2023 Nissan Ariya First Drive Review: Strong ADAS Spices Up an Average EV

Nissan’s first modern EV is good value with stand-out features, though it’s nothing special to drive.

byJames Gilboy|
James Gilboy
James Gilboy.

A dozen years ago, Nissan took the reins on electric vehicles with the original Leaf—only to let it die on the vine by letting other makes take the EV lead. It has taken Nissan until now to catch up, rolling out the 2023 Nissan Ariya E-4orce as its first truly modern EV, only for its competitors to beat it to market. Whether or not you’ve noticed Nissan’s improvement over the last few years, it’s obvious that the Ariya needs to stand out in a market now crowded by electric crossovers.

And in some ways, it does. The Ariya E-4orce has generous standard equipment and is one of only a few vehicles on the market capable of hands-free driving. However, it does so at a higher entry point than its AWD competitors and is otherwise technically and subjectively unexceptional. The Ariya won’t do you wrong if you buy in at the trims with the most value, but it isn’t the trendsetter it could’ve been.

2023 Nissan Ariya E-4orce AWD in California wine country. James Gilboy

2023 Nissan Ariya E-4orce Specs

  • Base Price (As Tested): $48,525 ($62,770)
  • Powertrain: 63 or 87-kWh battery | 1-speed transmission | dual-motor all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 335 to 389
  • Torque: 413 to 442 lb-ft
  • 0-60 MPH: 4.8 seconds
  • Curb Weight: 4,608 to 5,507 pounds
  • Seating Capacity: 5
  • Cargo Volume: 22.8 cubic feet with rear seats up | 59.7 cubic feet with rear seats folded
  • Range: 205 to 270 miles (estimated)
  • Charging:
  • 63 kWh: 20 to 80 percent in 35 minutes on 130-kW DC fast-charging | zero t0 100 percent in 10.5 hours on Level 2 charger
  • 87 kWh: 20 to 80 percent in 40 minutes on 130-kW DC fast-charging | zero t0 100 percent in 14 hours on Level 2 charger
  • Quick Take: The Ariya is a solid value if you can hit its sweet spots, though it won’t set the world on fire.
  • Score: 7.5/10

The Basics

The Ariya is Nissan’s first truly modern EV—the Leaf, even though I like it, doesn’t really count. It didn’t have a liquid-cooled battery or CCS fast-charge compatibility, both of which the Ariya does, in a mainstream-oriented compact SUV package. It seats five, has a fair-sized trunk, and a driving range of 205 to 270 miles depending on battery size and trim: it’s Nissan’s solution to a one-car EV garage. And now that the Ariya has all-wheel drive from its dual-motor E-4orce system (pronounced e-force, not e-fourorce—yeah, it’s a bad name) it can completely fulfill that role.

Not in spectacular style, mind you. Like many SUV designs, it suffers from having an ungainly stretched bottom third that renders it a slab-sided loaf of Car. I like the fun two-tone, copper, and primary paint color choices though, as well as its funky fan-blade wheels and uncluttered interior that’s handsomely designed.

Interior quality on the other hand was a hiccup on the pre-production, range-topping Platinum model I drove. The electrically opening center console sagged and didn’t properly close, and Ariyas have already been recalled for loose steering wheels. I’ve been impressed with Nissan interiors as of late, so this is a disappointing departure from form.

It’s also an underwhelming space at the tested price point of over $62,000. Sure, there’s segment-exclusive Nappa leather and suede, but also tons of plain plastic, and a resin that tries to disguise itself as varnished wood grain on the dash and center console. Both feature neat haptic-feedback control surfaces that appear as projections with the car on, and disappear when the car’s off, like Forerunner tech in Halo.

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But what’s cool in a video game isn’t necessarily great to use: it requires taking your eyes off the road to use them, which is what makes touchscreens (like the 12.3-incher present here) a safety hazard. At least it has a standard head-up display, which otherwise keeps your eyes on the road.

Driving Experience

The Ariya E-4orce is better on the road than its design lets on, though. It’s spacious front and rear, even for those eclipsing six feet, and as quiet as you expect an EV to be. Its ride quality and decent seats make the passenger experience unobjectionable, and Bluetooth infotainment with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility doesn’t hurt. Nor does its commendable stereo quality, or heated seats front and rear—they’re standard, too.

