Nissan Leaf SL Plus review: How the best-selling electric car’s tech stacks up


In keeping with my new tradition of reviewing cars, I took a spin in the Nissan Leaf SL Plus, a variant of the world’s best-selling electric vehicle.

I’m not much of a professional car reviewer. But I have driven a lot of tech-laden electric cars in the past year, including the Jaguar I-Pace, the BMW i3s, the Mini Cooper SE Countryman (hybrid), the Volkswagen e-Golf, and the Ford Fusion Energi.

After I came back from the CES 2019 tech trade show in January, I figured it made sense to start writing about cars now that companies are packing so much technology into these vehicles.

To get around reliance on fossil fuels, electric cars rely on great technology, of course. But I’m looking at the other tech embedded in the cars as it starts to fade into the woodwork and become just one more feature.

Basics of the Nissan Leaf SL Plus

Above: You control the transmission with that knob in the middle.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The Nissan Leaf SL Plus model that I drove costs $42,550. (Thankfully, I didn’t get into a fender bender). Two other models, the SF Plus and the S Plus, sell for $38,510 and $36,550, respectively.

Nissan has sold more than 400,000 Leaf electric cars worldwide, including 132,000 in the U.S. The Plus models include Nissan Intelligent Mobility features and have a 62kWh lithium-ion battery pack that gives you a driving range of 226 miles.

That’s enough range to get me from the South Bay to San Francisco without “range anxiety.” It’s not enough to take me from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, which I do maybe once a year. But a 40-minute quick-charge stop (while taking time to eat a meal) would do it.

The vehicle has a 160-kilowatt motor that produces 214 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, the standard Nissan Leaf has a 40kWh battery pack with a range of up to 150 miles.

Accelerating from 50mph to 75mph is nearly 13% faster than with the standard Nissan Leaf, which allows the Nissan Leaf Plus to pass slower-moving vehicles, exit corners more quickly, and merge into traffic more easily. The top speed has also increased by 10%.

The car seats five people and has a comfy eight-way adjustable driver’s seat. Like most new cars, it features keyless ignition. You don’t put a key into a starter because that’s so old-fashioned — instead, you put your foot on the brake and press the “start” button.

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It also offers some modern conveniences, like a rear door alert (RDA) that reminds you if you have left something in the rear seat. That’s especially important for anyone transporting babies or pets, not to mention a bag of groceries.

The vehicle comes in seven standard colors: Brilliant Silver Metallic, Gun Metallic, Super Black, Glacier White, Deep Blue Pearl, Pearl White, and Super Black, and two premium colors — Pearl White Tricoat and Scarlet Ember Tintcoat (pearl metallic plus tinted clearcoat).

Infotainment

Above: Sirius XM satellite radio costs extra.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

You can remotely connect to the vehicle from a smartphone, wearable, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant via NissanConnect EV.

The dashboard features an 8-inch thin-film transistor, full-color infotainment screen. I used it to listen to CNN on Sirius XM satellite radio (which costs extra). It switches over instantly to FM, and I used a Bluetooth connection to link to my iPhone. You can tap on the touchscreen to move it to the next set of channels.

The car has Apple Car Play integration, which is a standard feature in many of the 2019 models I’ve driven this year. You can link your iPhone to Bluetooth or the car’s Wi-Fi network, which can be used as a hot spot. Activate Car Play to see what is on your iPhone on the car’s upper infotainment display. It also works with Google Android Auto.

The display has an updated navigation system that can be linked to a compatible smartphone. The display features smartphone-like operations, including swiping, scrolling, and tapping. Maps and firmware are updated over the air with the simple touch of a button, which means you don’t have to get them manually updated by USB or at a Nissan dealership.

I was able to use the touch icons on the car’s infotainment screen to choose my music. Below the dashboard, where you would expect to see an ashtray, there’s a USB connector for charging, near the power button.

Smarter driving with ProPilot Assist and e-Pedal

Above: Your dashboard will alert you to any driving hazards.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Nissan has its own brand of smarter driving features, with assistance from sensors and processing power. ProPilot Assist is a single-lane highway driving assist technology that can automatically adjust the distance to the vehicle ahead, using a speed preset by the driver.

