(Pocket-lint) - When it comes to electric cars, Nissan is something of a veteran. After all, Nissan Leaf is one of the most established EVs on the road - a big seller in Europe and one of the cars that broke early ground in the transition to electric.
Many have questioned why it's taken Nissan so long to expand beyond the Leaf into more sectors, but, with its new electric SUV, the Ariya, the manufacturer is doing exactly that.
Despite the long-awaited step, though, the Ariya arrives in a very different market to the one the Leaf experienced. Not only is there now a greater urgency and demand for electric cars, as well as a much better understanding of what they offer, there's also a lot more competition.
And, arguably, the Leaf's success was partly due to a lack of competition, with the Renault Zoe being the only other alternative.
Does Nissan's experience flow into the Ariya and make it the one to beat, or is this a mid-sized SUV destined to get lost in the shuffle? Here are our impressions.
We were all waiting for Nissan to take its electric car experience to a bigger stage, and the Ariya represents that. Executed with refinement and aplomb, the Ariya offers a quality driving experience that's practical and comfortable, complete with prices that are competitive against rivals from traditional premium marques.
There are touches that help the Ariya stand out, with some interesting interior elements you won't find elsewhere - and some that you will. It's modern and refreshing, with ample space, and likely to be a popular choice for families.
Competition in the mid-sized electric SUV space is now fierce, and between Hyundai, Kia and Toyota, the addition of Nissan to the mix gives you plenty of quality options grouped around the same sort of prices and all with plenty of appeal.
Certainly, if you're shopping for this size of car, you'll want the Nissan Ariya on your shortlist.
- Sleek looks
- Interior quality
- Battery and motor options
- Plenty of tech
- Good level of specification
- DC charging not the fastest
- Display not as punchy as some
- Satnav presentation can be a little confusing
- Boot could be bigger
Design and build
The easiest thing for Nissan to do in this segment would have been to take its top seller - the Nissan Qashqai - and give it an electric version, akin to what Kia has done with the Niro. Nissan has broader ambitions, though.
Instead, the Ariya sits on a platform designed for electric and - just as we've seen from Hyundai with the Ioniq 5 - that pays huge dividends. There's no compromise in the platform here, as it's not trying to accommodate a combustion engine in a different version, so the results are better overall.
It means that Nissan launches the Ariya as a totally new car. The company will talk about its experience and say that the Leaf + Qashqai = Ariya, but that sells the Ariya short - it's much more than that. The Ariya is sleeker and smoother, and, although you can see Nissan DNA in this design, it looks more premium.
As it should, really, as it's naturally more expensive than the Qashqai - even the fancy e-Power version of that popular model - and the result is something that rubs shoulders with rivals like Audi and BMW.
Nissan preserves conventional mirrors (which we're glad of), while it also has pretty standard door handles. With the move to a sleeker external design, we're not sure why it didn't opt for something slightly more futuristic to open the door, but this isn't a huge deal.
One of Nissan's design signatures is the grille, and this has been flattened and integrated. The idea of that shape remains, but it's now a black panel, with deeper detail if you look a little closer. It's fairly large and offers a great design break on the front of the car, meaning you get a slightly different effect depending on the paint colour you choose.
The launch colour in bronze looks great to our eyes, but the safe, black model loses the distinction of those exterior design elements and doesn't quite have the same character. The Ariya is a car, like plenty of others, that looks best in some of its more vibrant colours.
It also rides high, giving you a lofty driving position, but doesn't feel much larger than the Qashqai when you're driving it. It is larger, however, and offers the advantage of having a flat floor, optimising cabin space with a few clever details thrown in.
The boot offers 466 litres of storage on the two-wheel drive version, meanwhile, shrinking to 408 litres on the all-wheel drive model. This loss in space is down to the additional rear motor that the AWD motor needs, while the sloping roofline means that there's also a little less space up top than in squarer models like the Nissan X-Trail.
The interior lounge
Moving to a lounge-style interior design has been something of a trend in recent cars. The Ariya walks the same path, resulting in a modern interior that's fresh and inviting. Again, this is a good reason for not recycling the Qashqai, because it feels different and special when you slip into the Ariya.
