2019 Nissan Leaf Plus Review: The Big Battery Leaf Is a Better Electric Car
The all-electric Leaf Plus now packs 226 miles of range, but is that enough in today's world?
The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus, By the Numbers
- Base Price: Not announced yet
- Powertrain: AC synchronous electric motor with 214 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque | 64 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery | front-wheel drive
- EPA Range Estimate: 226 miles
- Charging Options: CHAdeMO port compatible with Electrify America, Blink Network, and ChargePoint; J1772 port compatible with ChargePoint | 240-volt home charging restores 19.7 miles of range per hour, 50-kW fast charging adds 3 miles of range per minute, 100-kW fast charging adds 4 miles of range per minute
- Cargo Space: 23.6 cubic feet with rear seats up | 30 cubes with seats down
- Quick Take: With a bigger battery, the Leaf Plus scratches the range itch and finally becomes a compelling package.
Range Gains for the Nissan Leaf
The all-electric Nissan Leaf has been dogged by a lack of range pretty much since its launch in 2010. Seventy-three to 107 miles didn't cut everyone's mustard, and Nissan responded by increasing the second-gen Leaf's standard battery size to 40 kWh, good for a 150-mile range. But even that number doesn't stand out anymore in an age where 200 miles has become something of a benchmark for real-world usability. Time for another upgrade: The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus.
The Nissan Leaf Plus packs a larger, more energy-dense 62-kWh battery and an EPA-estimated range of 226 miles. It also gains a more powerful electric motor and more standard content over the regular 40-kWh Leaf, along with a slightly higher and still unannounced price tag. So to find out if the new model delivers enough bang for the increased buck, we spent a day humming around not-so-sunny San Diego in a cream-of-the-crop 2019 Nissan Leaf SL Plus.
Leaf Plus Design Is Just Fine
The Leaf's modern design is relatively modest for an electric vehicle these days; Nissan doesn't adhere to the trend of filling in the Leaf's "grille" the way many automakers do with the battery set. The grille's inclusion also gives Nissan space to distinguish the Leaf Plus with subtle blue accents up front, which pretty much the only visual difference from the smaller-battery model. It's a big improvement from the alien-looking first generation, even if the conservative tack does limit its appeal as a eco-status symbol—though buyers looking to make a statement usually end up with a Tesla regardless.
The Leaf Plus's interior is on the vanilla side, but an upscale, single-origin vanilla. Nissan moved as many functions as possible to the enlarged 8-inch infotainment screen with a critical handful preserved in button form: seat heaters, HVAC, and volume control. Every Leaf Plus comes standard with Apple CarPlay. The center console is topped with an unintuitive, pseudo-joystick drive selector displaying its current mode with amber LEDs that are a too dim to see in direct sunlight. Located close by are the Eco button and E-Pedal selector. It's all sharp for an economy car, a little less so from a premium standpoint.
2019 Nissan Leaf Plus: The Drive
Behind the wheel, Eco mode softens throttle response to double as the drivetrain's de facto Comfort mode. Acceleration is soft but insistent, able to provide a modicum of fun yet gentle enough to trick any passenger into thinking you're a responsible driver. Despite the name, it doesn't add all that much range. Switching to Eco mode in our test car, we saw a projected mileage boost in the low teens, though a photo from Nissan suggests about 260 miles could be possible on a full charge if driven carefully. Depending on the speed limit, that could get you between three and four hours of highway driving.
Such trips will soar by with the aid of Nissan's semi-automated ProPilot assist. Testing of ProPilot confirms it'll keep the car situated in its lane, and it'll even brake automatically to maintain safe following distances if you're cut off by someone about to miss their exit. ProPilot isn't self-driving, isn't autonomy, and isn't perfect. It couldn't make heads or tails of a winding canyon road, and shouldn't be trusted to handle them on its own. Still, the comparable Chevrolet Bolt offers no such system, and it's the closest thing to Tesla's Autopilot that you'll find on a mass-market electric vehicle.
Thankfully, you'll enjoy taking control of the Nissan Leaf Plus. It's only by turning off Eco mode that you get the motor's full 214 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, which can pull the Leaf Plus from a standstill to 60 mph in about seven seconds. Those numbers don't sound like much, but you'd struggle to find a car that makes better use of similar power—and once it's moving, the Leaf Plus breezes past highway slowpokes with an instant, sports car-like exuberance.
In the same way a good brake pedal gives predictable deceleration, with an obvious relationship between how much you press the pedal and how hard you stop, the throttle in the Leaf Plus gives perfect control over acceleration. More important is how Nissan erased the line between traditional friction braking and battery-filling regenerative braking. The transition between the two is unidentifiable with or without the E-Pedal active—which one of the Leaf's best tricks.
It might sound like a gimmick, but the E-Pedal is a well-considered addition that essentially allows you to drive the car with a single pedal. Come off the accelerator and it'll engage light braking, but go back on and you can decelerate more slowly, coast, or even speed up again. It doesn't brake hard enough to manage a panic stop, though it can bring the car to a complete halt if there's room. Also, that's what the brake pedal itself is for.
Even on California's potholed, cracked roads, the Leaf doesn't jar your spine, nor do its well-shaped seats contort it, providing excellent spinal support even for those taller than average. Those goliaths may find the second-row seats on the cramped side with limited headroom, but not as much so as the smaller Chevrolet Bolt.
Leaf Plus Range Is Real
Back to the big question: Range. 226 miles isn't outstanding, but it's still capable of handling smaller road trips and makes for multiple hours of driving between charging stops. We were on track to run dry in about 200 miles during real-world testing, though that was factoring in some exceptionally aggressive driving in the name of science. A calmer right foot delivers numbers that are pretty much in line with the EPA data.
When discharged, the Leaf's CHAdeMO and J1772 charge ports (pictured above) give it flexibility with charging options, and make it compatible with a wide range of fast-charge infrastructure, including the ever-expanding Electrify America network. The infotainment's onboard charger locator guarantees the car always knows where the nearest fast-charger can be found, and once there, it can accept a charge rate as high as 100 kW, which adds four miles' range per minute, or an 80 percent charge (about 180 miles) over 45 minutes.
Thermal management is still absent on the Leaf Plus, so overheating the air-cooled battery is still a hypothetical risk with repeated fast charges and discharges in quick succession. That's a life few Leafs are likely to live, however, and will only result in reduced power output and longer charge times until the battery cools again.
Nissan Leaf Plus Is a Solid Green Machine
It's tricky to find a quicker-charging EV in the Leaf Plus's estimated price range. Nissan hasn't specified what Leaf Plus models will cost, giving only an outline that the lowest-level Plus model—the Leaf S Plus—will come in at a price above that of the Leaf SL, which costs $36,200 before the $7,500 federal tax credit (for which Nissan is still eligible). Going by this price scheme, the Leaf SL Plus I drove will probably come in at more than $42,410, which is borderline Tesla Model 3 (or Model Y) territory.
But the Leaf Plus's few shortcomings can be overlooked (or fixed in future model years), and do little to sully the vehicle's driving or expected ownership experience. It'd be an attractive vehicle at its sticker price, but with the tax credit is still on the table, the Leaf Plus makes for a persuasive package.
The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus is scheduled to arrive in showrooms in March.