Ten years ago, Nissan became one of the very first automakers in the world to debut a series of production electric cars.
It wasn’t a limited production model, or a lease only test fleet vehicle; it was an honest-to-goodness family-friendly electric car.
It could seat five; it featured over-the-air telematics, which was a first for any legacy automaker.
And back then, when people’s expectations over electric car range were far smaller than they are today, it managed an EPA-approved 73 miles of range per charge.
It had an optional DC quick charging to refill its 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack from empty to 80 full in around 30 minutes.
While many people, including me, flocked to the Nissan Leaf by virtue of it being the first to market in most of the world, the Nissan’s Leaf hasn’t aged very well.
The poor engineering of the first Leaf’s battery pack, using passive air cooling rather than active liquid cooling combined with its original cell chemistry, conspired to cause premature battery aging and subsequent capacity-induced range loss.
Nissan’s increasingly frustrating attitude towards battery replacement requests over the last decade, including asking customers in some markets to shell out thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for replacement packs have done Nissan no favors.
Neither has Nissan’s decision to keep the second-generation Leaf battery pack cooled using the same method as its troubled predecessor.
This led to a rapid gate where Nissan’s solution to premature battery degradation was to Modi coddle a battery pack in the 2018 Leaf to the point that it would only rapidly charge once per day.
While the original Nissan Leaf and its second-generation successor are great cars around town use in climates where the temperature doesn’t get too hot, and I should know, I’ve put more than 140 000 miles on the two first-generation Leaf’s I’ve owned.
Nissan’s E.V. foo hasn’t been all that great of late. Indeed, with better competition from rival automakers in many markets, Nissan’s suffered poor sales and some pretty big losses of late.
Yet, earlier today, Nissan unveiled its first all-new electric cars since the Leaf’s original debut.
The production version of the 2021 Nissan Ariya SUV seems to have fixed everything that was wrong with the original Leaf, and frankly, I think you should be excited about it.
Here’s everything you need to know, and yes, today’s article is going to be a little on the long side to cover everything, but I think it’s going to be worth it.
The Ariya is smaller than a rogue from outside, yet has a larger wheelbase while maintaining a similar turning circle than its internal combustion engine relation.
And inside, thanks to the long wheelbase and now traditional battery in the chassis design that so many automakers are using, it has more internal space than a Nissan Murano.
More importantly, Nissan has ditched the forced air cooling pouch cell battery packs of the Leaf and opted for prismatic Nickel Cobalt manganese aluminum cells from Chinese battery supplier Cattle.
Both of the battery pack variants available for the Ariya, 63 kilowatt-hours, and 87 kilowatt-hours usable are liquid-cooled.
As is becoming the norm, the battery pack itself is integrated into the vehicle’s chassis as a structural element with load-bearing cross-members forming an integral part of the vehicle’s chassis.
So why switch to a liquid cooling battery? Yesterday evening, ahead of the car’s official launch, I was lucky enough to be one of a handful of journalists to attend an invite-only roundtable discussion with two important members of the Nissan Ariya team.
Nissan’s program director Giovanni Aruba, and Nissan’s chief product specialist, Makoto Fukuda.
I asked that question to both of them directly. Unsurprisingly, the answer given to me was that based on feedback from customers about range and charging, Nissan decided the Ariya needed to perform better at both the rapid charging station and on the road.
I was told to be able to drive 800 kilometers in a total of eight hours, including any necessary time recharging.
The only logical way to do that was to implement active liquid cooling, something that frankly has been de facto amongst most of the electric auto industry for years, but which Nissan has been painfully slow to adopt.
Unsurprisingly, Nissan did not cite the switch to liquid cooling as being driven by some of the problems the first and second-generation Leafs had with their forced-air battery packs.
Frankly, I doubt any automaker would be super keen to admit that as a cause to switch. But given Nissan as a Japanese company, and saving face is pretty darned important in the Japanese boardroom, I suspect the above explanation is far more acceptable than we screwed up.
Feedback informed design seemed to play quite a big part in the evolution of the design of the Ariya as well, with Nissan moving charge port doors on the Ariya away from the front end of the vehicle.
Aside from making it easier to meet pedestrian impact safety standards, it would make it easier from a consumer point of view, with the Japanese version of the Ariya having its Chademo DC quick charge port located in front of the front passenger door pillar.
