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Nissan Leaf 2020 review

If I had told you even just a few years ago that one of Nissan’s most promising vehicles, and one the brand partially hangs its future on, was an all-electric hatchback, you probably wouldn’t have believed me.

But here we are, and after already having been on sale for years in Europe, the second-generation Leaf has arrived in Australia.

In Europe it has even been remarkably successful, counting itself as a best-seller in Norway, where Nissan has managed to sell more than 50,000 of them.

By now, I already know what your questions are: What’s the range? How long does it take to charge? How much does it cost?

For all those answers and more, read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The odds are stacked against the Leaf in this department, as it arrives in Australia in just one spec level, priced at $49,990 (plus on-road costs).

You’re probably thinking: "Are you serious? Fifty grand for a hatchback?" And you’d be right. Without any EV rebates like the Leaf receives in Europe, the pricing is a tall order. You’d have to really be going out of your way to choose an EV lifestyle, it’s not simply a $2k to $5k spec switch like from petrol to diesel.

That having been said, Nissan has helped soften the blow a bit by giving the Leaf a plush set of specs. This is a nice hatchback, with all the tech and connectivity items you could realistically want. In fact, it’s by far the best-specified Nissan you can buy right now.

First of all, the Leaf that’s finally arrived in Australia has received some sort of minor update over the one we drove just a few months ago.

Included is a new centre stack with a new 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen, the first for Nissan in Australia to host Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (better late than never…), as well as built-in navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, backed by a seven-speaker Bose-branded audio system.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto arrive at long last in the Nissan Leaf. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto arrive at long last in the Nissan Leaf.

There’s also plush leather seats which you seem to sink into, with Alcantara highlight trim, a leather steering wheel, a power adjustable driver’s seat and heated seats across the front and back rows, and a heated steering wheel.

Nissan says heated seats are the most power efficient way to heat occupants up, rather than just blasting the single-zone climate control.

Other spec items you get include keyless entry, push-start ignition, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch partially-digital dash, as well as full LED lighting front and rear.

The 17-inch alloys are not overtly sci-fi like the ones on some of the competition. The 17-inch alloys are not overtly sci-fi like the ones on some of the competition.

There’s also Nissan’s full suite of active safety technology, which is impressive stuff, explored more in the safety section of this review.

The Leaf is the only EV in Australia which is capable of two-way charging via its Japanese-standard CHAdeMO charging port. The brand says you’ll be able to use this feature to use the Leaf as a “portable energy asset” – this means the car will be capable of storing energy in off-peak power-grid times, then using it to power your home cheaply in on-peak times.

This will require a piece of hardware which is not yet available in Australia, but will be “in around 12 months” after Nissan and its energy tech partner, JetCharge, get it approved by Australian regulators.

The hardware will appear like a "wall box" device, and will cost "less than $2000".

You could argue a similarly-specified hatchback this size with a petrol engine would only cost in the mid-to-late $30k price bracket. So, you’re paying about $15,000 for the EV drivetrain and everything that involves.

You can slide into the less-powerful and slightly more limited-on-range Hyundai Ioniq EV, which is this car’s closest competitor, for about $5000 less. You’ll miss out on the two-way charging tech though.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

If someone told you that this was the new-generation Nissan Pulsar, would it really be a stretch to believe them? I think not. Today’s electric cars are looking less and less zany.

Sure, the Leaf still has some wacky Japanese design points, but so does the current-generation Civic hatch.

If someone told you this was a current-generation Pulsar, would it be so hard to believe? If someone told you this was a current-generation Pulsar, would it be so hard to believe?

Nissan’s “Zero Emissions” insignia is emblazoned across the sides and rear of the car, and it has Nissan’s EV design points in the gloss black body highlights, and blue ripple pattern in the grille. There are some rather anonymous-looking alloys compared to the sci-fi turbofan ones opted for by Hyundai’s EV range, and that’s about it really.

Inside, the Leaf isn’t too far removed from the brand’s regular passenger car range. There’s the same D-shaped steering wheel as the one that now appears in the Qashqai small SUV, as well as a vastly improved centre stack, with a fantastic new 8.0-inch screen. The interior has subtle blue highlights to remind you of its electric underpinnings in the seat stitching, oddly designed gear selector knob and through the dash insert on the passenger side.

