NISSAN DOUBLES DOWN
Next big thing in EVs gets twin motors and AWD
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