Test Drive:2019 Nissan Leaf Plus

Christian Wardlaw | Feb 25, 2019

Introduction

When you see a “Plus” badge on the back of a 2019 Nissan Leaf you’ll know it has the bigger 62-kWh battery pack and more powerful 214-horsepower electric motor. And that means the EV (electric vehicle) will also travel a claimed 226 miles between charges, putting the Leaf into the same league as the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona Electric, and Kia Niro EV.

To sample the new Leaf Plus first-hand I accepted Nissan’s invitation to drive the car in the San Diego area. The electric drivetrain changes certainly make this EV easier to live with, as does the car’s new infotainment system and a couple of safety-related upgrades. However, at the same time, a handful of flaws keep the Chevy, Hyundai, and Kia on an EV shopper’s list.

Styling and Design

Available in S, SV, and SL trim levels, the new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus lineup mirrors the standard Leaf, though Nissan says the more capable Plus versions include more equipment. Prices were not set as this review was published, but Nissan says they will be competitive.

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus photo
2019 Nissan Leaf Plus

The new 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus looks much like the standard Leaf. Visually, the distinctions are limited to the “Plus” badge and some blue trim on the front and rear bumpers. Inside, the Leaf Plus is nearly identical to other Leafs. Unfortunately, that means the hard plastic adorning the sides of the center console and the upper door panels remains in place.

Especially for the driver, who needs to position his or her leg to use the accelerator pedal, the bowed-out plastic on the center console is a special kind of torture. During my driving, it ground against the bones just under my kneecap. Nissan needs to swap this material out for a softly padded surface just as soon as is possible.

Evaluated on their own merits, the front seats are comfortable. The ones in the back, however, are not. They sit up high on top of the battery housing, providing stadium-style seating. However, the rear floor is also raised, eliminating thigh support. There’s no room for feet under the front seats, either, and legroom is tight.

Trunk space is generous, the Leaf providing a deep well behind the rear seat. The bag containing the charging cord does, however, chew into the usable space. Fold the rear seat in half and volume expands from 23.6 cu. ft. to 30 cu. ft. That’s not a big gain, and the resulting load floor is uneven.

Features and Controls

Every Leaf Plus is equipped with automatic climate control, keyless entry and push-button start, charging port with a light, automatic emergency braking, and a one-pedal driving system called E-pedal. Upgrades, depending on the trim level, range from leather seats and a Bose premium audio system to ProPilot Assist and 100-kW DC fast-charging compatibility.

In San Diego, I drove the SL Plus with all of the extras. Again, official prices had not been set as this review was published, but if I had to guess it would be over $43,000 before factoring in the $7,500 federal tax credit and any state and local EV rebates for your area. Those credits and rebates certainly make it easier to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

As far as the controls are concerned, aside from a slightly wonky transmission gear selector, the Leaf is conventionally and conservatively laid out. This is a good thing if you’re new to electric vehicles and want the transition to be as smooth and painless as possible. This is a bad thing if you prefer a more futuristic and tech-laden interior to go along with your electric drivetrain.

Safety and Technology

New safety features debuting with the Leaf Plus include Nissan’s Rear Door Alert system, which is designed to prevent parents from accidentally leaving kids in the car, and an improved forward-collision warning system. Otherwise, the Leaf Plus is offered with the same driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems as a standard Leaf.

One highlight among them is ProPilot Assist. It equips the Leaf with adaptive cruise control with distance control, stop-and-go capability in heavy traffic, and lane-keeping and lane-centering assist technology. Nissan stresses that this is a hands-on driving-assist system and is not a semi-autonomous or autonomous driving technology.

The Leaf Plus also debuts a new NissanConnect infotainment system. Equipped with a larger 8-in. display screen (up from 7 ins.), it combines helpful knobs and buttons with a more responsive touch screen that works more like a smartphone. The software can be updated via Wi-Fi, and the NissanConnect EV Services tech is compatible with home voice assistants and smartwatches in addition to Apple and Android smartphones. The system also offers new Door-to-Door Navigation to help you find your destination even when you’ve been forced to park several blocks away.

No doubt, this new infotainment system will help Leaf Plus owners feel like they’ve purchased a thoroughly modern EV.

Driving Impressions

The other thing that will satisfy Leaf Plus owners is the car’s larger and more powerful battery, and the improved acceleration from the electric motor.

A standard Leaf is rated to provide 150 miles of range on a single charge, while the Leaf Plus supplies 226 miles, according to Nissan. A standard Leaf makes 147 horsepower, while the Leaf Plus delivers 214. A standard Leaf soaks up an 80% charge in 40 minutes using a 50-kW DC fast charger, while the Leaf Plus can get an 80% charge in 60 minutes. Both cars are designed to plug into a 240-volt household dryer outlet, so if you have one of those in your garage, you won’t need to pay extra for a home charging station.

Nissan says that a typical EV owner will need to recharge a Leaf once per week, a process that takes 11.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet. That’s down from twice per week with a standard Leaf, and is a big deal to people who are new to EVs.

Perhaps more important, the Leaf Plus accelerates faster and offers that acceleration over a broader range of speeds, making the car more rewarding to drive.

During several hours behind the wheel, the Leaf Plus proved itself mighty quick, and on a twisty road all of its battery weight located low in the car’s platform, combined with 17-in. aluminum wheels and 215/50 tires, made it fairly responsive. No doubt, the standard Intelligent Trace Control and Active Ride Control systems helped to impart a sensation of dynamism.

On freeways, the Leaf can cruise at 80 mph without effort, but the car does get pretty noisy inside. Around town, the Leaf was clearly in its element, the light steering making quick work of parking procedures and the guessing game necessary with the E-pedal system making the car more challenging (i.e., fun) to drive.

I like to use E-pedal, which maximizes regeneration when the driver steps off the accelerator, and can even bring the car to a complete stop if you plan properly. However, I can see why most people might not, which explains why the default setting with each re-start is “off.”

During my drive I covered 70.6 miles and used 36% of the battery charge with a consumption rate of 3.6 miles per kWh. When I started, the range was 226 miles, and when I returned the Leaf Plus to Nissan I had 153 miles left. Clearly, the Leaf Plus can easily exceed the 200-mile threshold that Nissan’s research says is necessary to get people who are considering an EV to sign on the dotted line.

Conclusion

There are reasons to choose an electric vehicle other than the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus, but battery capacity and the motor’s power rating are no longer impediments. That is significant, putting Nissan back in the hunt in a segment it arguably pioneered with the original 2011 Leaf.

What Nissan needs to resolve are flaws related to front and rear seat comfort, as well as cargo space packaging. Most likely, aside from adding some padding to the center console, such improvements will need to wait until Nissan performs a complete, wheels-up redesign of the Leaf.

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