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2018 Nissan Leaf Review

T2018 Nissan Leaf Review
The 2018 Nissan Leaf is improved in every way over its aged predecessor: it’s better-looking, nicer inside, and has more power and battery range, at a relatively affordable price.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf is a restyled version of the world’s best-selling electric car. This year it adopts new designs for the exterior and interior, more battery range, a host of active-safety features, and a price slightly lower than last year’s model. The heavily revised electric car comes in three trim levels: base Leaf S, mid-level Leaf SV, and top-of-the-line Leaf SL.

The 2018 Leaf tones down its shape and wears considerably more normal sheet metal. The compact five-door hatchback now shares many styling cues with other recent Nissan designs. Only the plug-port door on the nose and the mushroom-shaped drive selector inside give away its electric drivetrain, and that will likely appeal to many buyers turned off by the previous car’s distinctive, polarizing looks.

Overall, we score the 2018 Nissan Leaf at 7.0 out of 10 points, considerably higher than its aging predecessor. 

The new Leaf gains points in essentially every category, and with a range that’s double that of the first 2011 Leaf, it should be considered by a wider swath of buyers. (This score could rise if the 2018 Leaf does well on crash-safety test rankings from the NHTSA and IIHS.)

We consider Nissan’s 2018 Leaf a strong contender as a practical electric car that’s almost $7,000 cheaper than the longer-range Chevrolet Bolt EV. Other contenders including the Ford Focus Electric, Hyundai Ioniq Electric, and Volkswagen e-Golf have less range (114 to 125 miles) and are sold only in limited areas of the U.S. Like the Bolt EV, the Leaf is available nationwide.

For those who need more range, a 2019 model with 200 miles or more of rated range has already been promised. As it is, Nissan is launching the Leaf into a white space between the 125-mile e-Golf, at about the same price, and the more expensive 238-mile Bolt EV.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf has acquired a more conventional design, one that works well.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf, to the likely relief of many electric-car shoppers, now looks like a normal car. We rate this year’s Leaf at 7 out of 10 points, giving it one extra point each for a cheerful, perky new exterior look with a little Murano in it, and one for the sensible but stylish interior, something not always found in Nissan small cars of the last few years.

The curvaceous shape and bug-eyed front lights of the previous generation are gone, and the only indication of its electric powertrain is the presence of a wide charge-port door centered in the nose above the diamond-patterned blanking panel that stands in for a grille. Otherwise, it looks very much a part of the Nissan lineup, with a little bit of Murano crossover blended into a small hatchback shape including a so-called floating roof, chevron-shaped taillights, and a deep V-shaped grille panel.

Inside, the 2018 Leaf’s entirely updated interior design is both more conventional and more pleasant. Nicer materials and soft-touch surfaces have replaced some of the previous model's hard plastic, while blue stitching on the seats, the steering wheel, and the top of the instrument panel subtly underscores an advanced-technology message. The suede-look two-tone upholstery on the SL version is particularly nice, and much more pleasant than the black cloth on the base S version.

The only visible sign of the Leaf’s electric drivetrain is the mushroom-shaped drive selector on the console. Otherwise, any passenger could be entirely forgiven for assuming they’d sat down in a new, nicer version of the Sentra compact—one that was remarkably smooth and quiet in motion.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf now has competitive acceleration and continues to offer smooth, quiet travel, now for longer distances.

At 110 kilowatts (147 horsepower) and 236 pound-feet of torque, the 2018 Nissan Leaf has a considerably more powerful electric motor driving its front wheels than the outgoing first-generation car. Comparable figures for the 2017 Leaf were 80 kw (107 hp) and 187 lb-ft.

Overall, we rate the 2018 Leaf at 6 out of 10 possible points for performance, adding a point for its smart acceleration and increased highway performance. 

The motor is powered by a 40-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack sitting under the cabin floor, occupying the same volume as the 24-kwh pack of the original 2011 Leaf—a mark of just how much electric-car batteries have improved in only seven years. Its onboard charger remains at 6.6 kilowatts, with 50-kw CHAdeMO DC fast charging available that will take about 40 minutes to recharge the battery to 80 percent.

Nissan says the 2018 Leaf takes 16 hours for a full recharge using conventional 120-volt household current, and 8 hours using a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. Depending on trim level, a portable charging cord that handles either 120-volt or 240-volt current can be added, which may save some Leaf owners the expense of buying a separate charging station for their garage or car port (though a 240-volt socket and associated wiring is still required).

In its Normal mode, the 2018 Leaf accelerates away from stops expeditiously, with the added motor power and battery capacity most evident at highway speeds. The previous Leaf started to run out of breath around 50 or 60 mph, requiring some advance planning for high-speed driving. The 2018 Leaf has much punchier acceleration above 50 mph, leading to greater confidence in fast-moving freeway traffic. The Eco mode is less annoying than others of its type; it makes the new Leaf a little sluggish, but it's still entirely usable around town, for an increase in predicted battery range of 5 to 9 percent.

The 2018 Leaf comes standard with what Nissan calls "e-Pedal," that provides what experienced EV drivers call "one-pedal driving” via increased regenerative braking. It’s a bit gentler than that of the Chevy Bolt EV, and much more so than the stiff, abrupt feel of the BMW i3 or the slightly delayed response of the Tesla Model 3. We think Nissan’s done a very good job offering a feature that most drivers will come to value for the calm driving and lack of foot shuffling it allows. Regrettably, a driver has to re-engage e-Pedal every time the car it switched on, because it does not retain that setting—unlike Eco mode, which stays set through multiple journeys until the driver changes it back to Normal.

