What is it?
Of the four major Japanese manufacturers, only Nissan boasts a true, fully electric vehicle.
Mitsubishi has hybrids, Toyota has hybrids, and Mazda . . . well.
The Nissan LEAF is a small to mid-sized, five-door hatch that is now in its second generation.
It’s a one model, one trim level deal.
What’s it cost?
LEAF is priced from $49,990 plus onroads.
It’s a well appointed vehicle, but not without a couple of omissions that really should be included.
There is no wireless charge pad, but there’s a nook that looks like it was designed to accommodate one.
The suede and leather seats are manually adjusted, not electric.
And they’re heated, not vented — that last one’s a massive oversight in Australia’s sunny climes.
It’s a mixed bag from the driver’s perspective.
A 7.0-inch LCD screen sits aside a traditional analogue speedo.
This, too, could perhaps have been LCD. Info includes charge levels, battery temperature, expected range, and kWh usage on the fly as well.
The dash itself is a clean and sweet design.
Nissan hasn’t gone overboard in trying to make the LEAF look like an electric car.
Rather, it’s a design that could appear in any of the Nissan product range and perhaps other companies should think about going this way (looking at you, Hyundai).
A nifty touch is the design of the drive engager/gear selector.
There’s a mix of piano black and graphite grey, with a cobalt blue ring at the base.
Drive is engaged by hitting the Start/Stop button then snicking the sphere shaped knob across to the right and forward for Reverse — or backwards for forward.
There are also drive modes that will brake harder and extend range.
An 8.0 inch touchscreen houses DAB that’s delivered through a grunty Bose system, along with satnav and ubiquitous apps such as Android Auto.
Here it’s a 90 per cent effective setup, with a fiddly system to tune and add new stations, with an extended delay to acquire presets the downside here.
Otherwise, the screen has a look that Nissan should transfer to their SUVs as it’s far more visually appealing.
The seats are higher than expected, providing an almost SUV feel even at their lowest setting.
A centre console splits the front seats and has a dual cup holder, a slot for smartphones that’s separate to the one under the easy to use aircon, and USB/AUX ports.
The boot is of a good size at 405 litres and the rear hatch is manually operated.
The exterior shows off the aerodynamic aspects of the LEAF.
It’s a markedly tear drop shape in profile, with a noticeable kick to the rear pillar that meets a black plastic inlay.
Both ends are LED lit and under the charge port, mounted centrally ahead of the engine bay, is a three-dimensional look deep blue plastic insert.
The charge port cover unlatches to display two ports, one for the more common Type 2, and the other for the less common CHAdeMO rapid charger.
The colour pallet is reasonable too, with Arctic White, Ivory Pearl with black roof, Magnetic Red, Pearl Black, Platinum and Gun Metallic.
Our test car was finished in the sumptuous Magnetic Red.
Rubber comes from Goodyear’s Efficient Grip range, with 215/60s on 17 inch dark grey machined alloys.
The overall look is tastefully and elegant, and it just happens to be powered by an electric powertrain.
Safety is no concern with airbags all around.
Nissan’s Intelligent Trace Control, a brake application to assist in steering the LEAF is standard.
Intelligent Ride Control adapts power delivery and is said to improve ride on the fly by increasing or reducing torque to counteract pitch from driving over bumps.
Forward Collision Alert, Intelligent Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection, and the assorted Blind Spot, Rear Cross Traffic alerts and the like are standard.
Warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres.
What’s more, Nissans says: “The Nissan LEAF Lithium-Ion battery State of Health guarantee protects against battery capacity loss (less than 9 bars out of 12) as shown on the in-vehicle capacity gauge for a period of 8 years or 160,000km — whichever comes first.”
What’s it go like?
It’s no Tesla but when pressed hard, the 40kWh, 110kW/320Nm electric system generates some reasonable performance.
The pedal is calibrated more to the easy-going driver, with gentle progress as the default setting.
To extract any real “woohoo” factor the pedal needs a deeper and harder shove.
Mid-range driving is better (as expected), with a true rush on tap that pins you back in the seat.
There is a button in console called e-pedal, and this essentially disengages the brake pedal and hands control to the accelerator.
When the go pedal is sensing, it’s not needed and will then act as the brake to bring the LEAF to a complete halt irrespective of gradient.
Ride quality tends towards the harder side, but it’s not an unpleasant feel.
There’s enough in the ride to allow for a feeling of comfort on all but the ruttiest surfaces, and it will also tighten up enough in the curves to imbue a sense of sporting pretension.
The steering is sufficiently weighted to give a sense of feel, but lacks true tactility.
It feels artificial, somewhat numb and isolated.
When it comes to charging the standard Australian system will charge overnight easily.
The CHAdeMO system will get to 80 per cent from empty in about 60 minutes.
Range is nominally 270km or 315km based on the NEDC ADR 81/02 combined cycle.
Surveys show the average drive for Australians is around the 40km mark, which means the LEAF is an ideal city and urban vehicle.
With infrastructure slowly improving, charge points at work can easily top up the system and make range anxiety a thing of the past.
What we like?
- Looks like a normal car, inside and out
- Plenty of equipment to play with
- Rides and handles like a normal car
- Even drives like a normal car
What we don’t like?
- Missing venting for leather seats
- The e-pedal feature reads as a good thing, but struggles to overcome the “faith” factor
- Steering lacks a “human” touch
The bottom line?
As an alternative to Hyundai’s Kona Electric, it wins hands down in the looks department.
It’s not quite as effective when it comes to range though and that is paramount in an electric vehicle.
On a dollar basis, LEAF is one of the more cost effective solutions and with its urban drive compatibility, ticks those boxes.
Omissions such as venting and a wireless charge pad are just paper cuts in the greater scheme of things.
It’s driveability that most people will be looking for, and once you discover there some real urge under foot — the whole electric experience becomes more enjoyable.
CHECKOUT: Nissan LEAF: Better than Swedish bitters
Nissan LEAF, priced from $49,990
- Looks - 8/108/10
- Performance - 8/108/10
- Safety - 8/108/10
- Thirst - 8/108/10
- Practicality - 7.5/107.5/10
- Comfort - 7/107/10
- Tech - 7.5/107.5/10
- Value - 8/108/10