Nissan Leaf Plus review: More is more

Photo: Nicholas Yekikian

Photo: Nicholas Yekikian

By Nicholas Yekikian

The word “plus” brings with it a certain set of expectations. Anything with plus attached to its moniker usually bears the burden of being significantly better than the “non-plus” version, and in the case of the new Nissan Leaf Plus it means you get more stuff you can’t see. Plus equates to a bigger battery, more power and better range - you can’t see these things or touch them, but they’re invaluable to today’s EV drivers. The standard Leaf starts at just over $30,000 and includes a 40 kilowatt hour battery and a range of 150 miles. For that money you’re better off stepping inside a Hyundai Kona Electric.

However, moving up to the Plus brings with it a number of key improvements that really bolster the Leaf’s credentials. Leather seats combined with a clean dashboard design – that is mostly carried over from the standard Leaf – make for a pleasant interior. It should be noted that the Leaf Plus offers just 30 cubic feet of space inside with the rear seats folded down, however. That’s nowhere near as much as an e-Golf or Kia Soul EV – both of which offer nearly 50 cubic feet of space in total.

A stronger motor coupled with a bigger 65 kilowatt hour battery and a 215 mile range do make the Leaf Plus a much more compelling package. At $44,315 after destination charges, our Nissan Leaf Plus LS was about as expensive as this car can get, but the extra power and range aren't the only things that make our fully loaded Leaf the pick of the litter for this generation of Leaf. 

For starters, the SL includes what Nissan is calling “Intelligent Mobility.” That’s Nissan jargon for a full suite of safety features like automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning – which works well, though I won’t say how I confirmed this – and Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist. ProPILOT is essentially smart cruise control, and while using it you feel as though the Leaf tossed an invisible lasso ‘round the car in front and is being given a gentle tow.

It made cruising up through the Hollywood hills an entirely painless affair, and the steering assist made twisty roads even easier to navigate. City traffic was made simpler too. Sometimes when the car came to a stop the Leaf would have trouble picking the car in front up as it set off from the stoplight, however. 

Nissans’ e-Pedal is also present in the Plus. The e-Pedal can be easily thought of as very aggressive regenerative braking. Turn it on and the car uses regen to bring the car to a measured stop as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator. You might be able to drive the entire life of the Leaf without once touching the brakes, it’s that effective. Even though it takes some getting used to, the e-Pedal works exactly as advertised and helps make driving even more efficient, limiting excessive battery usage and using the regeneration to charge the batteries back up during every stop. 

The downsides of the Leaf Plus are limited to the driving experience. The seating position is too high and too upright for something that isn’t a crossover, and bemoaned was the lack of a fully telescoping steering wheel. It’ll move up and down, but won't move forward to meet your chest. While cruising around town the Nissan is quiet and composed, but because Nissan added stiffer suspension to cope with the extra weight of the bigger battery, I wished for a softer suspension setup around town. Vague and ultra-light steering made it somewhat difficult to place a car in the narrow lanes of Westwood at first, but spending more time in the car will likely see the problem fade. Luckily the lane monitoring system keeps you nicely in line. It also gives you a firm handshake if you wander out of the lane without signaling courtesy of Nissan’s “Intelligent Lane Intervention” system. 

It’s not perfect, but the way a Leaf handles likely isn’t the first consideration on a prospective buyer’s list of requirements. The things that do matter, however, like range, ease of use and a list of compelling features are where the Leaf Plus excels. Whether it’s worth the price premium over the base Leaf is for buyers to decide, but the plus took the second generation of the leaf from the EV Nissan should have made in the first place, to an EV you actually want. 

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