2018 Nissan Leaf: More range + more content = lower price? [First Look]

2018 Nissan Leaf 17.JPG
2018 Nissan Leaf (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

When the Chevrolet Bolt EV hit the scene last year with its promise of 238 miles of range, people called it the Tesla killer.

But we all knew the next-gen Nissan Leaf was in the works. Would it be the Bolt EV killer?

With 290,000 units already sold globally, it has the potential.

And then news broke that it would only have 150 miles of range. While that’s significantly better than the 2017 Leaf, it’s a far cry from 238.

What the heck, Nissan?

As Michael Arbuckle, senior manager CMM, EV marketing and sales strategy at Nissan North America, explained it, the 2018 Leaf fills the white space between the compliance vehicles built for the Pacific Coast and the high-range Bolt EV built for the mass market.

It’ll get a 40 kWh battery pack, 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque – all increases over the 2017 model.

In comparison, Bolt EV produces 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.

But I don’t consider this a fail on Nissan’s part. In fact, it might be a stroke of brilliance when you consider two things: the 2018 Leaf starts under $30K (compared to the Bolt EV’s $37,495 base price) and the 2019 model will get a bigger battery pack and more than 200 miles of range.

Some might argue (and have argued on my Facebook page) that Nissan should have started with its best foot forward, but 150 miles is a space no one is competing in, and according to Arbuckle, current owners didn’t really want much more range anyway.

So, step 1: Get the current owners into new vehicles. Then, step 2: Move on to conquests.

Makes sense to me.

For those who might have range anxiety, it’s worth nothing that you can get back up to 105 miles of range within 40 minutes using a CHAdeMO DC fast-charge station.

Other charge times to note:

  • It’ll take 7.5 hours to charge a completely depleted battery using a 30-amp Level-2, 240-volt plug (aka, a dryer jack).
  • It’ll take 35 hours to charge using a Level-1, 120-volt plug (aka, a regular wall jack).

In addition to range and power improvements, Nissan has added more content.

The 2018 model adds standard e-Pedal mode, automatic braking, rearview monitor and Nissan Intelligent Key. Available features include a quick charge port, adaptive cruise control, NissanConnect, navigation, 7-inch infotainment touch-screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, leather seats, premium audio, around-view monitor, heated front seats and heated steering wheel.

Plus, every single trim costs less than its 2017 counterpart:

  • S: Base price is $29,990. It adds $4,500 in content but decreases price by $690.
  • SV: This model is priced at $32,490. It adds $5,000 in value but decreases the price by $1,710.
  • SL: This is the top-tier trim and is priced at $36,200. It adds $6,783 in value and decreases the price by $590.

Other available safety tech on the 2018 Leaf includes: blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, high-beam assist and intelligent driver alertness.

One of the interesting new standard features Nissan introduces for 2018 is the e-Pedal mode. This allows the driver to employ “one-pedal” driving, which means the accelerator both adds speed and deceleration depending on the pressure you apply. This allows for more regenerative braking, which will feed more energy back to the battery.

This is just a “mode,” so if you want the more conventional two-pedal experience, the brake pedal is still there, but adding e-Pedal plus ECO mode is the most efficient experience you can have – and if you’re going EV, why would you do anything else?

I found e-Pedal mode to work fairly well, and once I got the hang of using one pedal for acceleration and deceleration, I really liked it. It can bring the vehicle to a complete stop if used appropriately, and it will hold the car in place without hitting the brake pedal.

I did find a few situations when I was trying to decelerate on a decline that the vehicle didn’t slow fast enough and I needed to use the brake, but in most situations the e-Pedal worked really well.

Another new feature on Leaf is Nissan’s ProPilot Assist system, which is basically an advanced version of adaptive cruise control with some steering assist. It uses a combination of cameras and radar to keep the vehicle centered in the lane and maintain a safe distance between it and the vehicle in front. It operates like cruise control where you engage the system, set the speed and take your foot off the accelerator.

This is not a hands-off system. In fact, if the steering wheel doesn’t feel the appropriate amount of torque from your hands, it’ll do a visual then audible alert. If the driver doesn’t add input, the vehicle will eventually put on the hazard lights and slow the vehicle to a stop in the lane that it is in.

During our daylong trek in the Leaf, I found it to be a very smooth and quiet vehicle. With the absence of a traditional internal combustion engine, the silence inside the cabin is quite noticeable.

I like the fast acceleration provided by the instantaneous torque of an electric motor, and the Leaf handles really well during highway jaunts and curvy-road treks. Minimal road noise seeps into the cabin, and it overall has the feeling of a much more lux-level vehicle.

The Bottom Line

The 2018 Nissan Leaf is a ton better than the previous-generation. It has more power, more range and more content – all for less money. That’s a win-win-win-win in our book.

I love the new styling on the Leaf, which makes it look more mainstream and less like a geeky EV. I also really loved the one-pedal driving brought on with the use of the e-Pedal model.

While range anxiety isn’t completely gone with 150 miles of range – especially in extreme hot or cold weather – it certainly gives a lot more security for those around-town drives. However, until range and infrastructure are better, it would be hard for an apartment dweller with no home charging station to make this a primary car.

But it’s getting closer.

Nissan has done a great job with the amenities and drivability of the new Leaf, and for those who don’t need the vehicle for long road trips, it makes a lot of sense.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Nissan covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.