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Nissan Serena E-Power review: Electric serenade

Nissan puts a novel spin on petrol-electric power with its eccentric but efficient Serena E-Power seven-seater.

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Nissan's Serena E-Power drives like an electric car, with instant torque and near silence. But instead of juicing up at an electric charging point when your range is running low, you simply swing back to your local gas station and pump in some good ol' liquified dinosaur.

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Singapore

HERE'S a conundrum for soccer moms (or dads, as the case might be): say you need a large, spacious multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) to haul the brood around, but since larger cars tend to pollute more, you're acutely aware that by giving the kids comfort, you're also impacting their futures.

Until battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) become more feasible, here's a workable solution.

Nissan's Serena E-Power drives like an electric car, with instant torque and near silence. But instead of juicing up at an electric charging point when your range is running low, you simply swing back to your local gas station and pump in some good ol' liquified dinosaur.

"E-Power" is what Nissan calls its petrol-electric hybrid technology system. It promises the driving experience of a BEV without the perceived hassles of BEV ownership, namely finding a charging station and then waiting hours for your battery to trickle back to 100 per cent.

Like a Toyota Prius or any other regular hybrid car, the Serena E-Power has an engine, a battery pack, and an electric motor. But unlike other hybrids currently out there, the Serena's 1.2-litre petrol engine has no mechanical connection to the car's wheels.

Instead, it acts as a mobile generator, charging a small 1.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which in turn gives the 136 horsepower electric motor what it needs to power the car's front wheels. Petrol gives it electricity, and electricity makes it go.

It may sound like a Rube Goldberg's Amazing Solar Powered Torch way of making a car move, but the key benefit is that the engine only ever runs when it's needed, and when it does it's always in its most efficient range.

If the past three paragraphs were all Greek to you, don't sweat it. The important thing to take away is that Nissan's E-Power system really does work well in Singapore. The proof is in the fact that the towering Serena can deliver the fuel efficiency of a small hatchback, despite looking like a small skyscraper.

The car is very tall and narrow, and at close to 1.8-tonnes, is no lightweight either. In fact, while it's taller than a BMW X5 sport utility vehicle (SUV), and nearly the same length as a BMW 5 Series, it's narrower than BMW's smallest conventional car, the 1 Series.

You can drive the Serena like a conventional car (right pedal to go and left one to stop) but then doing so means you miss a feature that makes city driving less of a chore. Like Nissan's Leaf BEV, from which engineers glommed plenty of know-how, you can toggle a one-pedal driving mode, meaning you can accelerate or slow down using the gas pedal alone, making use of regenerative braking to slow the car. That involves less tap dancing in slow, urban crawls, which incidentally is where the Serena really shines.

In urban driving, the car is mostly silent since the engine only kicks in when needed, which is surprisingly seldom, leaving you to enjoy the EV-like driving experience, smooth acceleration and plenty of low-speed vigour thanks to the motor's 320 Newton-metres of torque.

When the engine does operate, it's quite obvious since the three-cylinder sends an audible thrum through the wide open cabin, though it typically only operates for short periods of time, so it's not a huge bother.

At low speed, the sound is in obvious contrast to the electric silence, but it blends into the background on highways, which is just as well since it operates almost constantly at those velocities.

The seating position is tall enough for you to go eyeball-to-eyeball with any SUV driver, while the huge glass panels give you a panoramic view of the road, which aids in-town maneuvering while allowing plenty of sunshine in.

The tallness isn't just there for show. A high ceiling and sliding doors that are hands-free thanks to foot sensors mean no stooping to enter, and the spacious second row has fully-reclining, adjustable seats with armrests and tray tables. Even the third row can fit two full-sized adults easily, or three at a squeeze.

But as you might have guessed, a boxy MPV like this isn't built for driver enjoyment. The fact that it seats seven people, is 4.9-metres long and weighs almost 1.8-tonnes encourages you to take it smooth and slow.

It absolutely quells any urge to drive fast, but that's probably a good thing given that the Serena is a car designed to wring a lot out of every drop of gasoline.

During our test drive in Singapore, which covered approximately 200km, the Serena was able to consume only 6.0L/100km, which is the sort of score you'd expect to see from a small family car.

Like other hybrids, the Serena delivers even better fuel efficiency around town (roughly 5.5L/100km), rather than on the highway (as high as 7.0L/100km in our testing), where the higher speeds mean the efficiency gap to a normal car is slimmer.

But overall in efficiency terms it's still far, far better than any MPV of similar stature, and it even has a relatively small price tag - less than S$150,000 with COE for a six-plus-one seater, made possible by its S$10,000 pollution rebate.

Electric cars might be the wave of the future, but hybrids have been the way to go for the past decade at least, and will continue to remain a solid choice for consumers who want great cost effectiveness.

The big bonus is that efficiency like this will leave parents with the feeling that they're doing more for their kids than just ferrying them from A to B.


Nissan Serena E-Power

Engine 1,198cc, inline 3
Power 84hp at 6,000rpm
Torque 103Nm at 3,200-5,200rpm
Gearbox Single Speed Reduction Gear
Electric Motor 136hp/320Nm
Battery Lithium Ion, 1.8kWh
System power 136hp
System torque 320Nm
Top Speed Not revealed
0-100kmh Not revealed
Fuel efficiency 5.4L/100km
Price S$144,300 with COE
Agent Tan Chong Motor Sales
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