We drove the new Nissan Leaf: more power, more range, and more style.

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The Leaf has certainly come of age, and this amply shows. The new Leaf has a more dynamic shape, with more sleek lines and bolder profiles. But that is not all. Advanced technologies, as Nissan calls it, have also been built in this new Leaf. Like an e-Pedal and ProPILOT autonomous drive technology, which is further enhanced with ProPILOT Park. We could extensively test it all at the presentation held by the dynamic people of Nissan BeNeLux recently.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We were invited for a presentation and test drive of the new Leaf at “La Butte aux Bois” in Lanaken…

Stylish, both inside and out.

Indeed, the new Leaf has gained in overall presence. The front end includes the signature boomerang-shaped lamps and V-motion flow in the front. The flash-surface grille in clear blue and the rear bumper’s blue molding identify the car as a Nissan EV. Also the side profiles and contours are quite pleasing, the rear end is also harmonious and shows reasonably clear proportions.

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A whole fleet of new LEAF’s ready for the test drive…

The high waistline at the rear is of course beneficial for luggage space, and indeed this Leaf sports a standard volume of not less than 435 liters according to the VDA norm. Not bad for an E-car of this size.

The dashboard has a clean layout, with now a big analog speedometer and next to it a large area within the instrument cluster in front of the driver which is digital and offers you info in different configurations, or multi-information as Nissan calls this.

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Nissan BeLux communications manager Melvin Keuter explained us the highlights of the LEAF before starting the test drive…

On the centre console you find a 7 inch display showing the power gauge as a standard setting. Navigation settings and connecting smartphones are intuitive, and Apple CarPlay has been added to the infotainment system in cars equipped with the navigation system. The audio functions can be modified with a steering switch, without the driver taking their hands off the steering wheel.

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The driver has all the necessary info in his line of sight with ProPILOT engaged, when cruising on the motorway…

“Zen” behind the wheel

We don’t have to repeat it, as we said it many times before:  The velvet power of the electric motor engulfs you with a constant “Zen” feeling behind the wheel. And this time you clearly experience also the rather abundant power. The new e-powertrain delivers quite pleasing linear driving performance with a power output of 110 kW, 38% more than the previous-generation Nissan LEAF. Torque has been increased 26% to 320 Nm, and this gives the Leaf truly wings. 0 to 100 is achieved with a whisper in merely 7,9 seconds, and you don’t have to be an experienced rally or racing driver to achieve this.

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With the electric motor delivering 320 Nm from standstill to 3283 rpm intermediate accelerations are truly impressive. This gives you driver confidence in dense traffic, and in combination with the e-Pedal, makes the Leaf truly fun to drive. You can also choose between different drive modes: The normal “D” mode gives you full engine output and can be combined with the e-Pedal. “B” mode will give you standard motor output combined with increased regenerative braking. The “ECO” mode will limit motor output, the combination of “B” with “ECO” mode will give you limited motor output and maximum regenerative braking.

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e-Pedal cleverness

This  e-Pedal, offered as standard equipment, allows the driver the simplicity of starting, accelerating, decelerating, stopping and holding the car by using the accelerator pedal alone. By simply releasing the accelerator, the car will come to a smooth and complete stop and hold without the need to press the brake pedal. With a deceleration rate of up to 0.2 g, the e-Pedal eliminates the need for drivers to constantly move their foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal to slow down or stop. Indeed, during the test drive over more than 110 kilometers over country roads, through urban areas and motorways your servant did not use the brake pedal at all!

Nissan Intelligent Driving…

But there is more. For instance ProPILOT and ProPILOT Park. ProPILOT will automatically control the distance to the vehicle in front, using a speed preset by the driver (between about 30 km/h and 100 km/h). It will also keep the car in its lane. If the car in front stops, the ProPILOT system will automatically apply the brakes to bring the vehicle to a full stop if necessary.

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After coming to a full stop, the vehicle can remain in place even if the driver’s foot is off the brake. If traffic restarts, the car will resume driving when the driver touches the switch again or lightly presses the accelerator to activate ProPILOT. We tested it on a stretch of around 30 kilometers on the motorway, and indeed it works utterly smoothly and progressively, but also flawlessly. It did not miss a beat, and there were no misinterpretations even in heavy traffic with several vehicles moving in different positions in front of us.

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There is more, like ProPILOT Park. This is a fully fledged system that helps drivers park by automatically controlling acceleration, brakes, handling, shift changing and parking brakes to guide the car into a parking spot. It uses the image processing technology of four high-resolution cameras and information from 12 ultrasonic sensors around the car.

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We drove for lunch and an extensive presentation to the “Kapellerhut” in Dutch Heeze. The presentation was held in this large treehouse…

All steering, braking and throttle inputs for various parking maneuvers, such as parallel parking, are automated. The system can automatically identify a parking space around the car so that the driver doesn’t need to set a target parking position. As we were still driving the early pre-series Leafs, this ProPILOT Park system was not yet available on our car, but we will be keen to use it when we test the LEAF for a longer period.

Good handling and comfort

To match the increased power, Nissan engineers enhanced the car’s chassis for better stability. Heavy components including the battery are placed in the center of the body, helping achieve smaller yaw moments of inertia compared with front-engine vehicles and thus improving directional stability, enabling smoother cornering.

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One clearly feels it. The new Nissan LEAF’s electric power steering system has a more linear feel and this enhances confidence, especially on highways, with enhanced feedback from the road surface. This is thanks to a software upgrade, new control logic working in conjunction with the steering angle sensor, and a 10% increase in steering torsion bar stiffness. Indeed, we felt the car being very stable and giving good feedback during motorway cruising.

When you are in hurry, the Leaf does not protest to spirited cornering, and it is good to know that it comes with Intelligent Ride Control for more precise electric motor torque control generation when cornering.

The comfort is good, and the 5-seater Leaf offers good legroom in the back, which we personally could test out here as we traveled with colleagues in the same car.

Nissan Intelligent Integration

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At the presentation, Robbert Monteban, Director EV at NissanBeNeLux, (see photo here) told is more about the car itself and how Nissan sees the integrated, mobile E-future.

The new Nissan LEAF links drivers, vehicles and communities through the user-friendly NissanConnect feature and systems that share power between electric vehicles and homes, buildings and power grids. Using vehicle-to-home systems, the battery makes it possible to store surplus solar power during the daytime and then use it to help power the home in the evening.

The customer can also recharge the battery in the middle of the night, when prices are lowest in some markets, and then use the electricity during the day to reduce energy costs. In some countries with vehicle-to-grid systems, Nissan LEAF owners can get incentives from energy companies to improve power grid stability by absorbing demand fluctuation.

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The plugs are now placed at an angle of 45 ° for better reach…

A newly designed interface on the Nissan LEAF smartphone app allows users to monitor the vehicle’s state of charge, schedule charging to benefit from optimal energy tariffs, find the nearest charging station, and pre-heat or cool the car before getting in. A promising future, only authorities and energy companies have to roll up their sleeves…and there we have in our country still some way to go!

Nissan quotes for the car a radius of 400 km based on the Japanese (JC08) cycle, and of course a lot depends on your driving style. The Li-ion 40 kW battery can be charged in 8 hours on 6 kW, and from alert to 80% (quick charging) in merely 40 minutes.

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Conclusion

The second generation Leaf convinced us again how well the E-car is coming of age. This Leaf combines good looks with sufficient room for five and their luggage, offers genuine driving pleasure and on top of it all enjoys a meaningful autonomy.

It also gives you modern driving technology, infotainment and connectivity, as a car of this time and age befits… and last but not least, it is attractively priced.

Hans Knol ten Bensel