History may not paint a particularly favourable picture of the early versions of the Nissan Leaf, but it was the first car in the modern EV era to make a difference — it laid the foundations for what is becoming a hot electric segment. Moving forward, Nissan’s Ambition 2030 calls for 20 new vehicles in the next five years, including 15 all-new EVs. The first out of the gate is the Ariya, a five-seat crossover.
It is a handsome piece that adopts the company’s more integrated design language. When it lands, Ariya will be offered with four basic drivetrains across six models. However, the rollout is a little disjointed. The front-wheel-drive models arrive this year; the dual-motor all-wheel-drive models must wait for next year.
The lineup starts with the front-drive and e4orce (all-wheel-drive) models with the standard 66-kilowatt/hour (63 kWh usable) battery. The Ariya Engage uses a single, front-mounted, electric motor that produces 214 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. This combination delivers a driving range of up to 348 kilometres. The dual-motor Ariya Evolve e4orce adds a second rear electric motor, which ups the output to a much more entertaining 335 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. The range penalty for the hike in performance is a drop of just 18 km to 330 km, although this is a provisional number.
The other four Ariya models use a larger 91 kWh (87-kWh usable) battery. The Venture+ and Evolve+ front-wheel-drive units twist out 238 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque and have a range of 490 km and 465 km, respectively. The range discrepancy is down to the added features and weight added to the Evolve+.
The Platinum+ and top-of-the-line Premiere+ models both use the e4orce dual-motor layout and extended-range battery. In this case, the two motors combine to produce 389 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. The key is the performance comes with a driving range of up to 426 km.
The battery’s maximum charging rate is pegged at 130 kilowatts. This means when using a DC fast charger, the 66-kW/h battery goes from 20 to 80 per cent in 35 minutes; the larger 91 kW/h battery takes 40 minutes. When plugged into a Level 2 charger it takes 10 hours for the standard battery and 14 hours for the larger unit. Now these times are to take the battery from zero to 100 per cent. Given this is a situation that’s never the case, the charge times will be an overnight affair.
The first drive Ariya was in the equivalent of the Canadian Evolve+ — we drove the US Empower+ model. It has the larger battery and a front electric motor that pushes 238 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. The response is immediate and the acceleration is strong from rest and on through the mid-range. For many, the level of performance will be more than acceptable, especially given the range the battery delivers. The real-world experience paints a rosy picture.
The day started with 100 per cent battery and 486 km showing as the range. After the first 113-km leg, the range was showing 387 km. In other words, on the route we had managed to regenerate (or reduce the anticipated depletion rate) by 14 km. Think of it as free driving. At the end of the 231-km route the range number had dropped to 286 km, meaning things were now 31 km for the better. What is important about these numbers is the manner in which the Ariya predicts the potential driving range is bang on!
Where Ariya misses the mark is the fact there’s no true one-pedal drive. In simple terms, Drive with the e-Step off has virtually no regenerative braking; it is mildly aggressive with e-Step activated, but it will not bring the Ariya to rest. Select the Brake (B) driving mode and each setting gets a little more aggressive, but it’s still nowhere near a one-pedal drive.
Nissan says this is to accommodate those drivers moving into an EV for the first time. Certainly, having a gas-like engine-braking feel is more natural for a first-time EV buyer, however, for a Leaf driver who has learned to live with one-pedal and is looking to move up to Ariya, it is disappointing. It is not a deal breaker, but it does get close.
As for the rest of the drive, well, it impressed. The suspension does a good job of balancing divergent needs. It is comfortable on the highway and it dials out much of the body roll when pushed into a corner. Part of the balance is down to the 50/50-front/rear weight distribution. The feel and feedback do change according to the drive mode selected. In Eco, it has a soft feel; Normal balances performance with range. In both cases the Ariya feels like an electric ride, and that’s heavy. The fun mode is Sport. It puts more weight in the steering, which gives it a tighter, sharper feel. The side benefit is it helps to mask the mass at play.
The cabin is refreshingly different and features some clever touches. The look is minimalist, but it does not sacrifice on amenities. Pride of place goes to two 12.3-inch screens. The instrumentation and infotainment segments meld together seamlessly into a single entity that can be customized. In operation, the infotainment side is both fast and easy to use. It also features wired and wireless Apple CarPlay; for some reason, Android Auto must be wired.
There are also some neat features. Rather than the usual knobs and buttons, the climate controls have been incorporated as touch-points into the wooden trim that finishes the crash pad. The format, which gives haptic feedback when a function is touched, is as classy to the eye as it is easy to use. The same technique has been applied to the drive mode selector and e-Step function.
The coolest feature, however, is the powered centre console. Rather than forcing different drivers to adapt to a fixed console and control position, the Ariya’s console adapts to the driver — a button on the side moves the console through a range of 150 mm. It is a novel take that’s destined to be mimicked by other makers in the future.
The rear environment is as accommodating. There’s lots of head- and legroom for three adult riders to go along with 1,691 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded flat.
The Nissan Ariya is a solid addition to the EV market. The front-drive models will hit dealer showrooms shortly. The starting point is the Engage, which is priced at $52,998. The Venture+ and Evolve+ with the larger battery are priced at $59,498 and $64,998, respectively. The e4orce all-wheel-drive models will hit Canadian roads early next year. The starting price is $60,598 for the Evolve, $69,198 for the Platinum+ and $69,998 for the range-topping Premiere+.