A few evenings ago, my wife and I journeyed to Denver to participate in an introduction event for the new 2018 Nissan Leaf, the second generation of Nissan’s electric car. Held at Denver University’s Cable Center, upon arrival we felt more than a little conspicuous in the parking area as we parked our huge gas guzzler SUV among a sea of first-generation Nissan Leafs; clearly our compatriots were mostly current owners.
We had been invited as I had signed up on Nissan’s website to be kept informed about the new Leaf a couple of months ago and this evening was billed as an evening to learn a bit more about it as well as enjoy a gourmet meal and live entertainment. So, to re-cap, our choices were A) Stay home with the kids as usual or B) Drive an hour for this evening of hijinks and good fun. Now, I love my kids as much as the next guy but a free meal and a new car to check out? Let’s go!
In any case, upon entry there was what was obviously a new Leaf hidden under a large sheet, a large hall with many tables and chairs, a stage, and two bars. After partaking in the complimentary offerings at the bar as well as a delightful variety of hors d’oeuvres being continuously offered by a platoon of roving serving staff and roaming amongst the crowd and display boards, we made our way to a table amongst many and found two seats.
So far it really felt more like a wedding from back in our dot-com era days in San Francisco than a new car introduction. The Quail Egg over Steak Tartare on some kind of Crostini was perhaps a tad rich though the Chicken Pate was delightful, but maybe not quite as delightful as the barely seared Yellowfin Tuna washed down with a fragrant white wine that just tickled the throat…People, this is all figured in to the sticker price somehow!
After a short while the tables filled up and a Nissan BigWig got on stage to thank us all for attending the event. After showing us a short video that was a mashup between footage of the Tokyo introduction event and a slightly over the top Tron-style animation he spoke for a while about the first generation Leaf having been a huge success and their hopes that the second generation would do even better since they listened to the owner body and gave us what was asked for…
Then, without any further ado, he told us we had about half an hour to check out the new car and ask any questions we wanted before dinner would start being served and all the time we wanted after and directed his assistant to whip the sheet off the car. Cue a big round of applause and the horde of True Believers stampeded toward the car with us in tow.
I’ve genuinely been interested in the Leaf and other electric cars for a while now. One of my former neighbors got a Tesla Model S a couple of years ago and let me drive it and I was very impressed with the performance. I’ll however not be spending that kind of money anytime soon so have been interested in the more proletariat offerings, the Leaf amongst them.
Used, they seem to be a fantastic bargain but having looked at a few, they clearly are somewhat basic and built to a budget. If gas powered instead of electric nobody would ever buy one. OK, maybe they would but I don’t think Nissan would even offer it.
The new Leaf is certainly a big improvement. First, the range. With a new 40kWh battery it apparently will provide a 150 mile range. While nowhere near the Chevy Bolt’s 238 mile range for example, this is still clearly a huge improvement over the first generation which started with an 84 mile range and currently offers a 104 mile range. The next most competitive offerings are the 2017 VW e-Golf at 125 miles and the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq EV at 124 miles (both not offered everywhere as of yet).
We all know that there is no way my particular family would own just one car and I’ve been informally tracking my driving per day for a bit more than a year and have realized that there has not been a single day where both my wife and I each independently had need of a car for more than even 60 miles at the same time. I.e. we could totally do an electric car as long as we had another for those times that we knew it might be a hassle to find a charging station somewhere in order to complete or return from a journey and then that person would not use the electric one.
I would guess most households are actually like that, not everyone is driving across the country every couple of weeks as much as they appear to based on some comments one reads across the internet car sites. Some sources are reporting that there may in fact be a longer range (200mile) option for 2019 but at a higher price. No word on whether that would be only for the top of the line or available throughout the Leaf range. This possible option was not discussed at the event, I read about it later or would have asked.
The size – The new Leaf feels larger inside than the old one and is what I would call big enough. I (at 6 foot 1 inch with a 32 inch inseam) fit in the back seat without my knees hitting the seat in front of me and with my hair just starting to brush the ceiling.
The driver’s seat area provided plenty of room in all dimensions and the passenger seat did likewise although I felt that the seat was mounted higher than (or did not adjust as low as) the driver’s seat.
