When I was small, the Evans family was frequently a few minutes late to Scout meetings, church socials, Christmas parties, et al, but my mom compensated for our tardiness by bringing delicious chocolate chip cookies or an hors d'oeuvre. That’s the formula Nissan should follow with the 2023 Ariya – the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and Volkswagen ID.4 have already started the party, so the Japanese EV better bring something tasty.
Keen to show off its new baby, Nissan brought me to Madrid, Spain, to enjoy the gracefully styled Ariya against a backdrop of tapas, rioja, and pleasant Iberian weather. Mother Nature, however, missed the memo, as our group’s visit was under the cover of persistent, steady drizzle – not a big deal for the purposes of a test, since consumers at least occasionally have to drive in the rain. However, they don’t often take their electric crossovers on Madrid’s Jarama Circuit, which is the only place we were allowed to drive.
The late pre-production cars weren’t road-legal, so a validation-style obstacle course – complete with imitation roundabouts and sharp right turns – would have to do for now. While the consistent, perfectly groomed pavement wasn’t a great test of the 2023 Ariya’s real-world suspension compliance and comfort, several miles around Jarama gave me some insights into Nissan’s newest SUV.
She’s Beauty And She’s Grace
The 2023 Nissan Ariya appears even more polished in person than it does in photos. Three teensy LED elements make up each headlamp, and gracefully curved daytime running lights bookend the grille motif. Peer through the transparent grille cover and you’ll see a panel embossed with an intricate lattice of geometric designs inspired by Japanese kumiko woodworking. Unlike the Kamm-back Nissan Leaf, the Ariya has a fastback roofline that’s very well resolved. A full-width blackout panel on the rear houses the Ariya’s “Light Blade” taillamps, which live on a rear that’s pointy and geometric without resorting to the boldness of the Ioniq 5.
Inside, the Ariya makes a positive first impression with its totally flat floor and an open footwell between the driver and passenger. Nissan emphasized the airy environs with sophisticated, soft-white ambient lighting, including an unusual illuminated square on the lower center section of the firewall. Inspired by the kind of lantern one might find in the living room of a modern Japanese home, this patch glows from behind yet more kumiko-inspired mesh. You’ll also find the geometric pattern on the door panels and speaker grilles. Unfortunately, there’s lots of hard plastic in the cabin, but at least it’s got some style to it.
A two-spoke steering wheel frames the 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster, which combines with an identically sized infotainment touchscreen to form the so-called “monolith.” Beveled to reduce its resemblance to a Mercedes dash, the monolith features a reconfigurable gauge display and infotainment will feel familiar to anyone who’s driven a Rogue lately – clean, simple, and easy to operate. One new feature is a swipe function for the center screen that sends whatever is being displayed to the gauge cluster. It’s probably not any easier to swipe than just finding that info via the steering wheel buttons, but it’s still a neat party trick.
Gallery: 2023 Nissan Ariya: First Drive
Hit The Bricks
My foray behind the wheel of the Ariya came during a brief respite from Madrid’s spring showers. Our test cars were all fully equipped front-drivers with the standard 66-kilowatt-hour battery (63-kWh usable), meaning they packed a single electric motor that puts out an adequate 214 horsepower with about 215 miles of estimated range. Setting out on the track, a lead car showed our group the course, which entailed sections of city- and freeway-appropriate speed limits, obstacles like simulated roundabouts, and curvy sections of cones on Jarama’s steep up- and downhills to imitate the terrain of a mountain pass.
The Ariya acquits itself decently well in such situations, with reasonable steering feel and more than enough grunt for most drivers. Assessing maximum grip on the drenched track was difficult, but I’d anticipate the eventual production model will hold the road just fine. Helping matters is nearly perfect weight distribution thanks to the floor-mounted battery, but make no mistake, the Ariya isn’t a sport-flavored SUV like the Mustang Mach-E. Safe, stable understeer is the default, and when active, the stability controls nip all traces of fun in the bud.
Nissan says that since the Ariya will likely appeal to customers trading in internal combustion vehicles, one-pedal driving would feel foreign and uncomfortable.
And in an odd step backward from the Leaf, the Ariya doesn’t offer true one-pedal driving from its E-Pedal system, coasting below about 6 miles per hour. Nissan says that since the Ariya will likely appeal to customers trading in internal combustion vehicles, one-pedal driving would feel foreign and uncomfortable. Still, the Ioniq 5, Chevrolet Bolt, and Mustang Mach-E all have a selectable max-regen setting, so it’s hard to understand why the Ariya doesn’t. Making matters worse is a squishy left pedal that requires heavy pressure to produce heavy braking, and the handoff between regeneration and friction is vague and imprecise.
While most shoppers won’t mind the understeer or slightly overboosted steering, the brakes may give some folks pause. Although plenty powerful once you’ve hit the pedal hard enough, you’ll experience the “stop… ok stop… STOP” progression of panic the first few times you encounter a short yellow light in the Ariya.
While my driving experience with the 2023 Nissan Ariya was largely positive, using one daily may present some challenges.
