New Nissan Ariya prototype review

We try out the new all-electric Nissan Ariya SUV ahead of its official arrival this summer

Verdict

We’ll reserve a star rating until we’ve driven a production version of the Nissan Ariya, but from this early drive we can confirm that we’re hugely impressed. It’s clear that Nissan has benefitted from more than a decade’s-worth of experience with and understanding of EVs  and their owners – something most rivals don’t have – while Nissan’s famed usability is present and correct, too. Throw in strong quality, even from these pre-production cars, and it’s clear the Ariya is set to be a real contender among an increasing number of similarly-priced and similarly-sized EVs.

It’s nearly three years since Nissan’s all-electric Ariya Concept wowed the crowds at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show and still around three months until production cars make it into UK showrooms.

But in a year full of electrification for Nissan, the Ariya is probably the most important of the five electrified models going on sale in 2022. Auto Express was invited to a private test track to drive a pre-production model. Not that you’d notice that these cars were early models; fit and finish were one of the many things to impress us about the Ariya.

Thankfully, Nissan is going to make buying an Ariya easy – and you’ll be able to read about the sales experience later. But more importantly, you’ll only have three flavours to choose from. Our car is where the range starts, the Advance model that gets a 66kWh battery (of which 63kWh is usable), a 214bhp motor and two-wheel drive – and Nissan folk were excited to tell us at our test that the official homologation figures had just come through revealing a WLTP-certified range of 250 miles.

If you need to go further on a single charge, you’ll have to step up to the Evolve level with its 91kWh battery (87 kWh usable) and 239bhp electric motor, also with two-wheel drive, that Nissan reckons should go over 300 miles on a full battery.

That same battery is used for two all-wheel drive e-4orce models, which won’t go as far but will up the performance levels. Choose between another Evolve model (302bhp and estimated 285 mile range) or the Performance version with 389bhp that will get the Ariya from zero to 62mph in just 5.1 seconds, although range drops to around 248 miles.

Fast charging up to 130kW is available, while Nissan says that the Ariya has a good, flat charging curve meaning fewer peaks and troughs when connected to power.

Although we’re a little way away from first deliveries, Nissan has already committed to prices, with our car starting at £41,845, the two-wheel drive Evolve costing £51,090, e-4orce taking that up to £53,790 and the Performance model topping out at £58,440.

Of course, those figures mean little when most people will buy on a monthly lease scheme – if you choose Nissan’s own PCP you’ll be able to put £6,616 down on what Nissan thinks will be the best-selling 2WD Evolve model and then pay £629 per month over 37 months. Even those monthly prices put the Ariya up into premium brand territory, which, as Nissan GB boss Andrew Humberstone revealed, is where he’s confident the car and the brand can compete.

So can it? Before even stepping inside the Ariya, its design is smart and more cohesive than some other EVs it’ll be competing with. And yes, it does look premium.

A lot of that is down to small details like the hidden window seals and the slim LED daytime running lights that flow from beneath the similarly slim headlights and either side of the darkened, flat grille with bold new Nissan insignia sitting proudly in the middle.

The back is similarly smart with a boot door that opens low for easy access and a full-width light bar – again, super-slim – that dissects the rear with the word Nissan proudly stretched across the middle of it.

Nissan refers to Timeless Japanese Futurism, a sleek, confident and seamless look that features plenty of Japanese craftsmanship – in fact Nissan is really confident about the Japanese DNA around the Ariya, something it hasn’t really shouted about before.

There’s a Kumiko criss-cross pattern used subtly behind the flush grille; it refers to the Japanese technique of building wooden structures without nails – and there’s plenty more of it inside. However, the proportions of the Ariya are clearly those of an SUV with ground clearance of 185mm. In fact, it’s arguably more like a coupé SUV with its fastback style – but again it’s a more successful and cohesive look than with some rivals, especially with the smart copper bodywork and black roof with matching lower sections of our test car.

Even for what is a P1 prototype test car, the panel fit and paintwork of the Ariyas at the test track were impressive. As was the quality inside.

Swing open the front door and the sense of space is what hits you first, helped in no small part by the open footwell between driver and passenger. Not only has the EV platform’s flat floor helped here, but also moving all the heating and ventilation gubbings from their usual position within the dashboard to under the bonnet has meant there’s an interior space saving.

In fact, if Nissan was minded to, you could well seat three people across the front – there’s that much leg space. Instead it’s fitted a centre console between the seats that can slide backward or forward if you need free up a bit more space for a centre passenger in the back. It’s powered, too, as is a secret compartment next to the glovebox that slides surreptitiously out at the touch of a button.

As well as the gear selector on the centre console, there are also cup holders, buttons to select the drive mode and, partially hidden under the armrest a wireless charging tray for your smartphone – a recipe if ever we’ve seen one for totally forgetting about your phone and leaving it in the car.

