The silhouette of the world’s most popular pure electric vehicle hasn’t changed, but as production starts in Europe the multi-award winning Nissan LEAF has undergone a number of significant engineering enhancements.
New Nissan LEAF is more agile than before thanks to a comprehensive raft of chassis changes while it will go further on a single charge. The NEDC range has increased from 175 kms to 199 kms thanks to a series of engineering improvements. And a new optionally available on-board fast charger halves the time needed for a complete battery recharge.
Some of the changes have been made to improve its efficiency, some to enhance its practicality, some to enrich the ownership experience… but together they make an even more compelling case for electric vehicle ownership.
“The comprehensive changes we have made to this pioneering car reinforce its unique character: unexpected, smart, accessible and progressive. We have listened to our customers and we have been working on making the European-produced version of our multi-award winning car better for their particular needs” said Paul Willcox, senior vice president, Sales and Marketing, Nissan Europe.
Motor and battery
The biggest single change made to New Nissan LEAF is to the powertrain – through changes that result in greater range. In the original car the battery charger and inverter was housed in the luggage area of the car behind the rear seats. Although comparatively compact, the assembly ran the full width of the trunk. As well as stealing some luggage space it meant a completely flat load floor was impossible to achieve.
The charger and inverter are now in the front of the car and integral with the electric motor itself which not only increases luggage space by 40 litres – about the size of a piece of airline ‘carry-on’ luggage – but also permits a flatter floor than previously when the rear seats are folded.
Although the high response AC synchronous motor develops 80kW as before, it features a number of new elements making it even more environmentally friendly and efficient. The new motor has had its intertia reduced by 5%, improving the overall efficiency of the unit. Although the power ‘stack’ is now taller thanks to the inclusion of the charger and inverter with the motor, clever packaging has meant the bonnet line hasn’t been changed nor has weight distribution been altered.
As before, the motor is powered by a Nissan-designed 48-module compact lithium-ion battery mounted in a single pack under the cabin area to keep the car’s centre of gravity as low as possible. The battery pack is housed in a strong metal case giving extra protection in a side impact and is now assembled alongside Nissan LEAF in a new facility at Nissan’s European production base in the UK.
Performance against the clock hasn changed slightly with a top speed of 144 km/h (down by 1 km/h) and 0-100 km/h taking 11.5 sec (0.4 seconds quicker than before and improvements to the car’s aerodynamics, a weight loss programme and other technical changes mean the official NEDC range has risen from 175 km to 199 km.
Greater practicality is also promised by the option of an on board 6.6kW charger which allows the use of 32 amp public or home chargers. A 32 amp post will recharge a depleted battery in half the time of a typical domestic 16 amp EV socket – four hours instead of eight – but more importantly it can give a meaningful boost to a partially used battery even during a short stopover.
With 600 CHAdeMO standard quick chargers now installed across Europe, even quicker charging is available for EV drivers. A quick charger delivers 50 kW of high voltage direct current straight to the battery mean even quicker charging – it takes just 15 minutes to boost a battery from 30 to 80 per cent capacity.
Following feedback from existing Nissan LEAF owners, the car’s on-board charging point has also been modified. The charger lid can now be opened remotely via the key fob or via an electric, rather than mechanical switch, in the cabin, and there’s a small LED lamp within the assembly to help identify the sockets at night or in an underground car park.
Security is further enhanced by an electro-mechanical lock which fixes the cable into the socket when the battery is being charged preventing interference by third parties. On the Acenta and Tekna grades, the car can automatically notify the owner if charging is unexpectedly interrupted.
A revised warranty plan for the batteries covers against defects in materials and workmanship for five years or 100,000 kms and they are covered by a new ‘State of Health’ clause, which covers against excessive capacity loss for added peace of mind.
Chassis and other technical enhancements
Every Nissan LEAF built at Sunderland for the European market has a chassis package tuned by engineers at Nissan Technical Centre Europe (NTCE) in Cranfield in the UK. The changes have been made to tailor LEAF to Europe’s higher average speeds and more demanding roads. The result is a car that’s more engaging to drive and yet is just as comfortable over poor road surfaces.
