How long does it take to go from a world-beater to an afterthought? About eight model-years, if you go by the Nissan Leaf. The plug-in five-door compact hatchback made waves upon its 2010 debut, only to slip from the public consciousness as newer, better electrics entered the market.
But this Leaf is no shrinking violet. After logging more than 283,000 sales worldwide (including more than 113,000 in the U.S. alone), the second-generation 2018 model adds power, range, and a host of forward-looking driver-assistive features to create a low-cost challenger for the likes of the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3, as well as the downmarket Hyundai Ioniq Electric and the Volkswagen e-Golf.
The new Leaf features a larger, 40 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery that extends its range from 107 miles to 150 miles. A new powerplant delivers 147 horsepower (hp) and 236 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, up from 107 hp and 236 lb.-ft. in the outgoing model. The factory promises a 15% improvement in zero-to-60 times and plans to introduce a range-extending 60 kWh battery in time for the 2019-MY.
Nissan’s ProPilot Assist makes its worldwide debut in the 2018 Leaf. The system offers a semiautonomous driving experience, combining active cruise control (between 18 miles and 62 miles per hour) with lane-keeping assist and emergency braking.
Also new to the Nissan lineup is E-Pedal, an accelerator that also serves as a brake. The car speeds up when it is depressed and applies regenerative and standard braking power to slow to a stop when disengaged.
The styling sheds its bubble-butt exterior and adopts interior styling cues — including a decidedly mainstream 7-inch touchscreen — from other Nissan models. The result is a perfectly normal-looking car that happens to have a power outlet built into the nose. Using direct-current fast charging, the Leaf’s battery can go from fully discharged to 80% of capacity in just 30 minutes.
Fleet buyers considering the Chevrolet Bolt or Tesla Model 3 should take a hard look at the new Leaf. Nissan’s plug-in can’t beat the 200-plus-mile range of those competitors, but its top-of-the-line SL trim is priced at $37,495 (not including a $7,500-per-unit federal tax credit) — about the same as an entry-level Bolt or Model 3.
The 2018 Nissan Leaf will roll (silently) into showrooms early in the year with a starting MSRP of $29,600.