Nissan Leaf Gets Much-Needed Updates
What does it mean for you?
For nearly two years, the Nissan Leaf has been on sale in the UK, offering car drivers the chance to ditch the petrol pump and live the electric dream. So far, all of the cars on sale in the UK have been first-generation cars made in Japan and then shipped half-way around the world. Something, which in all honesty, isn’t all that environmentally friendly.
That’s soon going to change, thanks to Nissan’s Sunderland production facility, where Leafs will soon be made for the European market for the first time outside of Japan.
Nissan says the new UK-based production allows it to tweak the Leaf for the European buyer. In addition, it has announced a raft of improvements and upgrades.
But what does it mean for you if you’re an existing Leaf owner or someone looking to buy an electric car for the first time? And what does it mean if you want to use ZeroNet Charging Stations?
Redesigned Powertrain, bigger boot
Taking cues from carmakers like Tesla, Nissan boffins have redesigned the under bonnet area so that the Leaf’s power electronics, charger and motor are all housed in one single unit, saving space and improving efficiency.
With the power electronics and charger stacked on top of the motor and gearbox, the under bonnet area looks cleaner and less fussy.
There’s more: in the original Leaf, the car’s on-board charger was hidden behind a hump in the car’s boot area. With the charger moved to the front, Nissan’s engineers have increased the boot space by 40 litres to an impressive 370 litres.
While original Leafs were happy to charge at CHAdeMO rapid charging stations from empty to 80 percent full in a little over 30 minutes, charging times at a public Type 2 Charging Station resulted in an agonising six to eight hour wait thanks to the 16amp current limit of the car’s on-board 3-kilowatt charger.
Many early-adopters complained, and Nissan has listened. Available as a build-to-order option, a 6-kilowatt on-board charger will effectively halve the time it takes Leaf drivers to recharge their cars at compatible Type 2 Charging Stations.
Since all Zero Carbon World Type 2 Charging Stations are already capable of supporting 32 amp (7 kilowatt) charging, this means that any Leaf owner with the optional on-board 6-kilowatt charger will be able to charge their car from empty to full at a Type 2 ZeroNet site in around 4 hours.
Put another way, that’s around the amount of time you might spend visiting the cinema and having a meal afterwards.
And while Nissan hasn’t given up on Rapid DC charging, the faster, more powerful on-board AC charger means the Leaf has just become much more practical in everyday life.
As with any electric car, the Leaf’s limited range per charge has been the target of many a journalist or naysayer unconvinced about its everyday practicality.
Nissan says Sunderland-built Leafs will improve on the official 109-mile New European Driving Cycle estimate of Japanese-built Leafs with a range of up to 124 miles, thanks to lighter components, some aerodynamic tweaks and the more efficient drivetrain.
Don’t expect to get 124 miles out of the new Leaf in daily driving though: if our experience with the current Leaf at Zero Carbon World is anything to go by, the NEDC range should be taken with a pinch of salt.
We’d estimate the new Leaf will easily manage between 75 and 90 miles per charge, depending on the type of driving, versus 70-80 mile range of the older Leaf.
While everyday range won’t be that much different when compared to the current model however, Leaf 1.5 benefits from an all-new heating system. Gone is the old ceramic heater setup and in its place is a new heat pump similar to the one found in the soon-to-launch Renault Zoe.
The addition of the heat pump -- along with heated seats and steering wheel on some models -- will improve the winter range markedly over the old model, making the Leaf a truly all-year-round, practical family car.
Multiple trim levels
While the current UK-spec Nissan Leaf may have offered buyers a choice of several different exterior paint options, it was only available in one trim level.
With off-white seats made of 37 per cent recycled bottles and no choice when it came to interior colour schemes, the Japanese-made Leaf wasn’t exactly ready-made for family life. And its tech-heavy interior – while appealing to some – didn’t help keep its retail price low.
The new UK-made Leaf will change that with a choice of three trim levels.
At the entry level and with a no-frills attitude is the Leaf Visia. Rumored (but not yet confirmed) to be starting at just £17,995 after a £5,000 government grant, the Leaf Visia will feature 16-inch steel wheels, a basic climate control system, halogen headlights, black door mirror caps and hard-wearing cloth seats.
The intermediate Acenta level will add other features, such as 16-inch alloy wheels, suede fabric trim and the same rear privacy glass found on outgoing Leaf models.
Meanwhile, the top of the range Leaf Tekna will come with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated Leather interior, an energy-saving Bose sound system and Around View Monitor system. Featuring a camera on each side of the car, this promises to make parking in tight spaces even easier.
The new Nissan Leaf isn’t just faster charging and longer lasting than the outgoing model, either: it has all-round improvements which make day-to-day life easier.
Take the release mechanism for the charge port door. Previous models had a cable-actuated release that required you to pull a lever down by the bonnet release catch.
On all new UK-built Leafs, an electronic latch has replaced that fussy mechanism. Activated by a button in-car or with a button on the Leaf’s smart key, drivers can now unlock the charge bay door without resorting to body contortions.
Moreover, the new locking mechanism includes the capability to physically lock the Type 1 (J1772) cable to your car, without the need for a padlock.
When using a public Charging Station like those found at ZeroNet sites all around the country, this means that both the car end and the Charging Station end of the cables will be firmly locked in place while the car charges.
Other improvements include more comfortable seats, a more in-depth navigation system capable of planning the most efficient route as well as the quickest and shortest routes, and a simpler, floor-mounted parking brake.
Time to plug in?
With prices yet to be confirmed officially by Nissan, it’s difficult to make quantitative statements at the current time of just how affordable this mid-cycle update to the Nissan Leaf will be.
But with a better charger capable of halving charging times at Type 2 Charging Stations, a longer range, and superior winter performance, the new Leaf promises to be a great first electric car for the average family.
There’s just one final question. Do you want to plug one in just as much as we do?