The arrival of the 2019 Nissan Leaf with 40kWh battery on the Australian auto market this week marks another important step towards electrification of transport in Australia.
At a starting price (and we stress this is a starting price, and before on-road costs) of $49,990, it joins the Hyundai Ioniq as the only other EV in Australia that has an RRP of under $50,000.
A quick search on Car Sales indicates that you’re more likely to pay in the vicinity of $57,000 drive away, less if you’re savvy enough to talk a salesman down a grand or two.
That sounds expensive for what is essentially a medium-sized hatch – but then, with the electric powertrain you get the added advantage of less maintenance fees (electric vehicles have a fraction of the moving parts of internal combustion engine vehicles).
You also get, as with any other electric vehicle, freedom – freedom from the pump, from having to go out of your way to fill up at a price that fluctuates on a daily basis. Instead, you can simply plug in at home, likely at a pre-agreed rate with your electricity provider.
And for the new Leaf in particular, thanks to a deal Nissan has cut with charging infrastructure provider Chargefox, you’ll also get discounted recharging when out and about using a network being rolled out from Cairns to Adelaide, and even in Tasmania and around Perth.
This is the second Leaf to make an appearance in Australia, and this version packs about double the size battery of the first (40kWh compared to 22kWh) and at least double the driving range.
While Nissan stresses that the new Leaf can drive 270km based on the European WLTP driving cycle, this rating was not around in 2012, so it makes more sense to use the US-based EPA rating, which for the 2019 Leaf is 240km compared to the 2012 Leaf’s 117km.
It still comes standard with the CHAdeMO plug, as opposed to the more widespread CCS2 plug standard in more recent EVs, allowing for up to 50kW charging on a DC charger – but this shouldn’t be a problem as DC fast chargers commonly have both CHAdeMO, and CCS1 or CCS2 plugs.
At home, a Type 2 plug gives a maximum 7kW max charging on AC (this will be less on a “trickle” charger though – that is, your standard powerpoint – see here for more on charging types).
On the exterior, the new Leaf has the same demure but slightly deceitful profile of its predecessor: while officially a hatchback, the Leaf has the feel of more roominess than its direct competitor on the Australian market, the Ioniq, and even the pricier Hyundai Kona.
Gaining a 5-star rating from car safety body ANCAP in May 2019, the Leaf scored an outstanding 100% for side and oblique impact, with ANCAP saying it has “good levels of protection … for adult and child occupants”.
Inside, features such as an 8 inch touchscreen display with Bluetooth, and driver assist features including satellite navigation and “active safety technologies” such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane assist and blind spot monitoring give better value for money than the Leaf’s predecessor.
A winter launch gave Nissan a chance to show off not only a heated steering wheel (that was heaven for cold fingers) as well as heated seats not just in the front, but also in the rear.
The dinky gear knob has an upgraded design but essentially the same action with reverse in top right as the original Leaf, which gives the impression the design department wanted to impart the feel of a gear stick, but as an EV it is so far removed from the need for gears it begs the question, why?
A drive is the best way to get a real feel for the new Leaf, something I had a chance to do in Melbourne’s high roads and leafy suburban streets this week.
One thing Nissan likes to sell as a unique feature on the Leaf is the e-Pedal – which oddly is actually a switch in the centre console, not an actual pedal.
With the e-Pedal on, the regenerative braking is substantially more effective, allowing for a different style of driving in which you essentially take your lift your foot off the accelerator to varying degrees to control the speed of the car (if you take your foot off it will stop completely).
It’s a gentle way of driving and well-suited to Melbourne’s backstreets and smooth speed humps (something Nissan was no doubt keen to demonstrate by its chosen route).
A quiet drive (so quiet you can hear the birds sing thanks to the electric powertrain) along Melbourne’s Yarra Boulevarde showed the Leaf’s handling which despite the slightly soupy steering, sat nice and close to the road thanks to the weight of the batteries.
The Leaf demonstrates what will inevitably be the main reason most people (aside from those whose main motivation is environmental) will decide to switch to electric – it is fit for purpose.
With the Leaf’s modest range of 270km (WLTP) compared to the Teslas and Konas of the world which offer up to and over 400km range, this is a vehicle that is well suited to to the city, for everyday trips to work and the shops and perhaps a day trip to outer regions.
For a long distance trip it will require a bit more planning, with a stop at a 50kW DC fast-charger giving you a comfortable 40-50 minutes to top the battery back up to keep going.
While we didn’t have a chance to try out the charging, Nissan has left its placement right at the front of the vehicle which is perfect for pulling up at a destination or fast-charger, as opposed to the side placement of other electric vehicles.
Another added bonus of the new Leaf, which we covered in more detail yesterday, is the fact that it comes with what is called bidirectional charging.
By the end of 2019, Nissan says it will be possible to purchase and install a special AC charger for your home that will allow you to not only store energy from your home, but also power your home from your vehicle.
There has been considerable criticism however from consumers about the fact Nissan still hasn’t addressed the thermal management system of the Leaf – with many EV makers using a liquid cooling system, Nissan has opted to continue to with its current software-based safeguards.
“There are safeguards in place that are designed to regulate the temperature of the battery so that the longevity and quality can meet our customers’ expectations – and the safeguards work effectively,” a spokesperson from Nissan tells The Driven.
“Nissan regularly introduces software updates to improve vehicle performance and enhance the quality experience for our customers. In line with this, Nissan introduced a software update to the 2018 LEAF that aims to optimise quick charging performance.”
Take that as you will – comments from New Zealand’s Blue Cars, which regularly services and sells Nissan Leafs, indicate that the life of the battery generally outlasts the 8-year warranty offered by the company.
When the battery does finally need replacing, Nissan says it is considering a number of options for repurposing and recycling its batteries.
“We might even buy it back from you,” said global head of electric vehicles Nic Thomas at the launch in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.