Driven: 2018 Nissan Leaf – More Electric. Less Eclectic.

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Jul 30, 2018
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When the Nissan Leaf appeared on the scene in late 2010, it was the first mass-market, all-electric vehicle on sale in the United States. Its relatively low price, however, came at the cost of range and standard equipment. So if you shelled out $32,500 ($25,000 after the federal tax credit), you got a car that wasn’t very comfortable and you couldn’t drive very far. On top of that you were behind the wheel of one of the least attractive cars to grace American roads in the past decade. In spite of that, Leaf has become the best-selling electric car in the world in the eight years since. This bodes well for sales of the 2018 Leaf which is a much better car by every measure.

With range more than double that of the debut model, a comprehensive list of standard tech and comfort features, revised chassis and suspension, more power, and exterior styling that’s actually stylish, the 2018 Nissan Leaf is more than just a quirky curiosity with limited utility. It’s an honest to god electric car you can live with (with a few caveats).

Behind the wheel of the 2018 Nissan Leaf

Let’s start with all the good stuff because there’s a lot of it. First of all, the starting MSRP of the base S model is $29,900 before federal incentives. That price includes all the tech, entertainment, and comfort features you expect from a mainstream compact sedan regardless of its propulsion system. Six airbags, automatic emergency braking, rear back up camera, tire pressure monitoring, bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, digital instrument panel, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment interface, 16-inch wheels and tires, power windows, automatic temperature control, three drive modes with e-pedal for one pedal driving (more on that later) are all included. Step up to the SV and SL trim levels and you get a lot more. My SL test model included leather seats, navigation, LED lighting, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, lane keep assist, yadda, yadda, yadda. Suffice it to say, it’s a comfortable, well equipped place to spend some time.

Now that the exterior actually resembles an automobile and not some sort of mechanical reptile and you can go up to 150 miles on a charge, you can actually spend hours driving the Leaf without the embarrassment of being seen in one. It won’t be challenging the Aston Martin DB11 for the title of world’s sexiest car, but among compact sedans, it’s all right – and that’s fair praise considering what it used to look like.

Driving the Leaf is a much more satisfying (and normal) experience thanks to several upgrades. The first is to the motor which now delivers 37% more power along with a whopping 236 lb.-ft.of torque. Acceleration is satisfyingly quick. Handling is also improved thanks to a more robust platform, independent front suspension, and improved steering feel. Driving the Leaf is remarkably unremarkable – until you engage the e-Pedal which I used for 99% of my driving.

Pushing the e-Pedal button engages the highest level of regenerative braking when you lift your foot off the throttle. This means you accelerate by pressing the pedal, glide with slight pressure, and get comfortably progressive braking when you lift completely. It didn’t take long before I was bringing the leaf to a complete stop at every red light and stop sign without ever touching the brake pedal. There are two benefits in this. First, it maximized your range by returning as much energy as possible to the battery. Second, it reduces wear and tear on the braking system increasing its longevity.

So what are the downsides? Well, 150 miles of range is still a lot less than you can go on a tank of gas in any gas-powered car. It still takes a significant amount of time to recharge (17 hours on a standard outlet, 7.5 hours with a 240v level two charger, and 40 minutes to 80% at a supercharging station). You can locate nearby charging stations through the car’s navigation system and most Nissan dealers have 240v quick charging station that’s free for Leaf owners. Nissan has said that a 60kWh battery will be available for an upgrade later this year. Pricing and range for that option have not been announced, but we’ve heard through the grapevine that range will increase to 225 miles at about a $5,000 increase in the sticker price.

Oh, and one final semi-rant. The Zero-Emission badge is not technically accurate. Sure, there are no tailpipe emissions generated by the Leaf, because of course it doesn’t have one. Unless you derive 100% of your energy from renewable, emissions-free sources like wind and solar, however, driving a Leaf does release hydrocarbons into the atmosphere back at the power generation facility. In Madison, where I live that’s from the burning of natural gas and coal.

Going electric is getting easier to do, especially if you’re not planning on taking any cross-country trips. Most people will find the 150 mile range of the Leaf perfectly acceptable for their everyday needs, especially if they have a level 2 charger installed at home. For longer trips, however, you’ll probably want to make a reservation with Enterprise.

2018 Nissan Leaf SL
Four-door, five-passenger sedan
Base price: $29,990 excluding destination
Price as tested: $38,510 includes destination charges
Options: SL trim package ($7,300), SL Technology Package ($650), premium paint ($395), carpeted floor mats and cargo area ($190), splash guards ($190)
Motor: 110 kW AC Synchronous Motor
Battery capacity: 40 kWh
Transmission: One-speed direct front wheel drive
Power: 147 horsepower
Torque: 236 pound-feet
Curb weight: 3,508 pounds
0-60 MPH: 7.4 seconds
EPA MPGe: 125 city/100 highway
Range: 151 miles

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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