The new Nissan Ariya crossover electric vehicle is much more compelling than the humdrum Leaf, but is it set to arrive too late?
- Distinctive design
- Spacious and well-finished cabin
- Pliant suspension should work in the real world
- The Basic FWD version feels slow by segment standards
- Laid-back dynamics
- Having to wait (and wait) for the Australian introduction
Nissan was a pioneer of electrification, but the world has moved much more quickly than the Japanese brand.
The Leaf was launched in 2010 and, for much of its life, was the world’s best-selling EV with nearly 600,000 of the first two generations having been built since then – even if only a modest number of those made it to Australia. Yet the Leaf’s gawky design and limited performance have been overtaken by newer, sexier rivals.
For proof of where the heart of the market is now, look at the all-conquering Tesla Model 3, which took the Leaf’s title of champion EV within two years of going on sale and is now well past a million units worldwide.
This is where the all-new 2022 Nissan Ariya comes in. Nissan’s new EV crossover is intended to offer dramatic increases in both performance and desirability compared to the Leaf, aiming at buyers looking for more than just utility or the smugness some still associate with EV ownership.
Although final plans for market introduction are still being worked out, we’re promised it will be coming to Australia, and – before then – I’ve had the chance to drive an early European-spec version on the Circuito del Jarama in Spain.
Yep, it seems to be SUV-on-racetrack season in Europe – this taking place barely a week after I had a turn in the Aston Martin DBX 707 at Silverstone. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that the Nissan was less exciting than the ludicrously fast V8-powered Aston. But also that, unlikely environment aside, there are some good reasons to be looking forward to the chance to take the finished Ariya onto real roads.
The Ariya sits on the same CMF-EV platform that underpins the Renault Megane E-Tech – the fruit of the joint development power of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi’s not always happy Alliance partnership. It is bigger, sleeker, and faster than the Leaf, with power coming from very advanced externally excited synchronous eight-pole motors.
The two-wheel-drive version uses a single 160kW unit up front, while the considerably more exciting all-paw adds another at the rear, the pair capable of delivering up to 290kW combined.
|2022 Nissan Ariya 2WD|
The AWD version also gets Nissan’s clever software-based e-4ORCE system that gives both the ability to fully vary the torque delivery between both axles, but also to tweak power delivery, and regen to counter-dive under braking and squat under acceleration. There will be two battery sizes – with 63kWh and 87kWh of usable capacity, with the front-driven car with the larger battery targeting 500km of range under the European WLTP testing protocol.
While we don’t know which combinations of driveline and battery packs are likely to reach Australia, my drive was conducted in the range’s entry point – a 63kWh front-driver.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the combination of a 1950kg electric SUV and a racetrack never felt like a particularly relevant one. Nissan had tried to create a simulation of various real-world challenges by laying out various cone-marked gates and slaloms at Jarama, these policed by a variety of made-up speed limits: the lowest a measly 10km/h. Fortunately, the combination of excess enthusiasm and outright ineptitude from some of the journos attending meant that many of these artificial barriers were quickly demolished.
The front-drive Ariya is no rocketship. On Nissan’s figures, it takes 7.5 seconds for the 0–100km/h run, which is pretty leisurely by modern EV standards. On a wide, open racetrack it felt predictably slower than that, and although initial acceleration is keen, this tails off noticeably as speeds build.
On Jarama’s longer straights, the Ariya felt to be running out of puff well before the official 160km/h speed limiter got the chance to call time. Trying to get power down onto the circuit’s tighter corners also got the traction-control algorithm working overtime.
Its suspension felt soft on-track – Nissan’s engineers say adaptive dampers won’t be offered on any versions – with noticeable roll under harder loadings and a soundtrack that, in lieu of engine noise, featured a fair amount of tyre squealing.
Yet beyond confirmation the production Ariya is unlikely to find itself starring at many track days, the first drive did give some grounds for optimism. The steering is good, with nice (if light) weighting and proportional front-end responses when manoeuvring around the cone-strewn course.
The Ariya also blended its regenerative and friction braking impressively cleanly. Although the selectable e-pedal function doesn’t give true one-pedal operation, requiring brake input for a final stop, it had what felt like a much more real-world appropriate level of lift-off retardation than the overly aggressive systems of many rivals.
The Ariya has got much more visual presence than the Leaf too. In terms of size, its 4595mm overall length is just 5mm greater than the Toyota RAV4, but seems much bigger in the metal thanks to both the height of its front end and its cab-forward proportions. The base of the windscreen is practically in line with the front axle.
Muscular contours and some nice detailing feature, with plenty boasting Nissan’s new trademark ‘kumiko’ pattern inspired by Japanese woodworking. The huge black ‘not-grille’ was a bit XL for my tastes, but from most other angles it’s a fine-looking crossover.
The cabin was more impressive, well-finished, and roomy thanks to the extra space liberated by the lack of a combustion engine up front, with a good range of adjustment up front and adult viable room in the rear. Its interior design feels elegantly minimalist; there are twin digital displays for instruments and infotainment, with physical switchgear limited to the audio and cruise controls grouped on the face of the steering wheel.
Heating and ventilation are managed by touch-sensitive areas on the wood-effect dashboard, with these having a satisfying amount of haptic resistance when operated. There’s also an electrically powered storage compartment that motors out from the dashboard. A gimmick, but an amusing one.
|Key details||2022 Nissan Ariya 2WD|
|Engine||Single externally excited electric motor|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Power to weight ratio||84.2kW/t|
Despite the limitations of this first drive, the basic Ariya seems like a decent car, even on the alien environment of a racetrack. But excitement, if it comes at all, will be with the brawnier versions.
There’s also the unanswered question of how long Australian buyers will have to wait for it and how much it will cost when it gets here. It’s fair to say the country’s limited appetite for EVs and the lack of Federal government support have put us low on Nissan’s priority list.