Half a million Tesla Model 3 reservation holders might disagree, but the reveal of the new 2018 Nissan Leaf is the biggest electric vehicle news of the year. The reason is not that the Leaf is a more important car than the Model 3 – we won't get into that debate here – but the recent first delivery event of the Model 3 was more a celebration of what we learned last year than a lot of new information. With the long-awaited debut of the 2018 Nissan Leaf, though, we have the world's leading electric vehicle automaker declaring how it will move forward with its second-gen product. The company has thought long and hard – too long, for some – about where to take the world's best-selling EV. We finally can see what's been decided.
On a preview trip to Japan to discuss the new Leaf earlier this year, Motor1 learned that there will be two main Leaf models with different ranges thank to two new batteries, a 40- and a 60-kWh pack. We'll have to wait a while for the official EPA numbers, but the current estimate is that the standard, 40-kWh pack should offer 150 miles. The e-Plus 60-kWh Leaf should offer over 200 miles. Here's the interesting thing, though: Nissan isn't going to talk much about that e-Plus model today at the simultaneous reveal of the new Leaf in Japan and Las Vegas. Instead, the focus for the U.S. market is on the price, which starts at an impressive $29,990, or $690 less than the current 2017 Leaf.
There's a lot to think about in that decision, and you can see some of the reasoning in new Leaf's design. Instead of the instantly identifiable front end, the new EV has been toned down to something resembling a normal car. When Nissan designed the original Leaf, the "frog" headlights were needed to reduce NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) of the quiet electric vehicle. Since the New Leaf is better on all those counts, the front end can look more normal, with way lower headlights, and the aero is improved as well.
Before we get too much into the new Leaf, let's put Nissan's EV efforts into perspective. Even with those frog eyes, even with a totally new kind of powertrain (in 2010, especially, when the Leaf first arrived), and even with a substantial cost premium over your average consumer hatchback, Nissan has managed to sell around 280,000 Leafs since it launched (113,282 of those in the U.S. through August 2017). That means the Leaf is the world's best-selling electric vehicle, and so we have to think that the company knows a little something about marketing electric drive to the masses. The big question among EV advocates for the last two or three years – as the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 went from ideas to actual vehicles – was whether Nissan was getting complacent from resting on its laurels or if it would continue to show EV leadership with the second-gen Leaf.
The fact that the new Leaf will eventually come with two different range options, and that Nissan isn't going to be talking much about the longer, better one today, will be delicious comment fodder down below, I'm sure, but Nissan is nothing if not confident in its plan here. After all, even after the Bolt was released, the current Leaf enjoyed 10 months of year-over-year sales increases. It's Nissan's opinion that this increase is because the Bolt isn't directly siphoning away Leaf buyers, but brings new people to the EV segment. To scare them away with talk of a better model next year isn't in Nissan's sales interests, even if EV fans really in the know will have to decide if they want to wait for the e-Plus or jump into the 2018 Leaf today with all of its cool tech upgrades (we'll get to those in a moment). By simply announcing a new Leaf with a massively updated design, more range than the current model, and a lower price, that should get the people outside the EV bubble talking. As a Nissan representative said in Japan, "Affordability is the consequence of democratizing the EV."
New Design For A New Message
The Leaf's new, less controversial look will help expand the pie, too. With the first Leaf, the design had to communicate that it was part of a revolution. That has been accomplished, Nissan feels, so now the design can communicate that the New Leaf is part of the whole company. That means Rogue-ish tail lights, a front end that won't distract you on the road, and an overall larger size (35 millimeters longer, 10 mm higher, 20 mm wider, and the center of gravity has been lowered by five mm) than the current model. The front end is pulled together by the "ice cube grille," which is flush on the outside for aerodynamic purposes, but looks kind of 3D looking – and it hides the radar sensors for some of the EV's new tech (again, we'll get to that in a minute).
Aside from the smoother front end, the big design change in the 2018 Leaf is the two-tone color scheme and floating roof thanks to a black C-pillar. The two-tone look creates a nice flow to the curvy lines from the top to the taillights to the rear of the vehicle and back up again. On the side, the 2018 Leaf's zero-emission badges have been placed higher to emphasize the EV feel, but they're not overbearing in any way.
The updated design has had an impact on the new Leaf's practicality, as well. The charge ports are angled upwards, so you no longer need to bend down to get the cable to attach. From the inside, the Leaf feels right, but not overly impressive. The materials in the examples we were able to sit in were not cheap, but not luxurious, either. There will, of course, be different trim levels that Nissan will talk more about when the 2018 Leaf gets closer to going on sale. There isn't a Grand Canyon's worth of space in the rear seats, but it's plenty big.
In another nod to practicality, many of the buttons that affect the way the car drives (like selecting between Eco Mode or tuning e-Pedal on or off) are grouped together between the seats, near the drive selector. Other information and controls are clustered in a bright 7-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash (this screen is smaller on the lower-cost S trim).
If you think Nissan could have gone with a more aggressive look with the new Leaf, know that the design team did create an "antagonist" model, which was a different full-scale version that showed another direction the New Leaf could have gone in. Cars don't exist in vacuums, though, and since the new Leaf is not going to continue to be an "only child" in Nissan's EV line-up, the toned-down version won out.
