2023 Nissan Ariya first drive: e-4ORCE shines in a perfect crossover for drivers new to EVs

This week, Nissan invited a select group of writers up to Wine Country to test drive the pre-production models of its all-electric 2023 Ariya crossover SUV. This was my first experience in the Ariya and I was excited at the opportunity to try out Nissan’s AWD e-4ORCE technology. It did not disappoint. These upcoming Ariya EVs deserve a look as a viable EV option loaded with standard features you won’t find in many of its competitor’s EVs, but the automaker may still have trouble standing out from the pack.

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2023 hopes to be a promising year for the Nissan Ariya

The Ariya sits as Nissan’s first all-electric SUV and second BEV model behind the long-beloved LEAF. The compact crossover made its initial debut in the summer of 2020 as Nissan’s first EV on its new CMF-EV platform.

Production was slotted for 2021 but delayed until 2022 due to chip shortages brought about by the pandemic, but we did get a chance to test out a pre-production version of the FWD Ariya last spring, ahead of the first customer deliveries this past fall.

Mikey G’s impressions of the front wheel version were overall positive, but ever since then, I’ve been looking forward to experiencing Nissan’s e-4ORCE AWD technology after it was introduced around that same time. This week, I had that much-anticipated opportunity to experience plenty of driving throughout Sonoma County, California in a 2023 Ariya Platinum+ – Nissan’s top-tier trim of the crossover EV.

The 2023 AWD Nissan Ariya is a beyond adequate EV

In spending an entire day behind the wheel of the 2023 Ariya through the rolling hills of Northern California, the track at Sonoma Speedway, and the winding coastal roads of Bodega Bay, I can say with certainty that Nissan has produced an electric SUV that many consumers are going to love – whether they’re loyal to the Japanese brand already, or they’re making the switch over to it.

Nissan’s team told us that 62% of customers purchasing an Ariya are new to the brand, encouraging news for an automaker that has promised 27 new electrified models by 2030, 19 of which will be BEVs. I told them they’d better get a move on, but it’s nothing they’re not already aware of. We will save that story for another day.

For now, my focus, as well as Nissan’s, is on the 2023 Ariya, of which my Platinum+ e-4ORCE AWD version offered the following specs.

  • Powertrain: Dual Motor AWD with e-4ORCE
  • Battery Capacity: 91 kWh
  • EPA est. Range: 265 miles
  • Horsepower: 389 hp
  • Torque: 442 lb.-ft.
  • 0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds
  • Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
  • Max Cargo Capacity: 59.7 cubic-feet (3 golf bags)

Overall, this is a truly delightful SUV to drive as it offers all the comforts and technologies you want in an EV, placed intuitively in a comfortable environment throughout the cabin. From the haptic switches to the dual 12-inch displays on the dash, the Nissan team has found a nice balance of updatable touchscreen functions and physical switches on the dash and center console. Features like the retractable table in the center dash (see images below) contribute to the cabin’s versatility as an office or place for entertainment while charging or parked.

I found the driver’s display too busy at first, but quickly learned I could switch to different options, whether it was settings, or the radar display of cars around the Ariya, thanks to its ProPILOT Assist 2.0 ADAS – another huge perk worth noting.

I started off my drive down the freeway and had the opportunity to test out ProPILOT Assist hands-free driving and it couldn’t have been easier. I simply tapped a button on the steering wheel to activate the technology, then pushed “set” to engage it.

Like similar ADAS hands-free tech like BlueCruise and Super Cruise, ProPILOT Assist uses HD mapping, sonar, and radar on specifically programmed roadways, allowing for three different levels of driver assistance. The first is a white light shown on the driver display as well as across the top of the dash for passengers – that’s Intelligent Cruise Mode, similar to your typical lane assist.

Next, the Ariya switched to green, stepping in to drive, but requiring hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. From there, ProPILOT Assist moved to blue, which is hands-free driving with eyes on the road. I let this run for a solid 20 minutes with no issues and only had to step in one time due to a stream of cars merging from an on-ramp to my right. Check it out:

Like much of the design and technology in the 2023 Nissan Ariya, I found ProPILOT Assist 2.0 more than adequate and think its technology is well on its way to further autonomy – perhaps with the help of Luminar?

