Auto Tech

Nissan's E-4orce tech wants to make EVs quicker, sportier and safer

Nissan's latest innovation might not seem too wild at first, but it will bring some serious benefits to future EVs.

If only every Leaf came with these wheels.
Andrew Krok/Roadshow

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

It's not always about the car. When Nissan took me out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during CES 2020, the company's reps presented me with a pretty radical-looking Nissan Leaf. But the point of schlepping several miles from the glitz and glamor of casinos isn't to drive the car -- it's to assess the brand-new tech hiding underneath the body.

This dark-gray Leaf, decked out in a special livery and rolling on an awesome set of Volk Racing TE-37 wheels, packs something Nissan calls E-4orce (which I don't think it realized would be pronounced "e-four-orce"). At its most basic, E-4orce is a twin-motor layout for EVs that puts a single electric motor on each axle, effectively granting the vehicle all-wheel drive.

But it's more than just an extra motor, which is something other automakers have been doing for years. The system is a joining of three different areas of expertise. In addition to the electric-drive research that helped bring about Nissan's first EVs, E-4orce also integrates all-wheel-control technology gleaned from years of building AWD performance cars like the GT-R, in addition to chassis-control tech. The three combine to spawn a system that's not just about performance.

There's definitely plenty of performance to discuss with E-4orce -- more on that later -- but this is about more than just improving a car's acceleration figures. The goal here is not only to boost the physical forces at play, but also to improve the car's comfort and add a little extra peace of mind when the weather starts to turn.

To demonstrate how E-4orce works from all these angles, Nissan put together four separate tests through which I'd run the special Leaf. I also drove a standard Nissan Leaf Plus, off which the E-4orce car is based, for a little extra context.

Test 1: Acceleration

The first test is a basic acceleration run to show the performance differences between the Leaf Plus and the Leaf equipped with E-4orce. As you might expect, the standard Leaf Plus performed as well as it could on the acceleration test, shoving off with that electric torque and charging its way to about 60 mph with little drama.

The E-4orce, by comparison, felt like getting into a straight-up sports car. The engineers made sure to tune the electric motors for maximum responsiveness, so it came as quite the surprise when the car responded to my input before I'd even finished merging accelerator and firewall.

The acceleration itself was mighty impressive, too, launching forward with some serious haste. Then again, with a maximum net output of 304 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, of course this thing is going to haul some ass. Nissan didn't time the runs, but considering the Leaf Plus hits 60 in less than 7 seconds, I'd estimate the e-Force Leaf's 0-to-60 time somewhere in the low 5-second range, if not a hair quicker.

Test 2: Head-bobbing

The second test was all about improving passenger comfort. Electric vehicles can decelerate relatively rapidly, especially if the driver is trying to one-pedal it, and this movement can lead to unwanted head and body movements in the vehicle.

E-4orce attempts to improve this by using the individual controls at each electric motor to soften those movements. To test this, I drove both Leaf vehicles up to about 25 mph, then lifted and decelerated to about 10 mph multiple times. In the standard Leaf, the head-bobbing was plenty obvious, as the car's nose dips pretty heavily.

In the E-4orce Leaf, though, everything was much smoother. Deceleration did pitch the nose down, but it wasn't nearly as severe as in the standard Leaf, despite taking about the same amount of time, and my head stayed far steadier with the electric motors trying to cancel out the physics at play. All weight transfer will confer some movement to this end, but it was pretty impressive to see how technology can help mitigate it.

The E-4orce Leaf is a Japanese-spec model with right-hand drive and a special screen with diagrams explaining the actions of each wheel and where the torque is being delivered.


Test 3: Slalom

And we're back to dynamics. Nissan set up a 35-to-45-mph slalom meant to highlight how E-4orce's controls at each axle and wheel can improve the way the car handles in turns. The trip through the slalom in the Leaf Plus went as expected -- it handled decently well, exhibiting a moderate amount of understeer as I sawed at the wheel and tried to get as close to each cone as possible.

In the E-4orce Leaf, I was given two attempts at the slalom. The first was without any of the wheel control at play, letting the E-4orce Leaf act a little more like the standard Leaf Plus.

The real change came when the full control systems were up and running. The car definitely felt different, exhibiting more agility, allowing me a little more precision as I turned the wheel to either side. I can't imagine too many EV owners will be tackling slaloms on the regular, but it's nice to know that performance and comfort are being delivered in equal doses with this new system.

Test 4: Constant-radius wet turn

The last test was a bit of a blend between dynamics and comfort. Nissan set up a constant-radius turn completely soaked in water, to highlight the fact that E-4orce can reduce understeer in bad weather, improving both the way the car drives and its predictability in precipitation.

I went through first in the Leaf Plus. Understeer showed up almost immediately -- with the steering locked in at a constant angle, the car continued to push itself off the intended driving line as the front-wheel-drive setup struggled to maintain traction while accelerating through the turn.

Like in the slalom test, I ran the wet turn twice in the E-4orce Leaf, once with the control systems activated and once without. When the systems were disabled, the Leaf exhibited a smidge more control than the Leaf Plus, but it still exhibited understeer through the turn, meaning that staying the course would require a bit more hand and footwork.

With everything enabled, it was almost like taking a different car through the course. Some mechanical noises from under the body helped reinforce the fact that different things were happening at each individual wheel as the E-4orce Leaf cruised through the corner with far less understeer. Predictable control can spell the difference between staying on the road and hanging out in a ditch, and E-4orce's systems definitely boost that sense of security.

The lack of wet-weather understeer is impressive compared with the standard Leaf Plus.


Down to brass tacks

Nissan's E-4orce system definitely lives up to its promises. Not only does it improve performance dramatically -- at least in the case of the Leaf -- it produces tangible benefits in terms of both handling and safety. That should make it easy enough to market, and in all likelihood, the system could be marketed two separate ways (prioritizing performance and prioritizing safety) to point out its broad appeal.

For now, the Leaf is the most likely candidate to benefit from E-4orce, but Nissan wasn't willing to admit when or where this system would end up in production. As the automaker rolls out more electric vehicles, there's a pretty good chance we'll see this underlying technology, but for now, we'll have to just wait with the knowledge that when it does arrive, it'll be worth the wait.