Auto123 gets in a first drive of the 2023 Nissan Ariya.
Nashville, TN - After some bumps on the road, namely delays caused by the pandemic and shortages of microchips and other components, the long-announced Nissan Ariya is here. Nissan’s next EV has been long in coming. The customs agent before me, as I mentioned I was heading to Nashville to drive it, said simply, “so they’ll have something other than the LEAF!?”. Yup.
We’ve known for some time what the Ariya looks like, and first concept then preproduction versions have been presented here and there. But this was our first occasion to get into it, settle in, and then take it out onto the road. And this we did.
The Empower+ version we drove on this warm and sunny fall day was actually itself still a preproduction model, and in fact the version – a larger-battery format with front-wheel drive – won’t even be offered in Canada. But we couldn’t find much indication of its embryonic status – no creaks, no loose panels, etc. – and this version will have rough equivalents in the Canadian lineup, so the exercise was instructive all the same.
First of all, we were able to confirm pretty quickly the very comfortable zero-gravity seating Nissan is rightly applauded for. These sit in an airy, streamlined interior the aim of which is to take full advantage of the possibilities of the absence of an ICE drivetrain (which allows for flat floors). To do what? To maximize space and minimize clutter.
Counting the number of physical buttons on the dash and centre console, for example, won’t take you very long and you may be done before you use up the fingers on one hand. Thankfully, there is a physical audio volume button. But beyond that, pretty much everything is done via haptic buttons on a row on the console and more on the bottom of that console, or else via the touchscreen.
Clearly, the focus here was to create a certain design, but as is often the case, sometimes the pursuit of minimalism and purity of lines can create a certain blindness to questions of user-friendliness. No haptic button will give the same kind of immediate feedback that a button or knob will, which means there’s always a split-second more inattention to the road. A few more of those physical commands would make for improved user-friendliness, in my view.
We also wondered about that tray (or console box), discretely hidden away in the dash below the infotainment screen. It can only be opened by holding down a, yes, haptic button. Within is a pad for charging your smartphone, which is good, but it feels a little slight. Like it could eventually break when some user will, inevitably, ignore the instruction to only close the thing via the haptic button and try to shut it manually.
As for that infotainment screen, it’s part of a double package of dual 12-inch displays (the other is the driver data screen to its left). It makes for a pleasing display, streamlined and sober in comparison with some of the crazily outsized screen setups elsewhere. But some folks might prefer a crazily outsized screen setup. It’ll be for consumers to decide if it’s a plus or a negative for them.
Otherwise, there was little to complain about in terms of graphics and response times when it came to both screens. Apple CarPlay is available wirelessly, Android Auto isn’t. Not fair, but so it is.
The upside to the minimalist approach is of course an increased feeling of space. To give you an idea, the wheelbase of the Ariya is 2,775 mm, much more than that of the Rogue compact SUV, and almost equal to that of the midsize Murano. This even though overall length at 4,645 is barely more than the Rogue’s. So wheels, as you can see from profile views, have been shoved to the extremities to maximize occupant space.
Behind that, the rear cargo space is plenty large enough at 645 litres with seats in place, and 1,691 with the rear seats down.
On the road
Well as usual with these kinds of early test drives, there are caveats to be made, given that we were driving on truly pristine roads in and especially around Nashville. The Ariya was a supremely quiet and smooth rider on these gently winding roads and highways that my colleague and I, both from Quebec, a province of rough-and-tumble, craggy surfaces generous folks will call roads, could only wistfully pine for for for back home. But that was what it was.
The road was so quiet with this ICE-free vehicle, in fact, that we forgave the young deer that darted out in front of us on a quiet road not 20 minutes into our morning route for not hearing of our approach. It was an occasion to put the Ariya’s braking to a rapid, unexpected test. Fortunately my eagle-eyed companion at the wheel had spotted the thing before I did and we had a very narrow miss. His take on the braking? Good, but it could have had more bite.
By the way, the Ariya comes with brake regeneration (called e-Step), so you can recover charge as you go, particularly on hilly roads and in traffic. But it’s only a partial system, slowing the vehicle but still requiring braking. There’s no true one-pedal driving possible, like we have in the LEAF. Nissan says it’s to avoid chasing off first-time EV buyers, but users can simply not use the setting if they don’t like it. It’s a shame, because once you get used to that method, it’s great, and it really helps recover range, especially in urban settings.
