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Nissan Leaf 2020 review: long term

Nissan's new-generation Leaf electric hatchback kicks off from $49,990.

Nissan's new Leaf has arrived to spearhead the electric car revolution, but is now the time to switch?

Part 1: December 19, 2019 - Tung Nguyen

Love them or hate them, electric vehicles (EVs) are here and they are the future of motoring.

One of the most affordable emissions-free vehicles on the Australian market is the second-generation Nissan Leaf, which kicks off at $49,990 before on-road costs in a single, highly-specced variant.

The Nissan Leaf kicks off at $49,990 before on-road costs in a single, highly-specced variant. The Nissan Leaf kicks off at $49,990 before on-road costs in a single, highly-specced variant.

Let’s run through the numbers first. With a single electric motor spinning the front axle, the Nissan Leaf produces 110kW of power and 320Nm of torque. Fitted under the floor is a 40kWh lithium-ion battery that provides 270km of driving range before needing a recharge.

Now, on paper that 270km range might seem miniscule, after all, you travel 400-500km a week in your internal combustion car, right? Doing some quick back-of-the-envelope maths means you’d need to charge the Leaf halfway through the week to ensure you get the full commuting potential, and that is discounting any incidental trips you might make in that time.

The last thing you want is to be stranded somewhere on your way to/from work in an EV that’s run out of juice – how embarrassing would that be! You might add all this up and go, “yeah, nah, an electric vehicle isn’t going to work for me”, but you’d be surprised at how easily it can slot into your day-to-day life without much, if any, inconvenience. 

For starters, we want to lay some ground work here. This Nissan Leaf long-term review will be tackled by two different writers – myself and deputy news editor Justin Hilliard – in alternating months. We figure the Leaf is a prime candidate for what car-sharing could look like in the near future, so why not just share the car? This will also give us two different perspectives when tackling the question of “is now the time to switch to an EV?”

I have an off-street undercover garage at home with power outlets available, meaning I could charge the Leaf every night if I need to. I have an off-street undercover garage at home with power outlets available, meaning I could charge the Leaf every night if I need to.

For my part, I have an off-street undercover garage at home with power outlets available, meaning I could charge the Leaf every night if I need to. What about at work then? The Melbourne CarsGuide office car park has no available charging outlets, so I’m only able to juice up at home or when there is a publicly available charging station at my destination, whether that be at a shopping centre or in another car park complex.

The Nissan Leaf sits on 17-inch alloy wheels. The Nissan Leaf sits on 17-inch alloy wheels.

With a 12km commute each way morning and evening, on paper the Nissan Leaf’s battery should easily last long enough for a week of coming and going from the office. And in reality, the answer is that it predictably – and maybe disappointingly – works out nearly exactly how it should. In a single day, the Leaf will drain just 10 per cent of its battery to get me to and from work, meaning by the end of the working week, there is still 50 per cent or 135km left in the tank. Take that range anxiety!

Now of course, you don’t just use your car to commute, you also head out to the shops for groceries or visit your folks during the week or go to yoga, but even considering all of that, a full charge of the Leaf should very comfortably see out my weeks’ worth of activities.

At 405L it’s not the largest of the hatchback boots. At 405L it’s not the largest of the hatchback boots.

The regenerative braking system also works well to recoup some energy to the battery, so while the range indicator is always going down, it doesn’t decrease as fast as you might think. Whereas the Leaf shines in inner city driving, it is out on the open highway where it loses some of its lustre. Without the constant braking of bumper to bumper traffic or traffic lights to recoup energy, the Leaf seems to just chew through its battery at highway speeds.

One trip from Dandenong to Melbourne’s CBD took off 20 per cent of battery for us, while turning on the air conditioning (often times a must in Australia’s summer weather) cuts about 25km from the range. Using the heater also cuts down the range by a similar amount, but there is an Eco option and 'e-Pedal' function (more on these in our next review) to maximise range. And when you do have to charge, it’s as simple as plugging the supplied cable into the car and the other end into a power point, easy as that!

