2023 Nissan Ariya Electric SUV Prototype Drive: Smooth and Steady

So here we are, three years later, driving a preproduction Ariya ahead of it finally hitting the market in North America this fall, with three front-wheel-drive trims from the start, and one all-wheel drive option to follow a few months after the launch. Reservations opened in November; first on the list is actress and brand ambassador Brie Larson. 

Sampling the Single Motor 2023 Nissan Ariya

Our interest in the final Ariya has been piqued during the long wait. This is the first Nissan on the new CMF-EV dedicated electric vehicle platform that will underpin the lion’s share of future EVs for the intermingled Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, Infiniti, and Alpine brands globally over the next decade. The base Ariya starts at $47,075, positioning it above the entry-level Nissan Leaf. More EVs are coming that will further fill the gap between the Leaf and Ariya, Nissan has assured us.

Nissan’s “Ambition 2030” plan calls for 23 electrified vehicles under the Nissan and Infiniti portfolios, including 15 battery-electric vehicles. While Europe, Japan, and China will adopt pure EVs faster, Nissan forecasts 40 percent of its U.S. sales will be EVs by 2030, a tenfold increase from the current 4 percent EV share today. But much of that will hinge on the success of the new Ariya. 

We traveled to Madrid to hop into some Euro-spec Ariyas with the standard battery and single motor. The Ariya will be available with a choice of a 66-kWh standard liquid-cooled battery (of which 63 kWh are usable) or a 91-kWh long-range battery (of which 87 kWh are usable). Both sizes will be available at launch in the fall but so far Nissan has only been taking reservations for models with the long-range battery.

The Ariya has a modest 130-kW DC fast charge rate. The charge port is in front of the passenger door for North America; for Japan it is on the other side to continue to use that country’s CHAdeMO charging system.

The smaller battery and front-drive single motor gives you 214 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. American customers are expected to tilt to the larger long-range battery providing 238 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque with a single motor and a range of about 300 miles from a single charge. 

Braking Feels Natural

Engineers have also done a good job making the brakes feel natural, a challenge with EVs with regenerative braking. The pedal has good feel, no excessive travel or mushiness. It acts exactly as you would expect, which will reassure many first-time buyers. It is also extremely effective: our acceleration may not have been neck-snapping but our braking was.

Steering of the preproduction models was well-weighted and precise to the point of being abrupt. The course laid out on a track in Madrid had some extremely sharp turns and the vehicle proved quite adroit. The turning circle felt smaller than that of a Nisan Leaf. For those who enjoy one-pedal driving, you can engage e-pedal on the Ariya with the push of a button, and it operates the same way it does on the current Leaf.

It was pouring rain when we took the Ariya out and the 19-inch tires loved the wet surface track more than anticipated, even without a second motor for stability. In fact, the EV-oriented tires were less happy when the pavement dried. The suspension, tuned for higher-speed driving in Europe, is a bit stiffer than what we can expect in the U.S. There was little body roll during our multiple laps.

Nissan e-4FORCE AWD a Couple Months After Launch

Those who want dual motors for all-wheel drive, a system Nissan calls e-4ORCE, must wait until late fall. The AWD models offer 389 hp and 442 lb-ft with the long-range battery and about 265 miles of range. Figures have not been released for the Ariya with e-4ORCE with the standard battery. Nissan executives expect 60 percent of buyers to opt for the dual-motor setup.

Unlike some dual-motor EVs that have a smaller motor in the front, the Ariya has the same size motor front and back, contributing to a perfect 50-50 weight distribution for the car which helps keep the car from pitching forward and provides better handling.

Nissan expects the Ariya will be the first EV for many buyers and effort went into not spooking them. Many EVs take advantage of so much torque at the ready to blast off the line. Nissan tempered the experience: initial throttle response is far greater than the combustion engine crossover buyers likely traded it, but the Ariya is not calibrated to launch like a rocket ship.

Getting a Taste for e-4ORCE

For a sense of what e4ORCE will be like, Nissan had a one-off engineering project referred to as the Super Leaf outfitted with dual motors. We did runs with e4ORCE turned off and then on. The launch was quicker when on. Where we noticed the biggest difference was an exercise of running to 38 mph, backing off to 25 mph, and repeating several times.

Turning on e-4ORCE stopped the nose from dropping and the vehicle from porpoising. In the Ariya, the smoother ride is designed to prevent motion sickness, especially in an EV with greater spurts of acceleration. Overall the specially equipped Leaf offered a taste of the additional quickness and surefootedness we can expect from the Ariya with e-4ORCE.

The Ariya is the size of a Nissan Rogue but with the interior space of a Nissan Murano courtesy of the flat, low floor. It means no raised knees and ample legroom for the second-row passengers, but the sloping roofline might make headroom tricky for tall backseat occupants. 

The Ariya is striking with its slim LED headlights and can’t miss ’em wide daytime running lights. The taillights use a new material that gives them a smoked, blacked-out stealth look when off, firing up a long red bar across the back when on.

Celebrating Japanese Design

The Ariya celebrates Japanese culture. Soft Andon lighting on the doors and in the foot area between front seat passengers set the mood, inspired by Japanese lanterns. Kumiko patterns, derived from Japanese woodwork, can be seen throughout the cabin. 

Inside there are dual 12-inch screens with crisp graphics. Commands can be done on screen or via a string of light-touch haptic controls incorporated into the wood trim that spans the cockpit. This will appease those who prefer physical switchgear while keeping the overall look clean and simple. 

Call out “Hey Nissan” to activate the virtual personal assistant who will perform commands such as adjusting temperature or opening the window. Amazon’s Alexa is also incorporated into the Ariya so the vehicle and home can communicate. These functions were not fully baked on our prototypes so we could not see how well they work.

Interior touches include a copper line of trim below the screens and above the haptic controls. A band of light rings the dash where it meets the windshield and extends along the doors. During normal driving it is white. With ProPilot with navigation activated, the band turns green, and with ProPilot 2.0 hands-free highway driving engaged, the color turns to blue.

Hidden Second Glovebox

One cool feature is the powered center glovebox (in addition to a regular one) with a tray for a tablet to help wile away time while charging. Push a button and it lifts up and pops open. The space was made possible by moving the HVAC system to the area no longer needed to house an engine. Nissan chose to fill the real estate this way, as opposed to offering a front trunk or frunk for extra storage. 

Another intriguing idea is the center console that extends and retracts with the push of a button. Below it is a pair of USB ports and an oval to wind a cord around to reduce clutter. For even less clutter, go for wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless charging. Android Auto will be coming as a future update but not in the first model year.

The Ariya is a pivot point for Nissan with much more to come. The next-generation Leaf will slide over to the CMF-EV platform, and there are two electric sedans on tap that will be built at the Canton, Mississippi plant in 2025. We should see them later this year. One will be badged Nissan, the other Infiniti. And while they are sedans, we are told they will not have the traditional sedan shape, but more of an aerodynamic raised sedan that might have a hatch for utility. 

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