Otherwise, the Leaf remains a predictable front-wheel-drive hatchback with its weight down low, giving it decent roadholding. The slightly numb feel through the steering wheel hasn’t changed much, but it’s considerably quieter at higher speeds. Like its predecessor, it doesn't have the strongest on-center feel and can wander a bit at speed, especially in cross-winds.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Nissan Leaf is comfortable and quiet, though we look forward to spending more time in it for a more nuanced experience.

After spending more than 10 hours behind the wheels of several different 2018 Leafs, we can say the car is as comfortable for long-distance travel as any other vehicle of its size and price, and considerably quieter and calmer. We rate the updated Leaf at 6 out of 10 points, giving it an extra point for its remarkably quiet operation. 

The front seats are comfortable, there’s plenty of head room and shoulder room, and with the battery under the floor, the height of the seat makes getting in and out easy. The rear seat feels as though it has thinner padding, and because it sits on top of a piece of the battery, it’s high but with a backrest that’s reclined at more of an angle than some may find comfortable. We suspect most Leafs won’t be used for four-person travel, but certainly four adults can be accommodated with ease.

Despite more rounded corners to the opening of the new hatchback, the Leaf offers a load bay that’s competitive for the class (and considerably larger and more useful than that of the updated Ford Focus Electric, whose floor is interrupted by a large hump containing the onboard charger). It has the usual quotient of door bins front and rear, a pair of cupholders for front-seat occupants in the center console, and a smartphone tray ahead of the drive selector.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf hasn’t been safety-rated yet, but its full suite of standard or optional active-safety systems includes Level 2 autonomy.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf hasn’t yet been crash-tested by either the NHTSA or the IIHS, but it is likely to do well on such tests. The lack of ratings, however, means we can’t get give the 2018 Leaf a score for safety. 

Every Leaf comes standard with forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking and a rearview camera. Optional features include blind-spot monitors, active lane control, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and the addition of pedestrian detection to the automatic braking.

The 2018 Leaf is also the first of several cars in Nissan’s U.S. lineup to get what the company calls ProPilot Assist, the third and most advanced of the three types of cruise control offered on the Leaf. It's effectively adaptive cruise control paired to active lane control that keeps the car centered between the lane markings, even on curves. In our tests of the feature, we found the system to work effectively at highway speeds, although it could take up to several seconds to assume control. It feels sufficiently natural—without the constant squirming of the wheel we've experienced in a few similar systems—that drivers may forget it's there, at least until it reminds them to keep their hands on the wheel.
This kind of lane centering could quickly become a standard feature on many more vehicles. Still, drivers need to remain alert when one lane splits into two or when lane markings change or vanish, in order to instruct the car which option to take or to point it in the correct direction until it picks up the markings again. Nissan requires the driver to keep hands on the steering wheel for all but very short intervals. In common parlance, it’s a first step into Level 2 autonomy. We just wish it didn't beep quite so often to alert the driver that it was taking control.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf has carefully packaged features that define three clear levels of trim, along with a few rarities in its class.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf comes in three trim levels: the base S, the mid-level SV, and the top-of-the-line SL. All Leafs come with cruise control, keyless ignition, and automatic climate control. We rate the Leaf at 6 out of 10, giving it one extra point for its careful bundling of features and another for offering a 120/240-volt charging cord, a rarity in the field so far. 

The base Leaf S, which comes in slightly above $30,000, can be identified by its 16-inch steel wheels covered in plastic wheel covers. It has a 5.0-inch static display for the audio system, which has four speakers but includes an AM/FM/satellite radio, Bluetooth pairing, and a single USB port for smartphone pairing. A charging package with a CHAdeMO quick-charging port and a 120/240-volt charging cord is optional, as is an all-weather package with heated front seats, steering wheel, and mirrors, plus heater ducts to the rear.

The mid-level Leaf SV adds 17-inch alloy wheels and foglights, along with adaptive cruise control, a CHAdeMO quick-charging port, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, six speakers for the audio system, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatability. The optional all-weather package for the SV includes a heat pump, and a technology package bundles several desirable features. Those include a power-adjustable driver’s seat, LED headlights, daytime running lights, blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert, the ProPilot adaptive cruise control, active lane control, pedestrian detection added to the automatic emergency braking, an electronic parking brake, and the 120/240-volt charging cord.

The high-end Leaf SL can be identified by the turn signals in its door mirrors, as well as the leather seats inside. It includes most of the standard and optional equipment from the SV, and adds a Bose premium audio system, a surround-view camera system, and a cargo cover. An optional Tech package bundles an electric parking brake, automatic high beams, active lane control, and added pedestrian detection for the automatic emergency braking with the ProPilot Assist feature. That combination of active lane control and adaptive cruise control gives the car what's commonly defined as Level 2 autonomy: the ability to drive itself on well-marked highways for substantial periods without driver input, as long as the driver's hands remain on the wheel.

Fuel Economy
The all-electric 2018 Nissan Leaf is one of the most energy-efficient cars you can buy this year; it has no tailpipe and no emissions.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf is a battery-electric car without a tailpipe; users plug it into a charging station, usually every night or two, to recharge its onboard 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack. As a zero-emission vehicle, it earns our top score of 10 points out of 10. 

The EPA combined range rating is 151 miles, and the 2018 Leaf gets an energy-efficiency rating of 112 MPGe, which equals that of the previous generation. (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, is a measure of how far a car can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.) Like every electric car, however, the 2018 Leaf uses far more energy at highway speeds than around town.

During a 440-mile winter road trip in temperatures of 40 to 45 degrees, a test Leaf used 108 miles of its predicted range to cover just 66 miles at highway speeds around 70 mph. That was running with only one seat heater on, and just intermittent use of cabin heat. The heat pump that powers the cabin heating, however, has less effect on range than anticipated; during the test, it cut predicted range just 5 to 9 miles, and 10 minutes proved enough to warm the car sufficiently (at least in front).


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