Electric Cars

2018 Nissan Leaf long-term wrap-up: A year of EV life zaps by

12 months and thousands of miles later, we've got a good feel for how it is to live the electric life.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Ignore, for a moment, the environmental case for buying an electric car.  If there's anything our year with this 2018 Nissan Leaf taught us, it's that there are plenty of other reasons to take the EV plunge. Over the course of thousands of miles and in all four seasons, we found many reasons to love the life electric. 

Naturally, we also uncovered a few caveats.

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Our loaded-up $38,115 top-shelf SL model arrived in April of 2018, resplendent in Deep Blue Pearl paint. While not as audacious and controversial in appearance as its predecessor, we instantly found the second-gen Leaf's newly familial look to be far more pleasant and balanced, a positive impression that lasted all year.

Throughout our twelve months, thousands of kilowatt hours consumed and nearly 8,000 miles logged in New York and Michigan, we did just about everything you'd do with your daily driver. We commuted in the Leaf, we went on Home Depot runs, we schlepped through deep snow, and we even made this hatchback the official shuttle of our editor-in-chief's informal cider donut comparison test last fall. 

Throughout it all, our Nissan Leaf worked flawlessly. Without many of the fluids to change of conventional gas cars, we didn't end up even needing to visit the dealer. (There's a basic 7,500-mile complimentary multi-point inspection, but we turned in our tester right as that was coming due). In the spirit of full disclosure, a tire rotation would've normally been in order, but we swapped out the stock 17-inch Michelin Energy Saver all-seasons for a set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 winter tires when the weather turned foul, so our little front driver was covered there, too.

Maintenance intervals have certainly gotten fewer and farther between for traditional internal-combustion automobiles, but battery electric vehicle ownership promises even more infrequent  visits to the dealer, and our Leaf delivered in spades. If you hate going to dealers, well, an EV like the Leaf might just be your golden ticket.

Any reliability-related frustrations with our Leaf came not from our test car, but from the charging network we plugged into. While our EIC and Yours Truly both have Level 2 charging docks in our home garages, we did experience an infrastructural headache when a pay-for-juice Greenlots quick charger failed to work during a snowy drive home after the delivery of the car last April. "Clearly Nissan bears no fault there, but I present this story as an example of the sorts of compromises an EV early adopter will need to consider when road-tripping," said Tim Stevens. I experienced a similar episode with a ChargePoint station in Ann Arbor, but fortunately, I was able to find another one nearby, mitigating the inconvenience.

2018 Nissan Leaf long-term

The Nissan Leaf's cabin proved both durable and easy to use.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Our man Stevens had considerably better luck during warmer months, noting that the car "...delivered solid range, meeting or exceeding its 151-mile EPA rating." Most of my time with our long-term Leaf came during the teeth of a hard Michigan winter, so range predictably nosedived in the bitter cold. "Depending on how much freeway driving was called for, I saw driving range immediately ebb to as little as 72 miles -- a 52-percent drop-off," though that was admittedly when the car was parked out overnight in zero-degree temperatures.  

If you've got a longer commute, that kind of range degradation will give you cause for pause, but easy steps like ensuring I scored a full charge overnight helped mitigate range loss, and parking it in the garage and automatically preheating the car while it was still plugged in using the app made life easier, too. Finally, if you've got an L2 charger at your home or workplace, the benefits of not having to stand outside at gas stations during winter are substantial.

Our 2018 Leaf's 40kWh battery pack doesn't exactly provide class-leading range, but it is among the least-expensive EVs out there by way of compensation (A 2019 model starts at $30,885 delivered before incentives). 

The cure for this -- and any potential wintertime range blues -- appears to be the new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus, which features a larger 62-kWh pack for a much healthier 226 miles of range (higher, heavier trims see range cut to 215). Pricing for the standard S Plus trim, which comes with more power and more standard equipment, starts at $37,445 delivered. If you live in climates where snow is a reality, we'd suggest giving the Plus a long, hard look. At its elevated price point, however, the Plus also starts to crowd models like Kia's excellent new 2019 Niro EV ($39,495 delivered), a slightly larger crossover with 239 miles of range.

The second-gen Leaf offers a couple bits of tech that we were particularly interested in testing over the long term -- E-Pedal and ProPilot Assist. We found a lot to appreciate with both. E-Pedal, a driver-selectable option, adds strong enough regenerative braking that in more than 90% of daily driving, we never needed to touch the brake pedal, we just lifted off the accelerator and glided to halt -- even on hills. It's important to note that we did observe some variation in brake-pedal feel depending on the battery's state of charge, but the variation was never unpredictable enough to become genuinely annoying. In fact, E-Pedal was generally fun to use, while serving to maximize range.

The Nissan Leaf's electric powertrain produces 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

ProPilot Assist -- Nissan's suite of hands-on driver assistance that enables adaptive cruise control with lane-centering tech, also proved beneficial. Easy to use and pleasingly consistent about staying mid-lane, this Level 2 system performed well when it had proper lane markings, and even did an admirable job with faded painted markings, too. We didn't have a ton of bumper-to-bumper, commute-style office schleps in the Leaf, but whenever we did, the Leaf made our lives genuinely easier.

One thing we didn't care much for, however, was the Leaf's lane-departure warning system, which vibrates the steering wheel when it detects the driver is wandering out of his or her lane. As I noted in my February update, "... the motor responsible for the vibration is so loud that passengers notice and react regardless, and the quality of the sound itself feels decidedly subpremium, like some sort of overseas telephone busy signal." This feels like a relatively easy fix, so hopefully Nissan will address it in due course.

The second-generation Leaf's conventional face is considerably more attractive than its awkwardly styled predecessor.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Overall, we found living the Leaf life to be a far easier adjustment than one might think. The car's ample torque from a dead stop made short work of the worst stoplight-to-stoplight action we could find, and the Nissan's (relatively) narrow tires and electric power's inherently smooth, linear power delivery made winter driving a doddle. 

The Leaf didn't just excel on the urban loop, either, it did well on the freeway, too, where it displayed surprising passing power and commendably low wind noise. (The latter is particularly important, yet hard to manage in an EV, as there's no typical IC powertrain noise to blot out those currents). The aforementioned ProPilot Assist really worked in the Leaf's favor here, as well.

The Nissan Leaf earned our twelve-month seal of approval.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

At the top of this story, I asked you to momentarily set aside the notion of any eco benefits conferred by buying electric. Of course, it's both impossible and unnecessary to do so, as making the decision to buy an EV like this Leaf does have those ramifications. 

For many prospective buyers, going greener is reason enough to deliberately shop cars like the Nissan Leaf seen here. In our estimation, though, there are plenty of other reasons to join the EV club, too, including the convenience of passing up gas stations and service bays, the torque-rich nature of electric power, low noise and fun-to-drive dynamics. 

As it turns out, making the switch to electric might just be easier -- and more entertaining -- than you might think.