Now it’s a horse race. Nissan has a 200-mile-plus EV in the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus, enabling it to compete with the big boys of affordable electrification: the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Hyundai Kona EV, and the Tesla Model 3. Nissan expects the Leaf Plus to run 226 miles on a full charge of the 62-kWh battery. Performance will be better, with implied 0-60 mph times under 7 seconds.
Nissan will keep the 40-kWh Nissan Leaf around for those satisfied with 150 miles of range and a lower price tag. We expect the Leaf Plus will list for $35,000-$40,000 before tax credits. Nissan still has a couple years of $7,500 tax credits available, while the Chevrolet and Tesla credits will be gone in the first half of 2020.
45 Percent More Power, 50 Percent More Range
In a nutshell, the Leaf Plus is everything the Leaf is, with more serious range and acceleration. The single electric motor that drives the front wheels is rated 160 kilowatts (214 hp), up 45 percent from the Leaf’s 110 kW (147 hp). Nissan says it’s about 10 percent faster. Published test results put the Leaf at about 7.5 seconds 0-60, so that would make the Leaf Plus at 6.75 seconds. Based on seat-of-the-pants acceleration, it feels a lot faster, and we wouldn’t be surprised if timed 0-60 runs approach 6.0-6.5 seconds 0-60. Drag racing is not why you buy a Leaf, but it’s nice to know you’ll feel safer doing highway merges on short expressway on-ramps, and you might even pull off a country-road two-lane pass from time to time.
Through new construction techniques, including laser welding, Nissan fits the new battery pack with 62 kWh laminated lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack with 288 cells in the same underfloor form factor as the 40-kWh Leaf battery with 192 cells. Nissan includes a charger cable for 120- and 240-volt home charging. On the road, most public stations offer at least one Nissan CHAdeMO connector (pronounce it CHA-demo, more or less) along with several of the more common CCS (combined charging system) connectors. The newer, denser battery is not actively cooled (as had been rumored). But, says Nissan engineer Nate Harbrandson, Leaf’s battery manager of durability and reliability, there are now three packs wired in parallel rather than two in series, meaning lower voltage flowing across the battery interconnects and less demand on each cell in the battery packs. Whether this is just a spitting match among Nissan’s most geeky and passionate owners or an issue for Nissan to monitor remains to be seen. Because Nissan was out early with EVs, long-timers recall early teething pains and wear issues, which Nissan resolved with extended warranties.
Leaf Plus on the Road
Inside, the Leaf Plus is pretty much like the Leaf: roomy front and back, and with nicer looking seat fabric than in Leaf’s early days. The center stack display is up one inch to 8 inches diagonal. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. There is still just one USB jack in the dash/ center stack area. The steering is light, with a stiffer-steering option as on Tesla. The blue/silver shifter button is easy to use: slide left then down for Drive, left then up for Reverse. (The Leaf shifter annoys some journalists, the same ones who still don’t like push-button start.)
ProPilot Assist is an excellent tool for long-distance highway driving. It drives itself on limited access highways one lane at a time. You have to take over to change lanes, exit the highway, or when a car cuts just in front of you. It also works well in stop-and-go traffic, following either lane markings or the car ahead. ProPilot Assist’s biggest issue is how to start it up. You want it to be a one-button setting, but in fact, you have to invoke adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Then, once you press the blue PPA button, the car studies the road ahead for a couple seconds and then takes over.
On the road, the car is quiet except when you accelerate hard and you then hear electric motor noises. The greatest delight is crushing the throttle pedal to get up to speed on on-ramps and the Lead delivers, in spades. To make amends for your defiling mother earth, press the console’s Eco and e-pedal buttons to remap the car for gentler acceleration and to increase battery regeneration to the point where the Leaf can be driven with just the throttle pedal if you lift well before a light or stop sign. We’d like the option of a second, more aggressive regen mode, the kind you feel when karting, or atop a riding mower, and you lift. There’d have to be low and high regen modes because mainstream drivers don’t initially like a car that slows down dramatically when you lift off the throttle.
We started a test drive in San Diego (temperature mid-50s) with 210 miles indicated range and drove 84 miles — some hard on-ramp runs, no 0-60 runs, mostly Eco and E-Pedal off, also the B transmission selector for added regen braking — and returned with 141 miles remaining, 15 miles better than the 210-84=126 math should have shown.
Nissan’s Goal: 1M Electrified Vehicles Sold in 2022
The Nissan Leaf dates to 2011 and is the best selling electric vehicle to date, Nissan says, with more than 380,000 sold worldwide, although the Tesla Model 3 could well be number one by year’s end. In the US, Leaf sales were 14,715 last year, not bad for an EV if you exclude the somewhat costlier Tesla Model 3 — which you can’t; Tesla rocked the market with 140,317 sales last year. Here’s perspective: The Leaf was the fifth best-selling EV in the US last year. The Model 3 was the fifth best-selling sedan.
Top 10 EVs, 2018 US Sales
- Tesla Model 3, 140,317 sales 2018
- Tesla Model X, 26,100
- Tesla Model S, 25,745
- Chevrolet Bolt EV, 18,019
- Nissan Leaf, 14,715
- BMW i3, 8,664 (includes EV and range-extender EV)
- Fiat 500e, 2,550
- Volkswagen e-Golf, 1,354
- Smart ED, 1,219
- Kia Soul EV, 1,134
Less than 1,000 2018 sales: Honda Clarity BEV, Ford Focus Electric, Jaguar I-Pace, Hyundai Ioniq EV, Mercedes-Benz B250e. Hyundai Kona EV deliveries began in mid-February 2019. (Source: InsideEVs)
With cumulative Nissan US EV sales standing at about 130,000 units, Nissan still has several years left before it hits the 200,000 sales cap that triggers the phaseout in available federal tax credits of $7,500. Nissan has plans to ratchet global electrified-vehicle sales by 2022 to 1 million annual sales. There will be eight new EVs and a global crossover EV “inspired by the Nissan IMx Concept” (read: design loosely based on). Those are ambitious goals.
