A week in the newest Nissan Leaf to hit Australian shores reveals a vehicle perfectly suited to everyday city driving, with all the modern comforts of a family vehicle and a price tag to match.
As one of the cheapest vehicles to own on the still fledgling Australian EV market, the 2019 Nissan Leaf – which has a 40kWh battery and double the driving range of its 2011 predecessor, and goes for $49,990 before on road costs – might still be considered early adopter technology by some, but it is far from that overseas.
With over 400,000 Leafs now sold in its nine-year history, it is the most popular EV model in its home country of Japan and in January became the most popular vehicle out of both electric and internal combustion models in Norway.
Its return to Australian shores is a godsend to those wanting to take advantage of the lower maintenance costs and freedom from the tyranny of fluctuating fuel prices, but not wishing to outlay for more premium-priced EVs.
The new Nissan Leaf design fits right into the roomy hatchback clique, and has an updated exterior styling, more sophisticated than its globular predecessor, that puts it right in the mainstream as far as design goes.
But that’s as far as the similarity goes.
The new Leaf (which delivers 100kW of power, up on the 80kW offered by its 2014 predecessor) has more oomph than your regular hatchback and doesn’t shudder at the steepest of hills in my local area (or for that matter going in reverse up my equally steep driveway).
Driving with the e-Pedal switch on (which increases the resistance on the regenerative braking) becomes second nature after a few minutes and you find yourself gliding about the place with only a tap on the brake needed on the odd occasion.
Admittedly, the Leaf range is matched to its price – for $50,000 in Australia you are simply not going to get over 300km driving range let alone the 500km range possible in higher end Teslas.
But for me it performed well enough that it did a trip of 170km from Brisbane, mostly on the highway, in one trip with 40km left on the clock on arrival at home, and that with a detour to a charger that it turned out was not working as designed, to boot. (This is consistent with the EPA rating of 210km for highway driving.)
(For any of you who have complained about the slow charging at Griffith Uni’s charger, I returned from a 20 minute charge to find two technicians changing the default setting of 16 amps, that was the default when it was installed, to 32 amps.)
Around rural NSW, however, was a different experience. Planning is most definitely required if you want to use the Leaf for day trips and won’t be heading anywhere near the few regional chargers that are in place – an increase in the penetration of these is definitely a priority.
Our day trip was cut short with a return to the closest fast-charger at the library in Byron Bay (which worked perfectly, with 20kWh (0r 50%) added on the battery in 28 minutes, thanks to Enova and Tritium).
The EV info available through the dash display and LED screen are perfunctory, with battery capacity and power shown clearly on the dash and a range of EV settings available through the LED touch display.
The navigation software will promptly let you know if it thinks your destination (which you’ll need to enter through the touchscreen) is out of range, and offers you the option of finding a charger to add to your route (take note of the charger list! I didn’t, and went to a charger that only had a Type 1 connection, not the Type 2 that the 2019 Nissan Leaf uses).
You can also select different navigation assistance modes, to choose the fastest, the shortest or the most eco-efficient route.
Infotainment and connectivity options such as Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay worked perfectly the first time, and the sound system was not disappointing.
Driver assist was great on the highway and in traffic, with a rumble to alert drifting out of lanes, and a very responsive adaptive cruise control.
What I loved about the Leaf was its easy-to-use interfaces – you really don’t need to look through the supplied manual to understand anything – except in my case, how to unlock the charging cable! After repeatedly trying a button on the console to release the cable, it actually took my 12-year-old to point out there was a button on the key-ring (doh!).
It’s also a very family-friendly vehicle, with a generous boot, and for cold winter days, heating for both front seats and even the steering wheel (this was heaven for my chilly hands).
There’s plenty of leg room in the front, and comfortable seating – although I’d love to see some more options to move the driver’s seat, as I don’t really like sitting low in a car. That said, the top of dash didn’t steal vision from the road as happens in some other hatchbacks.
There’s a lot of controversy over Nissan’s decision to continue with software-managed battery temperature as opposed to liquid-cooled – as I only drove it in temperatures between 12 and 23 degrees Celcius I can’t say I can give an opinion there.
Ultimately, if you are looking for a reliable, easy-to-drive EV to get around town, from a carmaker that has been doing it for years, and has a loyal customer base despite the shortish range and questions about battery cooling, you can’t go too wrong with the 40kWh Leaf – unless you’re willing to hang out for the boosted 62kWh version!
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 since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.