Car reviews - Nissan - Leaf - e+
Increased range and performance, smooth ride quality, e-Pedal driving, quiet NVH.
Room for improvement
Abundant cabin plastics, boot-mounted subwoofer, foot parking brake, lacking in spec for $60k car.
Nissan increases appeal of Leaf electric hatch with more potent e+ variant
29 Apr 2021
IT WAS nearly 10 years ago – June 2012 – that Nissan first introduced its Leaf all-electric hatchback on Australian shores, kicking off the local EV journey for the Japanese car-maker.
Now in its second generation, the Leaf range has expanded to two variants this month with the arrival of the e+ – a more expensive version that packs a larger and more potent battery, improving both driving range and power outputs.
With poor charging infrastructure and range anxiety still problems for Australian EV buyers, does the Leaf e+ have what it takes to help boost sales of Nissan’s zero-emissions small hatch?
First drive impressions
Asking $60,490 plus on-road costs, the e+ sports a $10,500 premium over the regular Leaf, with the changes being exclusively centred around the battery pack and outputs, meaning specification largely mirrors that of the base model.
From the outside, both Leaf variants look basically the same, which we think is a good thing – the Leaf is unmistakably Nissan in its exterior styling, with its V-Motion grille, 17-inch alloy wheels and optional two-tone roof.
The overall shape of the Leaf is a little frumpy with a tall roofline, sloping nose and bulging rear wheelarches, however the overall impression of the car is a positive one.
Moving inside the cabin, the Leaf e+ is also largely identical to the regular Leaf with a dark-coloured interior featuring some premium appointments like leather upholstery with contrast stitching, a large digital instrument cluster and heated seats and steering wheel.
The dashboard is centred around an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio.
The newest infotainment system available on current Nissan models, the 8.0-inch multimedia unit is easy to operate and offers Leaf-specific readouts around energy use, charge times and range.
It pairs well with the instrument cluster which offers a vast range of information, and is situated next to an analogue speedometer.
Soft leather upholstery covers the main touchpoints, while a mix of hard and soft black plastics are found elsewhere.
It’s a common problem with EVs that the expensive battery-electric powertrain will result in some spec sacrifices, and the Leaf is no different with some of the materials used in the cabin unbecoming of a $60,000 small car, as is the rudimentary foot-operated parking brake.
It also misses out on other premium features like a sunroof or head-up display, which would otherwise likely be included on a car of its price point.
EVs are often identified by different and funky features, and the Leaf is no different with a unique, stub-like gear selector that adds a dose of flair.
Rear head- and legroom are fine for a small hatch. In the name of energy saving, the rear pews go without air-conditioning vents, and instead employ heated seats, which will be useful for rear passengers in winter but will provide no relief in hotter months.
Boot space is pegged at 405 litres – a solid number for a car of its size – however the layout is not conducive to maximising space.
For one, the boot floor is far lower than the back of the seats when folded forward, and even when the seats are upright, the floor is obscured by the Bose subwoofer, which takes up a not-insignificant portion of the flat boot space.
The headline act of the Leaf e+ is its boosted powertrain, starting with a bigger battery pack that has increased in size by 22kWh to 62kWh, which sees peak power outputs increase over the Leaf by 50kW/20Nm to a warm hatch-like 160kW/340Nm.
Power is delivered to the front wheels via a single AC synchronous motor, with the sprint from standstill to 100km/h covered in 6.9 seconds (a full second quicker than the standard Leaf).
Range has also been boosted significantly to 385km (up from 270km), which should alleviate range anxiety for the vast majority of buyers.
With a healthy amount of power and torque available off the line, the Leaf e+ proves to be a pleasant car to drive with a smooth, even throttle response that makes driving an easy and stress-free experience.
When pushed, the 160kW/340Nm outputs can get the Leaf e+ up to speed in quick time, particularly off the line.
Acceleration from 60km/h or more is less potent than a similarly powered petrol mill, however it certainly doesn’t feel anaemic.
The silent nature of the powertrain is most welcome, creating a cabin ambience that is difficult to achieve in a petrol or diesel-powered vehicle.
One of our favourite aspects of the Leaf e+ drivetrain (as well as the regular Leaf) is the e-Pedal function, which amps up the level of regenerative braking to the point where control of the car can be done largely by using only the accelerator.
When the accelerator is lifted off, the Leaf will brake strongly, and modulating the throttle will allow you to navigate around-town driving with ease, having to barely touch the brake unless strong braking is required. Using the e-Pedal mode also helps to maximise driving range and energy recuperation.
With a drive route that consisted of mainly open-road country driving (generally leading to higher energy consumption) we returned an average energy consumption of 18.8kWh/100km – a figure close to the official average combined figure of 18.0kWh/100km.
Another nifty feature of the Leaf is its bi-directional charging capability, however its applicability in real-world use is questionable for those who don’t live in a home with the appropriate infrastructure.
While the regular Leaf’s 270km range may have scared off some buyers, adding 115km to the total figure will be sure to attract more customers to the Leaf who will feel safer travelling longer distances in the e+.
As mentioned, the all-electric powertrain allows very little noise into the cabin. This can sometimes lead to road, tyre and wind noise being amplified, however we found the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels of the Leaf e+ to be excellent, with the exception of some wind turbulence around the driver-side A-pillar on our particular test vehicle.
Even on high-speed country back roads, there proved to be little noise coming up from the road which came as a pleasant surprise.
With a relatively heavy weight (1736kg tare mass) the e+ feels well settled on the road, with a comfortable suspension calibration that deals well with road imperfections and unwanted bumps.
Steering is light and easy, and handling is fine for a small hatch, however the e+ should not be excused for a performance hatch – its kerb weight blunts its performance intentions and its front-drive layout would need more work before claiming performance status.
Prospective EV buyers should place the Leaf e+ on their shopping list. With a similar pricetag to the Hyundai Kona EV Elite ($60,740), it’s one of the more affordable EVs on sale in Australia, only undercut by the MG ZS EV ($43,990).
While suffering from the same setbacks as other EVs in terms of asking price in relation to spec and luxury, it’s now a far more palatable option with its increased driving range, and the unique prospect in the EV space of offering bi-directional charging to help reduce electricity costs at home.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
Model release date: 1 April 2021
All car reviews
Click to share