With a 12km commute each way morning and evening, on paper the Nissan Leaf’s battery should easily last long enough for a week of coming and going from the office. With a 12km commute each way morning and evening, on paper the Nissan Leaf’s battery should easily last long enough for a week of coming and going from the office.

Charging times will vary, but on our household outlet, a zero to 100 per cent charge will take just under 20 hours according to Nissan. Though that may seem like a long time, how often will you be charging from empty to capacity? From the figures, it will take around 10 hours for a 50 per cent charge, or overnight. Chances are, you already charge your smartphone overnight, and an EV is no different.

The biggest pitfall of our first month of ‘ownership’ of the Leaf is probably the price. At just under $50,000 for a small hatchback, its not exactly like the Leaf is affordable when the likes of the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla can be had for half the price. A small hatchback is a bit hard to swallow at this price point, and we can’t help but feel if Nissan jacked it up and called it an SUV, it would appeal to many more buyers and make the cost a little more palatable.

In the cabin you'll find leather seats and Alcantara highlight trim. In the cabin you'll find leather seats and Alcantara highlight trim.

Its hard to recommend an EV right now as each use case will be different, but owning an emissions-free model is much easier than you think given you have somewhere to plug in. Sure, you might have to think twice about a long road trip, but if you are only doing such a trip once or twice a year, it could be a great opportunity to rent a car – even a sports car – to have some fun.

In all honesty, our first month with the Leaf has been a real eye-opener as the Leaf works flawlessly for our use case.

Acquired: November 2019
Distance travelled this month: 386km
Odometer: 4323km
Average enegery consumption for Nov/Dec: 15.9kWh/100km

Part 2: January 20, 2019 – Justin Hilliard

What have I gotten myself into? I thought adjusting to the EV life would be easier than this...

You see, I’ve always been a big fan of EVs. They just make so much sense to me, even in Australia in 2020.

But then I actually ‘owned’ one, rather than just enjoying zero-emissions motoring for a week at a time, free from seriously recharging.

But before I continue, it’s important to acknowledge the second-generation Nissan Leaf is not only a good thing in its own right, it’s also most things to most people.

With that said, my initial contribution to this long-term review will primarily focus on my EV ‘ownership’ experience.

As news editor Tung Nguyen mentioned in the first part of this long-term review, he has an undercover garage with available power outlets at his home. I don’t.

So, if you’re like me and want to own an EV, such as the Leaf, but live in an apartment building with secure parking that doesn’t lend itself to recharging due to a complete lack of power outlets, what do you do?

Charge it at work, of course! Oh, if it was only that easy. As you may remember, Tung noted the CarsGuide office car park in Melbourne’s CBD doesn’t cater to EVs in any way whatsoever.

Charge it at work, of course! Oh, if it was only that easy. Charge it at work, of course! Oh, if it was only that easy.

So, where to from here? Surely there’s got to be a car park in Melbourne’s CBD that can be used to exclusively recharge the Leaf? It’s 2020 after all.

After weeks of fretting if I’ll ever be able to drive the Leaf for more than a week and avoid handing it back to Tung to recharge, I finally found the holy grail.

You see, a quick Internet search will show there are several EV charging stations in Melbourne’s CBD. At the time of writing, though, all of them aren’t feasible for the Leaf – bar one.

As I found out the hard way, they’re either located in privately accessible car parks or are part of Tesla’s charging network.

Despite what some people may think, though, the latter can actually be used by EVs not named Model 3Model S or Model X. Well, some of them...

Tesla famously uses a tweaked version of the Type 2 AC charging plug that’s becoming the standard for EVs in Australia. Indeed, an additional plastic clip prevents the Leaf from physically being able to plug in and recharge.

That said, Tesla started to move with the times when it launched the Model 3 with a non-proprietary Type 2 AC charging plug. As a result, its charging network has started to evolve and now allows other EVs to plug in… but in many cases, they still can’t recharge.

Indeed, a software lock on many of these chargers prevents non-Tesla EVs from actually recharging.

