Mass-produced, compact electric vehicles (EVs) such as the Nissan Leaf often have a reputation that precedes them – they’re boring, everyday vehicles. Sure, these vehicles can get you, your occupants, and luggage from Point A to B and back without using a single drop of fuel, but, that’s about the most they usually do.
Affordable compact EVs aren’t exactly known for being the fastest, most exciting, or most fun vehicles to drive. And let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t choose the Leaf for a spirited drive up the mountains when you could do so in a more powerful GT-R or 370Z. After driving Nissan's Leaf Twin Motor prototype or “Super Leaf” as we call it, in Japan last month, we would like to retract our previous statement.
On the outside, the Super Leaf prototype might look like a standard Leaf fitted with fender flares, a set of lightweight Volk Racing TE37 wheels, and sporting a unique Nissan livery. However, it actually features Nissan’s next-generation EV technology. In order for us to experience the difference between the two models, Nissan let us drive both vehicles back-to-back.
The Leaf itself is a good car, especially for going around urban jungles like Tokyo, but it’s the Super Leaf that really stands out. The twin-motor setup fitted in the prototype produces a combined output to 227kW (304 horsepower) and 680 Nm of torque. Though it’s not the most powerful Nissan vehicle, its torque figure surpasses even that of the GT-R. Since it is electric, all 680 Nm of torque is delivered immediately, even from a standstill.
The result? During the acceleration course, the Super Leaf went from 0 to 100 km/h in the blink of an eye. Your body is pulled back into the seat and headrest the moment you floor the accelerator. You should probably watch your foot too because you can easily hit the speed limit (and beyond) without even trying.
To handle the increase in power, Nissan also introduced electric all-wheel-control technology into the Leaf Twin Motor prototype. According to the automaker, the technology is derived from the GT-R’s ATTESA all-wheel-drive system. With this system, power can be sent to each wheel individually, rather than just being split between the front and rear axles. Aside from being able to adjust power sent to each wheel, the system can also apply the brakes, independently, on all four corners. This helps keep the vehicle on course without the driver needing to do a lot of steering corrections.
We experienced all-wheel-control technology through the slalom course at Nissan Grandrive. Using the standard production-model Leaf (which is front-wheel drive), it was able to go through the chicane at around 70-80km/h. However, you do feel the body roll as you go and the tires being pushed to their limits. In the Super Leaf, we drove through the same course but at a faster speed. Despite going faster, the Leaf prototype felt a lot more planted all throughout. There was minimal body roll in the cabin as well. The all-wheel-drive tech was automatically sending power and applying the brakes to the wheel as needed. As a result, less steering wheel input is needed as well.
Thanks to the large 12.3-inch center display in the cabin, we got to see the all-wheel-control system in action. The large display shows when power or braking is being directed to a wheel in order to ensure optimal grip at all times.
However, it’s not every day that you will go through twisty roads or the race track for some spirited driving. Some, if not most, will continue using an EV to get from point A to B in a safe and comfortable manner. While it can help drivers go faster, Nissan’s upcoming all-wheel-control technology also helps improve traction on an everyday basis.
Even on wet surfaces, the system can detect slipping, having it automatically send power and apply braking to the correct wheel in order to keep the vehicle in line or curve. Even if you put your foot down in the wet, the system will correct for slipping and keep the vehicle under control. As such, the vehicle can be driven in almost any weather condition without drivers having to worry about crashing or losing control.
Though it’s quite hard to imagine, the additional motor and all-wheel-drive technology also help make the ride inside the Leaf Twin Motor prototype a lot more comfortable. Your head doesn’t rock back and forth as much every time the vehicle accelerates or decelerates. Safe to say, you won’t get as motion sick due to stop-and-go traffic. This is because vehicle pitch and dive are controlled by the regenerative rear motor braking.
Nissan wants to change the way most people think of everyday electric vehicles. In particular, they want to make vehicles like the Leaf a lot less boring. So far, they seem to have got it right with the Leaf Twin Motor prototype. Despite having the exterior and interior of a Leaf, the test car felt more like an electric GT-R.
Unfortunately, it continues to remain a prototype for the time being. And as much as we wanted to take it out for a drive in the mountains, we couldn't. However, it does show that the technology needed to make a fast and comfortable everyday EV in a compact package is already here. Sure, there are other fast EVs out there like the Porsche Taycan, or Tesla Model S, but do remember that these are very expensive when compared to the Leaf.
Though we might not be getting a production model of the Leaf Twin Motor prototype by next year, Nissan says that the technology found in the prototype vehicle will be featured in the next-generation EVs and e-Power models. Considering the age of the current-gen Leaf and other e-Power models, it won’t be long before the new line of Nissan EVs starts to roll out of the factory. Who knows, we might even get to see an electric GT-R in the not so distance future.