Nissan has built a high-performance 4WD Leaf prototype

By topgear, 28 October 2019

Nissan has bolted another motor – and a set of effortlessly cool gold Rays TE37 wheels – onto a tech-filled, wide-arch Leaf in an aim to prove that driving can be fun and electrified.

With a maximum output of 308bhp and 680Nm of torque, doubling the motors affords a significant jump in performance from the standard Leaf’s 147bhp. But Nissan’s boffins are being cagey about actual performance numbers. Even with our biggest news hammer enabled, they wouldn’t crack and tell us how much quicker it is. What we do know is that having a motor on each axle also allows for torque vectoring. And bunging power to each wheel individually, or across from one side to the other, will massively improve cornering capability.

The addition of another regen brake motor also allows for more powerful – and independent – braking on each wheel. But, in a move we’re yet to see on other EVs, Nissan is using the regen possibilities to control pitch and dive, keeping the car flat to smooth things out and stop drivers and passengers rocking back and forth. Which is good news for people who tend to blow chunks over a dashboard through car sickness.

Nissan has been knocking out EVs since 2010 and bringing the Leaf to market was a genuinely pioneering move. Profitable one too, given it’s sold 430,000 EVs since then. But for all the efficiency gains and improvements the zero emissions platform has had over the years, what it’s yet to nail is an EV that’s genuinely entertaining to drive. That looks like it’s about to change, as Nissan wants to take a slice out of Tesla Model 3 Performance sales, a car with a similar dual-motor setup.

“Soon, Nissan will launch a next-generation EV that will be a true breakthrough,” said Takao Asami, senior vice president for research and advanced engineering at Nissan. “The new electric-drive four-wheel-control technology now being developed integrates Nissan’s electric propulsion and 4WD control technologies with our chassis control technology to achieve a huge leap in acceleration, cornering and braking performance, on par with the latest sports cars.”

But what car will we see it on? Probably the production Ariya. The Tokyo show concept we saw last week (pictured, right) wasn’t a wild and wacky never-to-be-seen concept. All the hardware on it was pretty viable and ready for the market, plus it has twin-motors and boasted about its performance.

This is where cars are going. See, crossovers became fashionable by bundling together the benefits of an SUV in a smaller more car-like package. EV crossovers add another string to the bow: performance. The powertrains can easily be tuned to offer crazy levels of performance in a ‘normal’ looking car. Tesla has been dining on that since day one. Now Nissan is playing catch-up.

This prototype also proves this packaging can go in a small car. And Kunino Nakaguro – Nissan’s Global Head of R&D – confirmed to us there’s work going on around a Leaf Nismo. Which is the first step to fast EVs from Nissan, and music to the ears of people who want to see next-generation versions of iconic Nissan performance brands like ‘Z’ and ‘GT-R’ powered by alternative drivetrains.