Damper settings, steering weight and brake performance have all been optimised for Europe. The revised dampers reduce float and help provide a more dynamic drive without adversely affecting ride comfort while to give greater feel and weight at speed the electric power steering system has been recalibrated. All of the work takes advantage of the LEAF’s bespoke EV packaging, which places the battery pack and therefore the centre of gravity very low in the chassis.
The brakes are now more progressive in use and the regenerative aspect improved for better harvesting of braking energy. The system efficiency has been improved by 6 per cent to 94 per cent and the minimum speed at which energy is recovered reduced to 3 km/h from 7 km/h.
There have also been changes made to the Eco driving mode with a new ‘B’ setting on the transmission. B-mode increases regenerative braking during deceleration while a separate ‘Eco’ button on the steering wheel alters the throttle mapping to discourage harsh acceleration and thus extend the driving range. On the original LEAF the two systems worked together with increased regeneration only available in ‘Eco’ mode, but can now be operated independently of one another allowing drivers to benefit from greater energy harvesting under braking without having to forgo access to instant acceleration.
A new heat pump has been added to a more efficient heating and ventilation system and reduces electrical consumption when the air conditioning is in use. Air source heat pumps have been used in cutting-edge sustainable houses across Europe, but have rarely been seen in an automotive context. The heat pump works by harvesting heat energy that is present in even cold air and distributing it to the cabin. This new system improves the real world driving range, by cutting heater energy consumption by up to 70 per cent.
Customers also requested the ability to fully switch off the heating or air conditioning system for maximum energy efficiency. To achieve this a switch marked “Heat” has been added which when switched off, allows the fan to work independently of heating or cooling.
Other changes boosting the car’s range are more efficient battery and energy management and a reduction in internal friction. Weight savings also mean New LEAF is lighter than before. Models with equipment levels that match the original are around 30kgs lighter, while the new entry level version is as much as 50kgs lighter. The average weight saving is 32kgs. This has been achieved by redesigning that battery casing and the integration of electrical components, which has reduced the length and number of heavy, high voltage interconnecting wires.
With all of the changes that have brought improvements to the New LEAF’s range, customers also wanted to change the way that remaining battery energy was displayed. Instead of just the bars system, like that of a conventional fuel gauge, the New LEAF can also display a percentage of battery remaining, much like a modern smartphone.
New Nissan LEAF is built on a bespoke EV platform with a 2700 mm wheelbase. It is 4445 mm long, 1770 mm wide and 1550 mm tall. Its distinctive shape is highly aerodynamic: subtle changes to the grille – virtually the only visual change between original and New LEAF – and a new 17-inch wheel design have reduced the Cd figure to a best of just 0.28.
As before the front of the car is framed by the slim, almost vertical, headlights, with LED lighting on top models. The lights also direct airflow away from the door mirrors to help aerodynamics and reduce wind noise. The body was designed using Nissan’s ‘smart fluidity’ principle with the kicked-up roofline blending into a large spoiler while the wind cheating shape is further helped by the flat, smooth underfloor. The rear view is dominated by thin, gently curved, vertical taillights and is, of course, notable by the total absence of an exhaust pipe. The colour palette has been expanded. There are now seven exterior colours available with a solid white, grey, red pearl metallic and black metallic joining metallic silver, white pearl and blue pearl metallic.
Significant changes within the cabin include new seats. As well as being redesigned for better support, the front-seats now incorporate height adjustment and have been reshaped to provide up to 53mm more leg room for rear seat passengers. This has been achieved by reprofiling the driver and front passenger seats to allow those in the rear to place their feet underneath them, increasing leg room.
At the same time, a new bio-fabric covering has been introduced for the Acenta grade. Where the original model featured material made from 39 per cent recycled plastic bottles, the new bio-fabric is 100 per cent derived from sugar cane, a sustainable and virtually CO2 neutral material. Black leather is fitted to the top of the range Tekna grade, and all grades are available with a more practical, dark interior finish, more suited to European winter conditions. Other interior changes include a new foot operated parking brake allowing the space on the centre console previous taken up by the electric parking brake switch to be used for extra storage for a phone or keys.