So, now you understand the situation I found myself in. But as I hinted earlier, all was not lost. There was one last car park in Melbourne’s CBD that was publicly accessible and untried, and yes, it had Tesla chargers in it, so it was a roll of the dice.

You can imagine my relief when I visited this car park and found that not only were its Tesla chargers without the bespoke Type 2 AC charging plug, they weren’t software-locked either! Hallelujah. Oh, and they were free to use, too. How good.

Using the wallbox chargers on hand, it takes about eight to nine hours to recharge the Leaf’s 40kWh lithium-ion battery from 20 per cent to full. And deep breath.

It can take eight to nine hours to recharge the Leaf’s 40kWh lithium-ion battery from 20 per cent to full. It can take eight to nine hours to recharge the Leaf’s 40kWh lithium-ion battery from 20 per cent to full.

While working out the above was harder than I expected, it certainly made me feel much more comfortable about living with an EV. The only thing to do next was to drive into work when I needed to recharge. Otherwise, the train remained my preferred way to commute.

This was all very well and good until the recent holiday break drew closer. How will I recharge the Leaf during the two weeks I’m not at work?

Back to the drawing board I went, and to my surprise I found a DC fast charger with the necessary (and hard-to-find) CHAdeMO plug type at the university campus located just 500m from my apartment building – a more than workable solution.

So, off I drove to this DC fast charger for a test run the weekend before my leave began. I’m thankful I did so, because guess what happened? It didn’t recharge the Leaf due to an alleged circuit-breaker issue.

As you can imagine, I recharged at work on the Monday and prepared to have another crack at the DC fast charger in question later in the week, by which point a technician would’ve attended to it.

Second time around, the DC fast charger didn’t work immediately, but after five minutes on the phone with the company operating it, they were able to manually start the charging session from their end.

Thanks to the DC fast charger’s 50kW capacity, the Leaf was recharged from 20 per cent to full in about 80 minutes, which is more palatable than the aforementioned eight-plus hours.

That said, I still had to find a way to occupy myself during the charging time. Walk back home and exist for a while before heading back to collect the Leaf? I ended up choosing a long walk on a nice summer’s day instead.

And this process was repeated again during my time off work. I actually intended to do it once more, but my final attempt was unsuccessful as the DC fast charger had broken down again and was in need of another service.

Of course, destination charging was another option for me during the holiday break, but to my surprise, all of the AC chargers I attempted to use at shopping centres and the like used Type 1 plugs that aren’t compatible with the second-generation Leaf.

For what it’s worth, I also got spooked by the idea of driving the Leaf for New Years from Melbourne to Daylesford in north-west Victoria, which is about a 120km journey.

Yes, the Leaf has a claimed driving range of 270km on the WLTP combined-cycle test – and my primarily city-based testing indicates it travels about 286km between charges in the real world – but prior experience showed a recharge would be required on the way back due to the inefficiency of highway driving.

Unfortunately, all of the EV chargers in Daylesford are of the Tesla variety and therefore not worth the risk, or have Type 1 plugs, so the Leaf stayed at home.

Two favourite features are the 'e-Pedal' and 'Eco Mode.' Two favourite features are the 'e-Pedal' and 'Eco Mode.'

Anyway, while I will spend plenty of time in my next two instalments in this long-term review talking about the Leaf itself, I’ll quickly point out my two favourite features: 'e-Pedal' and 'Eco Mode.'

Like all other EVs, the Leaf uses regenerative braking to slowly recharge its battery while on the move. Simply put, lift off the accelerator and it will slow down more aggressively than a vehicle with an internal-combustion engine.

With that in mind, think of e-Pedal as the most aggressive version of regenerative braking yet, so much so that if you time it well enough, the brake pedal is not required to come to a complete – and safe – stop.

Indeed, the Leaf only requires one pedal to drive when e-Pedal is engaged. This is no gimmick, either, as it’s my favourite version of regenerative braking yet. In particular, it makes my commute to and from work – about 12km either way – a breeze.

And given my charging frustrations shared earlier, Eco Mode has also been a winner. Notably, it limits throttle response so that heavy right-foot applications don’t dramatically decrease driving range.