Most charging stations are on the pavement side, so it makes sense to have the rapid charge port located there. Talking of charging, it’s probably time to clear up some confusion that’s already been bandied about online in the last 24 hours.
In Japan, the Ariya will come with a Chademo port on one side of the vehicle and a standard J1772 socket on the other.
In Japan, these two charge standards are the norm, and it allows the Ariya to be used with vehicle-to-grid systems that rely on Chademo, which are pretty big in Japan.
In Europe, North America, and other markets around the world where ccs has become the de-facto standard DC quick charge system of choice, the Ariya will come with just one charge port containing the relevant CCS charge port for the market it’s in.
So, CCS combo 1 for North America, and CCS combo 2 for the rest of the world.
Nissan says the Ariya will be able to charge at up to 130 kilowatts peak rate from a compatible charging station, adding an estimated 175 miles of range in about a half-hour charging session.
Since the battery is a 400-volt battery pack, that means a maximum charge current of about 350 amps.
What isn’t particularly clear from this, sadly, is if Nissan plans to implement any form of V2G capabilities in CCS market countries.
We expect that CCS will have V2G capabilities from about 2025 onwards, but Nissan didn’t mention this in its briefing or roundtable, and any compatibility plans weren’t discussed.
Changes to rapid charging like the new battery pack design are significant, but when Nissan disappoints is the onboard maximum charge rate for home charging systems, at least in terms of North America.
There the Ariya will top out at seven and a half kilowatts of onboard charging power.
Still, in Europe and other markets where three-phase power is more common at home, Nissan will offer a 22-kilowatt three-phase charging capability for the larger capacity of 87-kilowatt-hour variants of the Ariya.
Seven and a half kilowatts may disappoint many, but Nissan does argue reasonably that most of the time, the onboard charger will only be used for nighttime charging.
And since three-phase charging at residential locations in North America is about as rare as unicorn poop, well, I guess it sucks to be us.
As expected, Nissan is launching two drive train options. There’s a single motor front-wheel-drive model, and a dual-motor all-wheel-drive variant. The latter is being called the Ariya all-wheel-drive e-force spelled E-4ORCE.
Depending on battery specifications, you’ll be left with a range of different performance and power outputs.
For example, the entry-level Nissan Ariya with front-wheel drive and entry-level 63-kilowatt-hour usable battery pack will output 160 kilowatts at the wheels and 221 pound-feet of torque.
Opt for the larger 87-kilowatt-hour available pack, and the power of the wheels will increase to about 178 kilowatts.
Top speed for both of these models is limited to 99 miles per hour, with sprint times from zero to 62 miles per hour being 7.5 and 7.6 seconds, respectively.
The larger capacity battery pack results in, the slower sprint time, despite the extra motor power because of the heavier pack.
But if you opt for the all-wheel-drive model, you’ll see 205 kilowatts at the wheels with the 63-kilowatt-hour usable pack, and 413 pound-feet of torque.
But if you go for the larger 87-kilowatt-hour usable pack, you’ll see power increase to 225 kilowatts and 442 pound-feet of torque. But, perhaps the most interesting variant is Nissan’s range-topping performance Ariya.
Something that wasn’t even mentioned in all press releases, but I noticed it when I was perusing the European Ariya press releases.
Note to self. Always read all available market press releases, because they’re remarkably different, for the same car.
Paired with 290 kilowatts at the wheels and the 87-kilowatt-hour usable battery pack, it drops sprint times from zero to 62 miles per hour, to 5.1 seconds versus the 5.9 and 5.7 for the other all-wheel-drive versions. The top speed of all three is 124 miles per hour.
At this point, I should discuss range, and Nissan’s North American press release notes the large capacity Ariya front-wheel-drive variant wins with a target 300 miles estimated by Nissan.
In Europe, because they use the WLTP test cycle, not the EPA test cycle, that estimate has risen to 310 miles.
And frankly, why I don’t really like using the WLTP test cycle unless I have to, I’m going to stick with those figures here, because Nissan UK has given us estimates across the board.
Ranging from 223 miles for the entry-level two-wheel-drive Ariya, 211 miles for the entry-level all-wheel-drive Ariya, through to the 285 miles for the all-wheel-drive longer-range Ariya, and 248 miles for the all-wheel-drive performance.
Excitingly for those who’ve called for more E.V.s to be able to tow, Ariya is also rated to tow, but how much you’ll be able to tow will change in each market.
