2019 Nissan Leaf Plus: 226-mile range boosts appeal
New and improved may be a cliche, but in the case of the second-generation Nissan Leaf Plus, it is absolutely true.
The first all-electric vehicle I ever tested was a first-generation Leaf. It was originally only introduced in Oregon and California, where governments and utility companies were working with the company to advance the sales of EVs to meet environmental goals. Portland State University and PGE partnered with Nissan to study how drivers actually used them, resulting in the installation of the first Electric Avenue collection of charging stations on the PSU campus. All three partners also held conferences on EVs for automotive journalists and researchers.
The first-generation 2011 Leaf was a mixed bag. The fact that it worked at all was a revelation at first. Like the first Toyota Prius hybrid, it was oddly-styled, apparently so that every who saw it would recognize it was saving the planet. But it was surprisingly fun to drive because electric motors generate a lot of torque that is instantly available off the line.
The biggest drawback was the driving range on a full charge of electricity. Nissan claimed 100 miles but the EPA only rated it at 73 miles. And even those figures were high during the hottest and coldest months, when running the climate control system deleted the batteries faster. Commuting from home to work and back used up about half the range. And if I had to drive to a reporting assignment, I worried about whether I'd make it back home to recharge it at the end of the day. I was never stranded, but it was close on a couple of days.
Fast forward to 2018 and the completely redesigned Leaf is a totally different vehicle. Not only does it look like a styling contemporary Nissan car, the base model can go 150 miles on a full charge.
And now, for 2019, Nissan is selling the Leaf Plus — the subject of this review — which the EPA says tops out at 226 miles but shows over 250 fully recharged in the Eco mode. Wither way, it's hard to describe the difference between driving an EV with 73 and one with more than three times that on a full charge. When I was driving the 2019 Leaf Plus, I hardly ever looked at how many miles were remaining because I knew they would be more than enough to get where I needed to go. Some nights I didn't even recharge it. Although a long trip would have required careful planning to make sure I could find public charging stations every 200 miles or so, I didn't take any. Most people don't very often.
Even the driving experience is much improved. The 2019 Leaf is not nearly as bulbous as the original. It still have a lot of interior room, but it is much sleeker and feels lower to ground, encouraging sportier driving. Although the Eco mode gets the best mileage, turning it off improves acceleration dramatically, making it much more fun to drive.
The more conventional Nissan styling extends to the interior, which is also a good thing because the company has adopted a very clean, functional look. The "electric switch" shifter knob is one of the only unique design touches. The Bose stereo was awesome.
The 2019 Leaf also come standard with "e-Pedal" technology, which accelerates the vehicle like a normal accelerator pedal when depressed, but slows it quickly when the driver lifts off it. It's simple to figure out and easy to use, which saves wear and tear on the brakes. But there's also a conventional brake pedal for quicker stops.
Our test Leaf included a wide range of safety features and system, many of which are also available on all trim levels. They included ProPilot Assist which helps keep the vehicles in its lane on freeways. Nissan is quick to point out that ProPilot Assist is not a self-driving feature, but an assist, as the name says.
Electrified vehicles still cost more than equivalent gas-powered models because of the high battery and related costs. Our 2019 Leaf Plus was no exception. It was a top-of-the-line SL version with a Tech Package that includes Nissan's most advanced safety systems. It probably cost over $40,000, although a detailed build sheet was not available. But it also qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $2,500 Oregon rebate, reducing the price to close to the base model, which also qualifies for such incentives.
But if you can figure out how to navigate all that, the 2019 Leaf can be an affordable option that will save even more on fuel and maintenance costs as the years go by. Nissan has greatly improved the Leaf by significantly increasing its range and making the styling more conventional but still contemporary. The world has changed since the Leaf was first introduced nearly 10 years ago — buyers are no longer pioneers willing to put up with awkward styling and limited range. The 2019 version is proof of how EVs have gone mainstream and practical.
2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
Base price: $29,990
Price as tested: $42,550 (estimated)
Incentives: $7,500 federal tax credit, $2,500 to $5,000 state rebate depending on income
Type: Compact hatchback
Motor: 160kW AC (214 hp, 250 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Direct drive
Range: EPA 226 (onboard display 254)
Mileage: MPGe: 124 city / 99 highway
Overall length: 176 inches
Curb weight: 3,433 to 3,853 pounds
Final assembly: Smyrna, Tennessee