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Eleven years after the original Leaf, Nissan releases its tricky second electric album

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The market for mid-sized family EVs is already impressively diverse, but while several players within it are positioned for a premium price, few have used what you might think of as traditional luxury car values to justify that price quite like the subject of this test: the Nissan Ariya coupé-SUV.

Tesla’s Model Y and Model 3 are fast and rangy. Audi’s Q4 twins are edgy-looking and tech-laden. The Ford Mustang Mach-E offers range, handling dynamism and design cachet – as, each somewhat differently, do the Kia EV6, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Genesis GV60. Is there an opening, then, for a premium family EV that puts comfort, refinement, cabin appeal and on-board space uppermost among its reasons for being? Nissan is banking that there is with this week’s road test subject.

While the charging point on the Leaf is on the tip of its nose, it moves to the nearside front wing on the Ariya. Unlike in many rivals, it is part of the car’s mirror-converted layout for RHD and LHD, so is always on the kerbside when you parallel park.

This is only the Japanese brand’s second ‘proper’ all-electric passenger car. The smaller Nissan Leaf has been with us since 2011, and 11 years is plenty of time for Nissan to have thought long and hard about how it would expand its zero-emissions range (beyond the reach of the e-NV200 van, needless to say), and possibly even to have aborted an attempt or two.

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So why wait so long? Perhaps the Ariya’s new platform explains it. This is the first car to adopt the new CMF-EV platform, which by 2030 will be serving under as many as 15 electric cars across the Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi brands. Stay tuned to find out what kind of upmarket family car it can make for right now in 2022.

Range at a glance

The Ariya is offered in a choice of three equipment grades, with two drive battery capacities and in either single-motor front-wheel drive or twin-motor four-wheel drive.

The trim levels – Advance, Evolve and Performance – are separated mainly by on-board technology. Evolve trim adds a head-up display, Bose premium audio, a panoramic sunroof and synthetic leather seats.

Nissan Ariya 63kWH Advance215bhp
Nissan Ariya 87kWh Advance239bhp
Nissan Ariya 87kWH e-4orce AWD Advance302bhp
Nissan Ariya 87kwh e-4orce AWD Performance389bhp

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Nissan Ariya


Nissan Ariya panning

The all-new model architecture we are looking at here has been nicknamed ‘the magic flying carpet’ by Nissan insiders. And that moniker provides a useful view on the qualities that it might provide for an EV.

The platform makes the Nissan Ariya front-wheel drive in its lower-power forms, unlike many rivals that have adopted rear-wheel-drive layouts. But since one of Nissan’s chief dynamic aims was to make the Ariya secure, stable and easy to drive, front drive makes particular sense. 

The Ariya trades on a few traditional Japanese design tropes, notably at the front where the car’s grille ‘shield’ (which protects the various forward sensors for its assisted driving tech) has an unusual three-dimensional ‘kumiko’ pattern just under the surface.

The Ariya can be had with one motor up front, then, or one on each axle, and with power outputs ranging from 215bhp to 389bhp. The kind of drive motor that the car uses is interesting, too. Nissan calls it ‘electrically excited’ – the rotor being driven by opposed electromagnetic fields, so the motor needn’t contain heavy magnetic metals. That makes it a little less given to producing efficient torque at low motor speeds than some, but more efficient at cruising speeds, according to Nissan.

The drive battery sits beneath that flat cabin floor. It is a liquid-cooled lithium ion pack of a design that at once lowers the Ariya’s centre of gravity and serves to stiffen its body structure, and the car’s wheelbase has been stretched as far as possible to make room for it (at 2775mm, it’s longer than is a Land Rover Discovery Sport’s). There is a choice of two batteries, with 63kWh or 87kWh of usable capacity. We elected to test a car with the bigger pack, and for outright capacity it does indeed compare favourably with a basket of rivals, very few of which offer more than 82kWh.

For suspension, the Ariya uses a mix of independent struts at the front and multi-link at the rear, with steel coil springs and conventional passive dampers. Nissan claims European versions of the car have had specific damper and steering tuning.

Our test car weighed 2109kg on the scales, making it slightly lighter than the single-motor Audi Q4 E-tron 40 we tested in 2021, despite offering nearly 10% more battery


Nissan Ariya straightdash

Electric family cars in this £40,000-£60,000 price range have been blurring the lines between more traditional bodystyles and SUVs for a while now. Even those for which a sleeker, lower profile might have been preferred have had to accommodate an under-floor drive battery that displaces the cabin – and consequently, the car’s whole body profile – upwards by so many inches.

But the Nissan Ariya is pretty plainly in the EV class’s high and handsome club. Most owners will slide sideways onto the fairly high-mounted driver’s seat; and even with that seat adjusted at its lowest, then sit bent-legged and perched up at the wheel.

Wooden dashboard veneer with hidden-until-lit capacitive switchgear brings the BMW iX to mind. Shame that the buttons need such a firm press to register contact, though.

