Mainstream Electric Car Face Off
Nissan and Volkswagen are not new to electric vehicles. The groundbreaking Nissan Leaf, introduced over a decade ago, has sold over half a million units globally, amassing the company reams of real-world data and insight. And as far back as 2014, the German brand was selling an electric Golf in Europe, with the E-Golf launching in North America in 2017.
But as successful as the Leaf and E-Golf have been, they’ve been pigeonholed as city cars thanks to their relatively short range and compact size. Americans in particular want more space, they want the ability to go long distances, and they really want something that looks more like an SUV.
The Nissan Ariya and Volkswagen ID.4 are the answers, their makers hope, to the desires of the American buying public. They are mainstream crossovers targeted right at the heart of the market, with prices starting in the forties and with spacious interiors on manageable footprints. Here, we take a look at both of them – and help you find the best fit for you.
Layout and Engineering
While it shares similar external dimensions to the popular Nissan Rogue, the Ariya is more spacious thanks to its all-new platform, designed to be 100% electric. Engineers were able to create an incredibly spacious cabin sitting on a very long wheelbase; the floor for passengers is completely flat, creating a great sense of space.
The Ariya has impressive 50:50 weight distribution – something that used to be the hallmark of pure sports cars. Perfect front-rear balance and a low center of gravity make it very stable in corners and very responsive. Front-wheel drive Ariyas (in Venture+, Evolve+ and Premiere trims) feature 238 hp and up to 304 miles of EPA-estimated range, while the all-wheel drive version produces 389 hp from two motors, with a 270-mile EPA-estimated range. DC charging is not great, with a maximum 130-kW fast-charge ability, meaning a 10-80% charge in about 35 minutes.
Much like the Ariya, the ID.4 was also built from the ground-up as an EV. There’s no transmission hump, and tiny electric motors mean the interior feels almost Atlas-sized, despite the car’s footprint being similar to a Tiguan’s. Room for legs, heads, and shoulders is superb, and the seats are awesome.
The ID.4’s range lags the Ariya’s by a little bit. Most drivers will opt for the 82-kWh all-wheel drive version, which, by the EPA’s estimates, will deliver 255 miles; the lighter, simpler rear-wheel drive version gives you 275 miles, according to the EPA. ID.4 offers 125-kW fast charging, meaning 5-80% on the right kind of DC fast charger will take about 40 minutes.
If the range and charging numbers don’t seem that impressive compared to some of the headline-grabbing EVs today, note that the EPA’s range estimates can often be beaten in real-world driving. Also, drivers will mostly charge these electric vehicles overnight from a level 2 wall box, meaning they’ll leave home every morning with a full “tank” of electrons. Range and charging only really become an issue on long road trips.
Advantage: Nissan Ariya
Designs That Reflect Their Origins
What we really like about the Ariya is its distinctive, and very Japanese design. The exterior features a new Nissan “face” with a shield up front instead of a grille. A swooping roofline looks flowing and aerodynamic, without sacrificing interior space. And we love the two-tone color options available, including the very distinctive copper and gold finishes.
Its interior is as cool as its exterior, with a high-end look defined not by tons of controls and screens, but a simple, broad sweep of dashboard with touch-sensitive controls actually embedded into matte-finish wood, instead of glossy piano-black surfaces. The big center console, which houses some controls and a large storage area, can be power-adjusted back and forth.
The ID.4 has the slick, polished feel that you might associate with an Apple product, inside and out, accented with organic-looking LED lights, and focusing on simplicity of presentation. There’s a bare minimum of ornamentation inside, especially, which is both a plus and a minus.
A touch screen perched on top of the low-set dashboard unifies all of controls for setting up the car, the climate control system, navigation, smartphone integration, and driver assistance systems. None of the “buttons” – on the dash and on the steering wheel – are actual buttons anymore; instead, they’re shiny capacitive sensors that are fingerprint magnets, and require you to actually look at them while driving.
If you’re a fan of old-school VW interiors with solid switchgear, the ID.4 can feel like a step backwards – particularly the window switches, which require you to tap a capacitive switch on the door panel to use the two “front” window switches to operate the rear windows, even the volume control requires swiping. You get used to it eventually, and all of the digital options let you set up the car to behave exactly the way you want. My favorite is the one that triggers the seat and steering wheel heaters automatically if the outside temperature drops below a set figure.
A Feast of Technology
Both of these electric SUVs come packed with useful technology to make driving more convenient and safer. All Ariyas come with the latest version of Nissan’s ProPilot Assist 2.0 suite of driver aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, parking assistants, and other sensors and controls – making it easy and relaxing to drive in town. On certain types of freeway, ProPilot Assist 2.0 actually lets drivers take their hands off the wheel – something we have yet to experience ourselves.
The Volkswagen ID.4 also comes standard with a complete set of driver assistance features, including adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the car in front; blind spot monitoring; rear traffic alert for improved safety when backing up; and front assist, which watches for pedestrians and can bring the car to a stop if it senses obstacles. These are all features that normally cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, as options on similar SUVs, and other than the rear traffic alert being overly sensitive, they all work seamlessly and don’t impinge on the driving experience.
Naturally, both cars also feature excellent audio systems, and standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless integration with your smartphone. We’d give a slight edge to the Nissan for ease-of-use, though.
Advantage: Nissan Ariya
You’ll find a lot to like in the driving experience of both the Nissan Ariya and Volkswagen ID.4. They are both fast, smooth, and quiet. While their 0-60 mph times aren’t, on paper, that impressive, the instantaneous torque of their electric motors helps them dash away from traffic lights and zip past slower traffic. There’s always more than enough power on tap, and both the Ariya and ID.4 feel way more responsive than any gasoline SUV. Because there are no transmissions and no gears to shift, progress is completely seamless. Both also offer the option of different levels of regenerative braking – accessed via a “B” setting on the ID.4’s transmission selector.
The ID.4 and Ariya offer many different options. Volkswagen has stopped taking reservations on the $37,495 MSRP “short range” rear-wheel drive ID.4, which is the closest in spec to the base front-wheel drive Ariya Engage. The most expensive ID.4, the AWD Pro, tops out at $46,295 MSRP, while you can spec out an Ariya to $60,190 with an unbelievably luxurious interior.
The mainstream models in the U.S. will be the long-range versions. A starting MSRP of $42,495 before incentives will get you the ID.4 Pro RWD, which comes with an EPA-estimated range of 275 miles; the most comparable Airya is the Venture+ FWD, which has a starting MSRP of $47,190 before incentives and an EPA-estimated range of 304 miles.
Is the Ariya’s extra 30 miles or so of range worth an extra $5,000? Probably not – but what you might appreciate is a slightly higher level of standard equipment, more intuitive controls, and greater efficiency. The EPA rates the ID.4 Pro at 107 MPGe city and 91 MPGe highway, while the Ariya is rated at 111 MPGe city and 95 MPGe highway.
It’s hard to go wrong with either of these excellent compact electric SUVs, but the Ariya, with its slightly greater range and efficiency, along with its faster charging, edges out by a nose in this comparison.