The new Nissan Leaf is a much better looking car than the first generation Picture: MARK SMYTH
The new Nissan Leaf is a much better looking car than the first generation Picture: MARK SMYTH

The first generation Nissan Leaf was exactly that, the first generation, meaning plenty of room for improvement. Yes it was a decent five-door family hatchback, but its only real selling point was its electric powertrain. It didn’t excel in terms of design, comfort or space and it certainly didn’t rate well in terms of capital outlay. It was an early adopters car, particularly in SA.

In spite of all this, the Leaf is the best selling electric car in the world, with more than 340,000 units having been sold since it was first launched in 2010. Earlier in 2018, the second generation went on sale in many markets and we lived with it for a week in the UK recently.

The new Leaf is a big jump from the original. Firstly, the design is more edgy and far less bland than the first generation. Nissan has made a car that looks appealing but it has also tried to engineer it with more everyday appeal courtesy of a 40kWh battery pack. 

That gives it a claimed range of 260km, but good luck achieving that. We tried very carefully but to no avail and you can read more about our charging exploits elsewhere on the page. In range terms, it falls short of many rivals and that is a concern in Europe but even more so in SA. 

It’s a pity because the new Leaf is a good package. The ride comfort is excellent and that instant acceleration is superb. It also has tech in the form of the e-pedal, essentially allowing you to accelerate and brake using only the the throttle. Push down to pick up speed and let off to brake. It takes some getting used to and you still need to use the brake pedal occasionally but it becomes addictive as you try to get a bit of that regenerative braking charge back into the battery. 

The Tekna ProPilot also has a number of driver assistance features, including self-driving capability in terms of lane keeping, adaptive cruise and others. It’s not the best system we have tested but in the current era before proper autonomous cars it works well. 

Interior space is good and we had no problem fitting in the family and all their stuff although make sure you pack away the charging cables properly otherwise they tend to take up a lot of space in the boot. 

Fit and finish is great and the dashboard design, in fact the whole interior really has a a feeling of being normal. It’s important because many designers have told us that they don’t want interiors of electric vehicles (EVs) to feel too different. They say customers are already nervous of making the switch to an EV so they want them to feel as though the interior space is familiar. They have done a great job in the Leaf in that respect. 

It was certainly at home around town, the e-pedal doing its thing at every junction and traffic light. On the back roads it showed that the engineers have tried to make it slightly dynamic but you need to watch of understeer with all that instant torque on tap.

You should feel that an EV offers familiarity and to be honest the Leaf does do that. But it does that at a price and that is possibly why Nissan SA has not introduced the new Leaf yet. The company says it is still considering its introduction in SA. In the UK, the Leaf we tested costs £32,890 but you can get a government grant back of up to £4,500. Even with the grant, it’s expensive and in SA there are currently no government incentives.

You only have to look at the recently released pricing for the new Jaguar I-Pace to know that getting into an EV is an expensive exercise. 

It shouldn’t be like that if cars such as  the new Leaf are to become the new normal. 

Nissan Leaf Tekna

Price TBC

Max power 110kW

Max torque 320Nm

Top speed 144km/h 

0-100km/h 7.9 seconds

CO2 emissions 0g/km

Infrastructure Issues

There are those that question what all the fuss is about when it comes to EV range. They say that if you know it can only do 200km then plan around it, just as you would if your internal combustion engined (ICE) car said it only had 200km of fuel left in the tank. It’s easier said than done.

The Leaf arrived from Nissan UK with a tag for the Chargemaster network. When it needed charging I found a point on an app and headed to a shopping centre where I plugged it in. An hour later I unplugged it and it had barely added  16.1km of range. I went home and looked for another provider. 

We spent plenty of time plugged into charging stations. Picture: MARK SMYTH
We spent plenty of time plugged into charging stations. Picture: MARK SMYTH

Eventually as I became more anxious of the range I found a fast charger operated by Ecotricity at the nearest Ikea store. After 45 minutes downloading an app, trying to register, discovering that new Leaf was not listed and getting multiple errors I eventually plugged it in. An hour later it was charged and I was billed by Ecotricity. Actually I was billed twice. The company explained that when you connect they take a holding amount and then they take the same amount after charging and refund the holding amount later. They don’t do that at the local petrol station.

One Saturday we headed off to a factory outlet village 85.3km away. The car said it could do  193.1km so we were good. Or we thought we were. On leaving the village, the car said we would not make it home. We drove to an Ecotricity charging point at the highway services and with the kids asleep in the car plugged the Leaf in and waited 45 minutes. When the app said it was charged I unplugged it and headed off, only to find that it had barely charged at all and we were back on the highway risking getting stuck. 

 About 16.1km up the road we stopped again at another service station and plugged in. This time we charged enough to get us home where I plugged the car into the mains socket in the garage overnight and the next morning it was full. 

​The switch to electric should not force you to change how you live. You should not be paying more for the car, you should not have to plan your journeys and you certainly shouldn’t have to be anxious that you and your family will be stuck on the side of the road. Until all of that goes away, EVs are still going to be a difficult sell for many.