The interior only makes subtle nods to the fact that the Leaf is fully-electric. The interior only makes subtle nods to the fact that the Leaf is fully-electric.

You have to admire how subtle it all is. The doorcards and dash-top are clad in soft-touch materials to match those lovely seats. If there’s anything I could complain about here it’s just that aside from a few highlights it’s all a bit samey in the colour department.

So the Leaf is styled so subtly it could be anonymous… Some will see that as a very good thing, especially for an EV.

How practical is the space inside?

The Leaf is on the larger side for a hatchback, and with its electric drivetrain layout comes some inherent benefits.

No fuel tank, for example, brings a deep and wide boot space, rated at 405 litres, which isn’t the biggest space in the hatch segment, but definitely on the larger side, and rear seat space is decent, too.

The Leaf has a deep and wide boot, impeded only a little by the Bose audio system. The Leaf has a deep and wide boot, impeded only a little by the Bose audio system.

Sadly the rear seats don’t get air vents, a common faux-pas in cars this size, but they do get heated seats which is pretty special. The rear seats are also clad in the same thick padding and leather trim which makes the front ones so comfortable.

The rear seats are plush and are heated, but there's no rear air vents. The rear seats are plush and are heated, but there's no rear air vents.

Up front there are decently-sized trenches and bottle holders in the doors, decent cupholders in the centre stack as well as a half-way decent console box. Under the centre stack, there is also a spot well suited to a phone, as that’s also where the USB port is for screen mirroring.

The seats are wide and comfortable, but the driver’s position is a little high, giving an SUV-like feel. Annoyingly, the steering column doesn’t have telescopic reach adjust, making the wheel feel too far away, perhaps too close to the dash, for many people.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Leaf is driven by a 350V electric motor on the front axle, providing a max output of 110kW/320Nm. Being an electric motor, the torque is available almost instantaneously.

The Leaf's electric motor sits in the engine's traditional spot. The Leaf's electric motor sits in the engine's traditional spot.

Despite its almost-1600kg kerb weight (batteries are heavy!) Nissan claims those motor specs will have the Leaf doing 0-100km/h in just 7.9 seconds.

It’s not the most powerful electric motor, even among a limited pool of competitors, but it still outshoots its main competitor, the Hyundai Ioniq EV (88kW/295Nm).

How much fuel does it consume?

The Leaf consumes no petrol for obvious reasons, and how much it will cost you to charge for a year will depend where you get your electricity from.

Charging is always a sticky topic for EVs, especially in Australia. Charging is always a sticky topic for EVs, especially in Australia.

If you have solar panels or you can steal your electricity from a wall socket at work, for example, it can cost you next to nothing. If you exclusively charge up at home, Nissan reckons it will cost you just north of $700 a year to charge the Leaf at peak times, or just over $300 at non-peak times.

The other thing you’ll need to know are the types of connectors available to you. The Leaf has two. It has a Type-2 ‘Mennekes’ connector - one of the most popular types of connector globally - and a two-prong CHAdeMO port, a Japanese standard, which is capable of higher kW inputs.

The Leaf offers two types of connector for charging. The Leaf offers two types of connector for charging.

How fast you’ll charge will depend on the kW output of the station you connect to. A 50kW output via the CHAdeMO connector will see a charge time from zero to 80 per cent in about an hour, while a Type 2 home wall connector has a charge time Nissan estimates at 7.5 hours, and connecting to a good old-fashioned three-pin wall outlet will see a charge time of “about 24 hours.”

How efficient the Leaf is once the energy is actually in the battery is another question. Electric cars are measured in efficiency by kWh/100km. I can’t comment on what the Leaf got at the launch as the short distance would be an unfair reflection, but on my earlier range-test I scored around 15.3kWh/100km. For context, I found the Kona Electric to be slightly more efficient at 14.1kWh/100km (hence the less than 10 score for the Leaf).

To be fair, the Kona’s extra weight probably helps regain more energy around town.

What's it like to drive?

Like almost all electric cars, the Leaf is slick to drive, but it will be a little different from what you are used to.

