The handsome-looking family SUV here is the long-awaited Nissan Ariya. The main reason it’s ‘long-awaited’ is that we were expecting to see it on UK roads about two years ago, but Covid and then the global chip shortage forced Nissan to repeatedly delay the Ariya’s launch until now. So was it worth the wait?
Nissan was the first big-name car manufacturer to build a commercially successful electric car. But despite the Leaf being a massive success, now nearing the end of its second generation and with a third generation under development, it’s taken Nissan a long time to get around to building another EV passenger car to join it.
The Ariya has received positive reviews over the last month since the press launch, ranging from mild enthusiasm to Car of the Year awards. So where do we stand on it? Read on…
What is it?
The Nissan Ariya looks and feels like a Nissan Qashqai from the future. It’s slightly bigger (just under 20cm longer, and about two-thirds of that is in the cabin) and fully electric, but it’s still a familiar format – a family-sized SUV/crossover style vehicle that seats five with a decent boot.
The Ariya doesn’t replace the Qashqai in the Nissan family – far from it. The Sunderland-built Qashqai is the company’s most popular model, which is likely to continue for a few years yet. Instead, the Ariya is a clear and promising sign of Nissan’s EV intentions.
Customer get a choice of two trim levels (Advance and Evolve) and three powertrains, which are:
- 160kW motor, 63kWh battery, front-wheel drive
- 187kW motor, 87kWh battery, front-wheel drive
- 225kW motor, 87kWh battery, all-wheel drive
Not all versions will be available at launch. The entry-level motor will only be available with the higher-spec trim, while the two more powerful models will only be available with the lower trim grade. Yes, that’s confusing but you can pre-order the other versions to arrive at a later date.
It’s a good-looking vehicle, the new Ariya, and that’s quite the rarity in modern car design. The exterior has a smooth and seamless design, and looks good from pretty much every angle. Most cars tend to look horribly overstyled in comparison, while Tesla manages to achieve the opposite with its cars, which look unfinished. The Ariya strikes a happy balance.
It’s quite surprising given that Nissan’s two other EVs, the Leaf and the e-NV200, don’t look like they’ve been styled so much as beaten repeatedly with the ugly stick. And let’s not even mention the original Nissan Juke…
Yes, there’s still a pointless big black ‘grille’ that dominates the nose, but Nissan pulls it off much better than the likes of Mercedes-Benz, let alone BMW or Audi. Our test car was black, which disguises the fake grille but also hides the overall style. Nissan also had some cars in the copper colour you see in the pictures here, which looked far more appealing.
Step inside and the good news continues. The minimalist look has become pretty common now that car manufacturers have put almost all the controls onto a central touchscreen, but Nissan manages to make minimalism look expensive rather than cheap. Our car featured blue Nappa leather upholstery, which sounded hideous in the briefing but turned out to be a very dark blue that works very well in practice – a bit different to the usual black, but still dark enough to cover dirt and other stains that children will inevitably leave all over the back seats.
The stand-out design elements in the cabin are two sets of controls embedded into the (fake) woodgrain trim. Functionally, they’re no better than normal touchscreen controls, which means they’re not as good as physical buttons for using on the move, but they certainly look cool.
We like: Styling, both inside and out
We don’t like: Touch controls will never be as good as physical controls
What do you get for your money?
Once we’ve got the first impressions out of the way, it’s time to look a bit harder at exactly what you’re getting for your money with the Nissan Ariya.
The line-up kicks off with the 160kW Advance with the smaller 63kW battery for just under £44K (except that it’s not available from launch). According to official lab tests, this will give you a battery range of 250 miles, so you can expect 200+ miles in most real-world driving conditions. The posher Evolve trim is a £4K upgrade at nearly £48K on-road, and you lose about 3 miles of range due to the weight of £4,000 worth of extra kit.
To go a bit quicker and further, the 187kW Advance with the 87kW battery is nearly £6K dearer at £49.6K, which again jumps by £4K for the Evolve trim level. This gives an official battery range of 329 miles (again, slightly less for the Evolve version) so you can expect a comfortable 250+ miles in real-world driving.
Finally, the 225kW Advance model in all-wheel drive and the 87kW battery hits the road at just over £52K, with another £4K step for the plusher model. Battery ranges for these models have not yet been confirmed but should be about 310 miles official and 250-ish miles in the real world.
