First Drive: Nissan Leaf e+

When the latest Leaf arrived early last year, its 40kWh battery was good for 168 miles, giving it the longest range at the more affordable end of the market.

It wasn’t long before the likes of Kia and Hyundai spoiled the party though, with their e-Niro and Kona models offering 60% more energy storage at little difference in cost.

Eighteen months later and Nissan is catching up with the new Leaf e+, the ‘e’ bit of the name feeling quite unnecessary, while the ‘+’ signifies the fitment of a new 62kWh battery. The extra power means the e+ can travel for 239 miles, according to WLTP testing.

Nissan Leaf e+ profile

A launch event is never the ideal place to test range claims, as it’s rare to cover as many miles as would be required, but the Leaf e+ was reporting economy of 4.0-miles per kWh, which translates to a range of around 215 miles on a route that included motorway running, some steep hills, urban traffic and a driver with a heavy right foot.

If you’re working out the maths there and thinking it doesn’t add up, you’re right. Nissan keeps a bit of the battery in reserve to cover both long-term degradation and to provide extra power if you ever reach zero. It’s a bit like the reserve fuel you use in an ordinary petrol-powered car once the needle has hit the red sector.

Nissan Leaf e+ rear

The motor driving the front wheels has also been upgraded, and now offers 217hp (up from 150hp) and 340Nm of torque (up from 320Nm). There’s still the same urgency from a standstill, with enough power to occasionally light up the front wheels when pulling away swiftly, and the 0-62mph time has dropped by a complete second to 6.9 seconds, but it doesn’t feel like the car has been endowed with an extra 45% of power.

The new battery pack has increased in weight by a not insignificant 100kg or so, which would explain some of that sensation. It’s no slouch though and, as with the existing Leaf, it’s more than happy to cruise along at motorway speed, never feeling out of its depth against its traditionally powered peers.

One pedal is all that’s needed to drive the Leaf, as the e-Pedal has been retained from the existing model. More than just regenerative braking, the Leaf allows you to come to a complete stop, controlled just by modulating the throttle pedal. Foot down, it goes forwards then, as you lift off, starts to slow gently, before slowing firmly once you’ve taken your foot off entirely. It’s difficult to understand how it works and how much difference it makes without trying it out for yourself, but it works. That said, it’s divisive; I’ll use the system and happily drive around with one pedal, but my wife insists on using the traditional two-pedal method. Each to their own, I guess.

Charging connectivity remains much the same, so there’s a Type 2 connector for regular charging at home, the office or elsewhere, and a CHAdeMO socket for rapid charging. The maximum throughput has been doubled to 100kW, allowing 20% full battery to be charged to 80% in around 60 minutes – assuming you can find a 100kW charger. Most are rated to 50kW, so expect to double that time until infrastructure catches up.

A heavier battery pack means Nissan has also altered the suspension, but it’s a minor change. The ride height has been raised by half a centimetre, with stiffer springs to compensate, but the end result isn’t anything noticeably different from previously. There’s a little patter through the wheels as they clear those constant surface cracks, dips and joints, and the steering is marginally sharper, but it doesn’t change the generally smooth-riding character of the car.

There’s only been one change inside the car and, happily, it’s a positive step. The old infotainment centre has been binned, replaced by something that looks the same but sits in a larger eight-inch touch screen. The software has been tweaked so it’s much faster to respond, and some apps have been optimised, but it’s the navigation that takes the biggest leap. Don’t get too excited though, as it’s only moved from awful to acceptable. Fortunately both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are on board, allowing you to bypass Nissan’s own system.

Nissan Leaf e+ interior

The rest of the cabin remains untouched, with a rather sombre grey dashboard and lots of black plastic around the interior. There are buttons for everything (including 18 of them on the steering wheel) which makes a pleasant change from unfathomable touch screen systems, but they’ve been located haphazardly around the car. Still, it’s comfortable, spacious (especially in the rear) and includes a surprising amount of storage both in the interior for bottles, phones, coffee cups, and so on, and in the 405-litre boot. Annoyingly though, there’s only one USB socket in the entire car.

Combined, the updates are relatively minor. Outside of the improved infotainment system, the only significant move is the larger battery and the extended range that it offers. Is that worth the £6,000 increase in price over the standard model? Given that rivals from Hyundai and Kia offer more range and a more pleasing environment for less money suggests not, which may go some way to explain the year-long waiting lists for those models. You can have a Nissan Leaf e+ right now though, which might be enough to swing the balance.

Model Tested: Nissan Leaf e+ Tekna
Price: £36,395 inc grant
Range: £26,845 – £36,395
Top speed: 98 mph
0-62 mph: 6.9 seconds
Power: 217 PS (214 bhp)
Torque: 340 Nm (251 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £497
Official range: 239 miles
Road test range: 215 miles
CO2 Emissions: 0 g/km
Car Tax: £0
Insurance group: 26E

* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36-month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.