The new Nissan Leaf has 110kW of power and a real-world driving range of at least 250km
Elegant Nissan Leaf is green too The Nissan Leaf has a lively electric drivetrain, with 110kW of power and 320Nm of instant torque. ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

The first car I reviewed - 30 years ago this month - was a sleek, sporty Nissan 200SX coupe.

For my 30th anniversary, I have another Nissan but, this time, a chic electric carrier called Leaf.

It is the second iteration, which is more elegant, more powerful and more functional. But most crucially, it has a range of at least 250km - double that of its predecessor.

Size-wise, the car is slightly longer and wider, and nearly as tall. It is interesting to note that the new Leaf is slightly taller than the Lexus UX crossover, as its floor is raised to accommodate the sealed lithium-ion battery pack below.

The battery pack is the same size as before, but weighs a tad more. Its capacity, however, has soared from 30kWh (facelifted first-generation version) to 40kWh - giving it its extended range.

At 1,520kg, the Leaf is 40kg heavier than before, on account of its expanded size and heftier battery. But it is more aerodynamic, with a drag-coefficient of 0.27 (0.29 previously).

Inside, the car has a highly functional, unpretentious cabin. It is less avant-garde than the previous one, but boasts a better build quality.

A compact tablet-like infotainment touchscreen with phone connectivity, 360-degree camera and navigation sits unobtrusively on the centre console. A shift lever, which looks like a flattened pool ball, facilitates selections with minimal effort.

Fore of this are two tabs: one for Eco mode and the other, E-pedal, which allows you to drive the car with just the accelerator. Each time you lift off, the regenerative braking is so strong it will slow the car down to a crawl and then a complete stop.

A multi-function steering wheel has the usual finger-tip controls, plus ProPilot, which is a semi-autonomous feature found in upmarket cars. When activated, the car goes on cruise control, keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front and keeping in lane. This, however, lasts only for about 10 seconds, before the system prompts you to put your hands back on the wheel.

The Leaf's main selling point is its lively electric drivetrain. Compared with its predecessor, it is a lot more driveable. It has 110kW of power and 320Nm of instant torque, versus 80kW and 254Nm previously.

This translates to a punchy performance appreciated on highways, city roads and mountain passes.

The test-route starts from Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama's business district, towards Mount Hakone and back. The first stretch pretty much comprises city roads. The car impresses with its quiet operation - as expected of an electric vehicle - and cushioned ride. Like many Japanese cars, it is easy to pilot.

You can choose to drive it in E-pedal mode for the highest power regeneration rate, in Eco or in the default normal mode. In the city, the car is quite liveable in any of these three modes. But on highways, it is best in normal mode, which allows for better coasting.

E-pedal comes into its own along serpentine stretches. Here, you can lift off to slow down when entering a corner, and squeezing the throttle again to make a clean exit.

The battery pack acts as a ballast to steady the car in these manoeuvres. It drives and feels like a sharply-tuned hatch, sticking to the tarmac, staying in line and betraying the slightest of body roll.

E-pedal mode allows you to slow down without the pitching motion associated with braking, which again makes the car more enjoyable - even for passengers.

In the second row, knee and legroom are more than ample for a car its size. And despite its rather rudimentary rear suspension, ride comfort is surprisingly decent. The only downside is a protruding hump in the middle of the floor, which Nissan says is for structural rigidity.

The new Leaf has a stated range of 270km under the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, which is some 40 per cent better than its predecessor. Going by the remaining range at the end of this test-drive, the car is good for at least 250km, despite a spirited hill-climb segment.

The trip may not be as pulse-raising as if it was done in a 200SX, but it is definitely more comfortable and relaxing.