The Advance specification is a pretty good starting point, with most of the niceties you’d expect to see on a £40K+ new car. Dual-zone climate control, a pair of big screens for driving displays and infotainment, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance (which Nissan calls ProPilot), all the usual driver assistance safety systems and 360-degree parking cameras are all present and correct. Apple CarPlay is wireless (as is phone charging), but Android Auto users will still have to plug in.
For that extra £4K upgrade, the Evolve specification is actually decent value. You get a panoramic glass sunroof, adaptive high beam, a Bose sound system, head-up display, ventilated front seats and heated (but not ventilated) rear seats, and memory for your seats/steering wheel/mirrors/infotainment settings and even the centre console, which is electrically adjustable on the Evolve (we’ll get back to that bit shortly).
We like: Simple, clear trim levels. All the safety kit is standard on all models rather than at additional cost.
We don’t like: Entry-level model not available from Day 1.
What’s the Nissan Ariya like inside?
Having been impressed by the Ariya’s cabin at first glance, it’s time to explore things in more detail. We drove the higher-level Evolve model, but most of the crucial kits is standard on the lower-spec Advance trim.
The front half of the cabin is very spacious, with plenty of legroom all the way across the cabin. There’s no gearbox to get in the way, like in a petrol car, and Nissan has moved all of the heating and air-con systems under the bonnet where the petrol engine would normally live. That frees up a lot of space between the driver and front passenger, and certainly makes the car feel more spacious.
The centre console on the Evolve model can move forwards and backward by a few centimetres, and it’s electric so it’s linked to the memory function for the seats and mirrors. The idea is that you can move it back if there’s no-one in the middle rear seat, or move it forward if there is. It does seem like the novelty would wear off pretty quickly, so I’m not sure how many owners would really get a lot of use out of this function.
Even sillier is the electrically-powered drawer in the centre of the dashboard, with a little plastic lid to turn it into a very small table. This definitely wins the prize for most pointless electrification of a simple task since BMW and Mercedes fitted electric interior rear-view mirrors to their top-spec luxury cars in the 1990s. The drawer also felt pretty flimsy, so a few weeks with the kids might leave you with an expensive bill to fix or replace it. A good ol’ manually-opening drawer would have been perfectly adequate here.
Now that I’ve finished my old man ranting, the rest of the cabin is a genuinely lovely place. A particular highlight is the ambient lighting, which is designed to evoke a traditional Japanese paper lantern – it sounds kitsch, but it works surprisingly well.
All of the information is set out across two 12-inch screens (designed to look like one very long screen) laid out side-by-side across the top of the dash. It’s becoming a common layout on new cars and works very well. One screen is directly in front of the driver and contains all of the usual instrument information like speed, battery level, distance to empty and any warning lights or messages. Alongside sits the second screen, which has all of your music, satnav guidance and other information.
Because all of the information is up high and across one level, you don’t have to look down towards the bottom half of the dashboard to see anything like you do on some cars. Everything is close to the driver’s eyeline so you spend less time with your eyes away from the road, and as car companies adopt touchscreens for basically everything, this is more important than ever.
The screen graphics are also easy to read and use bold colours – design sophisticates may sniff, but a navigation map that uses bold primary colours (rather than varying shades of green, red, orange and greenish-reddish orange) is much easier to read on the move when you’re colourblind.
Back-seat room is decent as well. Again, the floor is nice and flat as there’s no exhaust system or driveshaft like you’d get on a petrol car, so all three rear seat occupants get adequate room for their legs and feet. Headroom is also pretty good, partly because the Ariya’s batteries, which live under the floor, are 33% slimmer than those on the Leaf, so the seats can be mounted lower to give more headspace.
The boot is reasonable without being class-leading. The two-wheel drive models get just under 470 litre of boot space, but the shape is square and flat so it makes best use of the space available. All-wheel drive models lose a chunk of boot space, which is reduced to just under 410 litres – in other words, you lose about a mid-sized suitcase’s worth of space.
We like: Loads of legroom up front, lovely cabin ambience
We don’t like: Powered drawer in dashboard is unnecessarily silly
What’s the Nissan Ariya like to drive?
The ten-second answer is that the Ariya drives perfectly satisfactorily. Smooth, quiet and refined, like most EVs. If you’d like more detail, then read on.
