NIS­SAN DOU­BLES DOWN

Next big thing in EVs gets twin mo­tors and AWD

Mercury (Hobart) - - MOTORING -

Nis­san’s Ariya elec­tric SUV con­cept is the brand’s most im­por­tant car in years. Un­veiled at last week’s Tokyo mo­tor show, the car will be the core of Nis­san’s elec­tric fu­ture.

Ex­pect spin-off models wear­ing the Nis­san badge as well as models from al­liance part­ners Re­nault and Mit­subishi in the loom­ing elec­tric age of mo­tor­ing.

In the process, it will re­place the Nis­san Leaf — the world’s best-sell­ing elec­tric car — as the brand’s green cham­pion.

The Ariya looks crisp, with a coupe-like sil­hou­ette, pretty cop­per de­tails, a planted stance and fo­cused blades of light at both ends.

Its flat-floored cabin cre­ates an open area with an enor­mous curved dis­play un­furled across the dash.

Cli­mate con­trols shine through open-pore wood trim, adding a warm touch to a cabin that mixes min­i­mal­ist de­sign with Ja­pa­nese func­tion­al­ity.

Ex­pect the look to carry through to fu­ture pro­duc­tion models.

More im­por­tantly, the Ariya’s floor­mounted bat­tery and twin elec­tric mo­tors rep­re­sent the core of fu­ture elec­tric ve­hi­cles from the brand.

Tech­ni­cal de­tails are thin on the ground for now but we have a sense for how the Ariya might drive.

Nis­san in­vited a hand­ful of re­porters to test a heav­ily mod­i­fied Leaf hatch­back at its re­search and devel­op­ment lab­o­ra­tory near Yoko­hama.

Pow­ered by twin elec­tric mo­tors sim­i­lar to what you’ll find in the pro­duc­tion Ariya, the 227kW/680Nm “Su­per Leaf” sends power to all four wheels.

That’s more power than fire­cracker hot hatches such as the Honda Civic Type R and more torque than a V8 Ford Mus­tang.

Fac­tor in all-wheel drive, with wider wheels pushed fur­ther out­side the body­work, and the re­sult is a car with the sort of ini­tial straight-line ac­cel­er­a­tion nor­mally re­served for su­per­cars.

Clever torque vec­tor­ing tech pinched from the Nis­san GT-R helps make the most of that grunt, trans­form­ing the Leaf from a for­get­table hatch­back into a gen­uinely ca­pa­ble ma­chine.

Our brief steer on Nis­san’s test track re­vealed rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion, de­ter­mined road­hold­ing and flat cor­ner­ing in a pack­age much more im­pres­sive than the cur­rent Leaf.

To counter the risk of elec­tric cars be­ing seen as soul­less ap­pli­ances, the Ja­pa­nese mar­que says its next gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric ve­hi­cles will be bet­ter to drive than petrol sib­lings, with im­proved straight-line per­for­mance and clever torque con­trol made pos­si­ble by elec­tric mo­tors.

Nis­san also worked to re­fine the car’s re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing, mak­ing it smoother and more pro­gres­sive to im­prove ride com­fort for the oc­cu­pants.

We also had a taste of the semi-au­ton­o­mous driver aids that are likely to de­but on the pro­duc­tion Ariya, among them ProPilot 2.0. Cur­rently re­stricted to Ja­pan, and avail­able only in the new Sky­line sedan, it is Nis­san’s al­ter­na­tive to Tesla’s Au­topi­lot.

It en­ables gen­uine hands-off driv­ing for lengthy mo­tor­way stretches, can over­take slower cars and even take mo­tor­way ex­its as di­rected by sat­nav.

The tech isn’t avail­able in Aus­tralia yet but the brand wants to make it hap­pen.

Nis­san Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive Stephen Lester says ProPilot and the Ariya are on his wish list. “I think the con­cept looks great,” he says. “Whether you’re look­ing at the ex­te­rior or in­te­rior, it looks phe­nom­e­nal. Of course we would love to have it.”

Elec­tric car sales in Aus­tralia barely trou­ble the scorer. In con­trast with the Leaf’s overseas sales suc­cesses, Aus­tralians buy more su­per­cars than elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Lester says a lack of EV ap­petite won’t af­fect plans to in­tro­duce the pro­duc­tion Ariya as soon as it is avail­able.

“It’s only go­ing to grow,” he says. “Nis­san has never been in the EV game for the month-tomonth sales im­pact.

“It’s a long game. Tech­nol­ogy has con­tin­ued to evolve and im­prove with in­fra­struc­ture — it is the long term plan.”

Added sparkle: Nis­san Ariya, main pic­ture, was un­veiled at the Tokyo show; “Su­per Leaf” pro­to­type on the test track near Yoko­hama

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