2023 Nissan Ariya First Drive Review: A Stylish, Capable Family Hauler

Electric Cars

When Nissan first announced that they would soon be bringing an all-electric crossover to market, there weren’t any such vehicles available for sale in North America. That was back in 2019, and a few months later Tesla began production of the Model Y, which has become its most popular model to date. 

However, when the Ariya arrives in showrooms this fall, the Model Y isn’t the only BEV crossover it has to contend with. There are no less than four other all-electric vehicles that have been introduced and launched since Nissan first told us they would be adding another all-electric vehicle to its fleet to complement the very popular LEAF.  

In addition to the Model Y, the Ariya will undoubtedly be crossed-shopped with the Volkswagen ID.4, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Kia EV6, all very good electric vehicles in their own right. Therefore, we set out on this first-drive event with the goal of trying to determine exactly where the Ariya fits in. 

Quick Stats 2023 Nissan Ariya
Motor Externally Excited Synchronous Motor(s) 
Power 215 hp to 389 hp / 221 lb-ft to 442 lb-ft 
0-60 mph 4.8 seconds to 7.2 seconds
Range 215 mi to 300 mi (est)
Battery pack  66 kWh (63 kWh usable) / 91 kWh (87 kWh usable)
DC Fast Charge CCS connector; 130 kW peak rate
Price as tested $50,000 *estimated (before incentives)

Nissan provided InsideEVs with travel and accommodations for our two-day trip to Madrid, Spain, for the first look and initial driving impressions event. We had the opportunity to take a front-wheel-drive pre-production Ariya with the 66 kWh battery pack around the Circuito del Jarama, a racetrack in Madrid for a few laps.

The track was set up with a variety of sections established to simulate different driving conditions. We would have loved the opportunity to get an all-wheel-drive Ariya with the larger 91 kWh battery pack and Nissan’s e-4ORCE technology out on the track, but alas, those vehicles aren’t ready for outside testing just yet.

The AWD Ariya with e-4ORCE will arrive in dealerships in late fall, a couple of months after the FWD version launches. Nissan did bring an e-4ORCE test mule in the body of a LEAF to the event and allowed us to take a ride (not drive) to show us the difference the e-Force system makes. 

The Ariya’s e-4ORCE powertrain promises to offer a powerful, smooth, high-output driving experience, as well as unparalleled ride comfort for all passengers. Quite often passengers riding in EVs that have powerful, instant acceleration as well as strong lift-off brake regeneration will complain of motion sickness due to the back-and-forth rocking motion. Nissan’s e-4ORCE system was developed to eliminate that issue, without compromising the performance, braking, or handling characteristics of the Ariya. 

Driving Experience

As mentioned above, we didn’t really get enough seat time for a thorough, comprehensive driving review, that will have to wait until we have the opportunity to drive the Ariya for a full day or longer. We’re told that the opportunity to do so is only a few months away. However, even though it was only a short stint in the Ariya, it was enough to get the feel for what to expect when we do – and that also helped us to better understand where this vehicle will fit into the BEV crossover scene. 

The plush, comfortable interior paired with the smooth ride should attract buyers that value style, comfort, and a soft ride over those looking to carve up winding canyon roads. In that regard, the Ariya is more in line with a Hyundai Ioniq 5 than it is a Kia EV6 or Mustang Mach-E, even if it is more stylish than the retro-themed Ioniq 5. 

Nissan claims the FWD variant that we drove (214 hp & 221 lb-ft torque) will accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and that felt about right. I might have guessed about 8 seconds but the track was wet as we had intermittent showers during the drive, so that could have added a little to the launch time. 

Nissan Ariya
Nissan Ariya

There was a surprisingly little understeer when I pushed the Ariya hard in the turns, even though it is heavy, (slightly over 4,000lbs) FWD, and the surfaces were slick. I doubt the typical Ariya owner will find themselves analyzing the performance at its limit, though. That might be more of a concern for Mustang Mach-E, KIA EV6, and Tesla Model Y owners, as those competing crossovers are more sport-oriented than the Ariya. 

The Ariya has three driving modes; Sport, Standard, and Eco, each of which has an influence on the strength and behavior of the regenerative braking system and also a distinctive driving feel and pedal response.

