05/10/2023 UPDATE: This review has been updated with instrumented test results.
We've never been all too enthusiastic about all-wheel drive for all-wheel drive's sake. In our opinion, most vehicles are simply better off just driving two wheels, especially the rears—at least, that was the case before the proliferation of EVs. Since then, we've found ourselves more impressed by the EV models with dual motors driving both axles. Why? Because they are often a lot more powerful and far quicker than their two-wheel-drive counterparts. One such example is this 2023 Ariya e-4ORCE, which is Nissan's funny new nomenclature for its all-wheel-drive electric powertrain.
When we tested the front-wheel-drive Ariya, we were disappointed by its acceleration performance. The regular Ariya's single electric motor drives the front wheels and makes 238 horsepower, but at 7.5 seconds to 60 mph, that model lacks the satisfying zip we enjoy in other EVs. That changes with the addition of the all-wheel-drive model, which adds a second electric motor that drives the rear wheels and increases the total horsepower to 335 ponies in base Engage guise and to 389 horsepower in the Engage+, Evolve+, and Platinum+ trims.
With two motors on board, the Ariya is far fleeter. At our test track, our 389-hp Platinum+ test vehicle needed just 5.0 seconds to reach 60 mph and completed the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 108 mph. That's not Ford Mustang Mach-E GT levels of performance, but it's a big improvement and one that makes stop-light launches and highway passing maneuvers more satisfying.
Adding more power doesn't, however, improve the Ariya's handling, as the all-wheel-drive model is just as bland as the front-wheel-drive one. With motors spinning both axles, the Ariya e-4ORCE only marginally improved on the front-wheel drive model's skidpad result, with the Platinum+ returning 0.86 g versus the single-motor Empower+'s 0.85 g. That's not bad considering our all-wheel-drive Ariya is 361 pounds heavier and rolls on 20-inch wheels and Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S tires versus the Empower+ and its 19-inch wheels and Dunlop Grandtreks.
There is a Sport driving mode, but other than conjuring up an artificial whirring sound and minutely sharpening throttle response, it does little to enhance the EV crossover's road manners. The Ariya's all-wheel-drive system will sometimes apply braking to the inside wheels during cornering to combat understeer, but it's more useful for staying in better control on low-friction surfaces than for hunting apexes. Unseasonably heavy rainfall in Northern California's Sonoma County provided plenty of wet corners on which to test the system, and it does work reassuringly well at maintaining stability.
Some dual-motor all-wheel-drive electrics—such as early versions of the Tesla Model Y—offer more driving range than their two-wheel-drive analogs due to careful calibration to only use a single motor during the EPA's test cycles. But not here. Nissan offers the same two battery packs in the e-4ORCE as it does in the standard model, and the range for both is slightly lower with all-wheel drive.
The entry-level Engage trim gets a 63.0-kWh battery with an estimated driving range of just 205 miles per charge. The three more expensive trims—Engage+, Evolve+, and Platinum+—all come with a larger 87.0-kWh battery pack. The driving range estimate for the Engage+ and Evolve+ trims is far more competitive at 272 miles, while the Platinum+ carries an estimate of 267. In our 75-mph highway range testing, the Ariya Platinum+ delivered only 210 miles of driving before we needed to stop to recharge, making it less ideal for road trips than the front-wheel-drive model, which provided 240 miles of driving in the same test.
The Ariya's inspired interior design is its main advantage over rival EV crossovers. Patterned panels on the doors and bulkhead beneath the dash are backlit with ambient lighting and look quite elegant, while thoughtful touches such as a built-in smartphone charging-cord organizer are designed to reduce clutter. The cabin is spacious in both the front and the rear seats, and a modern-looking dashboard features a pair of curved 12.3-inch digital displays. A wood-trim piece that runs across the dash is also backlit and houses the SUV's climate controls, which operate with just a light tap, but the controls for other functions located on the center console require a harder push.
All models are well equipped, but the loaded Platinum+ we sampled at $62,770 pushes the boundary into the luxury category, both in terms of price and features. That price tag gets you niceties such as heated and ventilated rear seats, a 10-speaker Bose stereo, genuine leather upholstery, a self-parking feature, and navigation-enhanced adaptive cruise control. The addition of the rear motor has little impact on cargo room—overall luggage space is identical to the FWD model, but the underfloor storage bin has been sacrificed.
As with all-wheel-drive variants of internal-combustion vehicles, all-wheel-drive EVs come with benefits as well as compromises, so one thing that hasn't changed in this transition from gas to electric is carefully considering your own needs. The minor sacrifice in range and the major improvement in acceleration that the Ariya e-4ORCE offers over the standard model seems like a decent tradeoff to us.
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