Since its release, many wondered how the new 40 kWh Nissan LEAF would hold up as the miles racked up. After over 40,000 miles driving mine, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea of how it fares. It’s a great vehicle, with only one serious drawback.
The Biggest Question: The Battery Pack
For those who haven’t followed the LEAF closely since 2010, it’s worth pointing out that the Nissan LEAF is a vehicle with a rather interesting history. On the upside, it was the first mass-produced family electric vehicle, and Nissan sold more of them worldwide than any other electric vehicle. On the downside, early model years had battery degradation issues, leading many to question the wisdom of not including a liquid battery cooling system like other manufacturers have. Subsequent model years had improved batteries, but the longer range (and higher density) 2016–2017 models initially seemed to be degrading faster than earlier LEAFs.
Internet rumors indicated that the new 2018 model would have liquid cooling, and when that didn’t happen, people speculated that 2019 would get a larger, liquid-cooled pack. People feared that the even denser 40 kWh pack would degrade even faster than the 2016–2017 models, but fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
First, the 30 kWh pack proved to not be degrading faster. It turned out that Nissan made some math mistakes in the battery’s programming, and the vehicles were falsely reporting much higher degradation than was really happening. Thus, the theory that denser packs would fail faster didn’t turn out to be true.
In light of this, it shouldn’t be surprising that the 2018 model still holds up quite well. After 40,000 miles, the vehicle still shows all 12 capacity bars. The LEAFSpy app (that uses an OBD II Bluetooth dongle to talk to the vehicle’s computers) shows 92.5% capacity. What’s even better is that I drove the first 30,000 miles in the Phoenix, Arizona, metro area, including the hottest months of 2018. Despite that torture, it didn’t prematurely degrade.
The only major drawback I’ve encountered with the 2018 LEAF is that it tends to build up heat when ambient temperatures are high. And, as others have reported, the car can charge quite slow when pack temperatures are high (#Rapidgate). With nighttime temperatures around 100°F, and a few dozen miles of 65 MPH driving, the car could charge as slowly as 12 kW at CHAdeMO stations.
I was using the car to drive for Uber and Lyft, and the near-lack of DC fast charging made it very difficult to stay in the game. So, I decided to see what I could do about the issue.
First, I tried to add active cooling using the car’s air conditioning. I took a length of vacuum hose from Home Depot and fished it through the center console area. Using duct tape, I attached one end of the hose to a floor vent and used the tape to block the other floor vents. The other end goes below the carpet and dumps the cold air just above the battery pack. I opened the vehicle’s service door on the “transmission tunnel” area of the back floorboard. After removing three bolts, I found a place between the vehicle’s body and the battery pack that was a great place to dump the cold air. It helped on cooler days, but this wasn’t enough to beat the hottest days in Phoenix.
When that didn’t work, I decided to take more drastic measures. With the service access panel already out of the way, I simply dumped ice on top of the sealed battery pack. On the hottest days, this allowed me to cool the battery pack before the next charging session and get better speeds. While this isn’t a particularly cheap or environmentally friendly option, it did allow me to keep working.
After summer was over, I ended up moving back to southern New Mexico. With the cooler temperatures of the higher elevation Chihuahuan Desert, I shouldn’t need the ice nearly as much in 2019. However, it may come in handy on a future road trip, so I’m going to keep a wrench handy just in case.
Fortunately, the #Rapidgate issues may be coming to an end. Some websites report that a limited number of users are getting a software update that allows for better charging speeds with a warm battery. I hope it’s true, but I’m not about to leave my wrench at home … at least until I get the update myself and it proves itself to me.
My Favorite Feature: The e-Pedal
My favorite feature on the car, by far, is the e-Pedal. It allows for complete one-pedal driving in nearly all situations. Sure, the idea of having the electric motor regenerate and slow the vehicle when you lift your foot off the accelerator is nothing new at all, but Nissan took this a step further. Once the car gets to a low speed, and regenerative braking would normally stop slowing the vehicle down, the e-Pedal computer starts blending in traditional friction braking until the car comes to a complete stop.
The thing that impresses me the most is how good the car is at coming to a smooth and gentle stop, even at full stopping power. My dad taught me as a teen to release pressure on the brake pedal toward the end of stopping to prevent shaking up the whole car when it does stop. Nissan’s e-Pedal does the same thing every time.
The e-Pedal can slow the vehicle down fairly fast, but there are situations where you need a little more stopping power. For those situations, you can still mash down on the brake pedal for a panic stop, just like any other vehicle. But, once the added stopping power has been achieved, you can lift your foot off the brake and let the e-Pedal continue bringing the car to a complete and smooth stop.
Despite thousands of people getting in and out of the vehicle during the last 10 months, the interior is holding up fantastically. The S-trim’s cloth seats still look great. The only interior wear that is even noticeable is the driver’s seat, and even that wear is minimal. I did invest in a set of Nissan rubber floormats, and those, too, have held up well. My only complaint is that the Nissan floormats for the back floorboard do tend to slip a bit when people get in and out.
The S-trim’s entertainment system, on the other hand, has let me down far more than I’d like. Unlike earlier LEAF S models, this one did come with bluetooth. Which works 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time, I have to shut the car off and turn it back on to get a bluetooth connection to my phone. Occasionally, a “new message” alert comes up on the car’s gauge cluster at startup and cannot be dismissed. Once again, I’m stuck with rebooting the car to clear it up. Finally, I’ve had one occasion where the head unit failed to share the time with the vehicle’s other computers, leaving me unable to use the charge timers one night.
At this point, I’ve basically given up on trying to get the head unit to work properly 100% of the time. Nissan techs have been unable to reproduce these intermittent problems, and couldn’t do anything to fix them. I plan on either purchasing an aftermarket double-DIN head unit or trying to find the better head unit from an SV or SL car in a wrecked LEAF at the junkyard.
This one is totally my fault. I tend to have a somewhat heavy right foot, and the LEAF gives an abundance of instant torque, which just encourages me to press that skinny pedal that much harder. It’s addicting.
After 40,000 miles, the stock Bridgestone Ecopia tires are overdue for replacement. And by overdue for replacement, I mean they’re bald. All that torque will shred up a set of tires in short order. Most of the wear came during the first 20,000 miles, and after that, I learned to ease up. My next set of tires should last much longer than this set!
Despite the problems with #Rapidgate and the entertainment system, the 2018 LEAF is still the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. It’s reasonably quick, handles well, and has saved me a bunch of money with all of the driving I do. From what I’ve seen so far, the car is going to keep serving me for a long time, despite all of the miles I put on it every month.
I’d still recommend this car to anybody who wants to go electric but can’t afford a more expensive vehicle like Tesla’s Model 3.
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