You are very comfortably seated, with lots of leg room and shoulder room around you but, owing to that curving roofline, not quite as much head room as taller adult occupants might hope for. Even so, this is a really open, airy-feeling interior whose flat floor makes it easy to slide across to the driver’s seat having entered through the passenger side door, for example. Head room notwithstanding, it has plenty of wider space for rear-seat occupants to stretch out in, and its tallish side glazing and full-length panoramic roof (a feature of Evolve trim) admit plenty of light into what is an inviting and, in places, quite a lavishly finished environment.

Nissan’s upper-trim models benefit from two added-convenience features. The first is a motorised sliding centre console, which allows you to position the Ariya’s central armrest pod – with its secondary controls and storage features – exactly to your preference and ‘save’ that driving position. It seems a little gimmicky on first inspection, but for those who need the extremes of longitudinal adjustment of the driver’s seat, it could be a very welcome feature.

The second unique interior feature is a motorised storage cubby-cum-table that swings out from within the fascia at the touch of a button on the centre console. This could provide some secure hidden stowage space for valuables, though it’s not quite big enough when deployed to be much use as a storage shelf.

The cabin has some really appealing material highlights. The wood veneer fascia trim, with its hidden-until-lit capacitive ventilation controls, is one of them. Likewise the bronze-coloured brightwork of the air vents and the soft woollen dashpad (although some testers wondered how clean the latter might remain in day-to-day family use).

In other places, the high standard on premium-worthy quality slips a little, some footwell fixtures being quite poorly secured and the unlined door bins feeling rather cheap. But in terms of considered comfort and practicality, and tangible luxury feel, this interior sets a promising tone.

Nissan Ariya infotainment and sat-nav

Nissan ariya infotainment2 0

Nissan’s standard infotainment offering in the Ariya consists of two 12.3in displays integrated side by side, in the increasingly common flight console style – although this one’s ‘wave-like form’ makes it totally different from many others, claims Nissan.

Most of your inputs have to be via the touchscreen or voice command. However, Nissan does provide a separate volume knob and audio power button, as well as physical ventilation controls. There are plenty of steering-wheel remote controls for the audio functions, too.

The main menu screen is clearly rendered and laid out, and is easy enough to find your way around, and the instrumentation is presented in a simple, uncluttered and readable style. Nissan’s factory navigation system is easy to program, but wireless smartphone mirroring is standard and, with wireless device charging likewise standard, many owners are likely to use their phone’s connected features in the car. If our experience is any guide, they will be able to do so without any problems.



Nissan Ariya front34 pan

It wouldn’t accord with the Ariya’s particular positioning to expect an out-of-the-ordinary showing from the car when it comes to measured acceleration – and the single-motor, bigger-battery car we tested certainly didn’t give one.

Even under a wide-open throttle, the car gets off to a closely controlled getaway, needing a little over eight seconds to hit 60mph – which is, frankly, about the least you would expect from any £50,000 family car in 2022, and quite a way short of the performance of many rivals. Even Nissan’s claim of 7.6sec from 0-62mph was made to look a little optimistic, given our near-ideal test conditions on the day.

When it’s reversing, the Ariya makes a noise like a sonar operator’s workstation in some 1970s Cold War nuclear submarine movie. It's quite strange; yet the more I heard it, the more I warmed to it.

Whether it is due to the nature of that ‘electrically excited’ drive motor or simply the way that Nissan has tuned it, torque is produced in a very mature and progressive way so as not to disrupt the front wheels (where previous tests have shown that some front-driven EVs can struggle for traction, composure and drivability). The Ariya eases itself into motion assuredly, with clean and linear pedal response. The aim here, you sense, was to make the car totally predictable and intuitive – and, in terms of the powertrain integration, it’s been realised with some success.

On the move, the car is strikingly well isolated and quiet at low speed, making for precisely the sort of calming, cocooning transport around town that Nissan intended, although that does depend somewhat on how level and smooth is the surface over which the car is travelling, as we will come on to explain. Pedal response isn’t particularly sensitive, while Nissan’s ‘e-pedal’ accelerator and regenerative braking setting allows for easy one-pedal driving in busy traffic, blending energy regeneration up and down automatically – and very cleverly – depending on your speed and what’s around you. Turn it off and you can adopt a more traditional two-pedal style instead, with brake pedal feel being a little soft and ill-defined but passable. There are no steering-wheel paddles for the adjustment of brake energy regeneration, regrettably.

Out of town, however, the Ariya’s performance level endures at faster cruising speeds better than some EVs we have tested. It takes 4.6sec to get from 60-80mph, where an equivalent single-motor Kia EV6 needed 5.1sec, an Audi Q4 E-tron 40 6.5sec and, for the record, a BMW 320d 5.1sec. There is clearly some credibility to Nissan’s reasoning for its choice of electric motor here, then: to power an EV that feels equally at home on the motorway as it does elsewhere.


