2018 redesign is much more mainstream C-segment hatchback than electric car

2018 redesign is much more mainstream C-segment hatchback than 'electric car'

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"e-Pedal takes a little getting used to," cautioned the Nissan UK redesigned Leaf EV press launch logistics man as he double-checked the nav settings before despatching us from Glasgow airport's car park. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Press start-stop button. Ding. Engage D. Notice park brake is electric so that'll self-release. So, let's go. Press accelerator, manoeuvre towards tricky left turn exit past inevitable cones. Release accelerator suddenly. Peel nose off windscreen...

OK, so it's not quite as abrupt a stop as that but it does take a few miles, ideally in city traffic, to get used to how the stem-to-stern redesigned Leaf's best new feature blends regenerative and vacuum assisted hydraulic braking and the degree to which it can be obtained by how much pedal release at what speeds. Then you pride yourself at how few times you actually need to press the brake pedal, usually only under emergency-stop conditions. It simply works a treat. You could do something similar in the previous Leaf if you engaged the B (for braking) drive mode rather than D but backing off gave you only regenerative braking, not hydraulic. Depending on speed and other factors, backing off will get you some slowing, lots of slowing or you-really-did-need-to-stop-fast-didn't-you? You soon learn exactly how the car will respond to a slackening off of the accelerator pedal, both in town and on country roads, or motorways and, very soon, the brake pedal is all but superfluous. As is the park brake because e-Pedal will also hold the car awhile on a hill, at least for most normal traffic stops. Nissan says the deceleration rate is up to 0.2g while the system allows the driver to use the brake pedal up to 90% less than in conventional cars.

Should all else fail, there is also automatic emergency braking when forward facing cameras and radar detect something in front getting awfully close without any intervention from you and chuck out all anchors in a bid to prevent, or at least mitigate, a collision. Nissan will be pleased to learn we tested this not. But we did have a ball with the new ProPILOT system which Nissan is rolling out across multiple models. It's essentially a very smart radar assisted active cruise control which will maintain a set speed, distance from vehicle in front, keep you in your lane (intervention is gentle and tactful, much less abrupt than some systems we have tried) and drop the car right down to a complete halt and restart it again, ideal for stop-start traffic on traffic-clogged UK motorways. This is accompanied by front and rear cameras that can give you views ahead or behind, a drone's view of the car, parking sensors and an automatic parking system than can park you parallel or perpendicular and do the latter nose in (one guess where the recharge port remains) or reverse in. I will trial this on familiar territory later but Nissan says the ProPILOT Park is a "hands off, feet off" automatic parking function which fully manages the parking actions and automatically applies the parking brake when the manoeuvre is complete. This is one clever EV.

Standard features from entry grade include six airbags (front, side and curtain), Isofix hook, anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), and hill start assist (HSA). Traffic sign recognition (very good but with a slight delay) and blind spot warning are also standard from the Visia grade, as is intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist recognition. Lane departure warning, intelligent lane intervention and rear cross traffic alert are also standard.

Redesign

All of this tech sits inside a completely restyled body that is far more mainstream C-segment hatchback (check out Nissan's twist on contemporary C-pillar design) and looks much more grown-up, combined with a redone interior with much classier cockpit design and improved materials and finish. Power is up 38% from 80kW to 110kw and torque, available from start on an electric, rises 26% from 254Nm to 370Nm so you get from nought to 60mph in 7.9 seconds which is pretty rapid. The car can squirt its way out into an opportunistic gap in busy main road traffic and also lunge easily past a lumbering lorry when a rare A-road overtaking space presents itself. Batteries 5mm lower bring the centre of gravity even lower and the car always feels stable, well planted and with minimal body roll even when cornered hard. It's said to be 30% quieter with loads of extra soundproofing in important little places, like over the rear wheel arches to reduce 'gravel noise'. The loudest noise at 60mph is wind, rather than road roar.

Nissan claims the LEAF (technically it's written in capitals standing for Leading, Environment-friendly, Affordable Family car) is the world's best-selling zero-emissions electric vehicle, having now sold over 300,000 world wide since sales began in 2010. Nissan GB claims "90% of the UK EV slice for most of 2017". For the 2018 redesign, the focus was on making the car great to drive with real world power, giving it a longer range (you start with about 140 miles of range showing on the battery gauge compared with about 81 for earlier versions), packing it with technology (see above), keeping it affordable and making it accessible - easy to use every day and affordable to use every day. The UK unit has worked on total ownership cost covering insurance rating, servicing and parts costs and it helps that the EV's relative simplicity allows a service interval of 18 months.

Battery

Over the generations, Leaf battery capacity has ranged from 24kw/h through 30 to 40 now but the 40 occupies the same dimensions as the original 24. And Nissan has some clever ideas for re-using battery packs when done with a high mileage Leaf. In conjunction with solar panels home owners in the UK are offered a storage system that can make them money by selling electricity back to the grid as well as providing emergency supply.

Range, measured in kilometres, is up from 2010's 122km to 270km. The latest car measured under the outgoing NEDC method, for comparison with the previous Leaf and other EVs, claims 235km; under the closer to real life new WLTP method combined it's 168km and 242km city. Real world, we had no trouble doing 120 miles without worry and you can pile the battery percentage back on in 30 minutes or less (we got 30% in about 10) if you can find a vacant, high power, DC charger, a type Nissan found even in rural Scotland. The automaker talks of a 21-hour charge from scratch at home using a conventional three-pin AC outlet, 7.5 hours with a domestic wall box and 40-60 minutes from flat to 80% using a CHAdeMO charger.

Boot space is up from 408 litres to 435 (there's a high load lip and no spare wheel), body stiffness is increased 15% and stabiliser bars are 8% stiffer, hence that sat-on-the-road feel even when pushing on. Steering is faster - 3.2 turns lock to lock is down to just 2.6 with some work on active return control and effort response feel. My only caveat is an odd feeling of 'delay' and sponginess when you use the actual brakes on rare occasions, they just felt slightly odd in two different cars. And it's odd to encounter a car in this segment with angle adjustment for the steering wheel but not reach.

This latest Leaf is offered in four grades - entry level but well equipped Visia, expected to account for 10% of sales, Acenta (27%) which adds items including alloy wheels, Nissan Connect, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and intelligent cruise control, N-Connecta (36%) which adds privacy glass, part-leather trim, a heated steering wheel, Intelligent Around View Monitor, Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Driver alertness and parking sensors plus the option of ProPilot and Tekna (36%) which adds full leather trim, ProPILOT, Bose audio and electric park brake.

Prices

Prices for cars built for Europe and the UK in Sunderland, northeast England, start at GBP21,990, after the government's GBP4,500 electric vehicle grant has been applied and rise to GBP24,290 for the Acenta, GBP25,990 for the N-Connecta (ProPILOT adds GBP400) and GBP27,490 for the top spec Tekna (ProPILOT Park Assist is GBP400 more). A launch 2.Zero version (GBP26,490) was offered when UK sales began on 1 February but is all but sold out. It's good to see Nissan providing the ability to use all chargers as standard and not charging extra for a DC charger, as some rivals do.