Striking, sensible SUV fuses lessons from Leaf and Qashqai to offer an attractive balance of capabilities
After the Nissan Ariya’s 2020 unveiling, there was a two-year drought of exposure to the firm’s long-awaited and mission-critical second EV. Blame the usual culprits.
It’s here now, though, and in quick succession over the course of just a few months, we’ve driven it as a prototype in Madrid, a paid-up showroom-ready model around the lakes east of Stockholm and now with UK numberplates around the far less exotic but infinitely more relevant and revealing environs of the London-Surrey border.
Much rests on this Toyota bZ4X rival’s capacity to impress over National Highways’ pockmarked and bruised network. It’s proved agreeably unflappable on the smoother Tarmac of the mainland, but EVs are inherently firmer than their ICE counterparts, so refinement is quickly emerging as a key differentiator – particularly in the mid-size family SUV market, the most crowded out there.
And almost immediately, we’ve gone no further than the end of the nearest high street before declaring the Ariya a success in this regard. It deals with potholes, speed bumps and expansion joints as quietly and smoothly as you could reasonably ask of an SUV weighing nearly two tonnes and with no engine noise to mask suspension thuds. There’s minimal feedback through the seat base and steering column when traversing crumblier sections of road and no untoward jolting over larger imperfections, which means you can approach urban driving environments at the same pace and with the same confidence that you would in, say, a Nissan Qashqai or a Nissan Juke.
It’s a comfortable experience matched by effective power delivery from its front-mounted motor, which supplies 215bhp and 221lb ft of torque for swift off-the-mark acceleration and grunt in reserve at a cruise.
Sport mode often feels like a gratuitous attempt to cultivate appeal among enthusiasts when fitted to cars of this ilk, but I will admit to deploying it on quieter stretches and failing to quite suppress a grin.
If you have a longer journey on your agenda or a less-than-comfortable range figure showing on the dash, you would be minded to select E-Pedal mode, which activates full brake regeneration and effectively means you need to control only the throttle. Fantastic for efficiency, less so for your neck muscles, it shaves off speed pretty drastically, and the deceleration isn’t entirely linear, so it takes a bit of practice to work out how far before a traffic light you can lift your foot.
But otherwise this is a pleasingly tuned and intuitive drivetrain that, together with the competitive 250- mile range and quick (but not rapid) 130kW charging capacity, encourages a relaxed driving style and throws the Ariya straight into contention for the coveted crossover crown.
It helps, too, that the cockpit is a cut above most rivals in terms of visual panache and general utility. Our entry-level car does without the fun electric sliding centre console but keeps the slick twin-screen digital display atop the dashboard and futuristic haptic climate controls. The latter’s fitness for purpose is up for debate still; they light up and vibrate when pressed (good) but need a firm press and still require you to take your eyes off the road (not so good). But generally, it’s the sort of environment that you wouldn’t customarily associate with the Nissan badge and befits the Ariya’s not-inconsiderable list price.
All up, the Ariya feels different and capable enough to cause headaches in Wolfsburg, Gothenburg and Dearborn – and even Stuttgart and Munich. However, questions still hang over whether the range-topping e-4orce version, with its weightier dual-motor powertrain, bigger battery and lower-profile tyres, will be able to enhance the SUV’s dynamic credentials and significantly extend its range without denting its rolling refinement