From £43,8458

Late entrant to a burgeoning segment shines by virtue of its slick drive, attention to detail and on-paper performance

Golly, what’s this? A new mid-sized electric crossover from a mainstream brand that’s embarked on a rapid-fire and ambitious electrification strategy? It feels like we haven’t seen one of those in… ooooh, at least seven minutes.

You know the drill. The Nissan Ariya is the firm's answer to the Volkswagen ID 4, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, Kia EV6 and countless other recent arrivals to the market. We’ve driven it in prototype form before but the stickers are off now, ahead of a planned UK launch in the third quarter of the year, two years since it was unwrapped.

And it should be worth the wait, all considered. Company bosses sensibly shout about the marque's long-standing success in the crossover segment, which it claims to have invented with the Nissan Qashqai in 2007, and in the mainstream family EV segment, which it claims to have invented with the Nissan Leaf in 2010. Certainly, the firm is well placed to capture the imagination of a buyer in this field - but will the Ariya’s delayed arrival count against it? In the time it’s taken to land on UK price lists, there’s been a tidal wave of similarly conceived easy-living EVs going on sale – even one-time EV agnostic Toyota has beaten it to the punch – and, as a result, there’s a greater need than ever for brands to make their offerings stand out. 

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Thankfully, depending on specification, the Ariya is agreeably distinctive - albeit in the context of a target market that tends towards conservatism. And if not obviously outside, then certainly within: the relationship with the safe but staid cabins of the Qashqai and Juke is tenuous at best (to good effect), with a dramatic push upmarket bringing a pair of crisp, intuitive 12.3in screens, a standard-fit head-up display, illuminated haptic climate controls (it can be done, Volkswagen - even if you have to give them a good old prod) and a veritable banquet of electrickery, including a sliding centre console for step-through access and a pop-out storage bin in the dashboard. Gimmicky? Maybe. Ultimately useful? Indubitably.

Plus, while the sloping roof impacts reward visibility somewhat, this remains a bright and airy glasshouse with plenty of leg room in each row - albeit with no space under the front seats for rear passengers’ feet. 

In terms of equipment and material quality, the Ariya’s cockpit feels much more plush than a good many other cars at this mid-£40,000s price point – combustion engined or otherwise – although whether you could argue the same of the high-£50,000s range-topper is less certain. 

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Its on-paper performance stacks up well against competitiors, too. Our test car was specified in range-topping Evolve trim but with the entry-level front-wheel-drive powertrain and smaller 63kWh battery, and so offered 215bhp and 221lb ft, compared with the range-topping e4orce car’s 388bhp and 443lb ft, and an official range of 250 miles rather than the larger pack’s 329 miles. All Ariyas can charge at speeds of up to 130kW, which is usefully quick but starting to feel just about the bare minimum these days. The 350kW Hyundai and Kia will be vanishing into the sunset before you’ve finished your charging station Starbucks. 

But as with so many other cars in this segment – so obviously and overtly aimed squarely at the less dynamic-obsessed family car buyer – there’s a good chance it will be this lower-powered version that emerges as the sweet spot in the range. The power delivery is so effective as to make up for the shortfall in outright punch and driven wheels, taking the Ariya to 62mph from rest in just 7.5sec, and the rate of acceleration doesn’t tangibly tail off at any speed below the legal limit – so overtaking and merging is as slick at the limit as it would be in town. 

The car can be hustled along briskly, of course, in the effective but rarely entertaining manner so common to non-performance-oriented EVs, and with 48:52 weight distribution (it’s bang on 50:50 in the 4WD car), reassuringly responsive – but light – steering and a well-rounded chassis set-up, it’s effective through corners as well, which is to say confidence-inspiring and predictable, rather than dazzling. 

Around town, it matches the cushty Volkswagen ID 4 for low-speed refinement, too. Only the harshest bumps send a perceptible jolt through the seat base, and there’s little to speak of in terms of tyre and wind roar once up to higher speeds, although shattered UK Tarmac will serve up a more revealing verdict on ride quality. Helpfully, Nissan’s experience of engineering and building three generations of the indefatigable Qashqai in the UK should stand the Ariya in good stead, on that front. 

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Nissan's 'difficult second album' only became more so because it made us wait 12 years to sample it, but first impressions suggest the Ariya takes the dependability and rational appeal of the pioneering Leaf, while injecting a substantial dose of kerb appeal into the bargain. Certainly, the Ariya is much more than an electric Qashqai successor: it feels like the beginning of a brand's transformation, and – on the basis of its strengths – there's good reason to be excited about what will follow.