Flowers from Japan
The Nissan Sakura is only available in Japan because it is a so-called "kei car". Such cars are completely customised to comply with Japanese tax laws to qualify for rebates. For instance, a kei car cannot be longer than 340 cm, wider than 150 cm and its top speed must be limited to 140 km/h. Meeting these requirements sometimes means making compromises and/or the use of special compact components that are much more costly than average components.
Size requirements explain why the Sakura is a short and stocky little car. While kei cars are generally cute, the Sakura combines endearing dimensions with an unusually confident look. As a result, this is a kei car to take seriously! The nose with closed grille creates a modern look and makes it clear that this is an electric car.
Given the minimal exterior dimensions, the huge interior space comes as a big surprise. And this is not relative space, but absolute space. Legroom in the rear in particular is excellent, rivalling even that of the much larger Nissan Ariya! The space in the front is huge and while kei cars are generally made for the Japanese stature, the European test driver sits regally in the front in the Sakura. There is even headroom left to ride with a hat on. The driver and co-driver sit on a "two-seater bench", as Japanese find that much cozier than two separate seats.
The style of the dashboard is similar to that of the (much more expensive!) Ariya. A combination of fabric and copper accents gives the Sakura an unusually chic look for a car in the smallest segment. Moreover, the interior in no way gives the feeling that the quality of parts or materials has been skimped on in order to offer the Sakura inexpensively.
The equipment also leaves little to be desired with keyless entry, a full climate control system, a reversing camera, parking sensors all round, an electrically operated parking brake, steering wheel heating and, of course, a full infotainment system. The latter also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via USB A and C connections on the centre console. The sound of the audio system is surprisingly full, again not giving the Sakura the idea of a small or cheap car.
With the bench seat, beautiful upholstery and all the luxuries, the Sakura's cabin is a delightful place to be, even when the car is not moving!
The most expensive part of an electric car is the battery, and the Sakura is driving proof of that. The battery has a capacity of just 20 kWh, giving a range of 180 km according to the Japanese WLTC standard. During the test drive in favourable weather conditions, this was 154 km.
The idea behind the Sakura is that this range is more than enough for most trips. It is therefore a waste of money (and the environment!) to lug around extra ballast every trip for a single exception. The "Honda e" and "Mazda MX-30" assume the same theory, but are no cheaper than electric cars with a longer range. The Nissan Sakura is actually much more economic than other electric cars (at the time of writing, converted to 16,400 euros), and thus the concept actually comes into its own this time.
For the test, it was driven from the heart of Tokyo across a huge complex of ring roads to the outlying areas where many relax in recreational areas and sports fields on riverbeds. Therefore, even after a full day of driving, tens of kilometres of range remained and there was never any stress due to lack of range (also known as "range anxiety"). Moreover, the Sakura can charge relatively quickly, although this is precisely where the big catch is: a ChaDeMo connection can be found behind the charging port, and this is virtually phased out in Europe.
To ensure that the small battery is not overloaded, Nissan has opted for a modest electric motor. In sport mode, the 63 hp / 195 Nm engine is lively and sufficient to pass smoothly or quickly merge if needed. In eco mode, performance is modest and just adequate. With the calm driving style common in Japan (the speed limit on many motorways is 60 kmh to 80 kmh), test consumption came to an extremely modest 9.9 km/kW. Like other Nissan electric cars, the Sakura can be driven with one pedal in the so-called "e-pedal"-mode.
The Sakura owes its unlikely interior space and low rolling resistance to small wheels. This has the disadvantage that the Sakura is by no means a hero when it comes to cornering. The steering is light and precise, with it always being noticeable that this is an extremely agile car. In its own way, therefore, the Sakura gives something of a feeling of superiority. When cornering, however, the tall and narrow body tilts noticeably and sometimes almost disturbingly. However, the battery ensures a low centre of gravity, so the Sakura is always quick to return to balance like a rocker.
Is it a shame that the Nissan Sakura is not available in Europe? Yes, absolutely. After all, this is the first electric car where a small-capacity battery is an advantage. It provides low weight, more dynamics, more interior space and a very low price. The latter in contrast to other Japanese electric cars, which have a high price despite a modest battery. The interior space is downright stunning for a small car.
Added to these rational arguments come the precise steering and small turning circle, which provide the necessary driving pleasure. The interior finish, thanks to a combination of fabric and copper-coloured accents, is beautiful (like a Nissan Ariya in miniature). Many kei cars fail to impress outside Japan because they have a cute and/or almost pathetic look. The Sakura, with its confident look and modern appearance, would have a chance in Europe.
In the end, only two real drawbacks prevented the test editor from taking the Sakura as hand luggage on the return flight: the steering wheel is on the right and charging is problematic in Europe because of the Japanese ChaDeMo plug.
- Very spacious
- Dynamic and agile
- Cheap to buy and use
- ChaDeMo plug
- Right steering wheel
- For sale in Japan only