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2018 Nissan Leaf takes a new tack in the EV wars

They've left the battery range arms race to others and lean on fresh tech and a fresh face.

The Nissan Leaf did for pure battery EVs what the Prius did for hybrids: It legitimized them. But it never looked real good doing so and didn't quite go far enough on a charge. The 2018 Leaf goes farther, looks better and is full of technology.

The new Leaf now goes 150 miles on a charge, up from a paltry 107 on the 2017 model and thanks to a 33% larger 40 Kwh battery. Still, the new Leaf doesn't come close to Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3 with ranges well over 200 miles. Nissan makes no apologies saying their range numbers are what customers have proven they need at a better price.

Charging the 2018 Leaf

  • 7.5 hours @ 220/240 volts
  • 35 hours @ 110/120 volts
  • 80% in 40 mins on DC fast charge

That said, Nissan will give Leaf a big battery option in the 2019 model, that should top 200 miles at a price that is still TBD.

The new Leaf's cabin tech does two main things differently: It eschews much of the excessive EV TMI that was characteristic of the original Leaf - how many charge and range stats do you really need? - and it brings in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in addition to Nissan services for nav, Google search and media. The voice button on the wheel will bring up Nissan voice recognition with a short press and Google voice rec with a long press.

On the road two things jump out: The new Leaf is very quiet, which is particularly important in electric cars that have no engine note to bury a lot of audible sins. I almost never detected disturbing gear gnashing or electric current whine that is common in many other electrified cars.

e-Pedal is Nissan's name for the switchable high motor regeneration mode that allows you to drive with almost no use of the brake. Their research in Japan, US and EU traffic indicates it can remove 90% your brake pedal use. It does work quite well, even though its not the only EV that does this. They just seem to have tuned it with finesse to earn the name e-Pedal. Note that the Leaf also has a B mode on the drive controller, which does a simpler version of high-regeneration and virtually brakeless driving. I think having both will be confusing to some buyers.

Other than that, driver characteristics were largely as you find in any EV: Pert, torquey and pleasant.

Advanced driver assist is centered on adaptive cruise with full stop & go combined with lane centering. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot & cross traffic alert, and bird's eye camera mode round out the assists. Never is the phrase "self-driving" mentioned.

A 2018 Nissan Leaf will run you between about $31,000 to $38,000 depending on which equipment level you choose and whether you option a further tech package to get all the good stuff. Those prices are before the $7,500 tax credit that, for now, you can apply for. 

Nissan is boldly avoiding the EV range arms race, choosing to offer a medium range missile rather than an ICBM. Given the new Leaf's attractive price for a car with styling that is no longer polarizing (a nice way of saying regrettable) and technology that is very good, the car is much more desirable. But even more than a comment on the Leaf, that assessment serves as evidence of how mature and nuanced the EV market has become in the last few years.