Global sales of plug-in electrified vehicles, meaning battery-only EVs (such as Leaf and Tesla) plus plug-in hybrids (such as Honda Clarity PHEV, Chevrolet Volt and BMW 530e), were 2.0 million last year, of which 360,000 were in the US, according to InsideEVs. US hybrid sales were about 325,000 last year. So, with 17.3 million US car, SUV, and light pickup truck sales in 2018, electrified vehicles of all types made up 4 percent of the market.
Should You Buy the Nissan Leaf?
The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus is a solid EV. It will get at least 226 miles and might match Chevrolet Bolt EV’s 238 EPA miles. At 176 inches, it’s a foot longer and roomier than the Bolt EV. It will most likely be more reliably assembled than the Tesla Model 3. It will also be roomier than the Hyundai Kona EV, which just started shipping in mid-February, but Kona promises the most bang for the buck: 258 miles for $36,000 ($140 per mile of range) versus Nissan’s ($155/mile).
The Leaf Plus comes in three trim lines: S Plus, SV Plus and SL Plus.
Bypass the entry Leaf S Plus (expected price, $35,000) because it’s light on driver safety assists: just forward collision warning and emergency braking, plus 16-inch alloy wheels, a Level 1 120-volt / Level 2 240-volt charging cable, and a 100-kW high-charge-rate port (was 50 kW on 40-kWh Leaf), satellite radio, six-speaker audio. Navigation is via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The S All-Weather Package includes heated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated outside mirrors, and rear heater ducts. Total weight is 3,780 pounds. The bigger battery pack is responsible for 299 extra pounds versus the Leaf.
The mid-grade SV Plus ($37,000-$38,000) represents the sweet spot if you get the optional SL Tech Package: ProPilot Assist, adaptive cruise control, lane keep/lane centering assist, automatic high beams, and electronic parking brake. The All Weather Package option adds a hybrid heater (heat pump) to the S package. Standard features include adaptive cruise control, onboard navigation, telematics, HD radio, satellite radio. Total weight is 3,811 pounds.
The top-trim SL Plus ($40,000-$41,000) makes standard most of what’s optional on SV Plus:
- ProPilot Assist (steering assist, Intelligent (adaptive) Cruise Control (ICC) with Full Speed Range and Hold.
- Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection
- Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA)
- Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection
- Intelligent Lane Intervention (I-LI)
- Cargo cover
- Heat pump-hybrid heater system
- Electric Parking Brake (ePKB)
- Heated front seats
- 8-way power driver’s set with 2-way lumbar support (spelled “lumber” in the media guide, but everyone’s working late hours prepping for a car intro)
- Auto-dimming inside mirror
- Remote garage door opener
- LED headlights
- LED Daytime Running Lights
Standard on the SL Plus (and not offered on S or SV) are the surround view camera system, drowsy driver detection (Intelligent Driver Alertness (I-DA)), and leather seating. Total weight is 3,853 pounds.
The price on the Leaf S Plus is attractive, but you’re shut out of too many driver safety assists that are coming standard on many combustion-engine competitors such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. So the Leaf SV Plus is the one to focus on unless you really want drowsy driver detection (say the primary driver works nights) or surround-camera monitoring (you park in tight spaces a lot).
Be sure to look at the Chevrolet Bolt if you can live with a smaller vehicle. The Hyundai Kona EV, just shipped, is a very impressive subcompact SUV in both combustion and EV forms. This is the clear competition.
Then there’s Tesla. If the Leaf SL Plus comes in much over $40,000, then it’s competing with the base Tesla Model 3. Even with its known issues (construction quality, reliability), the Model 3 is an impressive car and would present a strong challenge to the Leaf Plus. Tesla gave up recently on offering a $35,000 base model (that effectively never shipped), so Tesla’s new entry point is $42,000. The entry $34,850 Leaf disappeared from the site in mid-February, now it’s back, Tesla says it intends to offer one in the future, but the odds of your getting one soon are nil. The base Leaf remains attractive if most of your driving is local and the longest trip you make is 60-70 miles out, and the same 60-70 back.
Here’s the bottom line: The Nissan Plus is a solid, roomy midsize EV hatchback from a company with years of experience building mainstream EVs. With Tesla holding the high ground for performance and features, Nissan needs to focus on reliability, price performance, and the advantage of being able to offer the full $7,500 tax credit where Tesla’s falls to $0 on Jan. 1, 2020. It also has to keep an eye on hard-charging Hyundai (Kona EV) and Kia (Nero EV).
EVs and plug-ins have never been better, or capable of more miles between charges. Too bad it comes as America started the year with dirt-cheap gasoline. Ten of the 50 states are selling regular gasoline at $2 a gallon or less. You can drive coast-to-coast, LA to Manhattan (2,800 miles), for less than $100 in, say, a Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid. Even many Americans concerned about climate change and carbon dioxide emissions likely warming Planet Earth are seduced by a low cost of operation. That’s the challenge facing all makers of electrified vehicles: Petroleum-based fuel is too cheap today. As individuals, we like it that way.
- 2019 Hyundai Kona EV: Tesla-Like Range for About $30,000 After Tax Credits
- No need to wait for Tesla: the Chevrolet Bolt is excellent (and already shipping)
- Consumer Reports No Longer Recommends Tesla Model 3, Cites Reliability