2018 Nissan Leaf debuts: 150 miles for $30,875, 200-plus miles in 2019

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The spy shots, teaser photos, rumors, and feverish speculation can all be put behind us.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf hatchback has debuted, and we can now see every facet of the second generation of the world's best-selling electric car.

The compact five-door's 40-kilowatt-hour battery is projected to get a 150-mile combined U.S. range rating, Nissan says, and the starting price is $30,875 including delivery.

DON'T MISS: 2018 Nissan Leaf electric car prototype driven: first impressions

The new 2018 Leaf electric car will go on sale in Japan on October 2, though deliveries in North America won't start until "early 2018."

In 2019, the Leaf range will gain a second battery option, a larger 60-kwh pack, according to Nissan executives during a technical briefing held in Japan in June.

That should give the second model a range of 200 miles or more, and it will also offer higher power, Nissan said, at a higher price. The company provided no further details.

2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

The 2018 Leaf introduced today has a more powerful electric motor driving its front wheels than the outgoing first-generation car. It's rated at a maximum output of 110 kilowatts (147 horsepower) and 236 pound-feet of torque. Comparable figures for the 2017 Leaf are 80 kw (107 hp), and 187 lb-ft.

The onboard charger remains at 6.6 kw, with CHAdeMO DC fast charging available. Nissan says the 40-kwh battery takes 16 hours for a full recharge using conventional 120-volt household current, and 8 hours using a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. Fast charging to 80 percent takes about 40 minutes.

Specs aside, by far the biggest change in the 2018 Leaf is a complete restyling inside and out, making the Leaf a recognizable part of the Nissan global small-car lineup.

READ THIS: 2018 Nissan Leaf video shows ProPilot Assist self-driving capability

Nissan design executives admitted several years ago that the first-generation electric car's lines were polarizing, and that perhaps the next generation might not be quite as extreme.

Indeed, aside from badges, there's little to indicate that the 2018 Leaf is an electric car at all.

Even the signature front-center charging port is now hidden under a door that adopts the shape of Nissan's "V-Motion" grille, although it's actually a blanking plate with a grid pattern that Nissan calls "Flash Motion" embedded into it.

2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

The company's recent "floating roof" design is indicated by a glossy black division on the rear pillar, and the vertical taillights flanking the tailgate have given way to chevron-shaped horizontal units that wrap around the corners of the car.

Inside the 2018 Leaf electric car, Nissan has provided a new interior design that's both more conventional and more pleasant, aiming for what it calls a "relaxed ambience and premium ... feel."

Some of the previous model's hard plastic has given way to more pleasant materials and soft-touch surfaces, and blue stitching in the seats, steering wheel, and instrument-panel top subtly underscore the electric drivetrain.

CHECK OUT: 2018 Nissan Leaf to have e-Pedal: here's what that means

A 7.0-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash has redesigned and streamlined graphics, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard.

The 2018 Leaf also comes standard with what Nissan calls "e-Pedal," which allows the driver to select a mode that increases regenerative braking and permits what experienced EV drivers call "one-pedal driving."

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV offers a very similar feature, as well as a "regen paddle" behind the steering wheel, while the BMW i3 uses strong regeneration and largely one-pedal driving as its default behavior.

2018 Nissan Leaf ProPilot Assist

2018 Nissan Leaf ProPilot Assist

The electric Leaf for 2018 will also be the first car in the Nissan lineup to offer ProPilot Assist, a feature that combines adaptive cruise control with lane centering for single-lane highway driving.

Drivers have to keep their hands on the steering wheel, but it reduces the need to make slight corrections when lane markings are suitable visible on the road surface.

Hidden in the specifications sheet, however, there's a bit of a secret to the 2018 Leaf.

 

The wheelbase of the new 2018 car is identical to that of the previous generation, at 106.3 inches. It's just 1.4 inches longer, 0.8 inches wider, and 0.4 inches higher, and its weight is roughly 100 pounds higher across the board.

There's also a visual clue: the shape of the rear-door window frame where it fits against the roof and rear pillar remains the same.

And once in the driver's seat, you'll notice a feature that's unusual for any 2018 model: The steering wheel tilts for adjustment, but does not telescope.

2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

Although the Nissan executives we spoke with in July went to some lengths to avoid saying so explicitly, in fact the 2018 Leaf is an extensive revision to the first-generation car and its underpinnings, not a new vehicle.

The final clue lies in the fact that the 40-kwh battery pack is identical in form factor—fundamentally interchangeable, it sounded like—to the 30-kwh pack of the 2017 Leaf, retaining that car's passive air cooling.

Its cells come from AESC, too, the joint venture between Nissan and NEC that the automaker has agreed to sell to a Chinese private-equity firm.

And that's where things get interesting, because the development engineers said in July that next year's longer-range Leaf would come from a 60-kwh pack.

That would be the one first shown in prototype form in June 2015 by Nissan's then-CEO Carlos Ghosn,

That 60-kwh pack has an important role to play: It will get the new Leaf above the perceptually crucial 200-mile range rating, letting it compete with the Chevy Bolt EV, the Tesla Model 3, and other mass-priced electric cars to come.

 

2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

But the 2018 car apparently requires some floorpan re-engineering to accommodate the larger pack, meaning more development time. The engineers didn't say what company will provide the cells for the 60-kwh pack.

Based on a quick drive of a prototype 2018 Leaf at Nissan's test track in Japan back in July, the new Leaf appears to be somewhat faster, especially at highway speeds, and considerably quieter on the road.

The interior is pleasant, and only the unusual drive-mode lever with its mushroom head gives away the car's  unconventional powertrain.

With more modern and less polarizing looks, a modern interior, and higher battery range, the 2018 Leaf actually stakes out new ground in the electric-car market.

The 40-kwh rating doesn't get it above 200 miles, obviously; that will have to wait a year for the higher-end 2019 model.

But 150 miles is higher than any other electric car that isn't a Tesla or a Bolt EV, including the 2017 champs (below 200 miles): the 125-mile Volkswagen e-Golf and the 124-mile Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

 

2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

So with 40 percent more battery range than last year's Leaf, at a price $690 lower than the base 2017 Nissan Leaf S model, it offers quite a different value equation.

How electric-car buyers react to a car with less than 200 miles of range, at a price almost $7,000 lower than the 238-mile Bolt EV, promises to be a fascinating market test that will be eagerly watched.

Once again, the Nissan Leaf will be assembled in Smyrna, Tennessee, for North America; Sunderland, England, for Europe; and Oppama, Japan, for Asian and other markets.

A full 2018 Nissan Leaf model lineup, with trim levels, features, and options plus pricing, will be released closer to the time the car goes on sale, specified only as "early in 2018."

Nissan provided airfare, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this first-person report.

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