The Nissan Leaf has been on sale since 2011, and as a result of being one of the first mass-produced EVs on the market, it's consequently the world's best-selling electric automobile. But these days, the competition is stronger than ever.
When the Leaf hit the scene, EVs were few and far between. Now, however, Nissan's electric hatch has to battle a wider range of competitors, with cars like the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV (and upcoming Soul EV) and the infamous Tesla Model 3 all boasting well over 200 miles of range.
To better combat this growing list of players, Nissan's EV gains a longer-distance variant for 2019: the Leaf Plus. With as much as 226 miles of range on offer in an easy-to-like package, Nissan hopes this extended-play Leaf will only broaden its EV's already strong appeal.
What separates the Plus from other Leaf models is its battery. The Leaf Plus is powered by a 62-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that sends 214 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque through a single-speed transmission and on to the front wheels. That's in contrast to the base Leaf, which uses a 40-kilowatt battery, with 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet.
Despite having all its torque available from just zero rpm, if you stomp on the accelerator from a standstill, you won't encounter any "ticket me" wheelspin off the line. Instead, the Leaf cleanly and effortlessly pulls away from traffic. Nissan says it'll take about 7 seconds for the Plus to hit 60 miles per hour -- roughly a second quicker than the standard Leaf. OK, so the Leaf Plus isn't as insane as a Tesla Model 3 Performance, with its 3.2-second 0-to-60 sprint time, but the Nissan's acceleration still feels plenty urgent. This is especially true when you're accelerating at speed -- punching the throttle when you're already doing 35 mph reveals a huge thrust of forward momentum. Sure, electric propulsion may lack the piquant visceral boisterousness of a blaring V8, but there's nothing quite like the way electrons can move a car forward.
The Leaf is equally good at stopping, and offers one-pedal driving characteristics if that's more your style. The E-Pedal essentially turns the Leaf's regenerative braking up to 11 so that the regen can slow the car all the way to a stop without the driver needing to use the brake pedal. One-pedal driving is easy to get used to, and it's fun for a little while. But if you're like me and prefer a more traditional braking experience, the Leaf blends regenerative and mechanical braking nicely -- there's no harsh transition between the two.
The Leaf Plus' steering is not one of its best touch points. Sure, the Leaf goes where it's pointed, but if you want feedback or any kind of road feel, short of opening the door and touching the asphalt, you're flat out of luck.
That said, the Leaf Plus is still mildly entertaining to drive. With the weight of the heavy battery sitting underneath the passenger compartment to keep the center of gravity super low, the Leaf handles twisty roads pretty well. It exhibits barely any body roll, with controlled cornering characteristics. Still, the Chevrolet Bolt EV is more engaging to drive, as are the Leaf's Korean competitors.
For a starting price of $30,885 (including $895 for destination and before tax credits), the standard Nissan Leaf will give you an EPA-estimated driving range of 150 miles. The Leaf Plus carries a $37,445 starting price, and lifts that range all the way up to 226 miles. Higher trims of the extended-range Leaf actually decrease overall range because of their added, power-sapping options. In the case of my top-of-the line SL tester, the EPA-estimated range is only 215 miles.
The Leaf Plus' 65 to 76 miles of range over its standard-range version certainly helps me feel more at ease driving around Los Angeles. Once you've tuckered out the EV hatch, it takes 11.5 hours to fill the battery using 240-volt, Level 2 charging, which is pretty reasonable if you plug in during the early evening hours and let it juice up overnight. Level 1 charging, or 110-volt power from standard household outlets, takes more than 30 hours.
A huge advantage of the Leaf Plus is that its standard charging cable can handle both Level 1 and Level 2 charging without you having to spend up to thousands of dollars installing a Level 2 charger at home. Instead, all you need is a 240-volt outlet, and once you plug in, you're off to the races.
If you need an even faster electron fill-up, a trip to a 100-kW DC charger can get the Leaf Plus from 0 to 80% in 45 minutes, although that kind of fast-charging is still hard to find. Taking the Leaf Plus to a more common 50-kW DC charger will get its battery to 80% in just an hour.
As far as I could tell by weighing my near-200 miles of testing against the Leaf Plus' indicated remaining range, the EV seemed fully game for reaching its 215-mile maximum had I let the battery drain all the way.
When it comes to interior dimensions, thankfully, there's no difference between the Leaf and Leaf Plus. With the battery taking up space underneath the cabin, you and your passengers sit high, but there's plenty of room and comfort for everyone. Cabin materials aren't the greatest, but there's lots of cargo space out back, with 23.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That's significantly better than the Chevrolet Bolt EV's 16.9 cubic feet. The Bolt, however, boasts 56.6 cubic feet of space with its second row folded. The Leaf Plus only expands to 30 cubic feet with its second row down.
The Leaf Plus comes with plenty of standard tech, including an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio and a 7-inch digital instrument cluster. My loaded SL tester features embedded navigation, HD radio and a seven-speaker Bose premium audio system.
Automatic emergency braking is the only standard driver-assistance feature. My well-optioned tester at $44,270 also includes Nissan's ProPilot system, which combines adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist to form one of the best partially automated, hands-on-wheel assistance systems available. For me, ProPilot almost makes traffic fun. My Leaf Plus' other driver-assistance features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera and automatic high beams.
The Leaf PLus in its top SL trim line starts at $43,445, and features niceties like leather upholstery, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. In the interest of economy, though, I'd forgo all that and step down to the midtier SV at $39,405. I'd then opt for the $1,800 technology package that includes many of the aforementioned driver-assistance features. For me, the most important among those driver aids is ProPilot.
My tester comes in a $695 two-tone Pearl White Tricoat with a Super Black roof, but I'd skip paying extra for that hue, and just get an all-Super Black car instead. I'm not keen on the Leaf Plus' exterior design, so, aside from saving money, the darker color hides lines that don't really agree with me. As I'd spec it, we're looking at $41,205 out the door -- about three grand less than my tester.
I like the Leaf Plus, but when I consider other offerings in the segment, I have my reservations. For almost $4,000 less than how I've specced the Leaf (before incentives), I could have a more fun-to-drive Chevrolet Bolt EV with 238 miles of range, but I'd have to live without adaptive cruise control, which would be a painful omission in workday traffic. The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range is also more fun to drive than the Leaf, and on top of that, is still about $3,000 cheaper, even with Autopilot added. It also doesn't hurt that the Model 3 looks a lot sleeker than the Leaf Plus. Even with Tesla's uncertain future as a consideration, the Model 3 is the EV I'd pick.
But let's not forget about the Korean newcomers: the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Kia Niro EV. The Kona comes out to $45,695 when specced in its loaded Ultimate trim, which includes adaptive cruise control. While about $1,500 more than my Leaf Plus tester, the Kona offers more features, while also boasting a 258-mile range. The Niro will offer 239 miles of range, but should proffer the same features as the Kona for a price also competitive with the Leaf Plus. It's worth mentioning, though, that the Leaf is available nationwide. The Hyundai and Kia EVs aren't.
The Nissan Leaf may be the best-selling EV of all time, and the Plus' additions make it more appealing than ever. But for folks who are new to the electric vehicle scene, many of the Nissan's competitors offer more fun, more style and -- most importantly -- more range. The Plus might be a better Leaf, but it isn't necessarily the best affordable EV anymore.