Nissan Ariya driver's display

Nissan Ariya driver’s display showing the three selectable driving modes

May The e-4ORCE Be With You

I was a little surprised to learn that Nissan has changed up the regenerative braking and unlike the LEAF, the Ariya doesn’t offer one-pedal driving, even with E-Pedal driving mode selected. The more aggressive E-Pedal mode will bring the Ariya down to about 6 mph rather quickly, but no further. The driver needs to use the friction brakes to come to a full stop. 

In our opinion, it would have been a good idea to have true one-pedal driving selectable in the vehicle settings, so those that like it can have it. Many experienced EV owners really love one-pedal driving dynamics, even though some new to EVs initially find it unusual.

Nissan is clearly trying to make the transition to electric drive as seamless as possible for those coming from conventionally-fueled vehicles. The lack of true one-pedal driving, as well as the e-4ORCE AWD system, are two prime examples of how they plan to achieve that. We suspect that it would be possible to add such a sitting via an OTA update, something the Ariya is capable of receiving if enough Ariya customers ask Nissan for it. 

The Ariya employs the same externally excited synchronous motor (EESM) upfront for the FWD model as it does in the rear for the AWD version. Nissan will adjust the power delivery through software alone, as the motors are physically identical. This is a break from the motor used in the LEAF and e-NV200, which utilize permanent magnet synchronous motors. 

The Aryia is built on Nissan’s skateboard CMF-EV scalable platform. As with other dedicated EV skateboard-type platforms, such a design allows the Ariya to have a long wheelbase, which can lead to improved ride and handling. Even though the Ariya is basically the same overall length as a Nissan Rogue (182.9″ compared to 183.0″ for the Rogue), the Ariya’s wheelbase is nearly 3″ longer (109.3″compared to 106.5″ for the Rogue).

2023 Nissan Ariya pricing (*91 kWh battery pack)

Model Base Price Dest. Charge Tax Credit Effective Price
2023 Nissan Ariya Venture+ FWD 19″ $45,950 +$1,175 $7,500 $39,625
2023 Nissan Ariya Evolve+ FWD 19″ $48,950 +$1,175 $7,500 $42,625
2023 Nissan Ariya Premiere FWD 19″ (limited edition)
$53,450 +$1,175 $7,500 $47,125
2023 Nissan Ariya Platinum+ e-4ORCE AWD 19″ $58,950 +$1,175 $7,500 $52,625

*Nissan hasn’t released pricing for the 66 kWh battery pack versions. The Ariya Venture FWD with the smaller pack is expected to start at about $40,000.

Battery, Range, and Charging

The Ariya will arrive this fall with two battery options; a 66 kWh (63 kWh usable) pack as well as a 91 kWh (87 kWh usable). Both packs use 400-v cells and have a sophisticated liquid thermal management system, which is a major upgrade over the air-cooled setup employed in Nissan’s other all-electric offering, the LEAF. Having such a system should eliminate, or at the very least, greatly reduce the chance of early battery degradation and capacity loss. 

Nissan Ariya first drive

The Ariya’s battery pack options fare well in comparison to the other crossovers in its class. In fact, Ariya’s battery is larger than all of its competitors with the exception of the Ford Mustang Mach-E. The driving range will vary depending on the chosen powertrain configuration as well as which battery pack is fitted to the vehicle.

EPA range certification hasn’t been established, but Nissan estimates the front-wheel-drive Ariya with the 91 kWh battery pack will achieve a range certification of 300 miles per charge. On the other end of the spectrum, the all-wheel-drive Ariya with the 66 kWh pack is expected to deliver 215 miles of EPA-rated range. 

Battery size for the competing BEV crossovers:

  • Nissan Ariya:       66 kWh / 91 kWh
  • Tesla Model Y:      60 kWh / 82 kWh
  • Ford Mach-E:       75.5 kWh / 98.8 kWh
  • Volkswagen ID.4: 55 kWh / 82 kWh
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5:  58 kWh / 77.4 kWh
  • Kia EV6:              58 kWh / 77.4 kWh

For North America and Europe, Nissan is transitioning from the CHAdeMO DC fast charge standard that they use in the LEAF, to the Combined Charging System (CCS or Combo) for the Ariya. The Ariya will join the LEAF and use CHAdeMO in Japan and will employ the Chinese standard in China. The LEAF will continue to use CHAdeMO, but if/when the next-generation LEAF goes into production, it too will transition to the CCS standard. 