Last night we were told that it would be rated at 1500 pounds in North America, but according to the U.K. press release, it’s 1500 kilos in Europe. I’m guessing the differences are due to whatever legislation is required for towing in each market.
I don’t have pricing for everything yet, but Nissan North America promises the entry-level variant to retail from quote about $40,000 US.
I’m not entirely sure what the range-topping model will fetch, but frankly, I’d be surprised if you have changed from $55,000, or well into Tesla Model Y territory.
I’m pleased with how Nissan’s made the inside of the Ariya look.
The air conditioning units are pushed under the bonnet. There’s no frunk as a consequence, but that means the inside of the Ariya’s cockpit is open and clean and minimalist with a pretty large amount of space for driver and passengers.
One unique feature I’ve not seen before is the ability to scoot the center armrest assembly back, and that does include the electronic gear selector.
Because the air conditioner is out of the cabin, and I should note that the air conditioning controls are haptic touch affairs that I learned to hate when I owned a Chevy Volt.
Nissan has been able to add a second glovebox storage area and a fold-out tray that could make for a mobile workspace while charging.
There’s also a sunroof as standard, which isn’t a surprise as it’s pretty much standard on most SUVs and crossovers today.
But one thing that may concern some inside the car is the seat design, which to give as much interior space as possible, is pretty thin.
Nissan was eager to talk about the minimalist seat design and how much extra space they give passengers as a consequence, but until I’ve had a chance to try this out myself, I’m going to reserve judgment.
Especially given how many people criticize the similarly thin seats of the Chevrolet bolt E.V.
Also noted as a change to the first and second-generation Leaf, inside is the new flat floor, which Nissan was also keen to point out.
But frankly, flat floors in electric vehicles are the norm by now, so this is a case of Nissan playing catch-up.
As for cargo space, well, here is where it gets interesting. As cargo space not only depends on which version you buy, but which market you’re in, and I’m rounding down figures to two decimal places here, and I’m using imperial measurements.
If you live in a right-hand-drive market, the front-wheel-drive variant manages 16.45 cubic feet of space, while the left-hand drive variant with the same battery pack manages 16.52 cubic feet.
Opt for the all-wheel-drive variant, and cargo space decreases to 14.4 cubic feet for the right-hand drive markets, and 14.65 cubic feet in left-hand drive countries.
No reason has been given for the differences between right and left-hand markets, but I guess it’s all to do with the internal components’ rear layout.
Nissan has rolled out an all-new cockpit, which seems fully customizable with dual 12.3-inch screens, full-color head-up display voice control and an ai fed, and context-aware route planning system.
There are haptic controls for much of the control surfaces in the car, and smartphone connectivity with the Nissan connect telematics app.
Pro pilot 2.0, Nissan’s next iteration of its semi-autonomous driver assistance software, will be available as standard, but exactly which functionality you get will depend on local laws where you live.
It’s not fully autonomous yet, but Nissan is planning over-the-air software updates for Ariya. Sadly, what’s not clear is if those updates will include updates to pro pilot.
We know that, like ford, Nissan is planning a dual-slot upgrade system meaning the car can download updates in the background without requiring you to park up.
The next time you turn the car on, it will just switch over to the latest version.
As I predicted earlier this week, the Ariya comes in below Model Y money, which is excellent for the segment, but at $40,000 U.S. dollars, it’s still a bit pricey.
Add in the seven and a half thousand us dollar federal tax credit if you’re in the U.S. Yes, Nissan hasn’t hit the limit for tax credits yet, and it’s far more palatable.
I should note that the Volt E.V., which will cross-shop against the Ariya, will not benefit from this.
So there you have it, there’s a lot to unpack here, and I hope I’ve covered most of the bases.
I’ll bring you more in the coming weeks as I learn more about the Ariya, and as soon as lockdowns are lifted, I hope I can get some time behind the wheel, and of course, I’ll take you along with me.
For what it’s worth, on paper, at least the Nissan Ariya is a cracking car that obliterates some of the original challenges of the Nissan Leaf.
But it also does something rather unfortunate in doing so, it makes the current Nissan Leaf a very poor buy and automatically devalues any Leafs overnight.
It’s hard to envisage Nissan continuing Leaf at the moment with the Ariya coming to market unless it can dramatically improve the value for money of said car.
And the future of Leaf is something I’ve not been able to get an answer about from Nissan yet, so I’ll keep trying.