Test Drives

2019 Nissan Serena E-Power : Wheel To Power




Nissan’s Serena E-Power MPV has a new spin on hybrid-EV technology that really does work in Singapore, and is a comfy 6+1 seater to boot

Photos: Leow Ju-Len, Derryn Wong

SINGAPORE 


What exactly am I looking at? 

Nissan’s intriguing new spin on hybrid/EV tech, for the first time in Singapore. 

The Serena name isn’t a new thing, since Nissan’s classic mid-large multi purpose vehicle (MPV) isn’t unknown to Singapore, although dealer/distributor Tan Chong never officially imported them, so this – the fifth-gen model – is the first to officially arrive here.

But that term ‘E-Power’ won’t be familiar to many: It’s Nissan’s new petrol-electric drive system that juggles the balance between a gasoline combustion engine and an electric motor in a very different way from conventional hybrid tech.

We explain it all in our Serena news story on CarBuyer.com.sg. 

Assuming I didn’t click through, what’s the condensed version?

It has all the same major features as any hybrid: A combustion engine, a battery pack, and an electric motor. In this case, a 1.2-litre gasoline engine (the same as that found on the Nissan Note compact hatch) a 1.8kWh lithium ion battery pack, and a 136hp/320Nm e-motor (the same as found on the Nissan Leaf EV), respectively.

But the engine’s sole role is to charge the battery pack, and it’s the pack which provides the juice to the electric motor that really drives the car’s front pair of wheels.

Why would I want to do that?

Unlike turning yourself into a filing cabinet, there are good reasons for this setup.

– You have a car that drives like an EV (instant torque, good acceleration, recuperation) but you don’t have to charge it.

– The gasoline engine always runs at its optimum rev range and is theoretically more efficient.

Tell us more about the MPV side of things first. Is it like a Toyota Alphard? 

It’s instantly recognisable as a Japanese MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) from the imposing grille and double-layer headlights in front, and the ‘office tower on wheels’ form factor.

While it’s far more spacious than something like a Toyota Sienta, it’s smaller than an Alphard – even if it looks vaguely similar. Check out the table here.

Wow that’s a lot of numbers. Summarise it for me please…

It’s long and tall, but also very narrow – to use some BMWs as easy size reference, it’s nearly as long as a 5 Series, taller than an X5 SUV, but narrower than a 1 Series.

The comparisons to European MPVs make it even more distinct, and now that Mazda no longer sells its Biante MPV, the Serena is in a class of its own, at least if you wish to stay away from parallel imports.


READ MORE: Accord-ing to who?! Here’s another Japanese high-tech mobile that tears up the established rulebook…



What’s the inside like?

The cabin has a massive acreage of glass, which provides an excellent view for the driver. Paired with the insane amount of headroom, it feels positively open and airy, though on Singapore’s now scorching days it means the car’s cabin does get noticeably hot after parking. 

Amenities include numerous cubby holes for storage up front, although the space between the front seats is just a platform rather than a storage box, there are also tables for the second row seats, cupholders all around, two AC vents per seating row, and a rear AC control. There’s also a touchscreen infotainment system that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Can it really carry a whole family?
Assuming a classic five-piece nuclear family, yes, with room to spare.

Full-sized adults will be very comfortable in the second row – although these aren’t lounge-style Ottomans like on the Alphard – and even in the third row legroom is very good.

The second row seats can do a near-full recline, and also shift sideways, as well as forward or backward. Access to the third row is possible by simply walking in, though you can move the second row for easier entry.

The third row folds sideways and up (like the Toyota Fortuner) expanding boot space from 210-litres to 815-litres, so you’ll be able to fit tall things like bicycles, but a sofa probably won’t make it in. 

The only seat of suffering is the third-row middle, which is narrow, so it’s best to see the Serena as having a six-plus-one seating arrangement, not a true seven-seater.

 Does it behave like a normal hybrid? 

Like other hybrids, a green ‘vehicle ready’ symbol lights up, you snick the joystick-like gearlever into D and the car pulls away in silence. 

So far, so hybrid, until the engine kicks in to charge the battery: Nissan’s inline three cylinder engine isn’t the most refined, so you’ll definitely hear and feel its burr when it does engage. 

It’s very obvious at first, especially since you can’t really predict when it will come on, but it’s only active for short bursts during urban driving, and blends into the background once you’re travelling at 50km/h or more. 

The good parts are the one-pedal driving style (like on the Leaf EV) and the instant EV torque – or you can drive it like a normal car too. There’s also a ‘Silent’ mode (force it to use battery power) and ‘Charge’ mode (does what it says by running the engine) but you can safely ignore those and let the system do the work on its own. 

And what’s the drive experience like?

It feels languid and fluid (or at least as a tall, heavy MPV can) and you feel absolutely no urgency when behind the wheel, although it’s fully capable of an EV’s rapid, useful torque-on-demand via the e-motor – a refreshing jolt in contrast to CVT-style drag. 

The ride quality and refinement are good, though not outstanding – all that glass lets in more sound after all, and the van-like structure means there’s some body flex – and you won’t be throwing this towering thing into corners with abandon, obviously.

Okay, so it’s family-friendly. What about wallet friendly? 

In a nutshell, E-Power does work in Singapore.

We racked up approximately 200km in it, and attained an average fuel consumption of 6.0L/100km, which is outstanding for a 1,750kg MPV.  That spells for a humongous 917km on the car’s 55-litre tank, which is more than enough to get you authentic Penang laksa without stopping to top up.

And if you do lots of short-distance stuff it’s even better. We regularly achieved 5.5L/100km during low-speed, urban stints – like other hybrids, the Serena is least adept at high-speed highway work, but even then our worst score was 7.0L/100km.

So it’s worth taking a deep look at?

Definitely. As mentioned, there’s no direct, officially-imported rival for the Serena at this moment. And all things considered the Serena does deliver on its promises: An efficient hybrid MPV with plenty of room for six adults (and one hobbit) at less than S$150k with COE is quite a lot of car for the money.

The MPV side of things is a draw here, but E-Power is also a much needed way of boosting Nissan’s own brand power so it can get a wheel up on competitors at last.

Nissan Serena E-Power

Engine  1,198cc, inline 3
Power 84hp at 6000rpm
Torque 103Nm at 3200-5200rpm 
Gearbox Single Speed Reduction Gear 
Electric Motor 136hp/320Nm
Battery Lithium Ion, 1.8kWh
System Power 136hp
System Torque  320Nm
0-100km/h Not revealed 
Top Speed Not revealed 
Fuel Efficiency 5.4 L/100km 
VES Band / CO2 A2 / 121g/km
Agent Tan Chong Motor Sales 
Price S$144,300 with COE 
Availability  Now

 

about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.