Car reviews - Nissan - Ariya
Early drive of Nissan mid-size electric SUV
22 Jun 2023
A YEAR after first earmarking the model for Australia, Nissan’s Ariya mid-size electric SUV is officially coming to Australia, but the manufacturer is yet to confirm a date, or price.
Nissan hosted Australian media for a product rundown and brief test drive of overseas-spec Ariyas - providing an indication of the vehicles we will receive Down Under but remaining tight-lipped on critical details.
No arrival date was given, but Nissan said it would not be this year which suggests we may even receive a rumoured facelift version sometime in 2024.
“It really is about, you know, that next chapter in EV technology for Nissan globally,” Nissan Product Manager, Martin Longayroux said when announcing the Ariya for Australia.
“It’s the perfect car for customers who are looking now to fully embrace that pure, 100 per cent electric drive.
“In this crossover look and size, I think is it's going to fill a great space in the (Australian) market.
When asked at the event whether the Ariya would undercut the Tesla Model Y, as it does in overseas markets, Mr Longayroux said there was “no reason Nissan wouldn’t continue to price based on how the overseas market is”.
“We would benchmark the same competitors as Europe as well as to try and get a competitive price,” he said.
Nissan shipped eight UK-spec models over for the occasion, not registered for use on our roads, which we were able to drive on a closed circuit.
These particular Ariyas were the front-wheel drive middle-of-the-line model option equipped with an 87kWh battery and producing 178kW/300Nm with around 530km of range.
The Ariya is also offered overseas in lower-spec 63kWh guise, with a range of up to 403km, and top-spec 290kW/600Nm twin-motor e-4orce form with an 87kWh battery and range of around 500km.
Nissan did not disclose which variants Australia would receive, whether all or only one of the three model options, but the fact we were given a mid-range 87kWh model to test hints we might receive this one at a minimum.
In terms of the Ariya’s technological and design prowess, it isn’t a new vehicle per se and specifications are widely available, but let’s run through some of the important elements.
After more than a decade finessing the pioneering Leaf’s EV platform, with loads of real-world usage data to work with, Nissan applied these learnings to the Ariya.
For starters, the battery is 33 per cent thinner than the one found in the Leaf and it is also liquid cooled and heated now.
“With the requirements for quick charging becoming even more prevalent, but also more accessible, and get through to that driving anxiety for people, this obviously helps to make sure that the battery lasts longer and has a much stronger life as well,” Mr Longayroux said.
The thinner battery leads to more interior room and, in a further bid to increase spaciousness, the ventilation system was also moved forward allowing for a completely ‘flat floor’ and low seat position.
More importantly, from a dynamic standpoint, the new CMF EV platform the Ariya is based on has a near 50/50 weight distribution with a low centre of gravity.
“The engineering team have really tuned the car to make sure that it's got maximum stability at high speeds, but also significant ride comfort because, at the end of the day, it's not a sports car,” Mr Longayroux said.
“But it is definitely a well balanced car. It's comfortable, agile, and feels secure at the same time.
The interior design shares patterns with the exterior while striking a calming balance of contemporary and earthy elements throughout. More on that later, though.
"The Ariya design is really about combining that Japanese DNA, but also giving it very much a modern perspective and that distinctiveness, and language, which they've called the timeless gentleman's futurism,” Mr Longayroux said.
It was a shame to come away with no pricing or release date clarity, but the chance to drive the model here in Australia well before its arrival was clearly Nissan’s intention with this event.
Closed course driving impressions
We tested the Ariya at the RACQ Mobility Centre at Mount Cotton in Queensland, although only spent about half an hour behind the wheel.
That was okay though, because the short drive loop offered a range of corners, speeds and gradients allowing us to get a decent feel for the dynamics of the Ariya. Any longer would have been pointless, without opening up more of the track.
Taking off in Eco mode, with the e-Pedal mode engaged - Nissan’s answer to single-pedal driving popularised by its use in the Leaf - the Ariya was smooth and effortless to drive.
The regenerative braking, turned up and with e-Pedal engaged, was still fairly sedate which did surprise us. But, that’s a good thing because overly forceful regenerative braking can get annoying.
Between Eco and Sport modes, haste is upped but not to a ridiculous point and, while we weren’t in the top-spec e-4orce with significantly better performance, it remained a relaxed driver.
There was no savage off-the-line acceleration, either, after doing a few quick launch tests. The Ariya isn’t slow, but it certainly doesn’t assault your senses the way many EVs tend to.
The star of the show for the Ariya is definitely its superb steering, accurately depicting what the front wheels are doing at all times.
Despite the low centre of gravity spoken about by Nissan, the rather tall Ariya still suffered from plenty of body roll when pushed and the economy-focused tyres began squealing around the same time it started to feel fun.
While the Ariya’s dynamics are touted by Nissan, this is ultimately not a performance car and doesn’t appreciate being driven like one - at least not with the stock tyres.
Road noise is virtually non-existent, which is no surprise given Nissan went to great lengths to achieve a whisper-quiet cabin.
Double-glazed glass is used for the windows, an acoustic windscreen also deflects decibels and thicker carpet further adds to the sound deadening.
Not only is it quiet but the interior also offers a uniquely peaceful yet tech-rich environment, with plenty of woodgrain and a simple, spacious layout.
Two large (really large) 12.3-inch screens are paired up - for infotainment and heads-up display - much like dual multiple monitors on a work desk, allowing occupants to swipe between them to customise the infotainment experience.
Quirky interior elements, like a centre console that can be electronically moved back and forward, allow the Ariya to be customised to a driver’s liking - without becoming overwhelming.
A handy, but somewhat hidden, storage compartment under the dash is also a nice addition but not one that’s particularly high-tech or innovative - just useful.
This circuit didn’t allow us to conclusively test any of the safety tech, particularly the autonomous driving functionality, but we can assume it mirrors the performance of similar Nissan models available here.
After around 30 minutes in the Ariya, it became a likeable midsize SUV that will do well in our major cities as a daily driver, and range claims do appear to stack up.
After one hour of driving - half-an-hour each, shared between two drivers - the Ariya had dropped from 97 to 85 per cent charge, which is not bad considering it was pretty spirited testing.
When we know more about pricing or release dates, we will share the details but our guess is it’ll land in early 2024.
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