The Nissan Leaf, a five-door compact hatchback, has been redesigned and re-engineered for 2018. The 2018 Leaf features a new body, new interior, more safety features, and a lower price. More important, it boasts a new battery pack providing increased range and quicker acceleration. The world’s best-selling electric car is a whole lot better for 2018.
Its range is estimated at 150 miles, increased by a giant leap of 43 miles over the previous version.
That’s still nowhere near the 234-mile range of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, but the Bolt costs $7000 more than the Leaf. Other electric rivals include Ford Focus, Hyundai Ioniq, and Volkswagen e-Golf, with ranges of 114 to 125 miles. But those three are only sold in some parts of the U.S., while the Leaf and Bolt are available everywhere. The Leaf is built in Tennessee.
The EPA rates the 2018 Leaf in MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent. It gets 124 MPGe city, 101 MPGe Highway, and 112 MPGe Combined.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf S ($29,990) comes with heated seats front and rear, heated steering wheel, Bluetooth, rearview camera, dark nylon upholstery, 16-inch steel wheels and plastic wheel covers, and a 5.0-inch touchscreen. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Leaf SV ($32,490) adds a 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, power mirrors, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Leaf SL ($36,200) gets leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, and automatic headlamps. Options include a seven-speaker Bose audio system and surround-view cameras.
Inconspicuous, the 2018 Leaf looks like any other five-door compact hatchback. It looks like other Nissans. You have to spot the trap door on the nose for the electric plug to realize what it is.
One strong feature of the Leaf that it has the interior space of a midsize car in its compact exterior package. It will seat four comfortably, and five without much effort, thanks to careful mounting of the battery pack deep under the rear seat.
Inside, the only thing that gives away its electric being is the drive selector, shaped like a mushroom. The Leaf starts with a button and goes into gear with a mouse. But then it gets electric, and comes to life. The digital displays are dazzling. A screen in the center of the dash displays range, maps, energy use, nearby recharging points, and more.
Since an electric car has no engine to drown out the road noise, a well-isolated cabin is critical. A special detail in the Leaf is its exclusive silent windshield wipers; engineers tried using the wipers from a luxury Infiniti, but they were too loud.
Entirely calm and quiet, the Leaf can accelerate more quickly than an economy car with an engine. There’s less drama, but also less excitement. At least less visceral excitement. Being rapidly whooshed can be exciting too.
It silently accelerates from zero to sixty in less than 10 seconds, and can go 90 mph, although not for 150 miles. That’s easily quick enough to keep up with traffic. It’s easy to drive, although boring.
The new lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor bring a huge boost in power and acceleration, with in increase in horsepower from 107 to 147, and an increase in torque from 187 pound-feet to 236 pound-feet. The Leaf had good acceleration before, and now it’s even stronger. It’s especially improved between 40 and 70 mph, important because that’s the passing speed on two-lane highways.
At speeds above about 50 mph, the steering gets heavier, as if the car were pushing into headwind, which is exactly what’s happening with wind drag, so the range drops like a stone.
The accelerator pedal demands a lot of pressure to get all the way down. It’s a deliberate design, to discourage the driver from using up precious energy and range.
Eco mode cuts power by 10 percent to increase the range, but it often feels like more. When you floor it, it snaps out of Eco and gives what you ask, all the juice it’s got.
A plug-in electric heater keeps the battery warm overnight in winter.
One thing that will be a joy to city drivers, which is most of them because an electric car is a city car, is the tiny turning circle of 17 feet. Easy to make a U-turn to snag that parking space on the opposite side of the street, like they do all the time in San Francisco.
The regenerative braking is tuned to feel like an automatic transmission. There’s a B mode, which increases the regeneration to feel like engine braking. B mode theoretically brings you more range, because it keeps the battery charge higher and longer; but it requires more concentration from the driver, so allow for that aggressive braking.
The deep-mounted battery pack lowers the center of gravity, so the balance is good, and there’s no body roll during cornering, but neither is there much feedback or feel in the steering. Hard cornering isn’t what the Leaf is all about anyhow, nor is that something Leaf owners are likely to engage in, on their way home from the library. However, it is a tall car on small wheels, so it’s sensitive to side winds.
Overall, the Leaf’s handling and roadholding are adequate, but hardly engaging; driven aggressively, it’s disappointing, with numb steering and little feedback. The driver feels removed. But on the upside, the turning circle is a shockingly small 17 feet.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf is a winner. A major improvement over the previous model, it’s faster, has more range, and it costs less. It even looks like a regular car.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.