2018 Nissan Leaf SL review

The original Nissan Leaf, debuted in 2011, was the first fully electric vehicle from a major car manufacturer. With a usable driving range, a familiar 5 door hatchback design, and an affordable price tag, it is the world's best selling electric vehicle of all time.

The first generation Nissan Leaf enjoyed many years of success partially due to the fact that there were no real competitions at the time. The alternatives were either too expensive or do not have enough driving range. Fast forward to 2018, cars like the Chevy Bolt, Volkswagen E-Golf, and Kia Soul EV have all entered the market. Although Nissan has steadily increased the range and power of its Leaf, it is time for a complete redesign to stay in the game.

That is exactly what Nissan did with the 2018 Nissan Leaf, and I was very excited to be given the chance to test drive the brand new Nissan Leaf, courtesy of Nissan Canada. Below is my unbiased review.

The first generation Nissan Leaf had a rather polarizing exterior design. But with the 2018 Leaf, Nissan went with a completely different direction. It looks much more like a regular car. In fact, other than a few zero emission badges, one can hardly tell that it is an electric vehicle.

The front fascia features Nissan's signature V-Motion Grille that is sporty but not overly aggressive.
Since there is no engine to cool, a the solid grille is decorated by a unique 3D mesh pattern as a subtle hint to remind onlookers that it is an electric vehicle. To improve the energy efficiency, the headlights, the boomerang-shaped signature daytime running lights, and the fog lights are all driven by LED lamps.

The side view of the leaf is clean and sleek. The kick up waist line and the floating roof brings some personality to the side profile. The two-toned 17" alloy wheels are designed to minimize the coefficient of drag, and to provide a sense of motion.

The rear combination lamps warp around the sides of the rear bumper for a unique look, but the stand out feature of the back is the rear spoiler that spans across the entire lift gate underneath the rear windshield.

Overall, I find the exterior design of the 2018 Nissan Leaf to be sleek, sophisticated, and somewhat conservative. It is a design that should appeal to a broad audience.

The interior of the Nissan Leaf is consistent with its exterior. It is clean, smart, and well organized. The brand's "Gliding Wing" design language is visible throughout the dashboard. A matte chrome finish has been applied to the rim of the steering wheel and around the center display. The dash trim in front the of the passenger seat has a holographic design that is classy and tasteful. On the other hand, there is a fair amount of hard plastics inside the cabin, and the piano black trims on the side armrests and round the shifter are fingerprint magnets.

The leather wrapped front, rear seats, and the steering wheels are all heated. Nissan's decision to include such features with the Leaf is to heat the passengers instead of the whole cabin, thus saving energy. The seats are all very comfortable, and the driving position is higher than that of a normal hatchback.

The cabin is eerily quiet not only because of the lack of engine noise, but also because of the added noise-isolating cover on top of the power delivery module, and the redesigned inverter structure. It took me a little while to get used to quietness, but it becomes much appreciated after a while.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf has a 7" LCD infotainment center display with control switches and knobs located on both sides. I like the placements of the switch-gears as they are intuitive and easy to reach. The center display shows the the vehicle's state-of-charge with a power gauge, as well as audio and navigation information.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been added to the infotainment system in cars equipped with the navigation system. The audio and navigation functions can be modified with a steering switch, without taking hands off the steering wheel.

With the NissanConnect app, the driver can search for information such as the location and operating hours of free charging stations and charging station availability. A Nissan smartphone app also provides the ability for remote pre-conditioning of the cabin.

The instrumental cluster is dominated by a 7" TFT display. By default, it shows a power gauge meter on the left hand side, and an analog speedometer on the right hand side. The multi-information display can be controlled by the switches located on the steering wheel to display trip information, vehicle status, and audio information.

The premium Bose audio system that comes with our SL trim tester benefits from the extra quiet interior for a rich, and immersive listening experience.

Safety and Driver Assistance
The new Leaf is equipped with a generous set of advanced safety technologies including Intelligent Lane Intervention, Lane Departure Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Intelligent Around View Monitor with moving object detection. The ProPilot Assist combines these features with the Adaptive Cruise Control for a semi-automatic driving experience.

