Nissan’s gripping adventure in Finland

March 15, 2024

It’s all well and good these carmakers selling us vehicles with details of how capable they are when faced with challenging terrain and plunging temperatures, but we very rarely get to test them to the extreme in a bid to back up these statements.

However, Nissan was so confident in its all-electric Ariya and e-POWER X-Trail models that they flew us out to Helsinki, Finland and from there we drove due north for three hours in search of harsher conditions for  some ‘proper’ winter testing.

Our destination was Rapukartano, where as well as a beautiful Alpine-styled hotel, there were frozen lakes (Finland is known as the land of 1,000 lakes), forest drives and snow-covered public roads to explore.

Yes, the scenery was magical and makes for a picture-perfect postcard, but we were there to do some genuine winter driving. And in a bid to highlight not just the all-wheel drive capabilities but also the advanced powertrains and battery technology, Nissan had come up with a programme of events to showcase the vehicles to their full.

We were driving the latest X-Trail which features Nissan’s e-POWER electrified technology that sees a 1.5-litre petrol engine with a lithium ion battery. The engine is the generator that powers the motors on each axle and it’s beautifully smooth.

And the Ariya with the larger of the two battery packs available featured the 87kWh unit which can power the car from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds with a combined driving range of 309 miles under WLTP testing.

We wanted to see how the vehicles coped in sub-zero temperatures and when faced with the challenges of driving round a circuit carved out of a frozen lake, testing the control on steep inclines and firing through narrow forest roads.

There was no disparity between which vehicles could do what and that made it all the more interesting. For example, wherever the X-Trail went, so did the Ariya and vice versa.

We were driving standard cars that are available in the UK – the only difference being they were fitted with winter tyres and included studs for added grip. These features are a ‘must’ in Nordic countries that experience deep snow fall throughout their winter months.

Despite temperatures staying at a balmy minus four or five throughout the event (which we were informed was exceptionally and unusually mild for the season), the ground was treacherously slippery underfoot with packed ice that was constantly dusted with fresh falling snow which subsequently quickly froze over.

However, both vehicles lived up to high expectations and the longer we spent behind the wheel of both the X-Trail and Ariya, the more confident we became.

Cones were set at equal distance for an ice slalom test, and that along with full acceleration and emergency braking exercises, posed no problem at all. With both vehicles featuring a Snow mode for added grip, there was little sign of any traction loss no matter how enthusiastically they were pushed round the frozen lake.

In fairness we already had high expectations for the X-Trail as this has always had a reputation for being a very capable four-wheel drive family car. But the Ariya was the real surprise. Yes, it also has e-4ORCE which is Nissan’s very clever 4WD system that can adjust the torque in 1/10,000th of a second to maintain the grip, but the balance and control was exceptionally good.

This was proven to its full in one of the most exhilarating forest drives imaginable. It was on a public road that was thankfully remarkably quiet with just a smattering of oncoming cars every five to ten minutes. That meant we could attack the bends with confidence.

Both vehicles lived up to the big build up and, if anything, the Ariya proved the most rewarding of the two. With its EV technology it’s the heavier by about 300kg. But the main factor for me was the response under braking. With it’s a low centre of gravity plus its 50:50 weight distribution there was minimal sign of pitch and that, in turn, meant occupants benefitted from a comfier ride.

It was only when you set foot on the ground at the final destination that you realised just how treacherously slippery it was under foot. Yet, throughout the entire drive, apart from one or two slight wobbles that were quickly corrected and, in all honesty, could be put down to driver error, the Ariya and X-trail were completely unfazed by anything Mother Nature threw in their path.

It was genuinely enlightening to see the e-4ORCE and e-POWER in use under such extreme pressure and both models were outstanding and accomplished during the experience. If only there were some kind of stability and grip system to stop me sliding all over the place!

Compiled for Regit


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