TOUTED as the world’s first mass-market EV, in Australia the original ZE0 Leaf suffered the growing pains it had to have.
Injured by the oddball design, starship dash and dull dynamics, it was high pricing (initially $51,500) and low range (about 115km realistically) that dealt the fatal blow, resulting in just 635 sales in the four years from 2012, against over 250,000 globally.
In contrast, the ZE1 Leaf II out in June is the result of hard lessons learned, with stronger performance, a 16kWh-larger battery that doubles real-world range to 270km, and a slightly larger, longer, wider and lower body on offer. Progress – though some of the old Leaf’s friendly/dorky flair has been exorcised in the process. Note the doors and bonnet are no longer aluminium, but steel.
Nowadays, the dash is as simple as the previous one was sophisticated. It’s now ho-hum conventional, down to an analogue speedo and wheel nicked from the Qashqai (that it’s built alongside in Britain).There’s still no column reach adjustment, annoyingly, we miss the old car’s eye-level digital speedo, and the electric park brake gives way to a foot-operated relic. Boo!
At least Leaf’s now quieter. DAB+ digital radio and CarPlay/Auto debut. And cargo capacity grows to a family-friendly 435L (though battery packaging means a flat boot floor remains elusive). Carry-over toggle auto lever aside, there’s precisely zero alien-EV weirdness inside.
Plenty of EV poke though. Performance livens up considerably, with hasty off-the-line dispatch and seamless overtaking yours to enjoy; the steering finally feels connected, with newfound feel and responsiveness; and while there’s an underlying chassis tautness that brings fresh dynamic nimbleness, the firmer-ride trade-off is perfectly acceptable. Enthusiasts no longer need ignore.
The fresh ‘e-Pedal’ regenerative braking system offers off-throttle braking, providing 0.2G of retardation, adding range and assisting in smoother driving – especially as brake pedal feel is still a bit snatchy. Furthermore, newly standard AEB, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise and surround-view monitor should help cement the Leaf’s mainstream aspirations.
Finally, just as before, charging via a regular three-pin socket could take up to 24 hours, but a circa-$3K-installed wallbox slashes that by almost two-thirds. Additionally, improved battery cooling means owners will be encouraged to seek out DC fast-charge outlets for 80 percent of capacity in about 40 minutes. And now bi-directional charging can provide electricity back to your house or grid.
Only Nissan offers a second-gen EV when most rivals still struggle to muster their first; that the ZE1 has matured into a more mainstream-focused proposition might finally see the Leaf flourish in Australia. But the price must be right.
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