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Nissan’s e-Power shows that electrification can be exciting

We learn the automaker’s take on hybrid propulsion

Taking a car to a racetrack can show the most fun that you can have with it (responsibly). PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

We’ve given a brief preview of how Nissan’s e-Power technology works in general, and what it’s like to drive in the city.

While that’s the bread-and-butter of, well, almost any passenger car that will be used around town (and occasionally on the highway), there’s one quality of an automobile that turns people into automotive enthusiasts like you and me: excitement.

Yes, we’re talking about the fun stuff: flooring it from a dead stop, spirited driving around twisties, and the experience of how fast a car feels and goes. This was why Nissan Philippines brought us to Clark International Speedway to experience the fun side of its new take on electrification.

The secret's out: This will be the first e-Power vehicle that Nissan will introduce to our market. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

But first, some housekeeping:

Yes, the cars you see here are the Nissan Kicks. The camouflage is finally off, and it’s a very good-looking subcompact crossover. Unfortunately, we weren’t given more details about the vehicle (the official launch will happen in August), but we were able to find out that there will be three trim levels, and that the interior is very similar to the Almera in terms of design, tech and materials.

This is not your average self-charging hybrid drivetrain. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

The powertrain is comprised of an electric motor (the same one used in the Leaf), an inverter, a battery, and a gasoline engine that is only used to generate electricity. There is no mechanical link between the motor and the wheels.

Heck, Nissan Philippines flew in Naoki Nakada (chief powertrain engineer for e-Power, also responsible for the GT-R’s engine) and Akihiro Shibuya (from the Alliance PED Powertrain and EV Engineering Division) to give more details about the drivetrain.

These gentlemen beside Nissan Philippines president Juan Manuel Hoyos are responsible for the e-Power drivetrain. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

We learned that the Kicks has 134hp and 280Nm, and it has a better engine response compared to a vehicle with a turbocharged 2.0-liter mill.

Also, the lithium-ion battery is mounted under the front seats (the regular 12V battery is found under the trunk’s false floor). Interestingly enough, the battery is “not affected by long-term battery degradation,” and will last the lifespan of the vehicle. Of course, Nissan will offer a five-year warranty on the battery for your peace of mind.

Driving around the racetrack using one pedal is a very surreal experience. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

I’d be tackling Clark International Speedway in an electrified crossover, which is quite odd, but a novel thing to do, especially if you want to get to know the limits of a car.

We’d go around the track in an organized fashion, with designated braking and acceleration sections, cornering, and even a slalom exercise. But there was one thing we weren’t allowed to do: use the brake pedal.

The Kicks can take the beating on the track. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

The point of this short, one-lap drive was to experience how the e-Pedal Step system works in higher-energy driving situations.

To tell you the truth, it was a little bizarre, as I would instinctively reach for the brake pedal near specific braking zones around the track. I did as instructed, and it felt like someone was braking for me the moment I let off the gas.

But rather than just plain regenerative braking, the e-Pedal Step system is a little smarter, where the vehicle deceleration adjusts depending on the vehicle’s speed. At low speeds (like coming out of the pits), the vehicle can creep forward normally. At medium speeds, lifting off the accelerator will firmly brake the car with braking forces up to 0.15G or 0.18G. Finally, at higher speeds, the vehicle gently decelerates before the braking force increases.

Of course, you can coerce the system to be more aggressive with the regenerative braking in various drive modes (Eco and Sport).

Going through corners, the Kicks felt planted because of the car’s low center of gravity (thanks to the floor-mounted batteries), and the slalom section showed the car’s ability to manage itself in challenging situations (as the track had damp patches), where even the amount of regenerative braking feel was controlled by the system to not upset the vehicle as much.

Unlike other HEVs, the Kicks has the benefit of a powerful electric motor for more torque and power. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Of course, when driving the vehicle, it would want to use battery power as much as possible for a quiet, EV-like driving experience. Within reasonable speeds around the corners (and enough battery charge), the Kicks would silently putter about the circuit.

Flooring it down the back straight of CIS made the engine fire up to provide more power to the battery as we reached speeds of 100-120km/h. The constant droning sound may unsettle people not used to the car, but that’s only because the motor stays at the ideal rpm range for the best fuel economy in all situations.

Plus, the benefit of instant torque from the electric motor meant that the Kicks could easily rocket out of turns and hit 70-80km/h in a few seconds, so it was easy to see how this car feels faster than one with a reasonably sized turbocharged mill.

You can have fun responsibly with the e-Power drivetrain. Just find the right place and time for it. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

It was plain as day to see how the engineers managed to inject fun into the e-Power’s DNA, especially as one of them had a hand in developing the R35 GT-R‘s powertrain.

Heck, one of the Kicks units that were used for several hot laps showed an average fuel consumption of 13.3km/L, which is impressive for something that was pushed around the racetrack for a bit.

This goes to show that you can also have your fun-flavored slice of the cake and eat it without having to worry about your wallet as you go for a spirited drive on your favorite back roads.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.