Japanese hospitality is part of the Japanese DNA Nissan spoke about on the Ariya and the clean, minimalist dash features twin 12.3-inch screens sitting with a single panel – a customisable digital instrument panel in front of the driver and an infotainment touchscreen alongside it.

There’s a host of connected services on offer – upgradable over the air – as well as Google and Apple smartphone connectivity. You can use “Hello Nissan” to interact with the Nissan Virtual Personal Assistant or even as Alexa to step in – which can be seamlessly integrated with your home system.

And if you do want to use Nissan’s navigation system, it uses Google street view and points of interest searching, has live traffic updates and will alert you to safety cameras. And, of course, there’s a app that will enable you to check on your car, it’s charging status and pre-set navigation or heating for your journey.

Sitting below the infotainment screen and interrupting the slim, full-width ventilation section is an on/off and volume knob. Then below that is another full-width wood-effect panel with the climate control buttons.

These result in about the only criticism we have of the interior – they look great and are almost invisible when the car is off, but the haptic controls can leave you prodding them wondering if you have actually managed to change the temperature. It’s a bit of style over substance and is far from the most usable solution – a win for the design team, we suspect.

The Kumiko patterns are used effectively on the doors and on the speaker grilles. You’ll also find it in the centre of the single footwell at the front, nicely illuminated using Andon lighting – another Japanese term referring to the glow you get from paper lanterns.

The two-spoke steering wheel is nice and chunky to hold, with controls for infotainment and the adaptive cruise control on either side, while the indicator/light and wiper stalks all work with a nicely damped action that premium brands would do well to copy. The driving position is good, too, with plenty of adjustment for the seat, while visibility all round is good – especially rearwards, which is something of a surprise with a fairly shallow rear screen.

One thing that will benefit drivers glancing over their shoulders and passengers in the rear is the wide rear windows which stretch a long way back. As if that wasn’t throwing enough light into the cabin, there’s a panoramic sunroof on Evolve models and above.

With the driver’s seat set for a six-foot tall driver, there was still plenty of knee and foot room in the back, while the doors open wide enough to make it easy to get a child into their safety seat. Even the boot, with a two-level floor, is a decent size at 466 litres, dropping to 408 litres in four-wheel drive cars.

All that good news means nothing if the Ariya isn’t up to scratch when it turns a wheel – but we’re pleased to say that on our short drive of the prototype car on a dusty test track shows a huge amount of promise.

Pulling away in Standard mode won’t especially excite you – you’ll have to swap into Sport for spicier acceleration – but once you’re going that premium feeling continues. As with all electric cars, the Ariya is quite heavy – from 1,800kg to 2,300kg depending on version and kit levels – and it feels solid and well planted on the road. A flex of the right foot gives a noticeable and quick burst of power, while the car changes directions swiftly and without fuss – a direct 14:1 steering ratio helps.

While it’s hard to judge ride quality on a track, we did manage to venture the wrong side of the white lines onto some more suspect surfaces and the Ariya coped well – we suspect it will ride rather better than many rivals when we get to test the car on UK roads.

Quickly veering back onto the track again highlights the speed of the steering, while body control seems good, too, even without the help of the tricks e-4force four-wheel drive has up its sleeve.

Nissan says it has tuned the brake pedal to feel like an internal combustion engine car and, with the brakes working hard to slow the car and send us much regenerative power back to the battery, brake modulation is progressive if there’s a lack of feel.

As well as selecting a brake mode with the gear selector, you can also use Nissan’s famed e-Pedal, although here’s another disappointment: e-Pedal will now only slow you rather than bring you to a complete stop. In fact, it’s called e-Pedal Step these days – so true one pedal driving isn’t possible anymore. Shame.

There may also still be a bit of tuning to be done with e-Pedal, too. When lifting to let e-Pedal do its work, there was a slight hesitancy and then braking was a bit abrupt – enough to move you forward in your seat. Nissan’s engineers made plenty of notes about that, so expect production cars to be better.

Although our test car was the two-wheel drive smaller battery car, we were impressed – and would certainly look forward to driving the four-wheel drive model, especially in Performance trim. Weight distribution of the four-wheel drive cars is said to be spot on at 50/50, while Nissan has aimed for a bit more agility, too.

If you’re after a more relaxed drive, then the silence and comfort of the two-wheel drive cars should do you fine. Again, the level of noise silencing impressed, with only wind noise noticeable at motorway speeds. And at low speeds you might just detect Nissan’s ‘electric sound signature’ called Canto; the Latin scholars among you will know that means ‘I sing’.

There’s plenty of other tech to please gadget lovers, too, with a full suite of driving assistance features. And as with the electric tech, Nissan has been leading in autonomous driving kit so we’d expect good things from the latest version of its ProPilot when we get to test the production car.

Model:Nissan Ariya Advance 63kWh 2WD
Price: £41,845
Battery: 66kWh (63 kWh usable)
Power/torque: 214bhp/300Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:  7.5 seconds
Top speed: 99mph
Range:250 miles
CO20g/km
On sale:Summer

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