What’s it like to drive Nissan’s 2nd-gen Leaf?

On Wednesday this week, I had the chance to get behind the wheel of the new Nissan Leaf. Given it took the company a whole 9 years to ship...

On Wednesday this week, I had the chance to get behind the wheel of the new Nissan Leaf. Given it took the company a whole 9 years to ship a follow up to the original, expectations were pretty high.

With the outside design now perfectly acceptable, I’m going to focus on the inside of the small hatchback. Climbing into the car, I immediately noticed the seats were relatively comfortable but didn’t hug, reflecting the car’s focus on a being a daily commuter rather than a road-legal race car for the weekends.

Driver Comfort

Being 6’3′ I went to adjust the seat position and noticed the manual controls. Maybe I’ve been spoilt lately, but it’s been quite a while since I got in a new vehicle without some level of automatic seat adjustment. After moving the seat into the correct position, I then went for the steering wheel and no it’s not telescopic, just the regular up and down adjustments were available.

The Steering wheel felt good in the hand, all your necessary infotainment options were available at the touch of a button and thanks to support for Android Auto (and Apple CarPlay), a simple press of the voice button launched Google Assistant (or Siri).

Driving

Beginning the drive was interesting, as Nissan have attempted to innovate on the gear selection process. Instead of using a familiar gear selector in an automatic, or even a stalk from the steering wheel, Nissan have gone for a button, toggle controller thing which is weird.

I’m sure if you own this car, you’d get used to it by day 3, but the idea of shifting for drive and reverse, but pressing a button for park is a little inconsistent for me.

We took the Leaf for a test drive from the Airport, through the suburban streets to our lunch venue around 50km away. During that time we experienced a number of road conditions, road works, varied speed zones, start-stop traffic, some nice windy stuff and a little bit of highway driving. The route through Melbourne provided a great appreciation for what a potential owner would experience.

In terms of ride comfort, the 2nd-gen Leaf does a great job of delivering a very practical car for the urban environment.

Range

Fully charged, the range on the driver’s display read 261km when I jumped in. That’s a lot more than the average 41km per day that Aussie drivers do (or around 15k per year), but being from a regional area, some 350km from Melbourne, it did make me acutely aware the price of this vehicle comes with a limited battery size and therefore range.

It’s possible a family is happy to setup for a 2-car garage, made up of an EV like the Leaf, and a long-range holiday car, like a petrol-powered SUV. Personally, I want both cars to be capable of whatever journey they’re required to do and there are EV’s on the market that provides that flexibility, you just have to pay up for them.

Acceleration

In the pre-drive briefing, we were told: “I think you’ll be impressed with the acceleration”. The car certainly is zippy, but whether it’s fast is dramatically impacted by your exposure to comparitive vehicles.

If you step into the new Nissan Leaf from a regular internal combustion engine like a Toyota Carolla, Hyundai i30, or Mazda 2, then yep, the acceleration will feel quick to you. If you’re like me and have your benchmark set by the Jaguar i-Pace, the Tesla Model S and X, then no, this is not a fast car.

In terms of performance, Nissan have clearly prioritised range from the relatively small battery (although up to 40kWh from 24kWh in the original). The car is zippy out of roundabouts, and a for a quick low-speed overtake, it’ll get the job done well.

E-Pedal

Nissan’s E-Pedal is a feature that’s off by-default, so you have to use a toggle switch on the center console if you want to use it. In normal driving, the car will use a little bit of regenerative braking, but this is really subtle, to the driver it almost feels like the normal resistance of tyres against the road.

When you enable the E-Pedal, the regenerative braking is strong, really strong, so aggressive that I think it needs an additional option that’s not so aggressive. When you lift your foot off the accelerator, it doesn’t quite put you through the window, but not far off it.

After spending some time with it, I did get to like it, but it took some time to adjust to easing your foot off the accelerator, almost like a clutch, rather than removing it completely. This technique smoothed the engagement of the regen brake and made the car more drivable.

The idea of the E-Pedal is to simplify driving and allow you to leave your foot in one place, rather than jumping between the brake and accelerator. As you spot traffic ahead, or an upcoming crossing or turn, then lifting off the right pedal, reduces the speed of the car, then you simply press your accelerator again and continue on your way.

In reality, this feature is made less useful, given the Leaf’s support for adaptive cruise control. In traffic, this is what I used a majority of the time and it actually worked great, with the exception of 1 false-positive where it braked when a car was in the adjacent lane.

Connectivity

It’s 2019, so naturally, we all have phones and when driving, it’s often a great chance to grab some charge. The Leaf has just one space for a phone and it’s a little small for today’s larger phones (I had the P30 Pro, so 6.4″).

Even if your phone fits in the space comfortably, Nissan has done nothing to manage the cable from the USB to your phone, it kind of just lays on top of the center console, which is not elegant and not well resolved.

If your passenger in the front or kids in the back want to charge, sorry, you’re out of luck, there’s a single USB-A port.

Audio

I didn’t spend much time testing the audio in the vehicle, but cranking the audio sounded acceptable, no rattles, pops, or issues to speak of. In terms of volume, in an electric car, there’s a lot less ambient noise, so hearing your music or podcasts is a lot easier and can actually be done at a lower db.

Given the passable, but not extraordinary audio quality in the Leaf, the large amplifier that consumed a considerable amount of space in the boot was harder to justify.

Infotainment

Nissan, like many auto manufacturers have essentially given up on building great infotainment solutions. With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, most Leaf owners will be comfortable connecting the cable and using their phone’s UI instead to take over the 8″ display. Live traffic, better routing, certainly better UI, all add up to a much better user experience if you BYO phone to drive the car’s infotainment system.

A regular test I do is pinch and zoom on the navigation maps, as expected, the responsiveness and refresh time of the mapping data was terrible and slow by today’s standards.

Overall

All things considered, the Nissan Leaf is a really decent car. Design-wise, it offers something unoffensive and in practicality, its a zippy EV with enough range to satisfy most city-based owners.

I have to remind myself this car costs $49,990 plus on-road costs. At that price point, it’s one of the cheapest EVs on the market in Australia and we still don’t have many to choose from. The specs of the 2nd-gen Leaf makes the first look like a joke now, but at the time wasn’t bad, considering it started life around 10 years ago. Things are moving fast in the EV space and it’s hard to imagine 10 years from now, how we’ll look back on this car.

Overall I left my drive of the Leaf feeling like it is practical and a viable option for many Australians, so you should definitely consider it. Would I ever buy one? Probably not, it just doesn’t suit my individual needs.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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