Nissan's Ariya aims to rejuvenate the upper-mid-sized part of the EV market. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
The Ariya broadens Nissan's EV range up-market, an upper-mid-sized Coupe-Crossover that really seems to have the 'want one' factor missing from so many family-segment electric vehicles. It's boldly styled, has a cutting-edge cabin and offers a choice of battery sizes and drivetrain options. Think EV are dull? Check this one out.
Every major brand has been developing Electric Vehicles over the last decade. But only a few have been doing so with actual customers, selling cars from actual showrooms. One of these brands is Nissan, who established the concept of an all-electric family car with the innovative LEAF all the way back in 2011. Before bringing us a follow-up, that difficult second album, this car, the Ariya.
Much of that time was spent creating the platform this car sits upon, the CMF-EV chassis that also underpins its very similar close cousin, the Renault Megane E-Tech Electric. That car is positioned in size and price very similarly to the current-day Nissan LEAF, so this one, its name based on the Japanese word for 'honourable', must be a slightly larger, slightly more aspirational, more up-market thing. A mid-sized Crossover aimed at entry-level Tesla territory and the EV market's most over-crowded segment.
The idea here, says Nissan, is to 'amplify the fun-to-drive aspect' of electric mobility. A heavy old EV; fun to drive? That might be a new concept for you. If so, Nissan wants to change your mind. This one is certainly weighty, tipping the scales at between 1.9 and 2.2-tonnes, depending on spec. But it counters with sharp steering and near-perfect 50-50 weight distribution. Less welcome is the unsettled ride over poor surfaces that characterises quite a few EVs in this class, despite promises of a 'magic carpet' feel from this car's freshly developed CMF-EV platform. That's been primarily created for front-driven models like this Ariya's Renault Megane E-Tech Electric close cousin - which isn't ideal for this Nissan in a class where most rivals are more maturely propelled from the rear.
You're also reminded of the class below by the size of the volume model's battery pack - 63kWh of usable capacity, in a class where 70 to 80kWh-sized battery packs are more common. For a chunk more cash, an alternative 87kWh battery pack's available, boosting the base version's rather mediocre 250 mile range figure to a more reasonable 329 mile total. With that bigger battery, you're also offered the alternative of the brand's clever 'e-4ORCE' AWD system, which adds an extra motor on the rear axle and is offered in standard form with 306PS and a driving range figure of up to 319 miles. There's also an 'Evolve+' e-4ORCE flagship model, which ups the power output to 394PS. Either way, the e-4ORCE package adds an extra 'Snow' setting to the three standard ones fitted to all Ariyas - 'Standard', 'Eco' and 'Sport'. Plus all variants get an 'e-Pedal' brake regen system that's so powerful it can almost slow the car to a standstill.
Design and Build
The Ariya is certainly a striking-looking thing, it's front end featuring a bold 'shield'-style design with a 3D 'kumiko' pattern under a smooth surface. From the side, there's a low-slung coupe silhouette and a single crease line linking the front and rear of the car. At the back, you get a distinctive C-pillar design, plus a high-mounted rear wing and a single-piece light bar. To suit the current zeitgeist, there are big alloy wheels of 19 or 20-inches in size. Thanks to its new electric vehicle-specific CMF-EV platform, this is quite a large car too, 4595mm long, 1850mm wide and 1660mm tall. Which, to give you some perspective, makes it almost the same size as its closest rival, Volkswagen's ID.4.
The 2,775mm wheelbase makes possible a decently large cabin too. It'll certainly feel futuristic, with 'Zero Gravity' slim profile seats and a very minimalist design, with almost all the physical buttons replaced by capacitive haptic-feedback switches integrated into the fascia surface. There's a 12.3-inch central touchscreen; and a digital instrument binnacle display of the same size, plus what Nissan reckons is one of the biggest head-up displays in the segment. There's also a fold-out centre stowage box beneath the main instrument panel. There's a reasonably-sized rear bench, but it would be more comfortable for two than three. The boot capacity is 466-litres for 2-Wheel Drive variants, but the e-4ORCE AWD derivatives lose some of that because of the extra motor they use: their cargo area is rated at 408-litres.
Market and Model
Ariya pricing starts way beyond the point where pricing of Nissan's top LEAF 'e+' models finish. That means a price structure that starts from around £40,000 for the entry-level 'Engage' 63kWh model - or around £45,000 with the larger 87kWh battery. Beyond that lie 'Advance' and 'Evolve'-spec models and there's the option of the brand's e-4ORCE AWD system (which gives you 306PS). The top 'Evolve+' variant uses the 87kWh battery, ups power to 394PS and costs around £59,000.
Across the range, as you'd hope given these prices, there's plenty of kit included course, including ultra-slim full-LED headlights which incorporate four 20mm projectors and are combined with animated indicators. Inside, there's a sophisticated centre dash infotainment screen which incorporates a 'digital assistant' incorporating Amazon Alexa voice control and activated by the phrases "Hello Nissan" and "Hey Nissan". This set-up includes 4G connectivity and can receive over the air updates for infotainment elements and chassis and EV settings. There's plenty of smartphone integration too of course, which will enable appointments to be fed to the car in advance any journey.
As you'd expect, you'll get Nissan's latest suite of 'Safety Shield' camera safety equipment. The front grille houses a whole range of sensors that drive Nissan's 'ProPILOT' driver assistance systems - features like Lane Keeping Assistance and Adaptive Cruise Control. The Ariya can be ordered with a choice of six 2-tone paint finish combinations, each with a contrasting black roof; as well as four full-body paint finishes. These are complemented by an eye-catching single 'light blade' at the rear that is designed to look black when the car is switched off.
Cost of Ownership
We mentioned range mileages in our 'Driving Experience' section: just to reiterate, the base 63kWh 'Advance' model manages up to 250 miles, the 87kWh front-driven 'Evolve' version is up to 329 miles and the 87kWh e-4ORCE 4WD variant is up to 319 miles. There are the usual controls for increasing the level of regenerative braking so that you can maximise this car's range potential. Like the LEAF, the Ariya operates with an 'e-Pedal' system when braking regeneration is at its maximum, meaning that in normal driving, you'll be able to launch, accelerate and decelerate only using the throttle pedal.
As you'd expect with an electric car, there's a special smartphone app allowing you to remotely check on battery status and set climate controls to precondition the temperature of the cabin before you reach the car. The 63kWh version features a 7.4kW AC charger for home connections, while the 87kWh variants have a 22kW three-phase setup. Nissan says the Ariya can support up to 130kW DC charging, technology that will allow around 230 miles of range to be added to this car's battery pack in around half an hour. Hooked up to a 7.4kW garage wallbox, you'd need 10 hours to charge the 63kWh version - or 14 hours with the 87kWh model. A nice touch is the inclusion of an LED inspection light in the car's charging point so that owners won't have to rely on street lighting to connect their cars to an electric source at night.
There's no doubt that the Ariya is a massive step forward for Nissan. The problem for this brand though, is that every one of its rivals have made almost similarly seismic and well-funded improvements in order to move into the EV era. Having kicked the whole thing off with the LEAF back in 2011, you might have expected this Japanese maker to use this follow-up design to set another significant benchmark for competitors to strive after. Perhaps in driving range, charging speed, cabin space or value.
None of those areas are advanced here: indeed the Ariya struggles to compete in some of them, notably driving range. Which is a pity because there's lots to like about this car - striking looks, some clever cabin touches and a classy vibe positioning this model as a more expensive thing than it actually is. The fundamentals are undoubtedly here for a very appealing family EV and no brand's better placed the Nissan to deliver on that promise.