Even by electric car standards, the Ariya is quiet. So much so that you start to notice the engine noise made by other cars and trucks around you. When you get up to motorway speeds, there’s inevitably more road noise and wind noise, but it’s still quieter than a petrol car like the Qashqai.
Being electric, there are no vibrations from the engine or gearbox so it’s all very smooth – assuming the roads are halfway reasonable. EVs are heavy compared to petrol cars and you notice this when you bounce off a pothole or speed bump, and large wheels with low-profile tyres don’t help this. However, the Ariya copes as well as any other EV and better than most.
We drove the lower-spec 160kW model in front-wheel drive and it has more than enough performance for most households. Higher-performance models will give more explosive acceleration, but that’s not really what a family SUV is all about.
Nissan talked a lot about the Ariya being “fun to drive” but – spoiler alert – it really isn’t. It’s a very comfortable family-size SUV. It’s smooth and whisper-quiet. It’s refined apart from bouncing hard through larger potholes. But it’s not “fun to drive”. You point it in the direction you want to go and steer as required. That’s not a criticism, because it’s what most buyers actually want, so why bother with the whole “fun” pretence?
Like most electric cars, you can adjust the amount of regeneration provided. If you’re new to EVs, regeneration occurs whenever you lift your foot off the accelerator pedal to coast. The car converts some of the kinetic energy (the wheels turning) into electricical energy, giving you a small boost of charge to your battery.
By default, very little energy is converted and the Ariya will coast much like a petrol car would. However, you can increase this regeneration, which means the car will slow down more quickly and send more electricity back to the battery. On top of that, Nissan has a function called e-Pedal for maximum regeneration, which effectively applies the brakes whenever you lift off the accelerator. That means you can mostly drive the Ariya without using the brake pedal until you are almost stopped, and even more electricity is sent back to the battery every time you slow down.
The e-Pedal function takes some getting used to, as you need to lift off gradually to avoid the car slowing dramatically (as it would if you suddenly hit the brakes at 30mph). Some drivers love it, others prefer the more conventional coasting function. What is unhelpful is that Nissan separates the e-Pedal from the regeneration controls in the gear lever, rather than having a dial or switch to set regeneration from minimum (coasting) to maximum (e-Pedal).
We like: Super smooth, super quiet
We don’t like: Confusing layout for regeneration and e-Pedal controls
Charging the Nissan Ariya
If you’re charging from a wallbox at home, Nissan advises that it will take about ten hours to charge the battery from 10% to full. So even if you are driving a couple of hundred miles every day, you can still comfortably charge overnight and be good to go again next day. In reality, the average household does about 100 miles a week, so its not a problem.
If you go for one of the larger 87kWh battery Arias, the same charge will take more than 13 hours. If you have access to 22kW charging (most homes don’t, but a lot of office and on-street chargers do), this drops to under four hours and five hours, respectively.
If you’re out and about and charging from a public charging station, the Ariya can take up to 130kW of rapid charging, which can get you from 20% to 80% of battery charge in half an hour. To put it another way, that’s about 160 miles (for the 63kWh version) or more than 200 miles (87kWh versions) of charge in half an hour. So long journeys are certainly manageable with a little planning – and this will only get better over time as more rapid charging points are installed all over the country.
The Nissan Ariya is a fine family car. If you’re making the switch from a petrol or diesel car to an EV, it’s a very enjoyable experience that is unlikely to cause you any regret.
It’s not cheap, especially as you start running up the model range and find you’re looking at a £50K+ family car. However, Nissan is confident that residual values will be very strong so monthly PCP or lease payments should at least be competitive with other family EVs.
In pure pricing and specification terms, the Ariya is not the best in class. Other cars, like the Kia EV6 or Hyundai Ioniq 5, give you more for less. However, the Nissan is better looking and slightly more comfortable. The interior is a nicer place to spend time and, given that it’s still competitive in every area that matters, that makes the Ariya well worth considering.
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Model tested: Nissan Ariya Evolve
Price (as tested): £47,840
Motor unit: 160kW single electric motor
Gearbox: Single-speed automatic
Power: 160kW (218hp)
Torque: 300 Nm
Top speed: 100 mph
0-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
Battery size: 63 kWh
Battery range: 250 miles
Euro NCAP safety rating: Not yet tested (as of July 2022)
TCE Expert Rating: 78% (as of July 2022)