In the world of EVs (electric vehicles), it’s a tug of war between range and cost. Situated in the sweet spot of this contest is the totally redesigned 2018 Nissan Leaf. It’s the just-right compromise between a range that makes most consumers feel confident they won’t be left stranded on the side of the expressway, and a suggested-retail price that doesn’t break the bank.
There’s a reason the Leaf is the best-selling EV in the world: accessibility. According to USA Today, the average price of a new car in the U.S. is $33,560. With the buy-in — including factory delivery charge — for a new Leaf pegged at $30,875, it falls below today’s average. A wide swath of consumers on the hunt for a new car will wind up paying the average, or more. They have the wherewithal to buy a Leaf, but not so with the $37,495 Chevrolet Bolt EV or the $44,000-plus Tesla 3 Long Range, which is the only Tesla 3 actually being delivered.
The big news for the Leaf in its redesign is that Nissan increased its estimated range from 107 miles on a fully charged battery to 150 miles. There’s that confidence builder — and a version with even more range is coming for 2019. Nissan designers gave this hatchback some personality; and dare we say it’s somewhat stylish. Add to that some new standard-across-the-board equipment like automatic emergency braking, a more conveniently located charge port, LED taillights and e-Pedal technology, as well as available ProPILOT Assist, and you’ve got quite a value package. Oh, and the 2018 costs less (roughly $700) than the 2017 model.
What’s New for 2018?
The Leaf is completely redesigned.
What We Like
Significantly improved range; lower price; more standard equipment; ePedal; handsome styling and user-friendly cabin
What We Don’t
Range still relegates it to basically an around-town commuter; most safety/driver-assist technologies aren’t available on the entry-level trim
The redesigned Leaf’s hybrid system not only delivers more range, it produces 37 percent more horsepower and 26 percent more torque than last year’s system for 147 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A CVT transfers motor output to the front wheels. Despite the lithium-ion battery pack’s greater storage capacity, it takes up the same amount of room beneath the second-row seat.
The length of recharging time the battery requires depends on the type of system. Using the 110-volt cable supplied with the car takes about 35 hours. That’s why it’s called trickle charging. Using a 220-volt Level 2 charger (or opting for the available Nissan Level 2 connector) reduces charging time to less than 8 hours. Using a DC quick or fast charge system can add an estimated 88 miles of driving range in about 30 minutes.
Calculating fuel economy differently for EVs, the EPA rates the Leaf’s mileage at 125 MPGe city/100 MPGe highway with an annual electricity cost of $600. The battery pack comes with an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Standard Features & Options
The S ($30,875) comes standard with hill-start assist, e-Pedal, 16-inch steel wheels, power outboard mirrors, a 6-way manually adjusted driver’s seat, a trip computer, cruise control, push-button start, power windows, power door locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 12-volt power outlet, automatic climate control, a backup camera, hands-free text messaging, six airbags, a security system with immobilizer, automatic emergency braking and a 4-speaker audio system with a USB port, 5-in color display, Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio capability. Options include heated outboard mirrors, a quick charge port, front heated seats and cargo cover.
The SV ($33,375) builds on the S-grade content, adding the quick charge port, 17-in alloy wheels, fog lights, upgraded 6-speaker audio system with HD radio, NissanConnect EV remote vehicle connection, intelligent cruise control and Nissan ConnectSM with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 7-in color display and voice recognition. Options include an electronic parking brake, rear cargo cover, a heated steering wheel, heated outboard mirrors, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, high beam assist, an 8-way power driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, ProPILOT Assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and intelligent lane intervention.
The SVL ($37,085) adds standard features like a heated steering wheel, heated outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, an 8-way power driver’s seat, leather seats, front heated seats, a 6-speaker Bose Premium audio system with 7-in color display, rear cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 360-degree around-view monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and Intelligent Driver Alertness. Options include SV safety/driver assistance options not made standard, plus an electronic parking brake.
IIHS has only posted crash-test results for head restraints and seats in which the Leaf received its top rating of Good. The government has yet to crash test it. Every Leaf comes with the e-Pedal that automatically brings the car to a stop simply by releasing pressure on the accelerator. In addition to six airbags, backup camera and forward emergency braking, every new Leaf comes with the usual suspects of stability control, traction control and so forth.
Optional on the SV and SVL are automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and intelligent lane intervention. Optional on the SV, but standard on the SVL are blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and Intelligent Driver Alertness that alerts the driver when it senses the driver isn’t paying attention or is getting drowsy. Also optional on SV and SVL is Nissan’s ProPilot Assist that can be engaged with the adaptive cruise control to help keep the Leaf in the middle of its lane, among other things.
Behind the Wheel
The Leaf’s cockpit is a nice blend of comfort and high tech. It’s not so futuristic as to be distracting, but its mushroom cap-like shifter and upright touchscreen in the center of the dash lets you know something different is going on. An eerily quiet passenger space and smooth ride make for a pleasant environment.
The linear acceleration of the electric motor means smooth, quick starts. All of the torque comes alive the instant your foot gooses the accelerator. This is the ideal platform for a CVT, because there’s no constant screaming of an internal combustion engine at the peak of its rev range. Acceleration, even hard acceleration, is chaos free. And we love the e-Pedal feature.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric — With an estimated range of up to 124 miles and the highest EV fuel economy in the industry (150 MPGe city/122 MPGe highway), this car is an ideal inner-city commuter.
2018 Volkswagen e-Golf — With an entry-level price close to the Leaf’s, this EV has less estimated range (125 miles), but is classified as a compact rather than a midsize as the Leaf is. But it offers VW driving dynamics in an EV.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt — You can’t have an EV discussion and not mention the Bolt. Bigger than the Leaf with a buy-in price measurably higher than the Leaf’s, it has an estimated range of 238 miles.
2018 Tesla 3 Long Range — Quickly becoming the white whale of EVs, these cars aren’t exactly flying out of the factory, but the Tesla 3 Long Range (the only 3 currently available) does post an estimated range of 310 miles, but at a starting price about $15,000 more than the Leaf.
In terms of basics, for the price, we think the 2018 Nissan Leaf S grade is nicely equipped. Most of the standard gear added by moving up to the SL, though, has to do with entertainment and connectivity. If these things are important to you, the SL is the better choice. Plus, you can then opt for another couple of driver-assist technologies that you just can’t get on the entry-level car.