The 62 kWh version of the LEAF was revealed by Nissan last week. Given past issues with excessive battery degradation rates and the continued use of passive pack cooling some reviewers were less than enthusiastic. But, the LEAF PLUS does have some advantages over its competition.
Here are five reasons why it could be the best car for some people in 2019.
The LEAF has been available with a heat pump system for cabin heating since 2013. Heat pumps are basically just air-conditioning systems that can be reversed in order to take heat from outside and release it inside the car. It can generally be more efficient above 32F (0C) than resistive heating because the heat comes for free and just needs to be transferred into the car.
Resistive heating is still needed when temperatures get colder and heat can’t be efficiently scavenged from outside the car. So, the added cost of making the A/C reversible always means that having a heat pump system is inherently more expensive.
Tesla, with their bigger battery capacity, has never bothered with taking the heat pump route. Neither has GM. The Kona Electric gets a heat pump in Canada but just resistive cabin heating in the 2019 US model.
The added efficiency is especially useful in city driving that involves multiple driving segments per day leaving the car to cool off and be re-heated again and again.
This is Nissan’s name for full-stop one-pedal regenerative braking. Like the Bolt EV, the LEAF has a dedicated mode for this while the Kona Electric only does this temporarily when a paddle switch on the left side of the steering wheel is engaged by the driver.
This is different than other cars that have otherwise strong regenerative braking that wimps out once you get down to the last few mph.
The LEAF and Kona Electric are better at coming to a full stop and holding at an incline or decline than the Bolt EV. The Bolt will hold on a modest incline but only after slipping back slightly and then catching itself. On a modest decline, the Bolt will slow to a crawl but won’t hold the car still reliably without the traditional brake pedal being applied.
The LEAF wins because it holds well on inclines and it has a dedicated mode.
This is Nissan’s name for assisted steering together with adaptive cruise control. It is similar in some ways to Tesla’s AutoPilot feature but is somewhat more limited since it cannot change lanes under driver supervision or handle freeway interchanges. Drivers are still in control and must keep their hands on the steering wheel but the car does the driving under many conditions.
The Kona Electric has this capability in other markets like Europe where the “auto steering” is called “Lane Following Assist” but the US Kona Electric only gets “Lane Keeping Assist”.
LKA “ping-pongs” between the left and right lane edges whereas LFA keeps the car centered in the lane.
Aside from the steering, Kona also has adaptive cruise control.
The Bolt EV has only LKA and adaptive cruise control is weirdly unavailable.
The LEAF has a fairly ample 23 cubic feet or so of hatchback storage area behind the rear seats compared to 16.9 for the Bolt EV and 11.7 for the Kona Electric.
This is great when you have rear seat passengers with luggage. If you need lots of storage then the Bolt EV comes out ahead once the rear seats are folded almost flat.
Both the LEAF and Kona have relatively comfortable seats. They even have driver-side power seat position controls on some trim levels. The Bolt EV seats are manually controlled, firmer, and some people find them to be comfort-challenged.
Availability and tax credits
GM has now exceeded their 200,000 US sales quota in the 4th quarter of 2018. For the Bolt EV this means the $7,500 US federal tax credit will be reduced to $3,750 for sales in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of 2019 followed by two more quarter at $1,875.
So far, Nissan has sold only about 130,000 qualifying electric cars in the US so the LEAF will likely get the full $7,500 credit throughout 2019. Hyundai likewise is set for the full tax credit for 2019 and later.
Nissan hasn’t projected how many 62 kWh LEAFs it can deliver to the US or Canadian market in 2019. They say they are making the battery in their own factory in Smyrna, Tennessee but it’s possible they could still have limited access to some battery cell components or materials.
GM says it can build around 30,000 Bolt EVs at its Orion Assembly facility in Michigan but some of those cars are destined for markets like South Korea.
Hyundai isn’t saying how many Kona Electrics will be shipped to the US in 2019 but going by recent history the numbers may be relatively small. Initially the car will only be sold in California and later in only a dozen or so other states that voluntarily abide by some of California’s emissions rules.