The 2019 Isle of Man TT Senior winner loves big engines and old vans. Good lad
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£39,340 when new
A new Nissan Leaf already? No, it’s an extra Leaf, a top-end version called the Leaf e+. It has a 62kWh battery, and a 239-mile WLTP range. The existing – and continuing - Leafs have 40kWh capacity and 168 miles range. The e+ also has a more powerful motor. Is Nissan playing electric-car catch-up here? Some rivals have similar range, the base Tesla Model 3 and the top-model Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric among them. Renault has just announced, but not put on sale, a new 242-mile Zoe. But to suggest Nissan is an EV laggard is hardly fair. The Leaf has a mammoth track record of providing dependable electric transport – 400,000 have been sold in nine years.
Dependable equals dull? The new version isn’t just about more energy storage. It’s also got more power, the equivalent of 217bhp, up from 150bhp. That drops the 0-62 time to 6.9 sec despite a 130kg weight rise. The springs have been stiffened to cope. Does that make it more fun? The performance is lively, though you’ve got to push through a detent in the accelerator travel to get the full beans. Overall the urban and B-road poke is satisfying and progressive and sharp-witted. The stiffer springs do make for a fair bit of jiggle in the ride though. Steering is precise and roll well-contained, but the energy-saving tyres mean solid understeer if you overdo it in a corner. But because you sit lower down in the Leaf than in the BMW i3 or rival electric crossovers, it doesn’t pitch and toss like they do. The rest of the experience? Just like the rest of the Leaf range, so our review still applies. The e+ gets all the top-end kit: connected navigation, LED headlamps, advanced motorway driver assist (they call it ProPilot) and rather nice suede-y seat trim. Does the bigger battery eat up boot or footwell space? Nope, it’s more or less the same size as the standard one, but the cells are more energy-dense and physically packed in more tightly, thanks to a new laser-welding of their case. Does more energy mean longer charge times? Er, yes. Two things limit rapid DC charging times: the power of the charge post, and ability of the car to accept that power without overheating. The Leaf has a Chademo port for DC charging, and they’re available at all motorway stations, and many other places besides. But most of them are 50kW, while the rival CCS and Tesla systems go towards 150kW and in some places even more. Now, there are a few 100kW Chademo charge posts, and in theory the Leaf can draw that power. But because the battery is air-cooled and not liquid-cooled, it would overheat if it drew that power for long. So the car’s protection system throttles back the power. Result – this Leaf will never charge more quickly than 20-80 per cent in about an hour and a quarter. So it’s a car for occasional long journeys but not routine ones. Does it make the quoted range? Driving gently, on a route of urban and suburban roads and some 40mph speed-limited rural stuff in the New Forest, I was well on target. The trouble with the WLTP test is it includes little motorway driving, and if you cruise fast no EV will hit the quoted range. And the cost? It’s about £5k more than the 169-mile Leaf. Do you really need to carry all that extra lithium around with you? How many long trips do you do? But, Nissan people say, the extra range is enough to take the Leaf from second car to only car. Anyway, the actual price is £35,895 after the grant. Which is a problem as the base 2WD Model 3 is not vastly more at £38,900, and does 0-62mph in under six seconds, can charge faster, and has similar range. But of course the Tesla isn’t a hatchback, and more seriously it’s on a long wait list. And Tesla’s headline features – big performance, self-driving, AWD, long range – are all expensive extras.