Ingress and egress didn’t present any complications, overall the interior room felt slightly roomier than a VW Golf or Ford Focus if not as upright as a Chevy Bolt (which is comfortable too but feels smaller). The trunk space seems very spacious (The floor is extremely low) for the size of the car and is obviously accessed via a large hatch opening.
Materials – In this regard the Leaf is much improved over the outgoing version. It’s now on par with most mid-range Japanese cars as far as materials and plastics go. The seats were comfortable and the seat material was a notch above other cloths, with the featured car (a mid-range SV model) having an attractive striped pattern that looked good.
The door panel uppers were mostly harder plastics but textured well and with contrasting colors to avoid a monotonous look. I didn’t feel the dashboard only because it’s not my habit to feel the dash in my car and I forgot. I apologize if you feel I have failed you there. A lot of people seemed to ooh and aah over the electric seats so that must be a new feature…Other than that, from the driver’s seat the interior could more or less be in a Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, or Chevy Cruze. Utterly conventional, in other words, which is an improvement.
Charging – A level 2 charge using a 240V outlet (so at home for instance with something akin to a dryer outlet) would provide about 22miles of range per hour of charge. Overnight you’d fill it from completely full to empty (if it was actually empty). In a total emergency you could plug it into a standard 3-prong 110V outlet and get a full charge in 16 hours, so more than half overnight.
Realistically you’d come home from work or an errand or whatever and plug it in and while you did whatever you do at home it is filling itself getting ready for your next outing. While out, if plugged into a standard charging station it would refill at the same rate, however if one was to use a DC fast charger, also found in various locations out and about, it can charge up to 88 miles of range within thirty minutes.
I’ve done a bit of reading on the subject but am not an expert on this subject beyond that I don’t think it would cause me an issue and I am far from a tech geek. I have however spoken with several owners and all assure me that in reality one drives the car, goes wherever one goes to, sees a charger, parks there and plugs in while doing whatever the errand is and then gets back in the car, notes an increased remaining range and continues. Rare is the time that one actually is concerned about running out.
And the infrastructure is improving every day. One person I spoke with happily takes his Leaf to the airport when picking up family knowing full well he would never make it back on the original charge but simply plugs into one of the airport chargers while waiting at the airport pickup lot. It seems to work while admittedly currently being a bit more anxiety-inducing for those of us not used to the concept yet. Change is hard, I know…
Pricing – The new Leaf’s base price is $29,990 plus destination which seems like a lot but is right in there with the competition and actually less than the outgoing base model. In the United States, assuming one’s income is high enough to generate a federal tax obligation of at least $7,500, the U.S. government will provide a tax credit (not deduction) of $7,500 towards it.
In my state (Colorado), the state government currently provides another $5,000 tax credit whether or not I actually owe that much, if it’s more than I owe I would get a refund check for the balance. So, for me, the price would effectively be reduced by $12,500. Your place of residence may offer different incentives from various parties.
The car in base form is easily worth the $17,490 that remains. However, it also makes the used prices that are somewhere between $8,000 and $15,000 on average for cars that are between one and five years and with up to 50,000 miles or so seem like a bit less of a bargain, comparatively speaking.
Obviously the price goes up if one selects the higher-spec models and/or other packages and options but of course one can also get more, including active lane control along with adaptive cruise control, resulting in what is known as “Level 2 Autonomy” and a host of other niceties. After playing with the online configurator for a bit, the highest I was able to spec a car to was $37,425, which again is about where the Bolt starts.
No, you can’t go to sleep or start playing bingo but assuming a road with good markings and a finger resting on the wheel it should take care of much of the driving. The concept of autonomy personally still freaks me out and likely a lot of you as well, but I was concerned about adaptive cruise control on its own as well at first back when I had my Chrysler 300C, now think it’s a fantastic feature that I’d love to have in every car.
At one time people probably worried about regular cruise control too, right? “By golly, Martha, the car, I push this button after I braked and now it’s just accelerating back up to 55mph by itself, my feet are up on the hard dashboard, what the?”
Still, the Chevy Bolt starts at almost $7,000 more in its base form, which is a large chunk of money. Sure, the extra range it provides is very nice, but with that kind of a price difference one really would start to think about the actual use case of either car and whether or not it would be justified/needed. 238 miles is huge and would exceed most of the market’s use case.
