We are in Japan at the scenic Sodegura Forest Raceway for a rendezvous with the latest cars from Nissan. Nissan Intelligent Mobility is that division of the Japanese car maker which peeks into the future and builds cars that would define mobility at least two decades from now. It is slowly becoming an undisputed fact that the future of mobility is electric and that is why it doesn’t surprise us to be amidst a fleet of electric cars and concepts.
Nissan had lined up for us an entire posse of cars built under the banner of Nissan Intelligent Mobility. We had the Bladeglider, the LEAF Nismo RC, e-POWER, Mobility Concept and the Nissan Serena ProPILOT. The Bladeglider is a supercar and the Leaf Nismo RC is a racecar. While these are exciting, the e-Power and the Serena are an adaptation of today’s cars for the future. We drive all of these cars to find out how they feel and perform and do they really set a benchmark for cars of tomorrow.
New mobility concept vehicle
What would become of the Smart ForTwo if it were designed 20 years from now? Well, for starters, it would be smarter and something more like this contraption on four wheels which is supposed to be your errand buddy. The car is a purely electric, futuristic urban vehicle which was developed in response to rising numbers of senior citizens and single-member households, along with increasing use of automobiles for short-distance trips by upto two people in urban environments.
If you thought it was one of those flashy cars that belongs in a museum, you´re half wrong. It is flashy, but it is also really nimble. We were given a short and twisty course to try out the car’s easy maneuverability and parking and we absolutely loved it. The steering did take a little effort but other than that, it had enough pep, not to mention lively handling for its intended purpose. The car is powered by a 6.1KWh lithium-ion battery, with the motor neatly located at the rear, driving the rear wheels. It is just 2.32m in length and 1.19m wide, making it ideal for agile urban driving. With a 100km range for each charge, we think this would be ideal for Indian conditions as well.
Nissan Leaf Nismo RC
And now, on to the racecar. Laying your hands on the wheel of a Nismo is a dream and it doesn’t matter if it is a Leaf. Yes, this is that unsuspecting electric car you will find on the bustling neighbourhoods of the business district. The Leaf Nismo RC is a beautiful creation of bespoke track-ready carbon fiber prototype with a 100 per cent zero-emission lithium-ion powertrain. Naturally, since it’s a race car, it’s a completely stripped-down version of its road-going version.
Powered by a lithium-ion battery composed of 48 compact modules and a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107bhp and 280Nm of torque, the car can be charged up to 80 per cent of its full capacity in 30 minutes using the CHAdeMO quick charging port located inside the rear cowl. And it’s quick too. Nissan claims a 0-100kmph time of 6.8 seconds and a top speed of about 150kmph. And we certainly won’t deny those numbers as we managed two quick laps in it. The acceleration is pretty brisk and there is zero lag. Racing tyres and a carbon fiber chassis gave the Leaf Nismo RC phenomenal grip and composure around the corners. It was so quick and so much fun that the two laps were finished in the blink of an eye. Do we see a one-make Nismo RC cup coming up then? You never know.
Nissan had also made some very clever modifications to one of their family cars. But this girl-next-door actually turned out to be a popstar in disguise. In 2016, Nissan introduced its new drive system called e-POWER on its popular Note compact family model in Japan. It was the first time that the technology was made available for consumers, making it a significant milestone for Nissan.
The e-POWER system features full electric-motor drive, meaning that the wheels are completely driven by the electric motor. The power from a high-output battery is delivered to the e-POWER’s compact powertrain comprised of a petrol engine, power generator, inverter, and a motor. However, the petrol engine is not connected to the wheels; it simply charges the battery which powers the wheels. Driving the e-POWER is a superb experience once you know what’s happening under the hood. Torque is instant and power delivery is extremely smooth. Nissan also claims an efficiency of almost 40kmpl which is astonishing. The e-POWER in a nutshell provides all the benefits of an EV without having to worry about charging the battery and this we think makes for a brilliant product considering the mileage obsessed buyers in India. While Nissan did not confirm, we think this will be the first product to enter India, riding Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility wave.
Nissan Serena ProPilot
The world would not be the same without moms and minivans. The Nissan Serena is the minivan from the future and had us impressed the moment we laid our eyes on it. It’s a big, bold looking MPV that would turn a lot of heads if it lands up in India. But looks apart, the Serena’s trump card was something else - something that had us quite impressed as we drove it around the streets of Japan.
So what does the Serena ProPilot do? For starters it’s one of Nissan’s first major inroads into autonomous driving on public roads. ProPILOT is an autonomous drive technology designed for highway use in single-lane traffic. Nissan is the first Japanese automaker to introduce a combination of steering, accelerator and braking that can be operated in full automatic mode, easing driver workload in heavy highway traffic and long commutes.
Application was pretty easy too. All you do was press the ProPILOT button on the steering wheel, set the speed using cruise-control and wait for a little while as the system adjusts to the surroundings and voila, it’s actually driving itself. While we have all been driven around as a co-passenger or in the back seat, being driven around in the driver’s seat was nothing short of an interesting but eerie experience, thanks to the steering correcting itself.
ProPILOT works by employing advanced image-processing technology which understands road and traffic situations and executes precise steering enabling the vehicle to perform naturally. What is impressive is that it’s not very expensive and is available as a $2000 (approx. Rs 1.3 lakh) option when you buy the Serena. Of course the technology is still in its nascent stages and is more of an assistance rather than outright autonomous technology, since it operates only on well-marked multilane highways.
What is the most important number that defines a supercar? The zero to 100kmph time. The BladeGlider does it under 5 seconds and chalks up a top speed of 190kmph. This unique-looking car is 100 per cent electric with power coming from a high-performance five-module lithium-ion 220kW battery. The drive to the rear wheels is provided by two 130kW electric motors – one for each wheel which makes 268bhp and a massive 707Nm of torque. Its performance, which we experienced from the back seat, is simply electric and we wouldn’t be surprised if this thing demolishes quite a few combustion-engine powered cars around a racetrack. While the BladeGlider won’t make it into production, it will form the basis for plenty of sportscars of the future.
The e-POWER looks most likely as the next big step, but then, costs will be a big factor. And at the end of the hectic trip to the land of the rising sun, we ask what does Nissan have for us? Is it a trail that starts with an X? Stay tuned to us and you will have your answer soon enough.