Some, Not All, Of The Tech
All right, let's get to the tech. This is the part of the new Leaf that Nissan has been most anxious to tease and talk about in the build-up to today's reveal, so a lot of this will be old news to regular readers. The highlight is the first use of ProPilot in a U.S. vehicle. Basically an advanced adaptive cruise control system in its current state, ProPilot can keep the Leaf centered in a highway lane (once you've engaged the system in a straightaway so that it has recognizes the markings) and stop automatically in the case of an emergency thanks to things like blind spot warning and moving object detection.
The U.S. and Japanese models will have slightly different specs here, since the roads are different in each country. The U.S. won't get the car's cool self-parking technology just yet, for example, which means we will miss out – for now – on seeing the car park itself nose or tail first, or even parallel park, depending on what you tell the car to do. If there are multiple open spots, you can set the target manually. At least the nav system has improved in-vehicle search to find charging stations.
What's probably unsurprising, but also a bit of a tease, is that (from what we learned in Japan – this isn't mentioned in today's releases, so it may change) is that only the two top trims, SV and SL, will offer ProPilot in the tech packages. In the lower, S trim level, ProPilot will not be an option. If you can afford the higher trim levels, than you can take advantage of Nissan's main message about its new car-assisted driving tech: using ProPilot reduces the stress of driving. At least the any-speed, automatic emergency braking will be standard on all models.
ProPilot's "hey, let's make that drive easier" vibe is complemented nicely by the Leaf's new e-Pedal driving style. When engaged, e-Pedal is basically a strong regenerative braking tool that makes one-pedal driving absurdly easy. As anyone who's driven the old Mini E or a Tesla can attest to, one-pedal driving is a lot of fun, and it works quite well in the 2018 Leaf. After the expected push-button start, you quickly learn how to step down on the accelerator to move forward (or backward, as e-Pedal also works in reverse) and let up to come to a stop. Given all of these enhancements, driving the new Leaf is not going to be a challenge for most people in most situations.
But is it fun? Yes, from what we could experience. Despite being allowed to test the 2018 Leaf on a high-speed oval that was as empty as I imagine a North Korean highway to be most of the time, we were not allowed to actually drive fast ourselves.
What we did learn is that when you do step on the go pedal, you get slightly better performance than you do in the current Leaf. The 0-100 kmh time has been cut by 15 percent, and the 60-100 kmh sprint was reduced by 30 percent. The motor is the same 110-kW unit as the current Leaf, but the inverter has been improved, so you get more power to the wheels. Maximum motor output is 147 horsepower or 236 pound-feet of torque. The 2018 Leaf is software limited to a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour), same as the current Leaf. Looks like the leaked specs we saw a few weeks ago were mostly accurate.
Speaking of speed, when it comes to fast-charging the battery, Nissan remains dedicated to CHAdeMO, and has no plans for CCS. With the 40-kWh model, plugging into a CHAdeMO station will get your pack 80 percent full in around 40 minutes.
A Temporary Conclusion
Today's reveal of the 2018 Leaf is really just a new snapshot of a company that continues to try and lead the pack on electric vehicles. Yes, the EV road is much more congested today than when the first Leaf went on sale in 2010, but Nissan also has years of customer data to guide its decisions – and it's certainly keeping an eye on the competition. When work started on the new Leaf four years ago, the larger, 60-kWh pack was not part of the plan, Leaf chief vehicle engineer Hiroki Isobe told Motor1. Isobe's implication was that when the ranges for the Bolt and Model 3 were announced, Nissan knew it had to compete. Today's 150-mile new Leaf won't do it, but the upcoming 60-kWh pack model should. Just how many sales will be gained or lost by the decision to go with the lower range today, with more to come later, remains one of the more interesting aspects of today's reveal.
There's a lot that goes into these sort of decisions. Foe example Nissan believes that when the E-Plus version comes out, that's when the Leaf will open up to a whole new segment of customers. With the longer range, people will be more likely to buy instead of lease, the company thinks. The current mix is 55 percent lease, 45 percent purchases.
Then you have the trim levels. As described above, there will be some tech differences between the trims (which, going by the leaked documents, will be $32,490 for the SV and $36,200 for the SL) but all that ProPilot tech won't be the only reasons you might want to spring for the higher-end models. Standard in SL, and a option on the SV and S, will be a combo Level 1 + 2 charging cord. This will let you get a level 2 charge from a dryer outlet, say, without the need for installing a dedicated wall charger. The SV and SL trims will also be connected via cellular data, while the S is not. Nissan can't do over-the-air updates using this connection just yet, but that's being worked on, we were told.
Then we get to the issue of federal tax incentives. The company has sold 113,000+ Leafs in the U.S., so it's just over half-way to the incentives starting to phase out, so Nissan also had to price new Leaf low enough to avoid big disappointments in the near future. This fact alone will likely encourage the Leaf-curious to get a new model soon, without waiting for the longer-range model, because they know that 150 miles is plenty. And, since the 2018 Leaf will be a 50-state vehicle at launch, and 80 percent of Nissan's dealers in the U.S. are EV-ready, the weight is really on the customer now. Nissan has done what it thinks is right, let's see how the EV world responds.