The Nissan LEAF has a weird gas-powered cousin in Japan, and now there’s a new version. The third-generation Note, with Nissan’s sort-of-electric e-POWER system recently dropped in the Japanese market.
The rest of the vehicle isn’t that different from the Versa Note we see in the US market and the Notes for sale elsewhere in the world. It’s a small hatchback with seating for five and room for groceries. What sets this new Japanese market Note apart is its drivetrain, as the third-gen Note will only come with an improved version of the e-POWER hybrid system.
Unlike most hybrids, the e-POWER system never uses direct mechanical energy from the engine to drive the wheels, making it a series hybrid. It has a small 3-cylinder engine that only generates electricity to charge the battery pack, which is smaller than the LEAF’s pack but bigger than many hybrids. The battery pack then runs an electric motor for all drive power, like the LEAF.
Past versions of this drivetrain have been rated for over 80 MPG, with one automotive journalist achieving 88 MPG in testing. While it’s no electric vehicle, it’s still a major environmental gain over other hybrids. When you consider that the LEAF only gets 99 MPGe on the highway (123 MPGe in city), 88 MPG is pretty damned clean for a gas-powered vehicle. When you consider that it’s probably cheaper to buy and more convenient than EV charging (especially on trips), such a system can have a greatly positive overall impact.
The second-generation e-POWER system in the new Note has an all-new electric motor and inverter. Electric motor torque has been increased by 10% and output by 6%, while the gas engine now operates at a lower RPM and is engaged less often during a typical drive. The result is better performance and better fuel efficiency, but Nissan has not yet told us how much more efficiency to expect.
While we aren’t sure yet whether the new version of the system will be released in the US or European markets (Nissan is said to be studying how to optimize the system for American drivers), it sure seems like something that could do well in the States. Skepticism of EVs, wide open spaces with limited charging infrastructure, and quicker road trips would all make this system a winner for that market. We’ve reached out to Nissan for more information, and hope to have an opportunity to test an e-POWER vehicle sometime in the near future.