Nissan has significantly increased the battery capacity of the Nissan Leaf from 30 kwh to 40 kwh. This in turn adds another 70 km to the driving range of the Leaf to 242 km. The new inverter also gives the electric motor an additional 40 hp and 49 lb.ft. of torque. This provides the 2018 Nissan Leaf with a total power of 147 hp and total torque of 236 lb.ft.

If you have ever been in a pure electric vehicle, one of the first thing you will notice (besides how quiet it is) is the instant torque from a stand still. The maximum torque happens at 0rpm, and Nissan didn't really try to limit it with the software. Stepping aggressively on the accelerator pedal and you can hear the tire chirping to propel the car forward. The motor makes a mild high pitch whirring sound at high speed, and is virtually silent at low speed. Because of this, the Leaf emits a electronically generated tone to alert pedestrians of its presence at lower speed.

To compensate for the additional weight of the battery, Nissan has significantly increase the rigidity of the car by using more high strength steel and utilizing a stiffer anti-roll bar. The suspension has also been tightened to reduce body roll while absorbing impacts of the road bumps. The steering ratio has been increased for sharper steering and it also provides a heftier feedback. Due to the the placement of the heavy lithium ion battery pack, the Leaf enjoys a low center of gravity. Combining with the re-tuned suspension and steering, the 2018 Nissan Leaf handles corners admirably with composure and minimal body roll.

One of the quirks of the new Nissan Leaf is the round shift knob. Although cool looking, and somewhat easy to operate, I would prefer something more substantial with stronger mechanical feedback.

On the other hand, a "one-pedal" driving mode can be activated with a single switch in the center console. In this mode, the Leaf will no longer cruise after your foot ease off on the accelerator pedal. Instead, the car would decelerate with regenerative braking. The degree of braking depends on the angle of the accelerator pedal. The one pedal mode allows the car to come to a complete stop by blending in friction braking when the Leaf is close to a complete stop. Essentially, with enough practice and some pre-planning, it is entirely possible to never use the brake pedal to drive the Nissan Leaf. The system is even smart enough to trigger the brake lights when the deceleration exceeds certain threshold.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf comes with a portable charger that can be plugged into either a 240V socket or a standard 120V wall outlet (adapter included). It can take about 8 hours to fully charge the battery from empty with a 32amp rated 240V socket, and up to 35 hours using the standard 120V outlet. In real world situations, it is not common to have to charge the Leaf with an empty battery. When driving about 100km per day, a nightly charge with the standard 120V outlet is enough to keep the Leaf topped up. The Leaf also comes with a CHAdeMO DC quick charging port that can provide enough juice to replenish 100km of driving range in a little over 20 minutes. DC quick charge can degrade the Lithium Ion battery pack, and the lack of a liquid cooling system only makes the matter worse. Therefore, it is best to avoid DC quick charge unless in an emergency. The equivalent fuel economy rating of the Leaf is 2.1L/100km for combined city/highway driving,

Cargo Space & Storage
While the battery capacity of the Leaf has been significantly increase, Nissan manages to make the interior dimensions unchanged. The cargo space has been increased to offer a very practical 668L (23.6 cu.ft.) of storage space. Both rear seats can be folded down to provide additional cargo space. However, the folded seat backs are significantly higher than the cargo floor, and the sub-woofer of the premium Bose sound system  mounted on the cargo floor makes utilizing the additional space slightly more difficult.

Inside the cabin, the usual options for storing small items are available. There is a storage compartment under the armrest, and two cup holders in the center console. The side pockets are on the small side, but useful enough to hold water bottles.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf is an important vehicle not only for Nissan but for the entire EV market. For a electric vehicle to be truly competitive, it needs to look good, drive well, provide a long enough practical driving range, and be competitively priced. Each of these traits sounds simple enough, but achieving a total package proves to be difficult. In my opinion, the 2018 Nissan Leaf has come really close to achieving that goal. Nissan plans to introduce a Leaf Plus version with a 62kwh battery that provides 363km of driving range in 2019. Although it will be a welcomed addition to the line up, I think it is more important to further reduce the price of the 40kwh version. With a 242km driving range, and a lower sticker price, I am confident that the second generation of the Nissan Leaf will be another massive success.

Test Vehicle
2018 Nissan Leaf SL
$41,998 CAD without Destination
Deep Blue Pearl


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