While ProPILOT Assist 2.0 was certainly a highlight of my drive in the Ariya, it’s Nissan’s e-4ORCE that stood out as the main feature to relay to you, readers.

e-4ORCE steals the show in this EV

As you can see from the specs above, the 2023 Nissan Ariya is not really a leading EV in any performance category. It can and will, by all means, compete with the likes of the Mustang Mach-E and Hyundai IONIQ 5, but where it can really stand out to consumers is with e-4ORCE… as long as they experience it themselves.

e-4ORCE is Nissan’s proprietary electric-drive four-wheel-control system that helps efficiently control driving force using integrated control of the front and rear motors and brakes. Per Nissan:

The system calculates the driving force required to turn, accelerate, and decelerate in response to the driver’s operation and in accordance with ever-changing driving and road conditions, then controls the driving force of the four wheels via the front and rear motors and the left and right brakes. This realizes driving from everyday driving to slippery road driving.

Our first stop on our drive was Sonoma Speedway, where the Nissan team had set up a short but sweet course for us to experience the unmatched stickiness of e-4ORCE. They wetted down a sharp turn on the course and advised me to give it hell (which I did) – and wow was I impressed. All that instant torque and speed coming around that bend, right when you feel like your back end is going to fishtail out, it simply corrects itself, stays on track, and keeps chuggin’.

This was the same through some slaloms which I also went full bore through. Again, there were zero doubts about my complete control of the crossover in keeping the shiny side facing up. That was an experience indeed, but I didn’t truly learn to appreciate the grip of e-4ORCE until I was driving from Bodega Bay back to Healdsburg through countless winding turns ranging from speed limits of 20 to 55 mph.

I admittedly put the 2023 Nissan Ariya through its paces whenever possible, and it stuck to every curve, wet road, and everything else I threw at it. I found myself accelerating much harder than usual through turns, and I just kept pushing it to no avail. Out of everything I experienced in this compact SUV, e-4ORCE is hands down the most impressive and exciting feature to me.

I think those who experience it themselves will agree, and this could be a huge selling point for Nissan, which is looking to catch up from previous Ariya production woes and get more of these EVs out into the world. But how do they do it?

You can read my words and read all about the technology that goes into e-4ORCE, but it’s something you have to experience for yourself to truly understand and appreciate. It might be a hurdle for Nissan to relay how innovative its AWD system is, but if it can succeed, it should wrangle even more customers.

The 2023 Nissan Ariya is a viable option for consumers

After spending an entire day behind the wheel of the 2023 Nissan Ariya, I can see why the team is excited about its potential and its role as a sort of kicking-off point for its incoming lineup of BEVs. It’s off to a good start, especially with ADAS like ProPILOT Assist 2.0 and e-4ORCE.

I personally found the regenerative braking far too loose for my liking, as the EV never really comes to a full halt, and it will roll when you take your foot off the brake. Contrary to my preference, that sort of regen style could better serve consumers that are not used to one-pedal driving, so it sort of goes both ways.

The exterior and interior were well done, the cabin was quiet enough thanks to acoustic laminated glass, and I really liked the haptic switches, which I think blended nicely into the dash and center console. The overall specs leave a bit to be desired on paper, but when you’re actually driving the Ariya, the acceleration feels more than adequate and is quite fun when paired with e-4ORCE.

Granted, I was in the top-tier trim of the 2023 Ariya, but there are still plenty of amazing specs and features as you go down the row. In fact, the 2023 Ariya should do well in its specific compact SUV segment as Nissan offers a ton of features standard on its base level Engage FWD trim (which starts at $43,190). Other competitors charge thousands in add-on fees for features standard on every trim of the Ariya, such as Head Up Display (HUD), heated rear seats and steering wheel, plus ambient interior lighting.

Overall, I think the 2023 Ariya is an amazing option for consumers new to EVs or those who are perhaps coming from the Nissan LEAF or something comparable. Experienced EV drivers will certainly still enjoy the ride and the SUV’s features, but may not be as impressed on the performance side.

I’m looking forward to the next drive event with Nissan and can’t wait to see how e-4ORCE and ProPILOT Assist are further implemented and improved in future EVs. Remember, Nissan still has close to 20 models it needs to introduce in the next seven years. I’ll be watching and waiting!

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