New features and equipment
New Nissan LEAF introduces a revised and updated version of Nissan’s acclaimed CarWings Navigation system. This innovative feature allows owners to manage and remotely control features from a computer or smartphone. The updated version adds a number of new features, including enhancements to the remote heating and air-conditioning functions, greater smartphone integration, improved voice recognition facility and real-time information on the nearest charge points. It now supports nine additional languages including Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Greek, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian.
The popular CarWings telematics system has proved a hit with owners of the current vehicle, allowing unprecedented convenience for customers with a compatible phone, tablet or PC. One of the most popular features in the original LEAF is the ability to set the cars climate control to activate at a particular time, warming the car up or cooling it down before beginning a journey. This allows customers to save battery charge by warming or cooling the car from the mains supply while it is charging, rather than from the battery.
In markets with colder winters like Norway, the ability to pre-heat the car has proved very popular with customers enjoying warming the car to 22 degrees before a journey and avoiding clearing ice and snow. In response to customer feedback, the new CarWings system allows customer to choose the temperature the car should achieve by cooling or heating before a journey, improving convenience.
The navigation has been upgraded and now features eco-routing which automatically calculates a route for the lowest power consumption taking the terrain into consideration and avoiding sharp ascents for the most economical drive. As well as a large colour touchscreen, satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones and music players – it can now display album cover art – the new system incorporates Google Send-To-Car technology which allows an owner to plan a journey on a PC or tablet at home or in the office and then send the instructions to the car.
On the Visia grade Nissan’s new ‘Connect 2’ navigations system can be fitted as an option extra. It incorporates other advanced features including access to Google’s POI search, and allows drivers to access up to date weather forecasts, local fuel prices and flight information. The navigation system now includes a motorway ‘exit view’ complete with lane guidance to help when leaving highways and also displays prevailing speed limits with a driver-set speed warning that provides visual and audible alerts when the car hits a certain speed above the prevailing limit.
Nissan’s innovative Around View Monitor (AVM) is a standard fitment on the Tekna grade of New LEAF. AVM uses a network of cameras to generate a 360-degree overhead image of the car on the central display, simplifying parking or any difficult manoeuvre.
Another feature is a purpose designed Bose® audio system which, like AVM, is standard on Tekna versions. The Energy Efficient Series system delivers a powerful, high quality audio experience but from a unit that’s both more compact than similar premium systems and which uses about half the electrical energy. The seven speaker system comprises of two 25mm neodymium tweeters, one in each A-pillar, two 165 mm wide range speakers, one in each front door, two 130 mm wide range speakers, one in each rear door and a 115 mm Nd® Richbass® woofer in a 6.2 litre custom engineered acoustic waveguide bassbox in the boot.
There are now three models in the LEAF range, giving buyers a greater choice than before. Following Nissan practice, the range starts with the Visia model and scrolls through Acenta before reaching the top Tekna grade. Visia models have a lower entry price point than the original LEAF, making zero-emission mobility even more accessible. Visia models have 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, black mirror caps and halogen headlights. Front fog lights, i-Key and an audio system with four speakers are also standard.
Mid-range Acenta grade is generously equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, advanced IT with Carwings telematics, rear view monitor, remote charger and heating activation, rear privacy glass, a six-speaker sound system, body colour mirrors and automatic lights with follow-me home lighting.
Acenta models also have a quick charge port, rain sensing wipers and electric folding door mirrors. The new top Tekna model adds LED headlamps, the seven-speaker Bose sound system, leather seats (optional in Nordic markets), 17-inch alloy wheels and Around View Monitor.
All versions have a full complement of safety equipment as standard with front side and curtain airbags as well as ABS, EBD and brake assistance. The Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) is also standard. Nissan LEAF gained a full five star EuroNCAP rating on its launch and was the first 100% electric vehicle to gain this safety rating.