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Review: Nissan Leaf - 'composed, refined and impressive - expect its domination'

This is the new Nissan Leaf, the second generation of the bestselling electric vehicle, which accounted for nearly half of all pure electric car sales in the UK last year.

It's loaded with advanced technology, has a new look and a longer range.

Nissan says 12,000 orders have been taken since it was revealed three months ago, with 7,000 of those being from previous Leaf owners.

It's also the poster child for Nissan's Intelligent Mobility ecosystem.

The Japanese firm is branching out to promote a more sustainable society, using renewable energy and allowing owners to plug their vehicles into the grid to support the national network.

What's new?

Pretty much everything, from the uprated battery and motor system, to the styling of the exterior and interior. There's also Nissan's ProPilot semi-autonomous driving assistance features, which appear in the UK for the first time here on top-spec cars - one of these is essentially adaptive cruise control and the other parks the car. The other standout feature is e-Pedal. It's a glorified version of the driving mode found in many electric vehicles that ramps up the regenerative braking effect, but here it's tuned so that 90% of driving can be done without using the brakes.

What's under the bonnet?

The second generation Leaf debuts the fourth generation of Nissan's electric powertrain. With a 40kWh battery, up from 30kWh, the system makes 148bhp and 320Nm of torque, and is plenty punchy out on the road. What's more important, though, is the fact that range has now increased to 235 miles on the standard NEDC cycle (though Nissan prefers to tout the 177-mile figure, which comes from the new, more realistic WLTP combined cycle testing). Coupled with the e-Pedal, this is entirely achievable, particularly if you resist the urge to really make the most of the high-torque acceleration the motor offers.

What's it like to drive?

Few C-segment rivals - at least those that promote low running costs - could keep pace with the Leaf off the line. The torque from the electric motor is incredibly satisfying, and useful when darting into gaps in traffic or making an overtake. Attack a winding back road and the weight of the batteries quickly overcomes the low-grip economy tyres, making swift progress hair-raising. But around town, where the vast majority of these cars will be driven, it's quiet and stress-free. In fact, wind and tyre noise are kept to a minimum even at motorway speeds, which is admirable with no internal combustion engine to mask the sound.

How does it look?

To put it politely, the old Leaf had a polarising design; the awkward, bulbous styling did nothing to fight the mainstream buyer's perception that electric vehicles aren't to be taken seriously, though it didn't harm sales among buyers. The second-generation car moves the game on substantially. It's a handsome looking vehicle with a sharply styled front end that works better in front of you than it does in pictures. What's perhaps more important is that now it looks like a serious car that ordinary people could buy, not an oddball electric vehicle.

What's it like inside?

The interior's vaguely similar to that of the old Leaf, but it's been improved in just about every way. The tablet-like display embedded into the dashboard features a larger screen at seven inches and menus are easy enough to navigate, though the graphics are a bit outdated. The new flat-bottomed steering wheel, with a slim central hub, adds a more premium feel, and the dashboard plastics have a more expensive look to them, even if they are still quite hard to the touch. One negative is the large pillars in the corners. They impinge on front and rear visibility quite considerably, which isn't ideal.

What's the spec like?

Electric vehicles are notoriously more expensive than petrol and diesel models, but that's beginning to change, with the new Leaf's starting price £1,500 cheaper than before. There are four trim levels - Visia, Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna. Entry-level models start at £21,990 after the Government's green car grant, and get LED rear lights, seven-inch infotainment system, fabric seats and automatic headlights. ProPilot is only standard on top-spec Tekna vehicles, which start at £27,490, but there is a traditional cruise control system standard across the rest of the range. Top-spec models also get full LED headlights, leather heated seats and steering wheel, and a seven-speaker audio system by Bose.

Verdict

In the face of increased competition, Nissan has really stepped up to the plate with the new Leaf. On the face of it, it looks better, goes further and provides better value, but the improvements go further than that. The ride is composed and there's a real sense of refinement from a decent interior and lack of noise intrusion from outside. It steers well enough and the electric motor provides enjoyably punchy acceleration. As an overall package, the new Leaf is impressive. Expect its domination of the pure electric vehicle market to continue.

Facts at a glance

Model: Nissan Leaf

Price as tested: £21,990

Battery: 40kWh

Power: 148bhp

Torque: 320Nm

Max speed: 89mph

0-60mph: 7.7 seconds

Range: 177 miles

Emissions: 0g/km

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