The Nissan LEAF has always been a car that divides opinion. Some love this fully electric vehicle for its bold engineering and surprisingly enjoyable driving dynamics, but to date, many other green-minded potential buyers have struggled to make a case for it. That could change thanks to the improvements made to this second-generation model, which offers a further big enhancement in driving range and some really clever new technology.
Let's deal quickly with the first thing you'll want to know about: driving range. We remember vividly setting off in the first-generation LEAF model back in 2010 and struggling to get much more than 60-70 miles out of it between charges. With this second-generation design, Nissan claims a homologated driving range of 235 miles from the standard model - and there'll be a further 'e-plus' version to follow with an even more powerful battery that claims a driving range of up to 310 miles. Even if you think in terms of a 'real world' driving range being about two-thirds of those total figures (which is our experience anyway), you can't deny that these readings represent an impressive improvement, representing a 50% increase over the final version of the previous model.
Helping here is the larger 40kWh lithium-ion battery you get this time round (up in power from 30kWh but no larger in terms of actual size). It produces 110kW (which equates to 148bhp), which significantly improves on the previous model's figures of 80kW / 108bhp. That means pulling power's up too - a rise to 320Nm - making the LEAF feel even faster from a standing start: Nissan say that the 0-62mph time has been improved by 15%, which should translate into a sprint time of about 9.8s. Previously with LEAF models, the amount of retardation you got when lifting off the throttle meant that the brake pedal was something you rarely needed to use. This time round, you'll hardly need it at all thanks to 'e-Pedal' technology that can bring the car to a complete stop when you come off the accelerator.
There are two routes to styling an all-electric car. Either you make it look exactly like a conventionally-engined model, as Volkswagen did with the e-Golf, or you go for something overtly futuristic, as Nissan did with the first-generation LEAF model. That approach continues on with this second-generation design, which gets a completely re-worked body featuring a flat floor, a sharper nose and a more aggressively tapered rear end. There are though, familiar cues from more ordinary Nissan models - things like the company's signature 'V-motion' front grille, the 'boomerang'-style lights and the kicked-up rear shoulder line for example.
The MK2 model shape is certainly sleeker; Nissan says it now has a slippery drag coefficient of 0.27Cd. And the whole structure's stiffer too, torsional rigidity having improved by 15%. Importantly, interior practicality is additionally much improved, notably in terms of boot space, which rises from 370 to 435-litres. The designers have also tried to give the cabin more of a premium feel, with upgraded cabin materials and a smarter look for the 7-inch centre-dash infotainment touchscreen. To remind you of this car's eco-friendly remit, there's vibrant blue stitching on the seats, the dashboard and the steering wheel.
Has this car's time finally come? Probably not quite yet, but the improvements Nissan has made will open up a much larger market for it. In developing this second-generation model, the Japanese maker has clearly listened to customer feedback. The biggest issue of course was driving range, but as well as enhancing that, the brand has also added a package of technology that will make buyers feel that they're at the cutting edge of automotive technology.
Of course, some of the previous issues still remain. The car is still quite expensive to buy, the looks will divide opinion and you won't even be able to consider it unless you have off-street overnight parking. Little by little though, all-electric motoring is widening its customer reach. And, as it's always been, the LEAF remains right at the forefront of that change.Click here to find out more about our Nissan LEAF range