WHETHER you love them, hate them or just plain ignore them, the truth is that the future of automobiles is looking likely to be electric. Now in its second generation, the Nissan LEAF is among a new wave of compact EVs set to change our driving habits forever.
Sure, we’ll miss the rumble of an internal combustion engine, but it’s the ease an EV offers that will change the game. Jumping in the car after a night on charge with a full bank of kilowatts is just too easy.
But the competition for electric cars is considerably fiercer than when the first-generation Nissan LEAF came out. Never mind the fact that Tesla have changed their game plan, their are loads of other players too, like Hyundai’s Kona Electric or the Renault Zoe.
Tesla threw its Model 3 at the world as well, with a focus on gadgetry, rather than marketing it as an environmentally conscious vehicle. The EV car space has become a battle ground of its own, with a multitude of players at various price points.
When it gets down to brass tacks, or green trees though, people just want to do right by the environment, which is why it’s time to start supporting electric cars so they can continue to get cheaper, and availability and range can improve.
The politics of an emerging car market energy sources aside, the LEAF is much like an ordinary hatch. It certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to fly you to the moon, or anything nearly as spectacular.
The immediate difference you notice though is the lack of sound, or engine noise, and that instant acceleration. It’s a fact that’s hard to get over. Take off in an EV, any electric vehicle, is genuinely awesome.
The power train is surprisingly grunty, if you don’t drive an electric car every day, with the 40kW battery boasting an impressive 110kW of power and an even more impressive 320Nm of torque.
Nissan claims that the batteries are good for up to 270km in range, but it really depends on how you drive; the LEAF has a regenerative braking system to help recharge as you come to a stop or have your foot on the brake too.
And while that might not sound like a lot of range, if you’re not attempting huge road trips, it’s really not that bad. When you get home from work, you simply plug in and charge. When you wake up, it’s ready to go again.
Braking in the LEAF is something else as well. Never before has this author experienced stopping power so good that you almost felt physically ill when going from 100km/h to zero, in a hurry.
It was a surprising find, considering the brakes are not large, and the LEAF rides on 16-inch wheels. Impressive all the same. The Nissan EV, which carries Zero Emissions branding, is let down slightly by some of its technology though.
The charging station locator, which utilises the satellite navigation system, was quite keen to tell us that there were no nearby charge points during one of our drives, and that we’d have to travel 40km to get to one.
A quick check of Google showed that to be incorrect, and we were in fact conveniently very close to one. When you consider that the LEAF is the kind of car you need to plan trips with, just to make sure you can charge, accuracy is important.
There are options for charging at home though, with the first being a standard power point, which should take around 14 hours to restore your shiny Nissan’s get up and go. Installing a proper DC charger in your garage will reduce that to about six hours.
And of course, there’s the fast charging stations set up around suburbia, which will charge the car in around 30 minutes, but uses an entirely different plug (Nissan, until recently, were the weird kid in the playground, choosing to use a different plug to everyone else).
The good technology in the LEAF, it has to be said, is very very good. Driver aids like the Intelligent Around View Monitor provide a virtual 360- degree bird’s eye view of your surrounds. The adaptive cruise control system is impressive too.
Autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warnings, and a host of other tech also provide reassurances that Nissan has your back when it comes to safety. Lane keep assist isn’t here though, and that’s a little disappointing.
Inside, you’ll find nice black leather accented seat trims, with ultra-suede inserts, topped off with some very toasty seat warmers and a heated steering wheel. There’s a full colour TFT display next to the speedo cluster, and a fine touchscreen infotainment system.
It’s here you’ll find Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite navigation, the usual radio goodness, and a 7-speaker Bose premium sound system. There’s even a sub-woofer in the boot.
There’s loads of boot space too. When you put the back seats down, you can fit an entire Bunnings store back there. And to stop it being too confusing with multiple models and grades, the LEAF comes in just one specification.
You can choose your exterior colour though, including Platinum, Ivory Pearl (with a black roof), Arctic White, Black Pearl, Magnetic Red and Gun Metallic. It’s priced at $49,990 plus on roads, and while that sounds a little steep, consider the petrol savings.
The average tank of petrol in a modern car will cost you around $70 and get you 600-700km. The LEAF will cost you around $10 for a full tank of kilowatts. On a like-for-like basis, $27 worth of fuel is the same as the $10 charge.
All those facts aside, we need to tell you that the Nissan LEAF is actually fun to drive, despite a 1,600kg kerb weight. It corners well, and eats up windy roads. There’s power on tap and no gearbox to get in the way either. So it just goes, at pace, when you need it.
As for comfort, the Nissan EV glides across the roads with a similar feeling to a cloud or when you lie down on a brand-new mattress. The ride control system automatically applies brakes and adjusts engine torque to balance your ride and respond to bumps.
Sure, it’s missing a little bit of technology and some things feel a bit cheap or clunky, but at the same time, buying a 2020 Nissan LEAF helps the burgeoning electric vehicle industry, and should lead to lower prices in the future.
Our test vehicle was provided by Nissan Australia. To find out more about the 2020 Nissan LEAF, contact your local Nissan dealer.