To increase the amount of interior space, the dash has been reduced, leaving clear space around your feet. Nissan (on higher trims) is offering a movable centre console, too. So, with the press of a button, you can move it back or forth in order to redistribute space fore and aft, or just to get the armrest in a better position for you.
It's something of a novelty, and we're not sure how many people will really be excited about it, but it also means there's not a lot of storage in the centre - only really accommodation for the wireless charging pad and another slot lower down next to the floor-level USB sockets.
This is a quirk we saw in the Hyundai Ioniq 5, as well, meaning that your phone might end up down by your feet if you choose to plug it in.
There's a hidden storage box in the front, which we should also note. Press a button on the centre console and this drawer powers out, almost forming a little table at the front and offering another hole to keep things out of the way. There's a hint of James Bond about it, but, with few open places to place things like sunglasses cases, it's certainly welcomed - even if it is a little over-engineered.
Sticking with the dash, there's been a huge reduction in physical buttons. There are almost none, actually, with Nissan instead using a haptic touch system. With wood-like finishes and rear illumination, it's another modern solution that reduces cabin clutter.
There's also a new design to the displays, with Nissan putting these into one bar, rather than separating them as on previous vehicles. It's very much the trend these days.
The steering wheel is modernised over the Qashqai, too, with better touch controls across its surface, although it is rather busy compared to something like the BMW iX.
And, as we've said already, there's plenty of space, with that advantage extended to the rear seats. There's ample leg and headroom, thanks to the flat floor, and the seats are comfortable, offering a range of finishes, plenty of support and powered controls. They also integrate heating as standard, with seat ventilation/cooling a feature of the higher Evolve trim.
There are two trims - Advance and Evolve - and, with the Ariya pitched as a premium model, the standard specification is actually pretty impressive. That's not uncommon in electric cars, but you're looking at things like ambient lighting, ProPilot, auto parking, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
The Evolve steps up with that powered sliding centre console, a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats, synthetic leather seats, a 10-speaker Bose sound system and a heads-up display, so there's a pretty big difference.
The interior finish is also softer than some other Nissan models we've driven. While there's still the use of hard plastics in places - incorporating traditional Japanese design hints - there are plenty of synthetic leather and suede options, with the latter looking really smart.
The result is an interior that's high quality and definitely brings distinction above the Qashqai.
The interior tech
We've mentioned that the displays are now fused into one bar, providing a fresh look, but the interface will be familiar to anyone who has been in the latest Qashqai. It's the same overall UI, with a run of icons down the side to access the key areas - navigation, phone, music and the widget-based home page.
The driver display offers a little customisation, too, allowing for dials or a more minimalised option that focuses on information, such as navigation, stats, and so on. The combined display also has a physical brightness control on the side, so you can easily tweak it up and down.
However, while the big spread of display is generally welcomed, it seems to have some sort of anti-reflective finish to it, so it looks a little matte, which mutes it slightly compared to, for example, a similar glossy display in the Qashqai. A minor detail, but something to be aware of.
Using the internal tech is mostly straightforward, with a nice balance between form and function, but it's not the most modern in appearance, with a few questionable design choices.
The biggest of these comes across in navigation. When you have route planned in, the map display is fine, but, when you approach a turning, there's a box that shows that junction that appears alongside the map - and for some reason it has a black background.
The result is a little jarring alongside the lighter-coloured version of pretty much the same thing on the other side of the display, and we're not convinced it's as useful as it should be.
The heads-up display is excellent, however. It's richly presented and full of the information you need, including prompts for things like speed limit changes (powered by the road sign recognition), allowing you to accept the change of speed when driving with Nissan's ProPilot system, which will neatly offer adaptive cruise control and steering assistance with the press of a couple of buttons.
ProPilot has been around for a couple of years, and it's a really easy system to use. Generally reliable in keeping the car in your lane, you just have to rest your hands gently on the wheel and leave the car to do the driving. However, when it loses the lane, for example if the lane markings are indistinct because of roadworks, there's only a brief warning signal and vibration before you're handed back control.
As with all such driver assistance systems, you need to remain in control of the car at all times, even if the car appears to be driving itself.
