First Drive: Nissan Ariya 2022 Review
Designed by the same guy who sketched out the legendary Suzuka circuit, Jarama outside Madrid is a forgotten treat of a track and once host to epic battles of '70s and '80s F1, not least Gilles Villeneuve’s last F1 win in 1981 where he tactically held off faster, more nimble rivals in his Ferrari to take the flag at the front of a five-car lead group separated by just 1.24 seconds.
And a weird place to be having our first drive of Nissan’s all-new electric crossover the Ariya in an effort to find out what separates it from all the other apparently identical electric crossovers. Because, having taken its sweet time to respond to the disruptive challenge of Tesla, the mainstream automotive industry seems to have all too easily fallen into a comfortable rut with a generation of tall-riding, mid-sized electric crossovers all costing about the same money, with power outputs of 200 horsepower and up and usable ranges ranging from 200 miles to over 300 on a good day. Against the VW ID.4, Skoda Enyaq, Audi Q4 E-Tron, Volvo C40, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, Toyota bZ4X, Ford Mustang Mach-E and the rest just how does Nissan hope the Ariya will stand out? Test your credulity but it’s all in the combination of Leaf inspired electric know-how, the Qashqai’s legacy as a crossover trailblazer and all-wheel drive tech channelling the legendary GT-R and its equally famous Skyline predecessors.
- Generous standard spec
- Superb ride and refinement
- Interior space
We don't like
- Useless haptic switches
- It's another electric crossover
- Not cheap
As Japanese brands are occasionally wont of doing, Nissan is quick to throw exotic-sounding mother-tongue concepts of design and engineering at the Ariya in an attempt to disguise the fact it is, in reality, a pretty generic mid-sized crossover. Not to say it’s done a bad job, and in the signature copper and black two-tone, the sweeps and slashes of the bodywork have some coherence, while the interior is a cut above the conservative norm for the brand.
Beauty is in the eye of and all that but we’d argue Renault has arguably made the more creative use of the shared Alliance CMF-EV platform with its new Mégane E-Tech Electric and, in a field of talented and distinctive competition like the Polestar 2 and Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Ariya has little to set it apart from the million and one others like it, be they electric, ICE or hybrid. The argument goes that’s what the market wants and the enduring fashion for high-rise vehicles and need to package batteries under the floor is a marriage of convenience too tempting for manufacturers to pass up.
Performance and Handling
Our drive was in the base model of the four-step line-up, meaning 217HP (160kW) and 300Nm (221lb ft) through the front wheels via a single motor powered by a 63kWh battery. This is good for 250 miles of range but the next model up with the 87kWh battery looks like the sweet spot of the range and out-guns whichever of the shared platform VW equivalents your brand loyalty (or, more accurately, snobbery) would have you considering instead.
A relatively ‘soft’ throttle pedal blunts the edge of the usual off the line pace you get in many electric cars but, frankly, makes for more relaxing progress if thwacking your passengers’ skulls into the headrests is to be avoided. From there the base Ariya accelerates briskly enough for a car of this size and weight and the hours spent calibrating it for European roads means even on an old F1 track it has a commendably precise response to the wheel, contains its weight convincingly and doesn’t roll about too much. Like Villeneuve’s cumbersome Ferrari the Ariya does eventually show its weight and lack of agility in Jarama’s twistier sections but only at speeds that would see tyre squeal drowned by the screams of your passengers and, overall, it’s better than it probably needs to be. The ride is especially impressive, with the caveat that a smooth race track will flatter to deceive. Dedicated road testers that we are, we deliberately went off-line and over as many serrated kerbs and rough bits of paved infield we could find without getting black-flagged and, impressively, the isolation of hard-edged bumps was as impressive as the body control suggested, even on the optional 20-inch wheels.
For that electrified spirit of the GT-R Nissan somewhat implausibly claims for the Ariya you’ll have to pick one of the pricier e-4force branded models with the twin-motor, all-wheel-drive powertrain and punchier power outputs. The most potent of these has 394PS (290kW), which won’t trouble a Tesla but is enough to keep tabs with the rest of its immediate rivals. We didn’t get to drive this version but did have a quick go with an e-4force equipped Leaf test mule (on cool Rays wheels, natch) and, driving the same course with the system disabled and then engaged, it did have a noticeable effect smoothing out the power delivery with targeted distribution across both axles and to individual wheels. Which is obviously a vital consideration on the school run.
Like most of its rivals, the Ariya is built on a dedicated EV platform and brings with it the usual advantages of generous interior space and a flat floor that makes the rear seat a genuine three-body proposition. The wheelbase (and, consequently, legroom) isn’t quite as generous as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 but it still feels pretty roomy. With pricing ranging from just over £40,000 to nearly £60,000 for the top model, Nissan has thankfully realised its usual plasticky functionality isn’t enough and the quality of the interior in terms of style and content is well up to standard.
On balance, it strikes a reasonable middle ground between Tesla’s reductionist minimalism and more conventional rivals like Volvo’s XC40 and C40 with its combination of paired screens and supposedly ‘haptic’ switches seemingly integrated into the dash trim. Nice in theory but you still can’t use them without taking your eyes off the road and there’s not enough feedback to your fingertip to reassure you there’s been a response, repeated stabbing at the dashboard and swearing the likely response to something as simple as trying to change the fan speed, driving mode or temperature settings. There are some nifty features, like a central armrest and console you can slide back and forth according to where you want your space and a power-operated tray that emerges from beneath the dash to hold, well, we’re not sure exactly, but it’s a cool feature.
Technology and Features
Safety-wise Nissan has gone all-in for the aids and the standard spec includes pretty much every conceivable wheel-tweaking, brake grabbing intervention the inattentive modern driver could crave. You need to go one grade up from base, to get the full ProPILOT parking system but, other than that, it’s all standard.
All Ariyas also get the paired digital instruments and central touchscreen as standard, this of-the-moment feature carried off with respectable style and with a seemingly user-friendly interface. Fully connected navigation with smart route planning (including charge stops) is another welcome feature while the Google-powered system can also integrate with Google Assistant and Alexa if you like running your life barking orders at electronic servants. We’ll need more time with it for a decisive judgement on how this all works day-to-day but, if you don’t like it, you can always switch to your phone apps, Apple users getting this wirelessly for maximum convenience.
The Ariya is a solid effort and Nissan has clearly spent time sweating the details and spec to make it a competitive package. Perhaps a little too much time, given how many apparently similar rivals there already are in this price bracket. Comfort and refinement are clear points in Nissan’s favour, while its long experience in building electric cars in volume should offer further reassurance. Whether that’s enough of a wow factor to tease you out of a Tesla or tickle your design taste buds remains to be seen and, when all’s said and done, the car very much conforms to expectations of what a mid-sized electric crossover should be.
Single electric motor, 63kWh battery
300Nm (221lb ft)
Single-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
250 miles, 3.97m/kWh
10 hours 0-100% with a 7.4kW charger, 31m 10-80% on a 150kW fast charger
Reviewed by Dan Trent