A bigger battery pack gives Nissan's likable Leaf more power and a longer driving range.
With its usable real-world range, huge smattering of safety tech and relatively affordable starting price, the Nissan Leaf is a solid option for an affordable electric vehicle. As of now, some 380,000 examples have been sold globally since the Leaf first launched in 2010. So how do you broaden the appeal of such a well-liked EV? Give it more of what matters: specifically, power and range.
Enter the Leaf Plus, which arrives in US showrooms this March. Sold alongside the standard Leaf, its bigger battery offers gains in both driving range and onboard power, and Nissan's added some improved tech and charging features, as well.
First, a quick point of clarification. When the Leaf Plus debuted at CES 2019, Nissan called it Leaf E+. This name will still be used in markets like Europe and Japan, but here in the US, it'll just be Leaf Plus -- spelled out and everything. As with the standard Leaf, three models will be available: S Plus, SV Plus and SL Plus.
The only way to tell a Plus from a standard Leaf is to look very, very closely. The long-range models have Plus badges below the trim level designation on the hatch, and there are small light-blue accents on the front bumper, matching the colored strip that adorns the rear valance of all Leaf models. There's an "E+" badge on the quick-charge port cap, too. But unless you're the kind of monster who just goes around and opens the charging door on every Leaf you see, you'll never notice this change.
The interior changes are similarly minor, which is both good and bad. The Plus is still as quiet and comfortable as any other Leaf, but the overall cabin design leaves a lot to be desired. There's no forgetting the Leaf's economy-car roots when you touch the hard plastics on the door panels and dashboard, or when you look at the overly simplistic center stack layout. That said, this interior treatment isn't unusual. The Chevy Bolt is awash with low-quality materials, and hard plastics make up huge chunks of the Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro EV interiors.
Infotainment tech gets a small hardware upgrade by way of an 8-inch touchscreen, compared with the 7-inch unit you'll find inside the standard Leaf. (Nissan won't confirm if the rest of the Leaf range will get this, but I would assume so.) This slightly larger display runs the company's NissanConnect infotainment system, which, while rich with features and content, looks a generation or two behind the times. The reconfigurable icons appear low-res compared with more modern infotainment setups, and using the embedded navigation of this SL tester is a relatively clunky affair. Happily, every Leaf Plus gets Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, both of which offer a more visually appealing, easier sat-nav experience.
The Leaf Plus' 62-kilowatt-hour battery pack serves two main purposes, the most obvious of which is increased range. While the standard, 40-kWh Leaf has an EPA-rated 151-mile range, Nissan estimates a 226-mile range for the Plus. As always, your mileage may vary, and I'll need a longer test to try and eke out every mile of usable range. But other Roadshow editors have regularly achieved the 151-mile range in our long-term 40-kWh Leaf (in the right weather conditions, anyway), so I'm hopeful the Plus will be a similarly anxiety-free experience.
All Leaf Plus models come with a ChaDeMo quick-charge port (the 40-kWh Leaf only fits this to SV and SL trims), as well as the ability to take advantage of higher-output 100-kW DC charging. There aren't many 100-kW chargers in the US right now, but should you find one, you'll be able to get an 80 percent charge in just 45 minutes before the charging rate slows down to protect the battery's health.
Otherwise, more commonplace 50-kW DC charging gives you an 80 percent charge in 60 minutes. Plug in to a 240-volt outlet like most people, however, and it'll take 11.5 hours to fully charge a Leaf Plus. In an effort to make charging easier, Nissan provides a portable Level 1/Level 2 charging cable with every Leaf Plus. In other words, if you already have a 240-volt outlet in your garage, you can plug in without having to purchase a wall box -- a huge savings over some competing models.
The other benefit of the 62-kWh battery pack is a healthy increase in power. Where the 40-kWh Leaf produces 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, the Plus puts out 214 hp and 250 lb-ft, respectively. With all that thrust delivered instantaneously through a single-speed reduction-gear transmission, the Leaf Plus is decently quick off the line. Under full-throttle launches, the Leaf Plus accelerates to 60 miles per hour in around 7 seconds, about a second quicker than a 40-kWh model. This added power helps with passing maneuvers, too. The 40-kWh Leaf is no slouch, but overtaking slow-moving cars on the highway is much easier in the Plus.
On the other hand, the Plus' bigger battery pack means the Leaf has a lot more weight to lug around -- 347 pounds, in fact. The Leaf's low center of gravity means it has a stable, planted feeling on the road, with minimal body roll while cornering. However, the superlight, somewhat vague steering doesn't accurately communicate the car's weight to the driver. The Leaf isn't bad to drive, per se, but the Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona Electric offer a more rewarding experience behind the wheel.
The standard Leaf's e-pedal carries over for Plus duty, and the experience is no different here. Activate the e-pedal and you'll feel strong regenerative braking when you lift off the throttle, which can slow the car to a complete stop. At that point, the mechanical brakes activate to hold the car in place. The Leaf's e-pedal is a bit nuanced, and takes a bit of skill to get just right. But once you've got the hang of it, you can drive for long periods of time without ever having to touch the brake pedal.
Nissan's ProPilot driver assistance tech is standard on the top-trim Leaf SL Plus (on the 40-kWH, it's part of the optional SL tech package). ProPilot combines lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control for partially automated, hands-on-the-wheel driving. On the drive from Nissan's event hotel in San Diego back to my home in Los Angeles, ProPilot does a lot of the heavy lifting on Interstate 5, smoothly speeding up or slowing down as I change lanes in traffic. In stop-and-go situations, ProPilot is a godsend. I can't imagine buying a Leaf -- or many other new Nissans -- without it.
2019 Leaf Plus pricing isn't available as of this writing, but it's fair to assume it'll command several thousand dollars more than the standard EV's $29,990 starting price (not including destination, and before federal and local incentives). That'll put it right in line with other long-range, affordable electric cars like the Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona Electric, not to mention Kia's upcoming Niro and Soul EVs.
Nothing about the Plus feels all that different from the regular Leaf, and that's exactly the point. After all, Nissan isn't looking to reinvent its EV package. With more power and more range, the Plus simply makes Leaf ownership more accessible.
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