What sets the Leaf’s e-Pedal apart is that it combines the resistance
of the car’s front-axle regenerative braking system, which is twice is powerful as the first-gen car’s, with the brakes. With e-Pedal on (it can be switched off so the car coasts in a more conventional manner, should you want it to) the Leaf decelerates with up to 0.2g of force, enough to bring the car to a complete stop and negating the use of the brake pedal in around 90% of urban driving. It takes some getting used to, but the concept really does work. Nissan’s engineers stress that the set-up of our pre-production Leaf is not fully representative of cars that’ll reach Britain. Cars heading here, they say, will swap the cushioned ride of our Asian-spec test car for more composure, engineered at Nissan’s technical centre in Cranfield.
But even in Asian prototype form, the Leaf remains surprisingly flat through the winding infield roads of the Atsugi test centre. This is no doubt helped by the car’s battery-influenced low centre of gravity, but it’s also a result of the car’s chassis control technology, which reduces pitch and roll. Nissan also claims the car’s rear section is 15% stiffer than before. The dominating trait of the new Leaf, though, is its much more responsive drivetrain. The spongy throttle response of the old car has been swapped for something sharper, and the motor’s additional punch means you’re genuinely pressed back into the seat as the Leaf surges forward in the typically unbroken manner of an EV. Most impressive is the rolling acceleration, which should make it much more effective at overtaking and on motorways.
Put simply, it makes the second-gen car significantly more enjoyable to drive and, although the overly light steering that’s devoid of feel kills any real chance of engagement, it means buyers may be drawn to the Nissan for its performance – and we never thought we’d say that about a Leaf... The new Leaf is much more than just an evolution of its predecessor; it’s an entirely different proposition. To succeed in a world where electric vehicles have moved from being an uncertainty to an inevitability in just seven years, the Leaf had to change.
Our early drive suggests the shift will be a significantly large one, and at this moment we’d say the Leaf stands in good stead to challenge for class honours.
But it will be a far greater challenge for the second-generation car, which is soon to be faced with all-new
rivals such as the Volkswagen ID, to stand the test of time as well as its groundbreaking predecessor.
What lies beneath the Leaf
The structure of the new Leaf is essentially an evolved version of the Mk1’s underpinnings. The changes that have been made are said to boost structural rigidity, enhance refinement and improve the weight distribution.
Despite these improvements, Nissan has managed to save an undisclosed amount of weight by using new materials and joining methods. The structure itself is also more adjustable, enabling it to offer a wider range set-ups for different regions. The UK, for example, will get its own settings in order to cater to our uniquely potholed roads.
Further changes will be made for the forthcoming E-Plus model, which will use a further modified version of the regular Leaf’s structure. It will need to be more rigid so it can accommodate a heavier battery of a yet to be revealed capacity, and it’ll have to handle the additional torque provided by a larger motor. No power output has been revealed, but Nissan said the E-Plus will be so much punchier that it will require a toughened-up inverter.