Fans of the all-electric, much-awarded Nissan LEAF can look forward to the next generation of the car arriving on showroom floors soon. Set to float gently to Earth at next month’s Geneva Auto Show, the new Nissan LEAF promises longer range, better ergonomics and driving experience, and a light to see where to plug the bloody thing in at night.
Since its launch in 2011, the LEAF has put 50,000 of the silent transporters into various eco-loving garages around the globe. The new LEAF brings with it over 100 various modifications as a result of Nissan engineering and current owner feedback. Nissan has also acquired aggregated LEAF data from its proprietary Carwings Telematics System. Charging, usage and mileage patterns are logged and evaluated using the CTS. This information is then downloaded to Nissan where engineers analyze real world data and then integrate changes into key components and systems as required.
The LEAF’s new Carwings System not only provides feedback to Nissan but also gives owners the ability to remotely control heating and charging. The new system also brings with it greater smartphone integration, improved voice recognition, eco-routing and real-time information for the nearest charging stations.
In addition to a new large color touchscreen, sat-navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and disc player, Google’s new Send-To-Car system has been assimilated into the mix. This new system is designed to allow LEAF owners to fully plan out a trip on their PC or tablet. Instructions are then sent to the car, where they can be referred to by the driver. The system also allows access to Google's POI search, giving drivers access to up-to-date weather forecasts and flight information.
Wonder what your LEAF looks like from above? Nissan's Around View Monitor, found in Infiniti’s FX series, is another innovation new to the LEAF. The system uses a network of cameras to generate a 360-degree overhead image of the car, which is then displayed on the central screen. Technically and visually cool, the system allows drivers a dirigible view of any blind spots when parking or maneuvering about tricky real estate.
Thanks to some external styling tweaks and mechanical engineering refinements, the new LEAF finds driving range figures increase roughly 15 percent, from 109 miles (175 km) to 124 miles (200 km) on a single charge. A very subtle front grille revision helps reduce the car’s aerodynamic drag coefficient from 0.29 to 0.28. Producing effectively no C02 at the point of use, the LEAF’s exhaust particulate emissions and NOx is essentially zero.
To help deal with the very real concern of running out of juice, an expanded charging network has come into play. For example, in 2012 there were 150 LEAF dealers across Europe and 195 Quick Charger stations. As of this year there are 1,400 LEAF dealers, 600+ Quick Chargers and 20,000 public charger stations; an increase of 12,000 public stations from last year.
In addition to expanded networks, a reduced charging time is promised via a new option. According to Nissan, this new charging option will cut conventional charging time in half, from eight hours to four. A new 6.6 kW on-board charger allows for the use of 32-amp charging, whereas a typical domestic socket delivers a lowly 10 amps. This faster charge system can still use the latest generation of domestic and commercial property chargers. Alternatively, some authorities are currently installing public charging posts capable of delivering 32 amps output, negating the need for the 6.6 kW charger option.
But e-motivating the LEAF is what makes this plug-in unique. Assembled together as a single stack, the LEAF’s new powertrain is premised around a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor. Working in partnership with the AC motor is Nissan’s 48-module compact lithium-ion battery pack. Located beneath the cabin, the pack is set low in the car to drop the center of gravity, thus improving handling while freeing up storage and passenger space.
Increasing cabin space even further, Nissan moved the charger port from the arse of the LEAF to the hood. This small locational realignment increased luggage space by 40 liters – about the size of your average Samsonite. On top of this small spatial feat, overall storage capacity also increased to 370 liters – or nine additional Samsonite pieces.
Inside the LEAF, where the driving happens, are new seats. Redesigned with better support and height adjustment, these new people holders come clad with a funky new bio-fabric covering. While the original LEAF used 39 percent recycled bottles in the seat’s composite makeup, the new bio-fabric material is derived from 100 percent sugar cane. Tasty yet eco-fantastic.
For those frozen drivers in Canada and Norway, good news comes in the form of an improved heating and ventilation system. The new system replaces the original ceramic heater with a more efficient heat pump system.
In addition to chassis tweaks, improved ride settings have been implemented to reduce that floaty feeling, which translates into a firmer, more responsive ride. Steering has also been tweaked, by adding more weight to the wheel to improve driver feedback. Brakes have been improved to be more progressive while simultaneously increasing the amount of energy recovered through braking. Other improvements to the e-Powertrain include a reduction in internal friction, a more efficient battery and an improved energy management system.
Changes to the LEAF’s Eco Driving Mode have also occurred. A new B setting on the console control "knob" increases regenerative braking during deceleration, while a separate Eco button on the steering wheel extends driving range. Eco extends range by effectively altering throttle mapping to discourage rapid acceleration. Unlike the old LEAF, these two systems are designed to operate in partner or independently of the other, allowing drivers to adjust to their preferences as needed.
Three LEAF model variations will be available in 2013; the Visia, Acenta and Tekna. The base model Visia starts it out while Tekna models feature additional standard equipment. Visia models come standard with 16-inch steel wheels with full covers, black door mirror caps and halogen headlights. Acenta versions are pimped out with 16-inch alloy wheels, suede fabric seat trim, body colored mirror caps and rear privacy glass. Tekna models come with leather seats as standard, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, Bose sound system and AVM.
Light metallic blue was the go-to color for the initial LEAFs, but Nissan thought expanding its offerings might be in order. So for 2013, seven different color options are available, in either solid, pearl or metallic finishes.
The LEAF officially drops from the tree next month in Geneva.