Henry Payne: Nissan Ariya EV turns over a new Leaf with silky style

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

FARMINGTON HILLS, Michigan — Like the Kardashians on a budget, Nissan is a value brand with a taste for high fashion. Go to a Nissan dealership to buy a $25K Sentra loaded with standard goodies — auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto — but be sure to wander over to the $45K Murano Platinum SUV and ogle its sculpted grille and quilted albino leather seats.

The brand’s new electric vehicle, the Ariya, is of the latter stylish persuasion.

Draped in bronze, my $45K tester should be strutting down a posh Paris runway, not an uneven Detroit street. Its lines are toned, sculpted. A blackened roof floats above its copper physique. Chic. Check out the shard-like spokes on the 19-inch wheels, also dipped in bronze. Like Mrs. Payne negotiating grated city streets in high heels, I’m careful I don’t stumble into a Michigan pothole.

Step inside and Nissan wants to whisk you away to a club lounge. The unique cabin evokes a five-piece furniture set: four leather seats around a table. The console moves with the touch of a button so that different body types (I’m tall, my wife a foot shorter) can adjust the furniture to best operate the automatic shifter. There’s even a drawer in the dash for storage.

Haptic-controlled, colored climate controls are set into the lush wood of the tabletop — er, dash. The landscape is interrupted by a single knob — for volume.

It took me back to my 2014 Detroit News Vehicle of the Year, the Cadillac CTS, that tried similar bleeding-edge e-controls. They were controversial and ultimately abandoned — but the Ariya advances the art with a light touch to activate. Not so the console buttons.


Located aft of the shifter, Drive Mode, Self-Park and e-Step selectors all require a deliberate push to engage. Nissan assumes you won’t be accessing them often — and it wants you to look at them, not casually punch at them as you might climate control.

As for the blocky shifter, it’s the only raised item on the console face. Like a TV controller sitting on a side table, it makes the device go. This simple elegance sits under the most conventional feature in Ariya’s cockpit — a single screen that contains twin 12.3-inch instrument and infotainment displays familiar to other EVs like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or BMW iX.

Ariya’s flowing architecture is distinctive. In the age of EVs, drivetrains are all similar. Same lithium ion battery, same electric motors, same instant torque. Smooth? Yes. Quiet? Yes, but how do you create brand separation?

That’s a challenge for BMW, whose silky-smooth inline-6 cylinder engines separated it from the proles. But with an e-motor making a Nissan as smooth as a Bimmer (uh-oh), the Bavarian brand has resorted to piping into the cabin wild electronic sounds to set it apart. Think hard rock guitar versus a Japanese flute.


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