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ProPilot Assist can also help keep the vehicle centered in its lane. If the car in front stops, ProPilot Assist can automatically apply the brakes to bring the vehicle to a full stop if necessary. After coming to a full stop, the vehicle can remain in place even if the driver’s foot is off the brake.

If traffic restarts, the car will resume driving when the driver touches the steering wheel-mounted ProPilot Assist switch again or lightly presses the accelerator to activate the system. All of these functions can help reduce stress when driving on the highway in heavy traffic and on long commutes.

The Nissan Leaf also has e-Pedal, which allows the driver to start, accelerate, decelerate, and stop using only the accelerator pedal. To match the Nissan Leaf Plus’ additional power and increased mass, Nissan has reprogrammed the e-Pedal software for smoother operation and enhanced pedal feedback, especially for operation in reverse, and for smoother and more rapid deceleration, making it easier to stop the car using e-Pedal, even when backing up.

Along with ProPilot Assist and e-Pedal, the Nissan Leaf Plus has advanced safety technologies, including Intelligent Lane Intervention (I-LI) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). These keep you in your lane and send a vibrational alert to the steering wheel if you are veering out of your line. If you switch lanes without signaling, you’ll feel the vibration.

It also has Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection. The side mirrors have orange lights that alert you via Blind Spot Warning (BSW) if  there is a car in your blind spot. The car also has Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Intelligent Around View Monitor (I-AVM). And you will see a video of what’s behind the car when you are backing up.

NissanConnect

Nissan Connect on the The Nissan Leaf SL Plus.

Above: NissanConnect on the The Nissan Leaf SL Plus.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The new Leaf Plus links drivers, vehicles, and communities through its convenient graphic-based human-machine interface. It allows the owner to use the NissanConnect smartphone app to perform tasks such as monitoring the vehicle’s state of charge, scheduling charging to benefit from optimal energy tariffs, finding the nearest charging station (which is very useful when you have range anxiety), and heating or cooling the car before getting in.

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Other new features include Door-to-Door Navigation, which syncs the vehicle’s navigation system with your compatible smartphone for seamless driving and walking directions. The connections feature allows any of the car’s passengers to quickly and easily connect to a device within the vehicle.

Integration goes beyond what’s in the vehicle and now includes Nissan Energy, the company’s existing and future initiatives for Vehicle-to-Grid, Vehicle-to- Building, and Vehicle-to-Home connections, generating solar electricity, as well as reusing batteries. With Nissan Energy, Nissan Leaf vehicles are part of a larger electric vehicle ecosystem.

Charging

Above: The Nissan Leaf SL Plus charges in the front.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

From previous electric cars, I learned that plugging them into an ordinary house electrical socket doesn’t do much good. You would charge only a small percentage of the battery per hour that way, even if you left it plugged in for days. But I was able to get a roughly 20% boost by charging the car overnight. If you use a faster charger — a High Output Quick Charge Port — you can charge about 80% of the battery capacity in 40 minutes.

Above: It is easy to find the nearest charger with the the Nissan Leaf SL Plus navigation system.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

I was about to drive off in the Leaf SL Plus without disengaging the power cable from the charge port. That could have been bad, but the car wouldn’t let me move until I pulled the charger out. (It actually took me a while to figure out where the charging port was: in the front part of the hood.)

That’s actually a smart place to put the charging port because nobody wants to back a car into a quick-charge parking space just to reach a charging port in the back of the car.

If you get one of these cars, you should invest in the fast charger, which requires a special outlet in your house.

Worth the price?

Above: The Nissan Leaf SL Plus has an aerodynamic design.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

At $42,550, the Nissan Leaf SL Plus is in a sweet spot, and the $36,550 standard Leaf sounds like a bargain compared to other cars I’ve driven, like the $69,500 Jaguar I-Pace and the $47,500 BMW i3s.

If you are looking for a car to commute from San Jose to San Francisco or vice versa, this could be the one. Of course, you’ll have to consider things like how long the car will last and how long the battery pack will stay healthy.

I’m not going to buy this car soon, but I’ll think seriously about it when one of my over 10-year-old cars finally falls apart. This zero-emission car is on the shortlist.



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