Expert Reviews

2023 Nissan Ariya AWD First Drive Review

The United Nations (UN) has just released its comprehensive report on the current – and near-future – state of climate change, outlining the utterly disastrous scenarios that lie ahead if swift and wide-spread changes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions aren’t made globally.

It claims that Canada, for instance, must cut carbon emissions by nearly half by 2030 if there’s to be any hope. That timeframe aligns with Nissan’s claimed efforts towards its Ambition 2030 plan that’s set to unveil 27 new electrified products, including 19 new all-electric models within the next seven years.

First on that list is the 2023 Nissan Ariya, an all-electric crossover that certainly looks like a glimpse into the brand's future. This electric vehicle (EV) first launched last year in a front-wheel drive format, with this all-wheel-drive version undoubtedly adding to its appeal.

Futuristic Styling

The Ariya's design language embraces what the brand calls "timeless Japanese futurism," and our stunning tester looked like a concept car that escaped the turntable and left the convention hall. The vibrant red paint was deep and rich and caused the sunlight to reflect brilliantly, contrasting with the black roof, lower fascia, and wheel arches.

From the rear, there’s more than a passing resemblance to a Range Rover Velar (arguably one of the snazziest-looking SUVs on the road), while the front end is a science fiction version of the Nissan Murano, with its blacked-out grille area housing all the advanced safety sensors and fashioned with Japanese Kumiko design themes that are repeated inside. The dramatic 20-inch wheels seen here are unfortunately only for the American market, with 19-inch alloys being the largest Canadian cars will wear from the factory.

Premium Interior

The Ariya’s interior is surprisingly well-finished, with materials portraying an impressively high-end feel. Our test unit wore supple leather seats, a blue-ish faux-suede panel on the dash, plus convincing wood-like swaths that include the embedded haptic controls for climate adjustment. While more traditional knobs and buttons are typically favoured for their ease of use, the Ariya’s controls proved to be highly responsive and relatively easy to find when driving. Meanwhile, the centre console can be motored forward or aft to position the armrest and the console’s controls, including the drive mode switches, to a position that best suits the driving position.

Space and Comfort

Nissan has earned praise over the past several years for its comfortable seats that help stave off fatigue even during long stints behind the wheel. The Ariya’s seats are thinner and lighter than the brand's earlier so-called zero-gravity thrones, yet they still offer excellent support and proved just as comfortable even after hundreds of kilometres during this test through northern California.

The Ariya’s interior offers ample space, with both front- and rear occupant areas feeling at least as spacious as they do in key competitors like the Volkswagen ID.4. behind the hatch, an easily accessible cargo hold will swallow up to 1,691 L of stuff with the rear seats folded, which is about mid-pack for the class. There isn't a frunk up front, although that extra storage area remains the exception rather than the rule.

Competent Performance

Of course, most of the above applies to the single motor, front-wheel-drive version of the Ariya, but the all-wheel-drive version tested here differs by the addition of a second motor. The result is a bump in output, from 238 hp to 389 hp and from 221 lb-ft of torque to 442 lb-ft. The Ariya's zero-to–100 km/h times also drop from a lukewarm 7.6 seconds to a claimed 5.1 seconds.

While still off the mark compared to sizzling offerings like the Kia EV6 GT, Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition, and Tesla Model Y Performance, it’s plenty quick to beat most traffic across the intersection, and provide plenty of thrust for on-ramp merging and passing. What’s more, the throttle has been calibrated for that power to be applied very smoothly, unlike some EVs that can be somewhat snappy. (A sport drive mode allegedly gives the Ariya more responsive throttle and steering inputs, but all we noticed was the addition of a sporty sound effect to accompany the acceleration.)

Beyond simply applying torque to all four corners, the all-wheel drive system, which Nissan has dubbed "e-4ORCE," measures the distribution carefully in order to maximize available grip at all times. To prove this, we were turned loose on a watered-down autocross circuit at Sonoma Raceway with the instruction of pinning the throttle on a tight hairpin turn. The Ariya responded by clawing away impressively and rocketing out of the turn.

More telling, on the twisty, hilly roads heading out from Bodega Bay, Calif., the Ariya felt secure and planted, even when hustled at surprising speed. However, with minimal steering feel, the Ariya’s performance is best described as competent and capable rather than outright sporty.

So-So Efficiency

Both front- and all-wheel-drive versions get a standard 63-kWh battery pack, with an 87-kWh battery available on upper trims. Power and torque are reduced somewhat for the all-wheel-drive Ariya with the smaller battery, topping out at 335 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. Range estimates provided by Nissan have the 63-kWh battery capable of providing 348 km with front-wheel drive and 330 with all-wheel drive, while the 87-kWh unit can cover a claimed 490 km with front- and 428 km with all-wheel drive.

When we set out, our test unit showed a 95 per cent charge and a 371-km range, suggesting even at full charge, would only achieve 390 km. Throughout the drive day as the kilometres rose, it appeared to be an accurate estimate despite a mix of highway driving and spirited back-road sections.

Nissan claims the Ariya can recharge from 10 to 80 per cent in 35 minutes at a 63-kW rate. A maximum charge rate of 130 kW is said to enable the majority of the Ariya’s charge to take place at peak speed compared to the advertised notably higher peak rates of some competitive models that only maintain peak rate for short periods of time. Most Ariya models come with battery thermal preconditioning to enable greater efficiency in cold weather.

Features and Tech

The Ariya is a rolling showcase for Nissan, with the first application of its advanced safety and driver-assist suite called ProPilot 2.0 that offers hands-free highway driving and assisted lane changes; however, it’s currently only functional in the U.S. Even so, ProPilot 1.0 is standard on all Ariya models, as is a self-parking system, along with a pair of 12-inch curved screens in front of the driver. The infotainment touchscreen proved responsive during our drive, and Apple CarPlay operated seamlessly when connected wirelessly (Android Auto still requires a hardwired input). The only hiccup was that my phone couldn’t coax any juice from the standard wireless charge pad.

The Ariya also offers available heated front and rear seats, plus ventilation up front, a heated steering wheel, power panoramic sunroof, rear-view camera mirror, and head-up display on upper trims, rounding a very comprehensive equipment list.

Pricing and Availability

While the Ariya rings in at an attractive $52,998 to start, that's for a front-wheel-drive version with the small battery. Stepping up to an all-wheel-drive model adds a lot of interior features as well as the dual motor set up, and the price jumps to $60,598. Pricier trims, meanwhile, ring in at $69,198 and $69,998, but all those units destined for Canadian customers are expected to be already spoken for in pre-orders. The Ariya also requires an additional destination charge of $2,095, which is non-negotiable, but every trim qualifies for the full federal tax rebate of $5,000 off the purchase price. It also qualifies for provincial and territorial rebates where they're available.

Final Thoughts

The smoothness, refinement, styling and finishes all speak to the 2023 Nissan Ariya’s lofty pricing in top trim, but it may have some buyers looking toward a premium brand alternative for a similar sum (and begging the question of how much longer it’ll be until there’s an Infiniti variation of the Ariya). It's available now – if you can find one – in front-wheel drive format, with all-wheel-drive models set to arrive in dealerships later this spring or early summer. Pre-orders have claimed the first few months’ of shipments, and when asked how long deliveries on new orders will take, Nissan’s spokespeople didn’t have a clear answer.

Nissan has a well-established history of EVs, with more than 600,000 of its electric Leaf models sold globally over the past dozen years. The Ariya is a clear indicator of the company’s intended electrified path forward, and it’s an impressive machine that feels worthy of its premium price.