There's further assistance for parking, as well as cameras around the vehicle to help you when reversing or when trying to squeeze into a small space. Again, it's a common feature, but one that's conveniently implemented with a button to press on the dash to fire up the cameras.
You can also link the Ariya to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, meaning you can ask your smart speaker or phone to lock your car or provide details of the battery charge.
Power, performance and range
There are two battery sizes - 63kW or 87kW - and both are available with either trim, Advance or Evolve. But there are also motor options, so you'll be able to step up over the 160kW standard motor to a 178kW motor - again, in both trims.
Finally, there's the all-wheel drive option - known as e-4ORCE - that adds a rear motor to bring the power up to 225W. Not only do you get all-wheel drive, but there are also performance additions that come with this range-topper, so it's faster, too.
That's six models to choose from in total, with a price ladder starting at just over £43,000 in the UK and topping out at over £56,000. In reality, it's competitively priced against some of the premium brands like BMW and provides some competition to the likes of Kia and Hyundai - with the Ioniq 5 starting a little cheaper, but with a slightly smaller battery.
The important thing to remember when ordering is that the trim levels are available with all those goodies, regardless of which battery size or motor power you opt for. Out review model (pictured here) was the 160kW Evolve.
It is worth noting, though, that the larger battery capacity models don't just come with the benefit of extended range - there's 22kW charging, too. This boost to AC charging speeds might mean you can get faster charging in more locations, and faster than the standard 7.4kW offered.
Of course, for the fastest charging, you'll be using the DC rapid charging, with support up to 130kW. This isn't the fastest out there - Hyundai offers 350kW charging - so you'll get over 200 miles in 30 minutes on the larger battery size.
Onto the range, and below are the official Ariya range figures from Nissan:
- 63kW - 250 miles (2WD)
- 87kW - 329 miles (2WD)
- 87kW - 310 miles (e-4ORCE)
During our test driving, we managed to achieve an average of 4.9 miles per kWh, which would equate to 308 miles (compared to Nissan's figure of 250 miles on the 63kW two-wheel drive model).
The real-world range will always depend on driving conditions, driving style and how the car is loaded, but there are some impressive figures here, and the results we got were achieved without any effort to make any real efficiency sacrifices. We'll update this figure if and when we get to spend more time driving the Ariya.
We should also note here that the Ariya is very nice to drive. That commanding seating position gives great visibility, with the steering weighting up nicely through turns to give it more feel. It rides and handles well, although we mostly drove it on smooth roads, so we can't say for certain how it will behave through potholes and on broken surfaces.
The faster speeds fall to the e-4ORCE model (that's the all-wheel drive version, remember), with a 0 - 62mph time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 124 miles per hour. That's not hugely fast, mind, and won't give Tesla Model Y owners anything to worry about.
The e-4ORCE model is really about optimising the on-road experience and giving you more power - it's not really any competition for the Toyota bZ4X's more enhanced off-road abilities.
The two-wheel drive options are looking at a slightly more leisurely 0 - 62mph time of 7.5 seconds, which is rather more average but still perfectly fast enough for most typical drivers.
There is a sense of quality and refinement, and, like other electric cars, the benefit of having the power smoothly and instantly available when you put your foot down gives electric the edge over conventional models.
There are also other options, with both a straight Drive Mode and a Battery Mode that gives a little more regen on lift-off. You can then opt for the ePedal - toggled via a button - which reduces the need to use the brakes further and is great for town driving.
There are different driving modes, too - Sport, Standard, Eco - and the surprising thing here is that Eco has no regen at all. The idea is that when you lift off the power, the car will coast, avoiding the braking effect of regen that would slow you down. As such, Eco Mode is great for motorway driving.
You can't manually change the regen levels, because they're only accessed through these different options, but they all seem to work well enough and, importantly, they're all easy to get to grips with.
Finally, electric cars are known for being quiet, and that's true also here. There's an active noise cancelling system in the Ariya designed to remove other external noises, and the result is a refined cabin. Wind noise is minimal, too, with the only real intrusion coming from the tyres.
The Nissan Ariya offers generous internal space, plenty of comfort and higher interior quality than we've seen on other models from the manufacturer. With options for range and power, mostly great performance and plenty of technology even on the entry-level models, this is a really competitive offering from Nissan.