Nissan was the first big car maker to offer an all-electric car and the first to give driverless technology its full commitment (as boldly asserted by then-CEO Carlos Ghosn). But this year Tesla and Chevrolet invaded the company’s niche by offering electric cars at comparable prices but with superior range and self-driving features.
The new Leaf answers all these challenges. Still, it can no longer claim to be the firstest with the mostest.
It was indeed first when it introduced the Leaf, back in 2010. True, Tesla had begun selling the all-electric Roadster two years earlier, but at US $100,000 that car was more in the way of a proof of principle. Nissan’s Leaf cost around US $35,000. And, with the continuing evolution of Nissan’s ProPilot driver-assistance package, the company has always been high up in the robocar peloton.
But Tesla’s new Model 3 costs no more yet can go some 350 kilometers (220 miles) on a charge. And the Chevrolet Bolt—also in the mid-$30k price range—goes a whopping 380 km. Both the Model 3 and the Bolt offer a suite of self-driving features, albeit some of the coolest ones come only as options.
The new Leaf has a battery pack rated at 40 kilowatt-hours, up from 30 kWh. That’ll take you a solid 240 kilometers (150 miles)—enough, Nissan says, to quell the range anxiety of customers in Asia and Europe. A performance version, due out in early 2018, will have 60 kWh and travel 480 km (300 miles), which ought to assuage the anxieties of American drivers.
The updated Leaf also offers a more ambitious edition of ProPilot, its answer to Tesla’s AutoPilot. The system can take over the entire job of parking and of driving in slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic and along single-lane roads. And in the Leaf all these features are standard.
And there’s one thing that no other company does: single-pedal driving. Press down and the car accelerates; lift your foot and it brakes. According to Automotive News, it’s an improved form of a similar system in the Nissan Note e-Power, a hybrid vehicle sold in Japan.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.