The second best-selling EV car in the world has just been updated with a more powerful battery that adds 50 km to its driving range per charge. With basically the same attributes and faults of the model that has been on sale since 2011 (aside from an updated infotainment system) this upgraded Leaf will go the distance for most urban daily commuters.

The functionality of the human brain is one of the most endlessly exciting areas of science, so it is really not worth trying to understand why the arrival of new technology pleases some people so much, while many others remain indifferent. In my case, after some 200 kilometers behind the wheel of a car that emits no malodorous gases into the atmosphere, driving a full EV car always generates an inexplicable uneasiness, as I return to my private car, equipped with an internal combustion engine. And also a hard-to-contain willingness to fast-forward time, to get rid of the logistical and technical constraints that still prevent EV cars from becoming mass market products.

It is the updated Leaf that I have in my hands today. Still with the same space shuttle looks (a true disciple of the "love it or leave" it philosophy) and a couple of technical changes, the most important of all being the application of a more capable battery (30 instead of 24 kWh, in both cases lithium-ion) which expands the driving range per charge from 199 to 250 km. At least theoretically... In real life driving the range is more likely to increment from 140 to 190 km, which then translates into even less "range anxiety," as it will be enough for most of the urban commuters' daily motoring needs. Available on Acenta and Tekna trim grades, this longer range model is delivered with no compromise on internal packaging, as the new battery has the same exterior dimensions as the 24 kWh unit, despite a 21 kg increase in weight. The upgrade results from changes in the internal design (revised cell layout) and chemistry (high capacity cathode). Moreover, the battery warranty has been extended from 5 years or 100,000 km to 8 years or 160,000 km.

As before, the Leaf 30 kWh may be recharged from a domestic outlet, from public chargers, or from the network of CHAdeMO quick chargers (50 kW) expanding across Europe. Quick charging time remains at 30 minutes to charge from 0-80% but, if a domestic outlet is used, it will take up to 10 hours to get all 100% of the juice back into the energy container. Before starting our journey, a brief recap of the instrument panel and dashboard functions and menus available, to make our trip as informative as possible, but also as a means to contain the anxiety levels borne of the expanded, but still limited, range, the nº1 public enemy of electric cars. On the instrument panel's top monitor, we are informed about speed and our Eco driving performance (if I am careful with the throttle, I'll be rewarded with some tree drawings), while below, in the main display, there is a chart to report on energy spending or instant recovery, as well as information about the remaining driving range, in kilometers and bars, that allow you to know how much "fuel" you have left. This is also where you find the more conventional trip information and odometer. On the dashboard's center, you find the second-most significant evolution in the new Leaf.

The NissanConnect EV system replaces the Carwings setup, retaining most of the elements of the original system, but adding new features, a simplified activation process and a new design. From allowing you to check charge status to pre-heating the cabin on a cold winter's day without "draining" the battery, and thus with no compromise to te driving range (or pre-cooling it on a hot summer day), it is possible to use this advanced smartphone-enabled telematics facility to make life easier. The new infotainment system also includes a new charging map that is capable of showing which charging points are available, and which are being used, and it is seamlessly integrated with the revised navigation system, now featuring a 7-inch color touchscreen (which allows owners to zoom in and out of maps and flick between menus, by moving their fingers on the screen), maintenance alerts and a car-finder facility.

The interior is dominated by gray and black tones, with some eco blue inserts here and there, and the dashboard is predominantly made of hard surfaces, but shows a careful and solid assembly. The driving position is unfortunately hampered by the non-reach adjustable steering column, which obliged me to lower the steering wheel to avoid hiding some of the instrument panel information, which resulted in the steering wheel encroaching on my legs. Cabin roominess is good enough for 5 adults, and the luggage compartment is also spacious (370 liters), even if it is not possible to create a flat floor when you fold down the backrests of the second row seats.

Almost without realizing it, I am already driving around the city center, enjoying the immediate availability of the 280 Nm of torque to prove Leaf´s sensational agility. As usual, one has to be aware of the lack of noise EVs produce, because pedestrians are still not totally familiarized with cars in slippers, and may decide to inadvertently cross the street without looking, simply trusting their ears. And the fact is, the artificial buzz the Leaf emits at speeds up to 30 km/h – a sort of "watch it, here I come" warning - is noticeable inside garages, but less audible in the open air. In this context, you may praise the very light steering and the soft settings of the suspension (despite the fact that the chassis was retuned last year, to provide more responsive steering and less lateral body movement), which are subject to criticism, once you get out of town into faster and curvier sections of the road. True, the Leaf is not meant to be a sports car, but in fact it would result in an overall more interesting vehicle to own, if driving was just a little more engaging. To toggle from forward to rearward motion, you just have to manipulate a mouse-like knob between the front seats, which changes the polarity of the electric charge, as the Leaf has no transmission. And you may also limit the performances, and improve the EV range, by touching the steering wheel-mounted button, which engages the Eco mode.

Enter a motorway or a faster section of the road, and you can easily feel the instant acceleration that takes you to 100 km/h in 11.5 seconds (particularly impressive from 0 to 60 km/h), and also the 144 km/h top speed, which makes it a car totally fit for motorway driving, despite the fact that the longer you drive at that pace, the more compromised the driving range will be.

The EV car belongs to the urban jungle, by definition.

One of the motivations to buy an EV car may also be the economic advantages it provides against the ICE competitors, most of which indeed have better quality surfaces inside and provide an altogether higher fun factor when driven, especially through corners. On a diesel C segment car, you may expect a 7.5 € fuel cost/100 km, while a gas rival will increment this energy invoice to as much as 12 €/100 km. However, the Leaf will make it possible to cover the same distance with a lower cost of an average 2,5 €/100 km (depending the time of the day when you recharge, from a maximum of 4 € to a minimum of 1,5 €). This will then translate into annual savings of 750 €, compared to the diesel option, and 1525 € against the gas car (using 15,000 kilometers driven per year as a calculation).

June 15, 2016 Driving photo: Nissan

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Plugin magazine 04/2016


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