I think Nissan’s 150 miles were a very thoughtfully calculated goal, it’s easily more than most people need on a daily basis even if they live quite a distance away from a major city, but it’s not so meager as to turn people off or cause real concern without having them pay for something they will almost never need. I think we will start to see many more cars with between 150 and 200 miles of range soon.
If nothing else, the Leaf LOOKS like more of a real car and not just a very small hatchback. That’s not knocking the Bolt, I happen to like it and the shape but my wife definitely balked at the price (of the Bolt) and I never took her for someone who would equate price with size before, it really surprised me.
The Leaf is much more palatable in that regard and looks/seems more “normal”. I further believe the first company that offers a fully electric CUV at a competitive price will clean up. Imagine a Ford E-scape or Honda E-CR-V with a $45,000 sticker but eligible for, in my case, $12,500 of tax credits.
The Bolt and some of the other electrics do have a more sophisticated battery management system instead of the non-temperature controlled Leaf one which likely accounts for some of the cost difference. The less controlled the battery is, the greater a variation in range that will be encountered based on environmental factors such as heat or cold. This would matter more in a car with less range than one with range to spare.
Nissan has had some issues (mainly to do with degradation) with their early batteries but seems to have been working with customers that had problems and has upgraded the batteries during the first generation’s lifespan with recent version reportedly being much improved. Most seem to agree that the last few years of Leaf (2013 and newer) have significantly less issues than the earlier ones.
The current batteries (2017 model year) are warranted for 96 months/100,000 miles (whichever occurs earlier), I would assume that this would not change in the new model. My understanding is that Nissan has extended the warranty on some of the earlier batteries along with swapping some early batteries out for later, better batteries. Interestingly the batteries are warrantied based on degradation (i.e. how many “bars” of charge are showing in the display), not outright failure, so some people advocate looking for a used car with a borderline degraded battery but lots of warranty left to bank on a free replacement battery. It’s a strategy, I suppose.
At the event I spoke with a lot of owners, ranging from the real “True Believer” that currently owns three(!) Leafs, all in white (!!), as she was convinced that having them in white would mean less use of the air conditioner resulting in more range (Oooo-kay! My wife was eyeing a way out…) to the regular couple just like us with several kids that bought one 21 months ago to have for when their oldest child started to drive a couple of years from then.
They now find that they use it as their main family vehicle and are needing a new one since the kid will be taking the first one over full time soon. This family also currently has a Subaru Outback and a Toyota Sienna and the Leaf changed their driving lives completely, so far they’ve put about 35,000 miles on it and the other cars rarely get used. They actually have contests to see who can come home with the least remaining range…
I’ll say I was impressed, both with the event and the car. I’m also apparently signed up to have them bring me a car to my house for a short test drive later in the year so we’ll see how that goes. I unfortunately did not win the free trip to Tennessee that included a factory tour where the car is built, a tour of all their facilities out there, and some sightseeing money, but our tablemates did win it so we were excited for them.
For the foodies out there (We do have some, right?), dinner was prepared by Chef Elise Wiggins of Cattivela, which was just rated one of the top 25 restaurants in Denver by 5280 magazine (our “local” magazine), and consisted (to start) of an apple fennel salad with vanilla poached golden raisins, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts with balsamic vinaigrette.
Then one could select either Tuscan braised beef shank over creamy polenta with lemon gremolata OR Lasagna al forno with truffle mushroom and butternut squash, all followed by an absolutely heavenly Tiramisu – espresso soaked sponge cake with mascarpone cheese, chocolate and fresh berries.
It was delicious and much better than regular wedding food. I would highly recommend giving her restaurant a try if you are in the area. Afterwards coffee was served and a band started to play.
All in all a delightful evening for a car guy and/or a Leaf lover. Upon leaving, we were each presented with a goodie bag containing a hat, shirt, and higher-end aluminum water bottle, all Leaf branded. We then got in our gas guzzler, pulled out of the lot with our faces averted from the others in shame, and headed home pondering our 17 miles per gallon of Super Unleaded average. People, the future isn’t just coming, it’s already starting its second generation. And it’s real.
(Note: Please excuse the photos. Between the crowd of people and the lighting playing havoc with my iPhone’s camera it was tough going…)