Otherwise, we both found that acceleration was, as you’d expect from an EV, solid right from a stop. All the torque being available right away, we easily sped away from other vehicles when lights turned green or when passing on the highway. But we also both placed the Ariya on a rough par with the VW ID.4, and not quite on level with the very dynamic Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 duo.
Still, not a huge deal - most buyers of this compact SUV won’t be joyriding around making other drivers feel bad about being left behind at stop signs and lights.
Steering is on the light side – also kind of common in the segment – but competent enough. Handling in corners was quite good, the model’s battery packs and its 50/50 weight distribution giving the SUV a fairly low and central centre of gravity.
Nissan was eager as well to show off the ProPILOT Park feature, which you can use if you hate parallel or three-point-turn parking (backing into a mall parking space). Sure enough, the feature, using 4 camera views and 12 sensors, works quite well once you line it up properly, the vehicle’s steering wheel turns on its own and you need not even apply on accelerator and brake pedals. Essential feature or gimmick? I’m sure for some it will be the former. We’ll let you decide.
The versions of the 2023 Ariya to be offered in Canada will feature either a 63-kWh or 87-kWh battery, your choice. Both can be mated to a FWD system with the one electric motor, or AWD (Nissan’s system is called e-4ORCE) with two. Output is given at 214 hp for the small-battery two-wheel drive SUV, with 221 lb-ft of immediately available torque.
As for range, always a top question when it comes to EVs, the EPA has stamped the standard-range FWD Ariya with a range of 348 km, while the larger-battery models with FWD deliver either 465 km (in the Venture+ version or 490 km (Evolve+ version). That’s the most you’ll get out of the 2023 Ariya. Officially.
Unofficially, meanwhile, Nissan is putting forth an estimate of 330 km for the AWD versions with standard battery pack.
There’s no way around the fact, here, that the Ariya enters a segment where 400-km ranges are increasingly routine. Especially when you look at the price chart for the model, which makes the higher versions ineligible for federal and some provincial EV incentives, this may present a challenge for Nissan.
And remember the much-publicized range drops Canadian EV owners experience in cold weather. That 330 km could easily shrivel to the low 200s or even lower. In fact, that might even prompt those for whom range matters more than performance to focus, if they’re intent on an Ariya, to forsake AWD and/or go for the smaller-battery-capacity variants that can deliver upwards of 490 km.
Nissan has installed a battery thermal control system to hopefully combat range loss in winter, but there are heat pumps in other EVs on the market already and they don’t eliminate the problem altogether. We’ll see when we can test the vehicle in winter.
That won’t be this winter, mind you, at least not for the AWD versions that will deliver less range. And that’s because only the FWD Ariya is going to launch before the end of this year. The dual-motor Ariya is only expected early in 2023, likely in early spring.
Here are the pricing and figures in full for the 2023 Nissan Ariya:
Engage FWD w/standard battery (63 kWh) - $52,998 – 214 hp, 221 lb-ft of torque, range 348 km
Venture+ FWD w/extended battery (87 kWh) - $59,498 – 238 hp, 221 lb-ft, range 490 km
Evolve AWD w/standard battery - $60,598 – 335 hp, 413 lb-ft, range 330 km (tentative)
Evolve+ FWD w/ext. battery (the rough equivalent of what we drove) - $64,998 – 238 hp, 221 lb-ft, range 465 km
Platinum+ AWD w/ext. battery - $69,198 – 389 hp, 442 lb-ft, range 426 km
Premiere+ AWD w/ext. battery - $69,998 – 389 hp, 442 lb-ft, range 426 km
Note that for the moment, Nissan is not taking new orders for the Ariya as it will have to focus on filling the pre-orders it already has in hand. Representatives were not able to tell us when they might start taking orders again.
Other note: About 60 percent of Canadian Nissan dealers will be Ariya dealers to start; some turned down the transition to be able to sell and service EVs like this and future ones, at least for now. Nissan expects more dealers to come on board every year.
Very comfortable interior, especially the seats
Pleasant, airy environment inside
Strong acceleration (though not category best), good handling
Very quiet ride (at least on smooth roads!)
Lots of back-row and cargo space
Front-end design (especially the black panel framed by the headlights)
We like less
Range isn’t always up to what’s found elsewhere in the segment
Pricing is higher than rivals, and takes some trims out government incentives range
A few more physical buttons for essentials would be nice