Much of this is down to regenerative braking which fundamentally changes the way you interact with this car’s pedals.

Nissan has an 'on' or 'off' regen braking system, dubbed e-Pedal. This essentially uses aggressive regenerative braking to allow you to drive the car with the accelerator pedal alone. Let your foot completely off the pedal, and the car will roll to a halt fairly quickly.

It’s an off-putting feeling at first, but it’s also what makes this car kind of fun to drive. It becomes a bit of a game rolling around town trying to re-gain energy anywhere you can. It’s this feature and ones like it that make electric vehicles get significantly higher milage, and thus improved range around town.

Every opportunity to stop at the lights, drive down a hill or gradually roll to a halt in traffic is an opportunity to regain energy.

If it’s simply too unsettling for you, you can entirely switch e-Pedal off, which means you’ll only regenerate energy when manually braking or when cruising from the motion of the wheels alone. It’s more like a traditional car to drive this way, but you might be surprised how much range you’ll lose by doing this.

I’d argue Hyundai’s execution of regen braking is a little more flexible, giving you control over three different levels of braking and also providing a little more feedback on energy recovery.

Outside of that, with 320Nm on tap, the Leaf does feel powerful. You’ll cringe to use it, knowing how much energy your draining, but when it’s time to go, the Leaf delivers.

The Leaf has plenty of power on tap, but won't throttle you with brutal acceleration. The Leaf has plenty of power on tap, but won't throttle you with brutal acceleration.

It’s not quite thumping though, it seems as though the traction control, via some software wizardry, smooths out the acceleration experience. The power is there, but the car won’t let you spin the wheels and it smooths the instantaneous torque out as you accelerate.

Also like most electric cars, the extra weight of the battery under the floor makes for a very low centre of gravity. This lends the Leaf excellent handling in the corners, and the steering is weighted about right for a hatch this size. The Leaf’s suspension is on the softer side, but not unreasonably so. It deals with the extra weight well.

It’s also relatively quiet, especially at commuting speeds, with tyre roar alone starting to infiltrate the cabin at velocities north of 80km/h.

It’s a slick, if not totally inspiring drive, but it does make the entire concept of energy recovery just a little bit addictive.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Nissan Leaf recently received a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, tested to 2019’s more stringent standards.

It more than earns it on the active safety front. The Leaf is packed with about every active safety technology which Nissan offers.

Included is auto emergency braking (AEB) with forward collision warning (FCW), lane departure warning (LDW) with lane keep assist (LKAS), rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), driver attention alert (DAA), active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring (BSM) and auto high-beam headlights.

An added bonus, there’s also Nissan’s ‘Around-View Monitor’ 360-degree parking suite, which makes manoeuvring into a parking spot a cinch.

According to Nissan, the problem of the virtually silent drivetrain is ambient noise beamed at nearby pedestrians, which is targeted thanks to a forward-facing camera suite. Weird.

In terms of the expected refinements, there are six airbags, a more advanced traction control system (likely to deal with the electric motor’s extra torque), tyre pressure monitoring and dual ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer two rear seats.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Nissan offers the Leaf with the brand’s standard five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty promise, alongside an eight-year, unlimited kilometre battery warranty. “We’ve found from the first-generation Leaf that the battery will outlast the car,” the brand’s EV director said at the launch. He also claimed the Leaf’s Lithium-ion battery pack is 98 per cent recyclable, if that’s a concern of yours.

The Leaf has a service interval of 12 months or 20,000km whichever occurs first, and service pricing is fixed for the life of the warranty.

It'll cost you betweem $237 and $343 per service, for an average yearly service cost of $346.20.

With its tall asking price, limited government initiatives and geography working against it, I don’t quite think the Leaf is going to revolutionise the EV landscape in Australia quite the way it has in Europe. It’s still a compelling option for those who want to (and can afford to) jump on the EV train a little early, and who don’t necessarily need to traverse the distance between cities often. It also looks to the future of those wanting to smooth out their electricity bills or go 'off-the-grid', so the Leaf is certainly one to watch in this space.

Are you ready to jump into the electrified future early, or is the asking price just too high? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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