’s so much more sensible with much less driver distraction.

One new feature is an intelligent rear-view mirror which doubles as built-in LCD monitor that displays images from a camera mounted at the rear of the vehicle for  unobstructed view.

Rear seat space is acceptable with enough leg and head room for two taller occupants.

A third adult in the centre would however be wedged between the other two, made worse with a tall transmission tunnel on the floor.

There’s no folding armrest in the rear, nor air vents or USB ports.

Boot space is a pretty good at 405 litres, but two charging cables and Bose audio take up space.

The 60/40 split rear seat backs can be folded down to extend storage to 1776 litres.

The loading lip is high with quite a big drop down to the cargo floor.

There’s no powered tailgate and the spare wheel is a space-saver which is bolted under the rear of the car.

With a 59kWh lithium-ion battery, LEAF e+ produces 160kW of power and 340Nm of torque.

Courtesy of the instant torque which is a feature of all EVs and hybrids, it accelerates to 100km/h in just 6.9 seconds.

There are two charging sockets located under a small hatch at the front of the bonnet that can be unlocked either from a switch on the dashboard or a button on the key fob.

Charging times for the e+ vary from 90 minutes from a 56kW DC fast charger, through 11.5 hours with a 6.6kW AC charger.

Anyone who pays the high premium for an EV, will more than likely fork out the extra couple of grand to have the latter installed at their home and/or office.

If not, they’ll be stuck with a full-charge time of 32 hours from a standard domestic AC outlet.

Charging times for the 39kWh battery in the standard LEAF are 60 minutes, 7.5 hours and 21 hours respectively.

Both versions come with bi-directional charging capability, commonly known as V2L (Vehicle to Load), a technology that allows energy from the car’s battery to be used for external appliances.

Composed is the perfect description of the LEAF’s performance.

To match the improved output of the electric motor and converter, engineers have enhanced the car’s chassis to improve stability.

The electric power steering is responsive with a nice linear feel.

Noise, vibration and harshness have been moderated with aerodynamic upgrades and structural rigidity, while the electric motor has been made quieter, despite generating more power and torque.

LEAF has what is called an e-Pedal, which at the flick of a switch on the centre console, allows the vehicle to be driven using the accelerator alone.

The car comes to a smooth, gradual halt and is held stationary without the use of the brake pedal.

Unfortunately, on the LEAF, the e-Pedal is either on or off unlike many competitors where the level of braking can be adjusted to suit conditions.

We found that, in motorway conditions, the extra pressure needed to maintain traffic speed negated the benefit of the e-Pedal and we tended to use it only on downhill running.

Out on the open road ride and handling proved to be excellent and the torque pick up will appeal to keen drivers.

The absence of any engine sound combined with good external noise suppression and much less range anxiety adds further to the driving enjoyment.

Nissan lists a 385km range for the LEAF e+ although it showed 427km when we picked up our test vehicle.

During the week we did a couple of 3-hour top-up charges with our wallbox home charger.

In total we covered 352km and it still showed a range of just over 200km when we returned the car. So that projected 385 km range seems to be quite achievable.

There is tyre noise on rough road surfaces. But why wouldn’t there be with little or no sound from under the bonnet?


What we like?

  • Increased range
  • Composed performance
  • Charge socket at front
  • Dashboard neat and functional


What we don’t like?

  • More expensive
  • Wheels could be an issue
  • Wheel lacks reach adjustment
  • No rear air outlets
  • Driver’s seat not power adjustable
  • e-Pedal needs to be adjustable

2021 Nissan LEAFe 9

The bottom line?

The enhancements added to the MY23 LEAF come at price with an increase of $1000 over the previous models taking the e+ to $61,490 and $50,990 for the standard 39kWh LEAF. On-road costs need to be added.

Premium purchase prices and refuelling convenience continue to be major hurdles for electric vehicles. But for those wishing to give it a go, the Nissan LEAF is as good as any petrol-powered close rival.

2021 Nissan LEAFe 11


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Nissan LEAF e+, priced from $61,490
  • Looks - 7/10
  • Performance - 8/10
  • Safety - 8/10
  • Thirst - 8/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
  • Tech - 7/10
  • Value - 8/10

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