Indeed, this is the first time I’ve actually appreciated the wares of an Eco Mode, but in the Leaf, it makes a lot of sense, as its instant torque is more than enough to keep things moving along nicely in and around the city.

Head out onto the highway, though, and things change dramatically, but more on that in the next instalment of this long-term review. See you next month!

Acquired: November 2019

Distance travelled this month: 986km

Odometer: 5309km

Average energy consumption for Dec/Jan: 14.0kWh/100km

Part 3: February 17, 2020 – Tung

After three months of ‘ownership’, the ‘wow’ factor of driving an electric vehicle really starts to wear off – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Leaf after all, just like any car that comes through our garage, is used for transportation – commuting to and from work, hitting up some cafes on the weekend, etc.

It struck us as to how seamless the transition from internal combustion engine to full electric could be, with the caveat that there is no long-distance driving to do.

So how you use the car might not be any different, but how you drive certainly can be.

Instant torque means you can come away from the lights quicker than almost anything else, and the silent powertrain means the Leaf will emit an audible ‘beep’ when reversing to warn pedestrians (don’t worry, you can turn this off if it really annoys you).

Nissan’s second-gen Leaf also features an e-Pedal for one-foot operation. What this means is that the acceleration and braking can be controlled with just the right foot.

If this sounds weird an alien, it’s because it is a little unintuitive – at least to begin with – but after an hour or so with it switched on, it is really easy to get the hang of.

Since switching to the e-Pedal, we’ve actually not switched back to the traditional two-peal method of driving.

How it works is by modulating the throttle, so press it down to go forward as normal, but when you start to release the right foot, the Leaf will begin to brake.

What we liked about e-Pedal is that it made us look ahead and think about our driving, rather than react as things happened around us.

With two pedals in play, you could just sail towards a set of traffic lights or roundabout until you wanted to slow down, then change the right foot from throttle to brake.

But with e-Pedal activated, you have to gauge how far away you are from stopping and factor in those decisions ahead of time.

The Leaf really delivers as a comfortable, easy-to-use and approachable vehicle. The Leaf really delivers as a comfortable, easy-to-use and approachable vehicle.

What this translates to is a smoother, more efficient driving experience.

And it’s not just the passengers who will be thankful, it also has a positive result on the all-electric Leaf’s driving range.

We reported in our last review that it took about 10 per cent battery to get us to and from work on any given day, but with e-Pedal in play, that dropped down to as low as five per cent.

Now you’d think that might translate to doubling the driving range, but the truth is that e-Pedal just makes you more diligent and effective with the throttle.

We also noticed that the energy recuperation from the brakes were stronger in e-Pedal mode compared to the traditional two-pedal operation, likely because when you use the brake pedal, you are only depressing it slightly to shed speed.

Now, there are some downfalls to the e-pedal operation, namely if you take your foot off the throttle too quickly, the Leaf will screech abruptly to a halt, jerking passengers about.

It also makes it tricky when you have to perform an emergency stop – say when a dog runs across the road or when traffic lights change suddenly – but the brake pedal still works for the reactionary foot stomp.

There is also an ‘Eco’ mode in the Leaf that will add a few extra kilometres to the driving range by easing acceleration, though we found that e-Pedal does a much better job of boosting travel miles.

While the Leaf has been relegated to second-car status as work kept me from raking up the kilometres on Nisan’s EV this month, we still came back to the ‘Greta’ when we needed a quick trip to the shops or the occasional jaunt out.

As a comfortable, easy-to-use and approachable vehicle, the Leaf really delivers, and would be a great entry point to someone’s first electric vehicle.

However, its biggest letdown isn’t that it is an EV, it might be because it’s a Nissan, which means cheapy-feeling plastics on the inside and less-than-cutting-edge in-cabin technology…. But more on that in the next month!

Of note, we did not get behind the wheel nearly as much as we wanted to this month, simply because our duties meant we were pulled away attending events and reviewing other vehicles.

