Nissan Leaf (2019) review

Nissan Leaf (2019) review

Thanks to inconsistent car taxation in Thailand, the Nissan Leaf is a murky proposition for new-age palates.

There was a moment of fresh air for consumers this year when MG launched its first-ever battery-electric car in the guise of the ZS EV.

Apart from housing the ever-popular SUV body, the ZS EV was introduced to much fanfare with an attractive price of 1.19 million baht thanks to a free-trade deal regarding BEVs between Thailand and China.

Bluntly put, the ZS EV is without doubt the BEV of choice at the moment for new-age buyers needing a relatively realistic price.

The Nissan Leaf, for one, now looks irrational at 1.99 million baht because of no tax privileges being given to Japanese-made BEVs.

It’s quite ironic why the Thai government doesn’t open its arms to other countries when it comes to the importation of BEVs. Average Thai car buyers will only get attracted and acclimatised to BEVs if they’re reasonably priced.

In fact, if state authorities are really serious about turning the country into a production hub of BEVs (and helping improve air quality on the roadside at the same time), temporary (or none, perhaps) tax-waivers should be handed out across the board.

That said, you might have to quit reading about the Leaf we’re testing here this week because in no way could its 800k premium over the ZS EV be justified.

No wonder some buyers have reportedly decided to ditch their deposits for the Leaf. It also appears to be game over for BEVs from Hyundai and Kia, which are in a similar position with Nissan concerning taxation.

We have yet to drive the ZS EV. But our experience with the combustion-engined ZS reveals that its B-segment SUV proportions doesn’t make it inferior to those of the Leaf, a C-segment hatchback, when it comes to interior space and usability.

The most direct rival for the Leaf in the Thai BEV market is the Hyundai Ioniq. Both are roughly the same in size, five-seat concept and hatchback appearance.

Take your pick because neither car is stylish despite some nicely penned details in the Leaf. And there’s only one exterior colour option in the Nissan: white body topped with black roof.

The same goes for the Leaf’s interior which only comes in black, although the seats are tailored with some premium-feeling materials.

The rear seats themselves are cushy to sit in and not lowly placed giving occupants an airy feel.

But due to the positioning of the lithium-ion battery pack below the rear cushions, the reasonably cavernous boot can’t be made flat when folding the chairs’ backrests down.

Clearly, the Leaf’s platform has room for improvement. So if you’re looking for easy usability, it’s either the ZS EV or pricier Hyundai Kona Electric, another B-segment SUV with BEV tech.

There’s one similarity between the Leaf and Ioniq in the cabin. The driving cockpit feels just like in any other conventionally powered hatch. That may sound good for the sake of user-friendliness.

But the lack of a digital instrument panel or modern infotainment screen doesn’t play along with the hi-tech status of BEVs.

The same goes for the amount of driver-assist tech in the Leaf which may not be enough to offset its two million baht price tag.

Other details that might irk Thai consumers in a car of this price is the lack of electric seats, power tailgate operation and automatic brake-hold function.

As for the driving bit, the Leaf goes just like any other BEV: plenty of responsiveness, quietness and punch at all times, be it in city or highway driving.

Because the Leaf is front-wheel drive, the 150hp electric motor is all you need. More than that and the tyres would struggle in vain for traction, like how we experienced in the Kona Electric fitted with the 204hp option.

The Leaf seems to have a more balanced drivetrain than in the Ioniq Electric, which uses older BEV tech than not only the Leaf but also over the Kona Electric. But unlike in the Hyundais where retardation (energy recuperation in engineering speak) can be adjusted, the Leaf’s one-pedal system can’t.

So you have to get used to the fixed level in the Leaf. Turn it off and the conventional brake pedal is annoyingly wooden in feel and difficult to modulate under varying conditions.

Another downside when driving the Leaf, just like how we found out during our first drive of it in Japan two years ago, is the aloof steering that feels so disconnected to the road. Direct it may not be but ideally weighted it is for daily use.

The Leaf rides nicely, though, on Thai roads absorbing bumps and surface irregularities quite effectively. This could probably be a more important factor for potential buyers rather than the way the Leaf handles. Which is to say that the Leaf is a mixed bag of merits and flaws on the move.

Although Nissan isn’t the strongest of car brands in the Thai market when it comes to credibility, it has been around in the country for quite a long time and has a widely accessible service network to boast over those two Korean nameplates.

And to ensure buyers some peace of mind. There are 8-year/160,000km and 5-year/100,000km warranties for the battery and electric motor accordingly accompanying the usual 3-year/100,000km overall guarantee.

Overall, though, the Leaf really can’t feel special enough as a two million baht car, or BEV for the fact. Sure, it was never intended to drive like the brilliant Jaguar I-Pace because what we’re talking about in the first place is a BEV for the masses.

And if that’s the case, we find it quite difficult to recommend the Leaf when there’s a far cheaper alternative which we have yet to drive. This awkward scenario is mostly the result of inconsistent taxation on policies of the Thai auto industry.

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