• A road trip in and around London in a 2023 Nissan Ariya was a perfect opportunity to see how Europeans experience the EV, hum, experience.
London, England – Planning a trip to London England to watch a historic football match with my youngest son was the closing of a father-son family loop: both my sons grew up playing and watching soccer, eventually becoming bigger fans than Dad (though Mom may argue it’s still neck and neck). I had even taken our oldest son for a bucket-list-worthy trip to London five years earlier for a game at the famed Wembley Stadium, the 80,000-seat-plus mecca of football, in the spiritual birthplace of the sport.
So when my similarly soccer-crazed younger son’s beloved team – Manchester United – ended up playing Dad’s favourite team – Manchester City – in the winner-take-all FA Cup final game at Wembley Stadium in June, it seemed perfect timing to balance the soccer trip scales with son number two.
And, of course, enjoy some good-natured ribbing of each other’s team, while hopefully managing to keep things civil enough to enjoy the rest of the trip. Because no matter who ended up winning the second-biggest prize in English soccer, only one of us was going to leave that stadium happy.
Unlike my last time in London, however, this trip I’d actually have a vehicle to drive through its famously traffic-choked streets. Driving in London is notoriously difficult, and though I had driven on the left side of the road in less chaotic conditions in the UK and Japan years earlier, driving through multiple areas of the mega-city is a whole other level. This would be like the busiest low-speed driver’s ed course that, once traffic magically cleared up, rapidly escalated to FIA super-license levels.
A Nissan Ariya e-4orce… with right-hand drive
Our graciously – and possibly bravely – loaned ride was a right-hand drive, top-of-the-line Nissan Ariya e-4orce, the new all-wheel drive version of Nissan’s all-electric SUV.
The Ariya finally gives the company a modern and stylishly spacey mid-size crossover offering to compete with the Tesla Model Y and Hyundai Ioniq 5, vehicles burning up the sales charts and Canadian waiting lists, respectively.
The Nissan Ariya, more affordable in Canada than elsewhere
Launched earlier this year, the Ariya’s e-4orce AWD version has quickly garnered a reputation for being supremely polished inside and out, offering Infiniti-worthy quiet and sophistication, but with a price tag to match.
Part of the reason for that is its 87-kWh battery, the top battery option for the model in both Europe and North America and larger than in many rivals.
But then consider the price for this UK model as tested rings in at a lofty £61,330 – the equivalent of just over $103,000 (!) CAD at current exchange rates. All of a sudden, the fully loaded price for a similarly top-line Ariya Premiere e-4orce in Canada of $72,843 makes the Ariya seem like a major bargain in this country. True, the UK price includes tax and the Canadian one doesn’t, but there’s still a substantial gap there.
Even within North America, Canadian buyers are advantaged. The base front-drive Ariya in the U.S. that starts at $43,190 USD (or just over $57,200 CAD) comes in higher than the equivalent model in Canada after freight, at $55,843 CAD.
Baptism by fire
My traveling included a full four hours of mostly rush-hour driving in one evening to briefly visit three different famous football shrines, Overall, the Ariya provided a comfortable road trip’s worth of driving over three days – all within London city limits.
The first stop from our hotel near Wembley was Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, then onto the newest of the bunch, Tottenham Hotspur’s gleaming new stadium in North London. After that, it was over to the upscale Chelsea neighbourhood in west London for a peek at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge with the sunlight rapidly disappearing.
By the time we closed our three-stadium tour loop of London on a busy Friday night, taking dinner and ice cream stops out of the equation, we noted that we could have taken the same four hours to drive from Wembley Stadium to the actual city of Manchester 200 miles (320 km) away, this according to Google. Depending on traffic, of course.
London city planners clearly realize they are an island of right-hand drive on a European continent used to driving on the right side of the road. So downtown intersections all have blue arrows helpfully (and maybe a touch scornfully) pointing to the correct direction of travel for turning motorists.
Of course, when you’re driving on the left, it’s right turns that generally cross the most traffic, and where those signs are a reassuring confirmation that one of those famous London double-decker buses are not going to make you into a tragic ‘Tourist flattened!’ tabloid headline.
London cameras (and unexpected driving charges) are everywhere
I figured the all-electric Ariya would allow me to avoid the congestion charge for drivers who venture into the densest pocket of central London. The city brought in the charge in 2003, and for years had exempted all plug-in vehicles. But as of October 2021, to enter the dreaded congestion charge zone, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles are subject to the same £15 charge (just over C$25 these days) as all other privately owned vehicles. (Plans are for BEVs to be charged as well as of December 2025.)
Such congestion zone pricing may become a part of public discourse near you sooner than you expect. A similar plan has just been approved for New York City, which plans to introduce charges ranging from $9 to $23 USD to drive into Lower Manhattan by May 2024. This congestion zone plan, the first of its kind in North America, plans to use similar photo radar and licence-reading technology as used in London.
This will also likely involve installing road signs identifying where congestion pricing starts. And while those will soon become familiar to locals, drivers from other countries or jurisdictions could easily miss them or fail to understand them correctly.
But let’s set aside the larger debates regarding the health, societal and environmental implications of such congestion charges. What I found tough to navigate was the sheer number of other photo radar cameras in London just waiting to automatically ticket drivers, even well outside the congestion zone. And not only for speeders. Other targets include those driving a diesel vehicle older than six years old in certain areas, or driving in bus lanes, or in bus lanes at the wrong times, or driving down open streets now designated ‘low traffic neighbourhoods.’
Any of these offences can result in a snapped photos of your licence plate sent to the owner of the vehicle, likely to reach you with a rental-agency or car-sharing surcharge after the fact.
I got dinged twice by the London borough of Islington for driving down a resident-only street that neither I nor the navi system knew to avoid. Islington is one of various local jurisdictions that has in recent years instituted local traffic calming restrictions, notably by banning all vehicles not owned by residents of those particular streets.
Instead of traditional ‘Do Not Enter’ signs or ‘Local Residents Only’ warnings, there are slightly cryptic pictograms depicting a vehicle and a motorcycle in a red circle. Visiting drivers, look out carefully for these signs, especially those with an additional old-school camera graphic.
Cost ended up the equivalent of $225 CAD, payable on the Islington borough site, which would have doubled had I not paid within 14 days.
This borrowed Ariya, which as a BEV should have been exempt from the congestion charge, was not, because the licence plate either had not yet been registered to the proper London traffic authority, or had been transferred from another non-electric Nissan fleet vehicle.
So I looked up the TfL (Transport for London) site and paid the congestion charge, which needs to be paid on the day of your journey or else it rises to £17.50 (C$29.42), before it becomes a full-blown ticket after three days.
In the end, family memories were made, Manchester City won, and my Man U son at least (quietly) got to celebrate a goal and a closer game than many expected - even if he was surrounded by City blue.
Driving-wise, I’m glad to have tackled the worst of London traffic and come out physically unscathed (as did the Ariya!). Although honestly, I’d recommend leaving the driving to others in London, if only to alleviate the stress. The Uber drivers and cabbies we met were friendly and helpful with advice, while public transit is a budget-friendly option. One that allows you to focus more on the sights than the cryptic street signs.