2018 Nissan Leaf: Balancing Price and Range

2018 Nissan Leaf debuts in Las Vegas
2018 Nissan Leaf debuts in Las Vegas

A few important facts about the new 2018 Nissan Leaf: First, it doesn't really rival the Chevrolet Bolt's 238-mile range, at least not yet. Second, it feels more like a normal car than before. Third, the price is squarely in the $30,000 range.

On the surface, the car doesn't seem groundbreaking, and that may be a bummer for EV purists and technophiles. However, for the average car owner who just wants an affordable electric, it's just right. Could they top the Bolt's 238-mile range? Probably, but chasing that goal is a lot like a PR agency "Senior Associate" or Donald Trump adding the words "very, very" before the word "exciting." Ultimately, it doesn't mean a lot, but it must feel good to use the extra words. Plus, the extra range would drive up the price -- batteries are expensive.

Also, Nissan hinted that the option for a longer-range Leaf might be in the cards down the road. My guess is it will be similar to the choices European EV buyers have when purchasing a Renault Zoe (but in a more streamlined system). If you've never heard of the Renault Zoe, check out "Why Americans Should Care About the Renault Zoe." The bottom line is that European shoppers have many options when it comes to purchasing, financing and charging the all-electric Zoe. American shoppers will likely get a few more choices, too.

Better Range, Better Charging

The big news with the 2018 Nissan Leaf is the improved range. EV buyers know range has become a hot topic, since it basically tells you how far you can go on a single charge. Many EV owners never use their car's full range, but a longer range is easier to live with psychologically.

Brian Maragno, Nissan's director of electric vehicle marketing in the U.S., said the new Leaf now has more flexible charging options. For example, the 2018 version gets a 6.6-kW charging system that makes the most out of 240-volt charging, taking the battery from zero to a full charge in less than 8 hours.

In the new Leaf, Nissan says it has a 150-mile real-world driving range. That's a 40 percent increase over the previous Leaf. The 2018 Nissan Leaf also has quicker acceleration and more charging options, as well as a lower price. When you compare the various trim levels of the new Leaf to the old, the prices are actually lower. The most dramatic is the midgrade Leaf SV, which sees a roughly $1,700 price drop but now has the added benefit of smartphone connectivity and adaptive cruise control.

Essentially, Nissan has improved the range while lowering the price. Sometimes good products are their own marketing -- you don't even need the extra "very" or a corny PR agency.

2018 Nissan Leaf on the road.
2018 Nissan Leaf on the road.

Ride and Handling

On the road, the new Leaf feels like a more substantial car. The handling is more engaging, acceleration is noticeably quicker, and it's quieter inside. Plus, you can get leather, a power passenger's seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control and a host of accident-avoidance and lane-departure and -correction features. It makes the Leaf feel like a more premium car than almost every other EV, including the Bolt and Ford Focus EV.

2018 Nissan Leaf has a more luxurious interior on SV and SL versions.
2018 Nissan Leaf has a more luxurious interior on SV and SL versions.

One big win: The Nissan's Leaf's front seats are more comfortable than the Bolt's. On the in-car, driver-focused tech front, the Bolt seems to outshine the Leaf with more gadgety features displayed on a larger screen.

The BMW i3 is more stylish than the Leaf but also much more expensive and less useful, since it's using clamshell rear doors versus the more traditional sedan setup found on the Leaf.

So if you add it all up, the Leaf has a longer -- but not record-breaking -- range, a lower price and improved charging options, and it now looks and feels more like a normal car. That's how you sell electric cars.

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