Electric Cars

2018 Nissan Leaf long-term update: One pedal (near) perfection

We're well and truly in the groove with our long-term Leaf, getting the hang of one-pedal driving and discovering that this thing has cargo space for days.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

We're four months and over 4,000 miles into our long-term affair with a 2018 Nissan Leaf, and while our initial drive out of New York City had us feeling a fair bit of weather-induced range anxiety, since then it's been pretty smooth sailing for our EV.

If you haven't been following along, for the 2018 model year the Leaf received a thorough redesign, finally ditching its familiar and frumpy exterior and getting just enough of an interior upgrade to keep it relevant. More importantly, though, the range got a significant boost, up to an EPA-rated 161 miles.

One of the more interesting changes for 2018, though, was the introduction of a feature the company calls E-Pedal. And after a few months of driving, I'm convinced this is how all EVs should drive.

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Don't touch the brakes

While EVs can be fun to drive, especially thanks to their generally remarkable amounts of torque and instant throttle responses, the game of maximizing range generally means that driving them in the real world is an exercise of patience. Sure, you could zip away from that light or squirt your way into that gap in traffic with the mere flick of your right ankle, but that kind of behavior will have your remaining range indicator plummeting like a rock.

And so EV owners need to find new ways to keep things interesting, and Nissan's E-Pedal has surprisingly added a fun bit of challenge to the tedium of commuting. When engaged, E-Pedal mode on the Leaf boosts the regenerative braking by a massive amount, meaning that when you lift off the gas the car slows down very aggressively. It'll even bring itself to a complete stop and hold itself there using the physical brakes, even on a hill, until you hit the gas again.

And, since the car is relying exclusively on the electric motor to do this braking, it means you get more electricity added back into the pack, extending your range. It'll make your brake pads last forever, too.

How is that fun? Well, the challenge is learning when to lift off the gas so that your car comes to a complete stop at the perfect point before a stop sign, red light or, indeed, the bumper of the stationary car ahead of you.

Achieving that level of mastery takes practice, but there are a few unfortunate variables that make it even more of a challenge. The first is that regenerative braking can only work if there's somewhere to put those electrons the motor creates when working like a generator. In most EVs, if the battery pack is full (or nearly so), the regenerative braking is dramatically reduced or disabled altogether.

With E-Pedal enabled, the Leaf uses the physical brakes to simulate regenerative braking when the pack is full. It's a clever trick that I confess I didn't notice myself until Nissan pointed it out. It does a good job, but doesn't quite match up perfectly. In my tests, a fully charged Leaf took about 20 feet further to come to a stop from 40 mph using only E-Pedal than one showing 70-percent remaining charge. So, remaining charge is one thing to factor in when deciding when to lift.

2018 Nissan Leaf

Engage E-Pedal for maximum regen fun.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Another aspect is learning the application curve of the regenerative brakes. When you initially lift off the accelerator, the car coasts for a few moments before engaging the regen. This, too, takes some time to develop a feel for, but having driven plenty of other EVs I'm very thankful for this minor detail. In my wife's Kia Soul EV, for example, the second you click off cruise control the car immediately starts to regen aggressively, which is a great way to turn your passengers green with nausea.

In the Leaf, a moment of coasting before the regen starts to engage makes for a much smoother overall experience for everyone else in the car. But, as the driver, you do need to be a bit careful, because if you apply the physical brakes right when the regen begins to engage you may find yourself lurching to a rather abrupt stop. Cue those cries of nausea.

So it's a bit nuanced, then, but I do genuinely enjoy E-Pedal driving in the 2018 Leaf. Those times when I lift off the gas at just the right moment and bring the car to a stop perfectly at the line without touching the brakes make me feel like a hypermiling hero -- even if I then proceed to floor the accelerator again once the light turns green.

leaf-table-hatch

I seriously thought I might have to borrow a truck to get this table home. Nope. Even fit a few pavers in there, too.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Unexpected cargo space

Another thing I've come to really appreciate in the 2018 Leaf is its ability to swallow a remarkable amount of cargo behind the rear seats. The car is officially rated at 23.6 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, but I've found that volume to be deceptively deep and wide, and I've repeatedly put that to good use.

One of its first cargo tasks was bringing home a new bee colony to replace one that sadly passed the winter before. The box this so-called nuc (or nucleus) colony came in isn't particularly large, a couple feet long and a foot tall, but it's definitely not something you want sliding around. In the Leaf, the nuc nestled perfectly down in the recessed portion of the hatch, delivering our new queen and her many cronies home without issue -- plus a lovely hanging planter, too.

nissan-leaf-bees

That white box contains approximately one zillion angry bees and one very precious queen. That, plus a hanging planter, fit nicely into our (filthy) Leaf. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Later, I needed to move a 42-inch, glass-topped table and its metal spindle base. The glass slid rolled behind the front seats and the base slipped in the hatch. I didn't even have to fold the seats down!

However, if there's one thing missing, it's the lack of a flat floor. The Chevrolet Bolt EV has a similarly deep space in the hatch, but uses a thin, removable divider to provide a flat surface that matches the height of the folded rear seats. Something like that would be a welcome addition here.

Still motoring

Over the 4,100 miles we've covered, we've used just over 1,000 kilowatts of electricity, providing an average of 41 miles per 100 kWh. That roughly equates to 80 mpge. We've seen much higher and much lower depending on conditions and will analyze the data in a future update, but with average temperatures around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit lately, we're routinely seeing real-world range on the car exceeding its 151-mile EPA rating.

We still have many months left with our 2018 Nissan Leaf SL, and plenty more opportunities to walk you through the finer points of living with one. Next time we'll delve into all the details on Nissan's ProPilot Assist and give you an update on how that battery pack is holding up. 

Update, August 31: Revised portion on regenerative braking after comment from Nissan.