Nissan Europe suits liken the Leaf EV update – now ‘localised’ for and built in Europe – as a bit like an iPhone or iPad upgrade: looks much the same on the outside but new goodies lurk therein. And there was a big pricing surprise to announce as well.
Can you pick iPad 1 from 2 on the train? iPhone 4 from 4S? Me neither. So you are going to need a degree in Automotive Anorak to pick Localised Leaf from Global Leaf as one glides by; the key exterior change is a reshaped lower air intake with a flash of chrome.
Leaf 2? No. Leaf 1.5 appeared to be the consensus. The changes are subtle, shouldn’t cheese off the early adopters too much (though one Leaf 1.0-owning UK journalist at the launch in uber-EV-friendly Oslo was visibly green) and mostly reflect feedback from what are probably the most surveyed group of owners this side of a Chevy Volt’s.
As is quite common with new model reveals these days, Nissan had revealed much of the detail in advance and managed to lure the British prime minister and other Greats and Goods to the production start ceremony at Sunderland.
Updated powertrain, three trim levels, more paint colours, a 15-mile boost in claimed range, repositioned charger, optional fast charger, better heating and revamped ride and handling.
Claimed driving range up from 109 miles to 124 miles; luggage space improved by re-positioning the charger to under the bonnet; a new heat pump reduces electrical consumption in cold weather delivering range improvements; an optional 6.6Kw charger reduces charging time from eight hours to four hours on a 32 amp supply and the three new trim levels – Visia, Acenta and Tekna – bring the Leaf into line with other Nissan Europe models.
Over 100 changes were made for European production and include nitty-bitty like an light in the charging port.
Charging infratructure, or lack thereof, was a key gripe of early owners, insiders conceded, so dealer support and charging networks have expanded – a year ago, there were 150 dealers across Europe and 195 quick chargers, capable of charging a battery to 80% capacity in less than 30 minutes. Today there are 1,400 dealers and over 600 fast chargers while the number of conventional public chargers has increased from 12,000 to over 20,000.
A new comprehensive warranty plan for the batteries covers them for defects in materials and workmanship for five years/100,000 kms and now includes a ‘state of health’ clause which covers gradual capacity loss.
New wheels, more paint colours, new more supportive seats, new ‘environmentally friendly’ seat fabrics, a leather trim option (also introduced for the US), and more equipment, including an around view monitor.
The biggest technical change is a new, fully integrated powertrain that brings the charger assembly, inverter and the motor together for the first time and boosts boot space 40 litres.
The best change, in my book, is the new, black interior in cloth or optional leather. No one would admit to improved material quality as well but I reckon European suppliers always do better with plastics and the improved appearance and tactile feel gives the cabin, a much more practical and family-friendly space than GM’s stylish Volt/Ampera, a much classier ambience. And the boot, which already passed my standard toddler’s buggy and some shopping test, has noticeable extra room even with some newly added Bose speaker electronics that come with the top trim level.
Still want beige? If you’re one of the 1% likely to order it, cloth but not leather is still available on the mid trim level – Acenta in the UK.
The old Leaf would do a fine job of pre-heating the cabin if you remembered to set it up in advance but was then inclined to freeze you and fog up on the go.
So in came a new heat pump system and out went the original ceramic heater. This significantly reduces electrical consumption and delivers an improvement in real-world driving range – and we were toasty warm driving around Oslo which was still largely coated in snow around the edges and appears to get two weeks of summer a year. No sign of fogging, either.
Changes to the chassis, steering and brakes were engineered at Nissan Technical Centre Europe (NTCE). Principal changes have been to damper settings to reduce float and deliver a more agile and dynamic drive without adversely affecting ride comfort. The steering system has been given more weight to provide steering feel more in tune with European tastes while the performance of the brakes has been improved to make them more progressive in use, while also increasing the amount of energy recovered.
Changes have also been made to the Eco driving mode. A new ‘B’ setting on the transmission controller increases regenerative braking during deceleration while a separate ‘eco’ button on the steering wheel extends driving range by altering the throttle mapping to discourage rapid acceleration. The two systems can be operated independently of one another, unlike in the original car.
There’s a noticeable improvement in both the ride and handling and the B-mode is not as harsh acting as I feared it might be. The ‘engine braking’ effect is noticeable but progressive and you can have a lot of fun seeing how much you can boost the range descending hills. I managed 84km to 98km on one stage; a Nissan PR who has a degree in Leaf managed to get up to 102km on his recce drive the previous week.
A revised and updated version of the Carwings navigation system, which allows owners to manage and remotely control features from a computer or smartphone, adds a number of new features including enhancements to the remote heating and air-conditioning functions, greater smartphone integration, improved voice recognition facility, eco-routing and real-time information on the nearest charge points.
The navigation system now includes a motorway ‘exit view’ complete with lane guidance to help when leaving highways and also displays prevailing speed limits with a driver-set speed warning that provides visual and audible alerts when the car hits a certain speed above the prevailing limit.
The around view monitor uses a network of cameras to generate a 360-degree overhead image of the car on the central display, simplifying parking or any difficult manoeuvre.
Front seats now incorporate height adjustment, while a new bio-fabric covering has been introduced.
Nissan kept the best bit until the launch. It recently cut the UK price of the outgoing model by GBP2,500 to GBP23,490 after GBP5,000 in government grants.
That remains the mid-range price in the new three-tier model structure. Entry is now GBP20,990 and top is GBP25,490.
But, by borrowing an idea from alliance partner Renault, Nissan is introducing battery pack lease which lops GBP5,000 off the up-front price and incurs a monthly lease fee from about GBP75. Lease or buy, the choice is the buyer’s.
The ‘starting number beginning with 15’ received the full approval of the attendant media mob and comes as the old model has just enjoyed its best month for sales yet – over 1,300 in Europe in March and 2,000 in the US.
The updated car hits showrooms in May but Nissan is coy about the sort of fanfare it will get, advertising wise. “We expect lots of interest,” was the best I could extract without resorting to thumbscrews.