Nissan Ariya front34 pan

You run into one or two problems when you go looking for the mirror image of that powertrain tuning intuitiveness in the Nissan Ariya’s handling. At low speeds and on smoother surfaces, this is a car that’s easy enough to place and manoeuvre, though it always feels its size as a result of the long wheelbase and elevated driving position. But on more uneven and winding roads out of town – and on, at worst, averagely well-surfaced UK motorways – it can struggle for the kind of settled composure and relaxing progress that Nissan would want for it.

The car’s principal dynamic issue is one fundamental to its design, and while other comparable EVs have grappled with it to a lesser extent, none seems a better case study for it. The Ariya’s under-floor drive battery gives it a low centre of gravity, which Nissan would no doubt claim puts it in a prime position for dynamic handling. But it also evidently pushes that centre of gravity a little problematically close to the car’s roll axis, which makes lateral body roll movements sharper when they present, and also harder for the suspension to easily control. Meanwhile, the raised cabin pushes the driver’s hip point in the opposite direction, up farther above that roll axis than it would otherwise be, exposing the occupants to really perceive every movement that the car makes.

The effect is like driving a double-decker bus from the upstairs front window, albeit on a lesser scale. So instead of simply rolling, the Ariya seems to teeter a little abruptly onto its outside wheels as it corners. While it may not roll far, you feel every degree of that movement.

The steering is medium-fast at 2.5 turns between locks – although, working to rotate a chassis with such a long wheelbase, it often doesn’t feel that way. It’s fairly light of weight and filtered-feeling; consistent, if a little unenticing, but easy to get on with. At the wheel, you feel quite removed from the car’s axles. It’s not a problem as regards 95% of normal everyday driving, when the Ariya handles with decent accuracy and security, and grips consistently. But push the car a little faster and it begins to feel like something big, heavy, softly sprung and front-wheel drive without very much provocation.

The electronic control systems don’t rein in motor power entirely if you are boorish with the accelerator in mid-corner as, for example, a Tesla Model 3 or a Polestar 2 can. And so the Ariya will understeer gently but benignly at the limit of grip, remaining stable but declining to do much to vector torque intelligently, as you might expect a more athletically minded EV to do.

Assisted driving notes

Nissan continues to group its driver assistance technologies under what it calls ProPilot Assist. On the Ariya, it comes as standard with entry-level Advance trim and bundles an intelligent lane keeping system with traffic jam assist along with blindspot monitoring, an intelligent limit-sensing cruise control and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist recognition.

You toggle most of the systems on and off via a master control button on the steering wheel, a bit like you would cruise control. This makes sense given when you will want to use most of them, and tends to keep things like lane keeping from intruding when you’re on country roads.

That said, the lane keeping system isn’t a particularly intrusive one in any case, and neither is the crash mitigation system overly keen to make its presence felt or to reassure the driver that it is switched on. Just as we like them, then.


Nissan Ariya frontcorner

The Ariya has a level of motorway wind noise noticable enough to inevitably make its driver wonder how much more efficient a cruiser it might have been if Nissan had opted for a lower silhouette. As it is, the car returned 2.8 miles per kWh on our 70mph-representative motorway touring economy test, where both an Audi Q4 eTron and a Skoda Enyaq iV delivered 3.0mpkWh, and an 88kWh Ford Mustang Mach-E 3.2mpkWh.

So perhaps the car isn’t quite as energy-efficient as Nissan would like us to think. It does, however, have that 87kWh battery to fall back on (provided you shell out for that version in the first place). And, over a week’s testing, it averaged 3.2mpkWh in total, suggesting that it would be capable of a day-to-day, real-world electric range of 278 miles: a better result than most rivals recorded when we tested them.

Nissan’s pricing for the Ariya looks a little high, but perhaps inevitably so in part given the UK’s current inflationary times. That it feels like a genuine premium prospect on the inside, with plenty of luxury car ambience, is an achievement for Nissan, and it’s more than you could say of one or two rivals from established premium brands. It should go some way to justifying that high price, while commendable residual values ought to help keep monthly finance deals broadly competitive.


Nissan Ariya static

The developing market for family-sized electric vehicles already has its noisy Americans, a few snazzy European-made options and one or two eye-catching Koreans, but it feels ripe for enrichment by an innovative Japanese contender – and the Nissan Ariya is trying very hard to be that car. It looks bold and alternative; it’s cleverly packaged and spacious; it’s genuinely inviting and surprisingly luxurious; and, at its best, it’s strikingly refined and intuitive to drive.

Some clever interior features and a long-range battery that promises great electric range serve the car well, too. The great shame is that Nissan’s particular chassis design and suspension tuning don’t do likewise – at least, not on so many UK roads. Out of town, the Ariya has a problem with close body control that too often becomes irksome to its driver and passengers.

That it isn’t particularly engaging to drive can be overlooked on a car with these dynamic priorities. However, that it simply isn’t as comfortable-riding as rivals costing considerably less is a significant problem for a car that is claimed to be all about relaxing, sophisticated, futuristic family transport.

Nissan Ariya First drives