If maximum performance is your goal, you’ll want to side-step the front-drive Ariya and opt for the dual-motor setup that adds an identically powerful electric unit to the rear axle. Notably, both front- and all-wheel drive will be available with either the base battery or the uprated 91-kWh-nominal, 87-kWh-usable unit that offers up to 300 miles of range – call it the Ariya+. Total output between the two motors is a robust 389 horsepower, and the even torque split from Nissan’s confusingly named E-4ORCE all-wheel-drive powertrain reduces the bucking-bronco wave of power that some EVs exhibit when applying a full cowboy boot of accelerator.
While my driving experience with the 2023 Nissan Ariya was largely positive, using one daily may present some challenges. The EV is capable of a 130-kW peak charge rate, higher than the VW ID.4 but still not terribly impressive. To its credit, Nissan says the Ariya can maintain close to that peak over most of the charge cycle – the Hyundai Ioniq 5 can only hit its class-leading 232-kW peak from about 40 to 60 percent state of charge. Owners who charge their EVs every night will appreciate Nissan’s conservative, consistent approach, but the Hyundai’s quick splash-and-dash charge rate is better for long trips.
Like many EVs, the Ariya rides on a skateboard-type platform that’s scalable for both compact and large cars. In spite of the EV crossover’s trim overall length of 182.9 inches (0.1 inch less than a Rogue), the Ariya’s 109.3-inch wheelbase is closer to that of the 111.2-inch Murano than the 106.5-inch Rogue. Instead of a frunk, the short hood is home to power control units and HVAC components – moving the latter out of the dashboard and firewall and opening up yet more passenger space. It all portends good things for the Ariya’s cabin, but in practice, I’m a bit disappointed.
It starts with a high floor, not uncommon in EVs like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4. But those crossovers compensate with a low seating position and decently high roofline, while the Ariya’s seats feel barstool-high. I couldn’t get the front chairs low enough to avoid brushing the headliner and visor with my noggin every time I leaned forward. It’s even worse in back – anyone over 6 feet tall will find themselves bumping the roof over every speed bump. And there’s not much toe room for rear-seat passengers.
On the other hand, while the Ariya’s thrones aren’t very well bolstered for cornering, they offer a thick layer of cush with plenty of lumbar and thigh support for a cozy first impression. I didn’t get enough time behind the wheel to suss out their long-term comfort, but Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats are usually pretty good at keeping backs and bums happy during interstate travel.
At 22.8 cubic feet, cargo space lags behind the Ioniq 5’s 27.2 cubes and the ID.4’s 30.3. The cargo area is long and wide, but a low roofline means hauling bikes and boxes could prove more difficult than it would in the Volkswagen. Nissan includes its thoughtful Divide-N-Hide cargo management system to keep parcels from rolling or sliding around and to segment out dirty gear from clean luggage.
Unfortunately, in-cabin storage is put at a premium. The Ariya’s sleek power sliding front armrest has barely any room beneath its well-padded lid (just enough for a phone and a wallet), and the north-south–oriented cupholders appear next to the sliding gear selector. Moving the HVAC equipment to the frunk did create space for a power-operated drawer in the center of the dashboard, but it’s too deep and its opening too narrow for easy use.
The Cost Of Style
The Ariya will appeal to customers who find its softer curves more attractive than the fun Volkswagen ID.4, techno-retro Hyundai Ioniq 5, or muscular Ford Mustang Mach-E. But a middling charge rate, interior space compromises, and merely adequate driving experience will make it a tougher sell at its current base price of $45,950 plus an unconfirmed destination charge – that’s for the long-range 91.0-kWh battery with front-wheel drive and a 300-mile range. The standard-range front-driver is coming to the US after the Ariya’s launch, and Nissan suggested it would start at less than $40,000 with the aforementioned range of 215 miles or so.
The standard-range Ariya Premiere Edition that Nissan allowed me to sample would likely carry a starting price of about $50,000 if such a configuration comes to the US – right now, the long-range Ariya+ Premiere costs $53,450. And while many Americans have it in their heads that they need at least 300 miles per charge, the reality is that most folks with regular access to convenient charging would be just fine with the lighter, cheaper standard-range Ariya.
Do I wish the 2023 Nissan Ariya were more revolutionary? Yes. Do I wish it offered a bit more sportiness and faster charging? Yes. And do I hope to sample it in more realistic conditions as soon as possible? Also yes.
It comes down to priorities. Hyundai has a fast charging experience and wild style, while Volkswagen offers a sub-$40k option in the space that could be a good entry point for first-time EV shoppers. Meanwhile, the Mustang’s sporty optional powertrains make it the muscle car refugee’s choice. While the 2023 Nissan Ariya is undeniably late to the party (and it’ll arrive in a package that doesn’t add anything very substantive to the EV crossover space), it nonetheless has subtler and prettier styling than its rivals, plus distinctly Japanese interior details and a pleasant tech suite that will eventually include hands-off ProPilot Assist 2.0.
Do I wish the 2023 Nissan Ariya were more revolutionary? Yes. Do I wish it offered a bit more sportiness and faster charging? Yes. And do I hope to sample it in more realistic conditions as soon as possible? Also yes. But at least in my limited experience, the Ariya doesn’t do anything poorly, and that may be enough to convince plenty of Rogue lessees to stay within the Nissan family when those 36 months are up, while also enticing a few fashion-conscious folks to give the company’s second EV a fair chance.
Gallery: 2023 Nissan Ariya: First Drive
2023 Nissan Ariya Platinum FWD