Lovely cabin, lots of useful equipment, decent drive, range is OK
Efficiency not great, polarising looks, there are cheaper options
What is it?
An electric crossover. It's a bit sportier to drive than some of them, but really you'll be drawn to it, or repelled by it, because of its looks. Nissan has gone big on the idea of a clear and simple Japanese design identity. Inside as well as out.
Nissan made a bold early start with electric cars. The Leaf has been around for well over a decade, got the world used to the idea of an affordable realistic EV, and has sold well over half a million. And then… a whole lot of not much.
Still, the Ariya is a big step ahead from the Leaf. The Ariya has an all-new EV platform. Unlike the Leaf it has liquid cooling of the batteries, meaning much faster charging without toasting itself. To take advantage, it has a CCS connector so it has access to higher power chargers. It switches to all-coil motors, for better high speed efficiency and freedom from rare-earth metals.
The same entrails also (on a shorter wheelbase) carry the Renault Megane. And next year they'll be put to use again as the new Leaf, previewed back in 2021 by a concept called Chill Out. Well, the Leaf never was too exciting.
The Ariya is about the size of the Tesla Model Y or VW Group's ID.4, Enyaq and Q4 e-Tron mob, or the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Volvo C40 Recharge. But not as wide as some of those, which helps on narrow roads. The Ford Mustang Mach-E is bigger but barely more expensive. Oh.
What is this Japanese design of which you speak?
On the outside, it's simple, with few folds, creases or slashes. Just one really, a 'horizon line', a subtle crease that circumnavigates the car, beginning below the ultra shallow LED headlights, back along the sides and around above the single strip rear lights. The sides themselves are hollow, which perhaps makes it look a little gawky. Proportions are good though: wheels at the corners.
At the front a plastic panel houses the sensors, with an ancient Japanese kumiko woodworking pattern, which allows the beams to pass through.
Inside, it's wonderfully reduced. The main novelty is that switchgear symbols shine through the wood veneer. Well it would be a novelty but the Ariya came on sale late and the BMW iX beat it.
What’s the range?
Range means two things so we'll answer both. The range as in 'line-up of versions' starts with a front-drive 217bhp job with a 63kWh battery. Next, the same with an 87kWh battery, which passes higher current so allows a 242bhp motor output. But because it has a heavier battery the performance is almost exactly the same, seven-and-a-half seconds to 62mph.
You can also have the bigger battery with AWD, a torque vectored system called e-4ORCE which none of us will ever remember how to spell. That has two available outputs, 306bhp and 394bhp, the last of which does 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds. Those battery capacities are useable, net, figures.
We've tested models from close to the top of the Ariya tree, and the bottom. That is, smaller battery and FWD on the one hand, and big battery with 4WD and 306bhp on the other. The 394bhp version will arrive at a later stage.
So with two trim options that gives a price spread of £46,145 to £58,590, but we don't yet have a price for the 394bhp version.
The other meaning of range is the WLTP measured distance from fully charged to fully empty. In the FWD models Nissan claims up to 250 miles for the smaller battery, and up to 329 miles for the bigger. Adding 4WD cuts that to 319 miles (we saw around 300 in warm weather in the real world). The 394bhp model loses significantly more, down to 255 miles.
And to drive?
Nissan says the high power one, with its torque vectoring, has genes of a GT-R. Like a macaque has genes of a Top Gear car reviewer, we suspect.
But anyway, this is a coupe-crossover so it's supposed to drive sportily. And it certainly has more pep than some of its lumbering rivals, changing direction with moderate enthusiasm. The e-4ORCE version feels even more confident, and you do get a sense of the torque vectoring working on your behalf.
You pay for it with a slightly firmer ride, but that's OK. Less OK is its tendency to clang noisily into sharp ridges and potholes. Still, the suspension and tyres are quiet at a cruise.
What's the verdict?
The Ariya's misfortune is to have arrived nearly a year later than planned, on account of the global microchip shortage. So it doesn't really bring much in the way of new tech.
Neither is it conspicuously good value by the simple EV ratio of range versus sticker price. But at least it's well equipped. Especially with the stuff EV buyers don't know they need until they don't have it – a heat pump, heated seats and steering wheel.
Likely there will be people who have been waiting for the Ariya because they trust Nissan as an EV maker, and want a piece of the Leaf's unimpeachable reliability.
For them, range anxiety won't be an issue and a small battery Ariya's price jump from their Leaf won't be huge. The higher spec Ariyas are playing at a price above Nissan's usual turf, but the qualities of the car itself are well up to an Audi Q4 e-tron or Mercedes EQA.
We're now at the point where there's plenty of choice in electric crossovers, and it becomes a design and styling play. If you like the look of the Nissan, and especially its interior, go right ahead.