Acquired: November 2019

Distance travelled this month: 138km

Odometer: 5447km

Average energy consumption for Jan/Feb: 14.3kWh/100km

Part 4: March 16, 2020 – Justin

We’re now four months into Leaf ownership and we’ve come to accept its electric-ness.

That said, it’s so easy to get caught up in the ins and outs of electric cars that you forget what they are at their very core: cars.

For this reason, we’ll now focus on how the Leaf stacks up as a car – that is as a mode of transport.

As we all know, electric cars are polar opposites to their internal-combustion counterparts under the metal, and this affects how they’re packaged.

We’re now four months into Leaf ownership and we’ve come to accept its electric-ness. We’re now four months into Leaf ownership and we’ve come to accept its electric-ness.

In the Leaf’s case, its battery is located underfloor. While it’s actually not that large, at 40kWh, it still eats into cabin space, as opposed to a fuel tank that generally occupies the space beneath the boot.

This is immediately apparent when you jump into the driver’s seat, which is positioned higher up, like it would be in a crossover. You needn’t look any further than the massive battery-related hump underneath it for evidence of that fact.

And the driving position isn’t helped by the Leaf’s steering column, which doesn’t have telescopic adjustment. It’s also awkwardly positioned to begin with, which leaves the wheel more or less in our laps.

The Leaf’s steering column misses out on telescopic adjustment. The Leaf’s steering column misses out on telescopic adjustment.

That said, it’s the rear occupants that are impacted the most, especially when there are three abreast. Why? The massive central tunnel that eats into the footwell.

The Leaf is a small hatch, after all, so there’s not a lot of width to play with in the first place, even if it’s not the only one to have such a hindrance (yep, we’re talking about internal-combustion cars).

The positioning of the rear bench is also a little awkward due to the battery, with under-thigh support lacking (and central air vents, for that matter). In the Leaf’s case, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Cargo capacity, however, is good for a small hatch, at 405L, although it’s worth noting the Bose sound system’s subwoofer occupies a decent amount of space at the rear of the boot.

With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 405 litres. With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 405 litres.

The onboard charging cable and its case are also in tow. While they can obviously be stored elsewhere, they’re best kept in the boot given it has two side cargo nets, both of which are just the right size to accommodate them.

Fold the 60/40 split-fold rear bench ‘flat’ and you realise that it too is positioned up high, as another massive battery-related hump is exposed, making loading bulkier items a challenge – something we found out the hard way.

Indeed, on one particular weekend, we used the Leaf to finish a house move. With up to 1176L of cargo capacity available, it was able to get the job done, but not without some serious Tetris skills.

Fold the 60/40 split-fold rear bench ‘flat’ and the cargo capacity grows to 1176 litres. Fold the 60/40 split-fold rear bench ‘flat’ and the cargo capacity grows to 1176 litres.

We mainly had large plastics tubs to fit in, plus a few random items. The former was the challenge, as we managed to double stack on the boot side but failed to do so atop the rear bench for obvious reasons.

Granted we got there in the end, but it didn’t happen without some serious frustration along the way. If it wasn’t obvious enough yet, the Leaf isn’t your typical small hatch.

Connectivity-wise, the Leaf gets the job done with a USB-A port, a 12V power outlet and an auxiliary input, all of which form part of the centre stack.

The former delivers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, which is frankly better than the Leaf’s multimedia system that while an improvement over Nissan’s previous-generation effort, is still limited in its functionality.

Those in the second row are out of luck, however, as their connectivity options are non-existent. Yep, you don’t even get a single USB port to recharge your child’s device with.

Back seat passengers get no creature comforts, not even a 12V power outlet or USB port. Back seat passengers get no creature comforts, not even a 12V power outlet or USB port.

Next month we’ll discuss the Leaf’s in-market positioning and how it stacks up against its competitors. See you then!

Acquired: November 2019

Distance travelled this month: 699km

Odometer: 6146km

Average energy consumption for Feb/Mar: 14.7kWh/100km

$49,990

Based on new car retail price

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$49,990

Based on new car retail price