The Ariya can accept up to 130 kW when DC fast charging, which isn’t quite as high speed as some of the new EVs can charge at. However, we learned at the event that Nissan has been working on providing a “flat charging curve” for the Ariya, which means it will be able to hold its maximum charging rate deep into the pack. 

Nissan Ariya first drive

Nissan’s move to CCS for the Ariya pretty much ends any hope of a CHAdeMO resurgence in the US and Europe.

That’s good news for Ariya owners because the charging curve is just as important, perhaps more important, than the maximum charging rate an EV can accept. If Nissan is able to hold a relatively flat curve up to the 70% to 80% state of charge point, then the Ariya with the large battery pack will likely charge from 10% to 80% in about 35 minutes. That’s comparable with other EVs that have a higher maximum DC fast charge rate, but a charging curve that tapers down shortly after the charging session begins. 

We wanted to test out the Ariya’s DC fast charging capabilities, and Nissan tried to arrange, but there weren’t any close enough to the track in Madrid to do so in the short time we had. Once we have more time with the Ariya in the coming months, we’ll document the full charging curve and compare it to the other EVs in this segment.

As for level 2 charging, the Ariya comes standard with a 40-amp (9.6 kW) onboard charger which should replenish about 30 miles of range to the Ariya for every hour of charging. The Ariya will come standard with the same dual-voltage (120-v / 240-v) portable charging cable as the LEAF Plus.

On The Inside

We found the Ariya’s interior to be one of its strongest aspects compared to its prime competitors. The EV dedicated CMF-EV platform allows for a completely flat floor and Nissan also moved the heating and cooling equipment as well as other modules usually located behind the dashboard forward into the traditional engine compartment.

In doing so the Ariya has more front passenger space and larger, more airy footwells. On the downside, by moving all that equipment upfront, there’s no room left over for any front storage space, therefore, there is no frunk. Nissan isn’t the only EV manufacturer to sacrifice a frunk so there could be more front passenger space. Cadillac (Lyriq) and BMW (iX & i4) both recently told us that was the reason their upcoming EVs don’t have a frunk, and Volkswagen also offered that explanation when the ID.4 first launched. 

However, the Ariya boasts plenty of cargo space without a frunk. The rear seats fold almost completely flat and increase the 22.8 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats to an impressive 59.7 cubic feet.

Nissan Ariya first drive

There’s no storage space under the hood of the Ariya

There is a good amount of hard plastics as we typically find in vehicles in this class and price range, but the Ariya seems to incorporate them better than the others. Personally, I didn’t mind the look and feel of the hard plastics in the Ariya as much as I did in the Hyundai Ioniq 5, for instance. 

The minimalistic sweeping dash with simulated wood grain and flush haptic buttons for the climate control looks upscale, almost as if it should be in an Infinity rather than a Nissan. In fact, one of the other journalists actually said to me that he thought the Ariya felt more like an Infinity after the test drive.

One niggle I had with the front seating position was that the front seats don’t seem to lower far enough for tall passengers to have adequate headroom. I’m only 5’8″ and there was plenty of headroom for me, but even with the seat in its lowest position, I didn’t have as much headroom as I usually have or like to see. If you’re a 6’+ in height you should definitely sit in an Ariya and make sure you have enough headroom – but that should go without saying. 

Actually, with all of these great choices in the all-electric crossover segment, we really urge you to try out all of them before buying one. Thinking about getting a Mustang Mach-E? Go test drive a Kia EV6 also. Maybe you’ve had your eye on an Ioniq 5? Check out the Volkswagen ID.4 first. And when the Ariya lands in dealer’s showrooms in early fall, make sure to take a look before making a purchase. 

In fact, if you prioritize a comfortable ride and premium styling over high performance (although the AWD 91 kWh pack Ariya will be quite a performer) you owe it to yourself to check out the Ariya before deciding which of these five BEV crossovers will end up in your driveway.

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