2023 Nissan Ariya e-4orce Delivers Lots of Range but Little Emotion
The 2023 Nissan Ariya e-4orce delivers up to 272 miles on a charge in all-wheel-drive form—front-wheel-drive versions will eclipse 300 miles.
The Ariya is also plenty zippy, with dual-motor models putting out 389 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, for a 0-to-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds.
On sale in a few weeks, supply constraints will likely make it difficult to find a Ariya e-4orce without a long wait.
More than a decade ago, Nissan took an early lead in electric car with the Nissan Leaf. It was the world's first legitimate attempt at an affordable mass-produced pure electric car. Unfortunately, the car's designers went too far with the model's futuristic styling. Mainstream buyers mostly saw it as a failed sci-fi project—an impractical vehicle with only about 84 miles on a single charge, the limit of battery technology at that time.
Subsequent iterations of the Leaf, while improving design and range, didn't fare much better. Throughout the 2010s, Nissan remained a few steps behind Tesla, General Motors, and others. If Nissan had held firm to its EV leadership ambitions over the past decade, it might have produced the breakthrough electric vehicle it wanted years ago. That vehicle might have been similar to the new 2023 Nissan Ariya e-4orce all-wheel SUV we drove through California wine country this week.
Aditya Jairaj, Nissan's EV marketing and sales director, described the company's renewed electric ambitions as a "giant task." The company wants 40 percent of its US sales to be pure electrics by 2030. "The next steps are extremely important," said Jairaj. "And that's where the Ariya comes in."
Nissan deserves credit for embracing hard-earned lessons from the EV sidelines. The Ariya e-4orce checks off all the boxes for what consumers seek in an electric vehicle. Range? Check. In the all-wheel-drive variant, you can buy one that goes up to 272 miles on a single charge (and there's a front-wheel version that eclipses 300 miles). Power and handling? Yes. The Platinum+ or Evolve+ variants, and the dual-motor powertrain, deliver 389 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque—enough to zip from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds. Those are impressive specs.
Nissan offered us a few minutes in a slalom course at the Sonoma Raceway. We stomped the Ariya's accelerator through hairpin turns, but the SUV remained well-planted on the damp asphalt. That feat comes via the sophisticated all-wheel system that applies torque on one side while braking on the other.
Meanwhile, the visual design, which Nissan calls "timeless Japanese futurism," also reflects care and consideration. The front row of the cabin feels like a clutter-free lounge. A motor-driven moveable coffee table slides out from the dashboard's center while a skylight floods the cabin with brightness. Legroom is abundant in the second row, and 59.7 cubic feet of interior storage provide space for family hauling and getaway weekends.
In recent years, the EV market has become crowded. But it still needs compelling, affordable options to balance the many luxury vehicles. On that count, the Nissan Ariya is also full of potential. The sticker price for the front-wheel-drive version starts at $43,190, with the entry-level Engage option with the e-4orce all-wheel powertrain beginning at $47,190.
Add up these things, and the numbers are impressive. So, has Nissan restored its leadership in EVs with the Ariya, especially the more capable all-wheel-drive version? Remains to be seen. All the boxes were checked except the one that gets most consumers to buy: emotion. Based on our few hours behind the wheel, the Ariya feels, frankly, like a bit of a snooze.
When reviewers experienced the front-wheel-drive version late last year, they complained about a lackluster drive. Thankfully, the e-4orce version corrects those performance specs and makes for competent highway passing. On the other hand, Nissan engineers programmed the drive for smoothness over fun. The pedals and steering wheel are mush. Even in Sport mode, the Ariya surges ever so gently to highway speeds. The torque and brake vectoring we experienced at the Sonoma Raceway is more about safety than spirit. In this light, the throttle-modulated fake spaceship-like whirring sound that comes on in Sport mode is annoying. The only way to turn it off is to return to Standard mode, restoring a quiet ride but further reducing driving fun.
Dusty Pierson, Nissan marketability engineer, extolled the virtues of the two-motor system, but not for exhilaration. Instead, he explained the Ariya e-4orce is tuned to minimize pitching and diving. "With our dual motor, we were able to pull back a little bit to give it more of a flatter ride as you come down to a stop," said Pierson.
The interior's futuristic interior also falls flat. Yes, clever haptic buttons are built into a stylish interior covered in suede. But a driver's attention is mostly on overly busy counterintuitive screens with outdated graphics. A standard-issue Nissan steering wheel provides yet another set of buttons, analog controls that feel out of place. The interior and exterior design has too many overlapping incongruous elements, including the motorized coffee table that lacks a clear purpose.
These design and drive shortcomings are relatively minor gripes, though combined they undermine Nissan's otherwise noble effort at a compelling mainstream electric SUV. The more egregious problem is lack of supply. The front-wheel drive Ariya, which went on sale in late 2022, is being produced at an anemic rate. Who knows when you might be able to purchase the e-4orce variant that goes on sale in the coming weeks? Jeff Wandell, manager of Nissan CUVs and EVs Communications, pointed to limited semiconductor supply, lack of other components, and new production and painting processes as causes for the delay.
The EV world has unfinished business regarding affordability. And Ariya could have been part of the solution, resulting in high-volume sales. The front-wheel-drive version with a 216-mile battery starts at a modest $43,190. That's a great deal for a long-ish range, all-electric SUV. Nissan throws in desirable features, like heated seats and a head-up display, that its more expensive competitors lack.
The content-rich all-wheel-drive e-4force model we drove in Sonoma County is a solid B. Drivers who live in slippery snowy terrain would benefit from its added traction. And many first-time buyers will appreciate range that gets closer to 300 miles, even if for one or two road trips per year. The problem is the cost of a big battery and dual-motor system that make these things possible. Those features elevate Ariya's price tag from the mid-$40,000s to the mid-to-high $50,000s.
For some buyers, the higher price would be worth it—but only if it sparks genuine excitement about switching to an electric car.