Range anxiety in electric vehicles is a very real thing. It's akin to the fear of your phone going dead, but instead of not being able to check Twitter for the latest hot takes, you're stranded on the side of the road -- hopefully with a charged phone so you can summon a tow truck. In the Nissan Leaf's case, an EPA-estimated driving range of 149 miles isn't miniscule, but you know what would be better to alleviate range worries? A range of 226 miles, which is where the Leaf Plus comes in.
Unlike 2011 when the first-generation Leaf went on sale, the EV landscape today is much different. The Nissan is no longer the only electric hatchback in town, with entries like the Chevrolet Bolt, Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV now in showrooms. Each boasts well over 200 miles of range, leaving the base Leaf and its 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack far in the rearview mirror.
The Leaf Plus officially arrived last year with a bigger 62-kilowatt-hour battery. In the base S Plus trim, it returns the previously mentioned 226 miles of range, but the better-equipped SV Plus and SL Plus models with more options that use up power receive an official rating of 215 miles. Without question, those numbers are a healthy improvement over the standard Leaf, but still lag behind the ranges of the Chevy (259 miles), Hyundai (258 miles) and Kia (239 miles).
Throughout a week with an SL Plus tester, the 215-mile rating seemed easily within reach. I never let the battery dip much below a 30% charge because of range anxiety but was comfortably on track to cover 215 miles of motoring using the electron-sipping Eco mode.
Activating the e-pedal system yields strong regenerative braking the moment you lift off the right pedal. The regen brakes are muscular enough to bring the Leaf Plus to a complete stop for a one-pedal driving experience. It's mildly entertaining driving it this way and satisfying when you navigate through town without touching the brake pedal. Being smooth and timing your throttle inputs correctly pays off as you cover more ground and hardly see the battery charge gauge drop.
When you do deplete the Plus, juicing it up with a 240-volt, Level 2 charger takes 11.5 hours. A neat thing about the Plus is that the standard charging cable handles both Level 1 and Level 2 charging. So, instead of spending money installing a Level 2 charger at home, owners can simply have a 240-volt outlet to plug into. As for Level 1 charging from a normal household outlet, that takes north of 30 hours.
For those who live near a 50-kW DC charger, the Leaf Plus can charge from 0 to 80% in an hour. If you're fortunate enough to have access to a less-common 100-kW DC charger, that'll cut charge time for a dead battery to 80% to 45 minutes.
The other welcome improvement accompanying the Plus' upsized battery is a power jump. The regular Leaf is no slouch with 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, but nobody will protest an increase to 214 hp and 250 lb-ft. All that thrust is transmitted immediately to the front wheels through a single-speed transmission getting the Leaf Plus to 60 mph in about 7 seconds, which is roughly a second quicker than the standard model. There are zero issues getting up to speed for expressway merging and passing maneuvers are a cinch. More than its 0-to-60 time, I'm impressed with how rapidly the Leaf Plus accelerates from 40 to 70 mph and beyond.
Straight-line slingshots are about the extent of the fun in the Leaf Plus from a performance standpoint. Depending on trim level, the Plus is about 340 pounds heavier than the base Leaf, and that doesn't help dynamics. There's some dive under braking and roll at turn in. The low-rolling-resistance 17-inch Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires squawk in protest when you throw it into a corner and stability control intervenes right away to get things in order.
Ride quality is, however, buttoned up and comfortable on the 50-series sidewall tires. Impacts from bigger bumps are still felt inside the Leaf's cabin. The handoff from regenerative to mechanical braking is seamless, with stopping force progressively increasing as you press the pedal. The steering is light and devoid of any feedback, but that's fine along with the less-than-stellar cornering chops. The Leaf isn't supposed to be a sports car.
If you're expecting the Leaf Plus to look much different from the standard Leaf, then you're going to be disappointed. Besides an additional blue accent strip on the front fascia and the Plus badge on the hatch beneath the trim level designation, it looks like every other Leaf. And that's not an entirely bad thing. The Leaf wears a fairly aggressive face with Nissan's signature V-motion grille, subtle side character lines and five-spoke wheels with a contrasting silver face and gray insets.
Inside, there's nothing to write home about, either. It features the Leaf's high seating position, blue accent stitching here and there and plenty of hard plastic making up the whole dash and portions of the door panels. Fortunately, the plastics are nicely finished, and strategic spots are wrapped in vinyl and padded, such as the armrests, the middle of the door panels and the side of the center console, where you might rest your knees.
Space in the Nissan's front- and second-row seats is serviceable for most adults and there are enough cubbies to stash items throughout the cabin. The Leaf can also move quite a bit of cargo, with 23.6 cubic feet on offer behind the rear seats, which grows to 30 cubic feet with the second row folded forward.
Quarterbacking infotainment in the Leaf is the NissanConnect system with an 8-inch touchscreen that doesn't have the most vibrant graphics. It's a feature-rich system with a nice Bose audio setup, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In the SL Plus, it also has onboard navigation, which often takes a little bit of time to calculate routes.
On the active safety technology front, all Leaf models come standard with forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert with rear automatic braking. On my SL Plus test car, Nissan's ProPilot driver assistance tech is also included, using adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist for partially automated, hands-on-the-wheel motoring that works incredibly well in traffic.
I always try to keep my builds as budget-conscious as possible, but with the Leaf Plus, I have to spring for the SL trim. Optioning the midgrade SV will have me adding a couple of option packages to get must-haves like heated seats and LED headlights, bumping the price tag to near-SL levels. Splurging on the range-topping model costs $44,825, including $925 for destination. Tack on the $695 two-tone black and white paint job like on the car pictured here and $195 floor and cargo mats, and that brings the bottom line of my ideal car to $45,715. Sadly, that's not much more affordable than this $46,045 tester.
The 2020 Nissan Leaf Plus will set you back $39,125 to start, which is more than the $37,890 Chevy Bolt and $38,365 Hyundai Kona Electric, but more affordable than the $40,210 Kia Niro EV. All three of the Leaf's competitors offer a bigger dose of style, are more engaging to drive and, most importantly, offer longer driving ranges.
What the Leaf has working in its favor is a sizable list of standard and available safety tech features, and the fact that it's the best-selling EV to date has surely created some Nissan loyalists. But to anyone new to the EV world with no previous allegiance to brand or model, the Leaf Plus likely isn't the best option in the affordable EV hatchback segment.