Nissan has updated the European specification Leaf EV with a new 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 rises from 109 miles to 124 miles; luggage space is 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.

Production of the EV and its batteries will begin at Nissan’s Sunderland, England, plant this spring.

Nissan said over 100 changes had been made for European production.

These range from the new powertrain assembly, said to greatly enhance the car’s practicality, to simple modifications such as the addition of an LED inspection light within the charging port making overnight charging easier (the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera has one on the charge cable plug).

Nissan said it had made changes based on owner feedback and data mined from the cars’ telematics.

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.

Over time, lithium-ion batteries naturally lose a percentage of their capacity. But should battery life reduce quicker than anticipated over the same warranty period it will either be repaired or replaced.

The 2013 Leaf will be made in North America, where a number of changes were made to local specifications, Europe and Japan. 

The batteries are already being produced at a new facility nearby on the Sunderland site.

Other changes for Europe include a revised grille for improved aerodynamics, 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 Nissan’s clever 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.

Now assembled together as a single stack, the new powertrain is again based around a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor powered by 48-module compact lithium-ion batteries, mounted underneath the cabin area to lower the centre of gravity for optimum handling.

By moving the charger from the rear of the LEAF to under the bonnet, it has been possible to increase the luggage area by as much as 40 litres, about the size of a typical airplane ‘carry-on’ suitcase. Overall boot capacity has increased to 370 litres.

The removal of the charger from behind the rear seats removes an obstacle in the middle of the boot floor when the seats are folded, while rear legroom has been increased thanks to reshaped seat cushions, which allow passengers in the rear to put their feet under the seat in front.

Improvements to the heating and ventilation system centre on a new heat pump system which replaces the original ceramic heater. This significantly reduces electrical consumption and delivers an improvement in real-world driving range.

“This is particularly relevant to markets where drivers rely heavily on the heating and ventilation systems,” Nissan said.

Heating and ventilation was a key gripe when just-auto sampled a Leaf a year ago. In the depths of a British winter we had trouble keeping the cabin warm and the windows demisted when driving though the older system worked fine in pre-heat mode.

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.

Other key improvements to the powertrain include reduced internal friction and a more efficient battery and energy management system.

Reduced charging time is also promised by a new option that will cut the conventional charging length in half, from eight to four hours. A new 6.6kW on board charger will permit the use of 32 amp charging using the latest generation of chargers installed in domestic and commercial properties. A typical domestic socket delivers 10 amps. 

A more affordable option than a full quick charger, some authorities are installing public charging posts already capable of delivering 32 amps output. The adoption of a 6.6kW charger will allow drivers to give their battery a meaningful boost even during a short stopover.

Other technical innovation enhancements include a new Bose audio system specifically developed for the EV.

The unit is more compact than similar premium systems and uses about half the electric energy.

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 new system incorporates Google send-to-car technology which allows an owner to plan a journey on a PC or tablet at home or in the office and then send the instructions to the car. It incorporates other advanced features including access to Google’s POI search, and allows drivers to access up to date weather forecasts and flight information.

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.

Where the original model featured material made from 39% recycled plastic bottles, the new bio-fabric is 100% derived from sugar cane. Leather is also now available, as is a darker and more practical interior colour – the first Leafs had a beige interior which is liked in markets like Japan, China and US but not in Europe where coal-hole black and dark greys more readily find favour.

Nissan said the introduction of an LED inspection light in the charge port means drivers no longer have to rely on street lighting to connect their cars to an electric source at night. The charging port has also been reworked to improve usability and security and its release mechanism now uses an electric switch. Additionally, the charge cable now features an electro-mechanical locking mechanism that removes the requirement to lock the cable to the car manually.

Other detail enhancements include a new i-Key that also controls the charging port cover and cable lock.

In the new three-tier trim line of Visia, Acenta and Tekna, Visia offers a lower price entry point while Tekna models feature more standard equipment than the original model.

Visia models have 16-inch steel wheels with full covers, black door mirror caps and halogen headlights. Acenta versions have 16-inch alloy wheels, suede fabric seat trim, body coloured mirror caps and rear privacy glass.

As well as having leather seats as standard, Tekna models come with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, the Bose sound system and AVM. There are now seven paint colours with solid, pearl and metallic finishes all available.