From the driver’s seat, I found the steering weight reassuring if not especially communicative, while the extra heft added by Sport mode simulated the kind of analog experience you miss in this kind of car. Unfortunately, I’m less enthusiastic about its one-pedal E-Step model, which like Mercedes’ lukewarm EVs physically draws the brake pedal back when you lift off the throttle. The regenerative braking it actuates also has overly damped engagement, which is mirrored by throttle application. It’s to limit discomfort, I know, but it comes at the expense of fine control that should at least be available—even if it’s not a priority in a crossover like this.

E-4orce all-wheel drive itself was unchallenged by the California monsoon that flooded much of my drive, never struggling for traction even under full throttle. Its 389 hp is more impressive on paper than in real life, owing to the Ariya’s significant weight, with which its frontward bias makes it more stable but less agile. Nissan claims its programming borrows tricks from the GT-R’s AWD system, but I didn’t get a satisfactory explanation of how the two are similar.

The semi-autonomous driving tech however is some of the best not just in the segment, but on the market as a whole. ProPilot Assist 2.0 enables hands-free driving on 201,000 miles of U.S. highways and proved it could be trusted when aggressive California drivers cut you off in traffic. It requires your eyes remain on the road though, and safe weather conditions to operate, and it deactivates if either condition isn’t met. Make no mistake, that’s a good thing: competing ADAS systems that lack driver monitoring are more prone to crashes while active. Automated lane changes, however, while functional, require your hands on the wheel, and at that point, you might as well just do it yourself.

Nissan Ariya Features, Options, and Competition

The Nissan Ariya E-4orce has strong standard equipment, with 19-inch aero wheels, LED taillights and headlights, and automatic high beams. It gets keyless entry and heated surfaces galore: its power-folding mirrors, leather steering wheel, and both front and rear seats all radiate warmth. Passengers enjoy dual-zone climate and that 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the driver benefits from a power-adjusted seat, 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, and head-up display.

Engage+ trims can access the optional long-range, high-performance battery, which is standard on the higher Evolve+ and up. It also adds a standard power liftgate, panoramic moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, and a wireless charging pad. Empower+ and above gain the improved ProPilot Assist 2.0 with automated parking assist, and that coveted hands-free driving on 201,000 miles of U.S. highways.

It’s clear where the Ariya E-4orce fits in with the other compact, AWD electric SUVs on the market. They’d mainly be the (draws breath) Volkswagen ID.4, Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra twins, Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5, Tesla Model Y, and to a lesser degree the Ford Mustang Mach-E (its availability is limited for the rest of model year 2023). Broadly speaking, the Ariya stands out for its standard equipment, with many features more expensive, optional, or completely unavailable on rivals—note the hands-free ADAS, which only Ford also offers.

However, the Ariya isn’t eligible for the new federal tax credit, leaving its cheapest AWD model on the pricey end of the segment. Its other specs aren’t anything special, either. The Ariya has the least cargo space behind the second row (though max cargo space is average), the slowest DC fast-charging outside the Toyota-Subaru offerings, and it weighs the most by a significant margin. That might be why its performance is unexceptional, and its range only middling.

That said, pretty much every car in the segment has its drawbacks, notably an almost unanimous lack of great interiors. The VW ID.4’s interface is a dealbreaker according to my colleagues, while Toyota and Subaru have short range and weak charging, not to mention what I hear is an underwhelming driving experience. The Korean offerings are pricey and Kia’s customer service gets a bad rap, which Tesla too is guilty of, along with poor build quality. (That also plagues Ford as of late.)

2023 Nissan Ariya E-4orce AWD getting juiced up. James Gilboy

Value and Verdict

The 2023 Nissan Ariya E-4orce makes the most sense when you stick to the trims that offer the best value for money. That means the base if you don’t need extra range, the big-battery Engage+ if you do, and Empower+ if the hands-free driving tech is a must. The top Platinum+ trim has the same issue as the larger Armada: it’s not bad by its own right, but it’s weak value for money.

In all, the AWD Ariya is a solid but unexceptional entry in the EV space, one that plays catch-up and follows trends rather than setting them the way the original Leaf did. By no means is it a poor car, but I expected more from a Nissan that appeared to have found its stride again.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com