Give Nissan credit: The first-generation Leaf has been the world’s best-selling electric car, with more than 300,000 buyers—even if the EV market remains tiny, at just 0.5 percent of the global total. But now other affordable EVs are bringing vastly superior range and performance, namely the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. So Nissan has anted up with a greatly improved 2018 Leaf, even if its 240-kilometer (150-mile) range falls well short of the Bolt’s 383 km or the Tesla’s 362.
The new hatchback Leaf looks far more appealing than the frog-faced original. Subtle ribs on the hood divert air around the side mirrors, reducing wind noise, which can become especially noticeable in an otherwise hushed EV. A new electric motor spools up 110 kilowatts (147 horsepower), up from just 80 kW before, with a healthy 320 newton meters (236 foot-pounds) of torque. A 40-kilowatt-hour battery pack outdoes the 24-kWh storage of the original Leaf, yet because of the tumbling price of batteries, Nissan was still able to cut the car’s base price to US $30,875 in the United States, versus the Tesla’s $36,200 and the Bolt’s $37,495. By late 2018, Nissan promises to release a pricier Leaf SL whose upsized 60-kWh battery will precisely match the Bolt’s storage, and boost range to about 362 km (225 miles).
Buyers in Japan are even more fortunate. Nissan is offering some owners free installation of a solar array for zero-cost, zero-emission home charging. The Leaf also allows a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) connection, so owners can reduce electricity bills by powering their homes during peak hours from the Leaf’s battery.
The Leaf also refines the “one-pedal” driving that many EV fans love: Just lift your foot off the gas and the regenerative brakes bring the car to a complete stop, with no need to even brush the brake pedal, as many EVs require. Nissan’s new ProPilot Assist offers modest semiautonomy as well. Using a forwardfacing camera and radar, the system’s software does an especially good job at automatically centering the Nissan in its lane, without ping-ponging between lane markers, as some systems do.
Unfortunately, Nissan has stuck with its CHAdeMO plug for DC fast charging, a weirdly named standard that’s been left for dead outside of Japan by both the SAE International’s elegant combo plug (adopted by most every U.S. and European EV maker) and Tesla’s own proprietary Superchargers. That stubborn misstep aside, the Leaf’s unbeatable price and heightened range and power give it a fighting chance to maintain its top-selling status—especially if Tesla keeps struggling to get Model 3s out of the factory and into the hands of impatient buyers.