The Nissan Leaf doesn’t get the respect it almost certainly deserves as one of the pioneers in the then-fledgling electric vehicle segment which it made its international debut in 2010. Consider the fact that the Leaf is into its second generation, for instance, while other manufacturers still work to get their first-generation electric vehicles to market.
With an extended range courtesy of a more formidable, more energy-dense battery pack, the 2021 Nissan Leaf e+ is going to make a lot more sense for a lot more Australian buyers – especially one-car families. Forty per cent more sense, in fact, in terms of range.
It’s still not ‘cheap’, but no electric car is yet in this country. Detractors will continue to use price as the argument against electric cars, but emerging technology is never cheap as such in the early stages. Compared against its peers, with range taken into account, the new Leaf’s pricing proposition is still solid. More on the price in a minute.
The other area that the existing Leaf – which will still be sold alongside this model – cops some criticism is for its range. It's 270km for the base model according to WLTP testing – designed to mimic real-world driving. Nissan aimed to take that argument right out of the equation with this update, and switching from a 40kWh battery pack to a 62kWh battery pack. In the real world it makes a big difference, not just on paper.
The Leaf e+ starts from $60,490 before on-road costs compared to the entry-grade Leaf, which starts from $49,990 before on-road costs. The bigger battery pack also brings more power and torque, out to 160kW and 340Nm up from 110kW/320Nm, with the run from 0–100km/h taking 6.9 seconds. The WLTP driving range for the Leaf e+ is a claimed 385km.
Leaf e+ can charge faster, too, thanks to 100kW peak fast-charging capability. That means you can get from 20 per cent to 80 per cent in approximately 45 minutes, if you find a 100kW charger to plug into. In theory, though, as we state in just about every electric vehicle test, most charging will be done overnight at home.
|2021 Nissan Leaf e+|
|Power and torque||160kW/340Nm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star (tested 2018)|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Driving range||385km (WLTP)|
|Charging time||20–80 per cent capacity in 45 mins on a 100kW fast-charger, 11h30m on a 32A Type 2 charger, 32h on a 10 wall plug|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Kona, MG ZS EV|
Our highway run out of Melbourne into the country for the launch drive indicated that the Leaf was going to be able to achieve somewhere around the 330km range with no AC running. It was a cool day, but we used the heated seats and steering wheel to see how much further we could push the Leaf, without using the AC and draining more power out of the battery pack.
We’ll do more work on its kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption when we get one into the CarAdvice office for a longer test, but initially at least, the real-world range of the new Leaf looks robust. Range on its own isn’t everything, and it’s fair to say that if you live in the city and need a car just as a runaround, range might not even be a selling point.
What the extended range does do, though, is add another string to the Leaf’s bow. If you have family that live, say, 200km from the city, you’re easily going to be able to drive there, charge the Leaf while you visit, and have enough juice to get back home.
The styling still polarises, but I see small hatchbacks more for their functionality than their avant-garde styling in any case, and in that sense, the Leaf is practically packaged. If you’re judging it on front seat comfort, space in the second row, and useful luggage capacity, it ticks all those boxes.
Inside the cabin, you get Nissan’s NissanConnect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 8.0-inch touchscreen and proprietary satellite navigation. There’s also the now familiar e-Pedal switch, which means you can start, accelerate, decelerate and come to a stop using only the accelerator pedal. That mode harvests back more charge, too, and once you get used to it, it’s quite easy to work with around town especially.
According to Nissan, the e-Pedal software has been reprogrammed to deliver smoother feel and enhanced pedal feedback, especially in reverse. It also delivers smoother and more rapid deceleration, making it easier for you to stop the Leaf with the e-Pedal. We didn’t get to test the e-Pedal extensively at launch given most of our drive route was on open roads, but we’ll also assess that more closely when we spend a week with the Leaf e+.
The open-road driving experience is a good one. Like most electric cars, the Leaf’s ride is firm but it isn’t harsh, even on country roads. You can feel the weight if you tip it hard into a twisty road, but that’s not really the point either, is it? Directed more at a leisurely cruise, the Leaf will sit at highway speeds up to 110km/h easily and comfortably. There’s a bit of tyre noise that enters the cabin on long coarse-chip sections, but it’s not mind-numbing by any means.
We found the infotainment system to work well, although the graphics and displays are starting to look their age. That’s less of an annoyance, though, when the system works and isn’t glitchy, and the Nissan system is reliable in that sense. The cabin is comfortable too. We spent a good two-hour stint behind the wheel, and comfort, visibility on a misty morning, and ergonomics are all good.
The Leaf isn’t perfect, in that it is due for some cabin advancements, for example, but it does deliver a sensible electric car option. Some criticism has been directed at the cooling of the battery pack in a hot climate like Australia, but we've spoken to plenty of owners now who haven't had any battery-pack-related issues. In the case of the Leaf e+ Nissan has stuck with passive battery cooling.
What Nissan has done with the release of the Leaf e+ is offer an alternative to electric car buyers hesitant to sign up for the range of the now base model. We’ve said for some time that ranges approaching 400km start to make a lot more sense for a hell of a lot more Australian buyers, and the Leaf now falls into that category.
Nissan Leaf e+ as a power source
The other area where the Leaf is quite forward thinking is in terms of its back-to-grid capability, in that it is set up to run bi-directional. In other words, with the correct inverter set-up at home, the Nissan Leaf can power your house.
It’s a system that points to the future, sure, but with a regular home battery pack currently sized around the 15kWh mark, the Leaf’s 62kWh battery pack is quite formidable in theory. According to the various studies we can find, the average Australian house is claimed to use 12–20kWh per day, so in an emergency, you could run your house for a few days with the Leaf too.
It requires a shift in thinking, and at the moment the technology isn’t cheap, but the big change comes with the self-managing way in which the systems run. In an ideal world, you could power your house with solar panels during the day, for example, charging the Leaf up at the same time. Then, through the night, the Leaf could run power into the home, leaving enough charge for you to do whatever driving you needed to do the next day. It’s not a solve-all solution, of course, but it’s an extra option.
If you live in an area affected by bushfires, for example, and the power supply has been affected, you could run your house directly from the Leaf for a few days until the power supply is repaired and restored. We’re not currently thinking this way about how we own our cars, but it’s something that will become more of a focus as we move further into the electric vehicle future.