Ok, first things first.
We promise not to make any “Turning over a new LEAF” jokes. Which isn’t to say that’s not what the new LEAF Plus is, because the Plus trim gives the LEAF the full EV credentials it needs to compete in today’s marketplace.
Which is important, because since its introduction in 2010, it has been the best-selling electric vehicle in the world. And Nissan would like to keep it that way.
An all-new LEAF was introduced for the 2018 model year, and when we tested it, we came away impressed – loads of tech, fun to drive, well put together. If there was a sore spot, it was the 150-mile range. Especially with newer EV’s like the Kia Niro EV, with a range of 239 miles, and the long-legged Hyundai Kona EV, ticking off 258 miles, the LEAF was going to look like a piker.
The truth of it is, for most folks a 150-mile range works just fine. But like most things, there’s always bragging rights. Well, now with a 226-mile range – and a host of other improvements, the LEAF Plus has plenty to brag about.
Familiar Future Style
Nissan really didn’t do much to the current LEAF’s style for the upgraded model. There’s a revised front fascia with blue highlights, a subtle front bumper chin spoiler, a e+ logo plate on the underside of the charge port lid. And a Plus badge on the rear. That’s about it.
Being a top-of-the-line SL model, we also enjoyed LED headlights with LED signature Daytime Running Lights, plus heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals. We still like the sleek modern design, and our tester’s Pearl White Tricoat looked futuristic and clean.
Inside is again mostly unchanged, and again, that’s a good thing. You’ll find the supportive and comfy Zero-Gravity front seats, and adult-, friendly rear seats. Good engineering here – even though there’s a larger battery, there’s no loss of interior or cargo space.
Like our previous SL tester, our Plus SL enjoys, soft standard leather, a sporty, heated D-shaped steering wheel, and elegant piano black trim. Controls remain clear and concise, and the shift “nub” that works like a mouse is fun – once you remember you have to push the “P” button on top to park.
Instrumentation remains the same – reminding us of the Nissan Kicks, with an analog speedometer on the right hand side, and customizable screens on the 7-inch driver info display to the left. The setup is especially handy when using ProPILOT Assist, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The big news on the interior is the info-tainment system. It starts with a larger 8-inch display, that’s larger, faster, and brighter than the 7-inch found on non-Plus (or is that non-Plussed?) models.
It’s got loads of tricks up its sleeve – you can drag and drop items like a tablet to customize the screen to your liking. Plug in your compatible phone, and along with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the screen will display your Google Maps, Google Satellite View or our favorite, WAZE. It’s so much better than having to squint at your phone’s screen, and the info is much more legible.
We also found our LEAF Plus was happy to switch between wireless Bluetooth streaming and plugged in Apple CarPlay without missing a beat. A lot of cars get flummoxed when you switch inputs like that. Another plus of the new Info-tainment system – maps and firmware are updated over the air with the simple touch of a button, instead of having to be manually updated by USB or at a Nissan dealership.
A fun note: if you use Nissan’s Door to Door Navigation App, when you leave the LEAF, it will transfer info to your phone, giving you walking directions to your destination – great stuff in a city where you may have to park blocks from your destination.
More Juice in the Juicebox
Of course, the big change in the LEAF Plus is the added power and longer range. It starts with a more energy dense 62kWh battery pack (40kWh for the standard LEAF). Add in a more powerful 160 kW motor, and the Plus pumps out 214 horsepower, a massive 45% increase – and 250 lb-ft of torque vs. the already stout 236 lb-ft in the standard model.
While those are impressive numbers, most people interested in EV’s are more interested in range and charging, so let’s look at those. LEAF PLUS tops out at 226 miles between charges – light years ahead of the LEAF’s 150 miles, and much more competitive with the newer players like Kona, Niro and Chevy Bolt.
Charging gets an upgrade, too, the larger battery pack requires more time 11.5 hours vs 7.5 hours through a Level 2 connection, but the PLUS includes a 100kW capacity quick charging system. For comparison, a standard LEAF with its 50kW quick charge will get you to 80% battery in 40 minutes. LEAF PLUS with the 100kW quick charge will get you to 80% in 45 minutes. That’s 60 miles more range for only 5 minutes more with the PLUS.
The PLUS is more than just range, though – the driving experience is notably improved. Off the line, the instant EV torque and added HP make the PLUS quite quick – not TESLA crazy quick – but 0-60 in the mid 6’s keeps you well ahead of most traffic. And with no engine noise, it feels even quicker than that; you just rocket away in awesome silence.
Even more improved is the PLUS’ high-speed performance. Passing and overtaking at freeway speeds is easy, and you can really hustle along at speed with a car that looks innocent and innocuous. And in California, it’s made all the better by the Carpool lane stickers attached to our tester.
Like our previous LEAF tester, the battery pack keeps the weight low in the chassis which makes the PLUS a good-handling machine with little or no lean in the turns. The steering is not very feel-some, but it is light. The ride is quite supple, and with the almost complete lack of noise and vibration, it is a serene and relaxing way to get around.
If you want more entertainment – or more charging – in your drive, you can always engage the E-pedal, for one-pedal driving. Like a bumper car, stepping down gives you power, holding the pedal keeps a steady pace, and letting up slows the vehicle and comes to a stop.
The LEAF Plus is loaded with tech to make your drive better. We loved the ProPILOT Assist, with Nissan’s combo of adaptive cruise control and lane centering technologies. In traffic it can even bring you to a full stop and start up and go again when traffic moves. It works especially well with the instant torque of the EV powertrain. You might even enjoy rush hour traffic!
Along with ProPILOT Assist and e-Pedal, the Nissan LEAF PLUS looks after you with available advanced safety tech including Intelligent Lane Intervention, Lane Departure Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Intelligent Around View® Monitor. We love the 360-degree Around View Monitor – parking has never been easier.
How Much of a Charge to up-Charge to the PLUS?
Well, it’s not necessarily cheap. A Nissan LEAF S goes for $29,900. A LEAF S PLUS starts at 36,500. A loaded LEAF SL is $36,300, our loaded SL Plus tester started at $42,550. Pearl White Tricoat adds $395, floor mats and $895 destination rang us up to $44,285. So, you’re looking over $6,000 to get that extra oomph, range and technology.
Competition wise, the LEAF Plus is very competitive. We estimate that a NIRO EV Premium will start around $45,750. The Kona EV we tested came in at $45,830, while a similar Chevy Bolt is $44,720.
One thing to note on all the EV’s – you can currently get up to $7,500 in a Federal EV tax credit, and here in California, there’s also a $2,500 state credit, so you could save as much as $10,000 on any of the above. That said, While the LEAF and BOLT are sold nationwide, the Kona and Niro are limited models offered only in a few states.
With more range, more power, more tech, and competitively priced, the new Plus model is sure to keep LEAF the world’s best-selling EV!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.