Before the Tesla Model 3 dominated the EV landscape, there was the Nissan Leaf: a small hatchback with a tiny battery and tiny range that was the best-selling EV in the world for years. Those years stretched on and on as the vehicle — introduced way back in 2010 — was Nissan’s only real EV in the United States for over a decade. Nissan was going through a rough patch at the time, but now it’s back with a brand new EV: the Ariya.
With a starting price of $43,190 for front-wheel drive and $51,190 for all-wheel drive, the electric crossover takes what Nissan (and other automakers) have learned about what people want from their electron-powered vehicles and produced an EV that stands up shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the market.
Sure, it feels late for an automaker that was at the forefront of the EV revolution, and there are some questionable decisions Nissan has made (particularly about regenerative braking) while bringing it to market. But it’s here now, and we had a chance to drive it around Northern California in the automaker’s all-wheel-drive version of the Ariya.
Funny name good feature
Automakers have fun little names for their features. Nissan is calling its electric all-wheel-drive system e-4ORCE, which feels like the title of a cool late ’80s cartoon you’d watch after school while eating a Pop-Tart. As an actual feature, it’s essentially the same sort of dual-motor all-wheel-drive system we’ve seen on other EVs but better. It’s not impressive in that it gives you more traction for shorter 0–60 times. It’s impressive in how it makes driving safer.
As part of the day’s drive with the Ariya, Nissan took us to Sonoma Raceway and set up a small autocross course outlined with orange cones. While behind the wheel of the Ariya, on wet asphalt, we were instructed to enable full acceleration directly into a turn.
It feels late for an automaker that was at the forefront of the EV revolution
This is a surefire recipe for creating understeer, a phenomenon where a driver turns the wheel and the vehicle continues traveling straight. It’s extremely common on wet and icy roads. It can be terrifying because you’re suddenly no longer in control of the vehicle — you’re a passenger in a multi-ton hunk of metal and glass headed for… something.
The Ariya, to its credit, drove through the corner without issue as I planted my foot into the floor. A second demonstration that had us run a short slalom course also highlighted the vehicle’s sure-footedness.
At work is the vehicle’s torque vectoring system. The e-4ORCE (I feel ridiculous typing that) system adds and reduces power to each motor and enables the brakes to the attached wheels as the vehicle detects where it’s losing grip. This is not new. Automakers have been using torque vectoring for years, and as they move to EV architectures, the instant-on aspect of electric motors makes the systems quicker to respond.
The Ariya system stands out in its ability to reduce understeer and the front-end diving that occurs while coming to a stop by moving the stopping power to the rear wheels instead of relying heavily on the front.
Out in the real world on actual roads that were drenched with what seemed like a nonstop torrent of rain in a region that only months ago was concerned about drought, I found e-4ORCE to be an excellent system for keeping me on my path around corners and while coming to a stop.
Automakers typically want their vehicles to be driven on dry roads on a sunny day. Northern California would not oblige. Outside of the latest version of the advanced driver-assistance feature reducing its abilities while being pummeled with water, the Ariya performed admirably.
With help from the all-wheel drive drivetrain, even when plowing through puddles, the crossover felt firmly planted to the asphalt both on the highway and two-lane roads bookmarked by grapevines. Cornering was solid, with very little body roll at normal speeds. The weather reduced any chances of high-speed cornering on public roads. Yet, the demos we completed earlier in the day at the raceway gave a good indication that while the Ariya is not a sports car, it can produce a comfortable, stable ride that’s on par with the rest of the EVs in this market segment.
Nissan is calling its electric all-wheel-drive system e-4ORCE, which feels like the title of a cool late ’80s cartoon you’d watch after school while eating a Pop-Tart
As with most other EVs, acceleration off the line was quick. The Ariya does continue to deliver power up through 60 miles an hour, but it’s appropriate. Nissan isn’t going up against the EV6 GT with this vehicle. The dual motors deliver 389 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. The result is a 0–60 time of 4.8 seconds.
The braking system does an excellent job of bringing that power to a stop. Traditional brakes include rotors or drums at the tires that employ pads to slow down a vehicle. Thanks to regenerative braking, where the electric motors help slow a vehicle down, the Ariya is great at coming to a stop. It’s also nice that because of e-4ORCE, it does this without the front end diving as much as on a traditional vehicle.
The biggest head-scratcher is the lack of one-pedal driving. The Nissan Leaf helped popularize the ability to lift off the accelerator and have the EV come to a full stop. The Ariya lacks that capability. Nissan says it’s not what customers want. Fans of the feature may differ, and it would have made sense to at least add the feature and let drivers decide on their own.
Nissan may have preferred a sunny day to test the vehicle’s on-road abilities, but the rain added additional confidence to the Ariya’s capabilities.
Hands-free driving (except in moderate rain)
Like GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s Blue Cruise, Nissan has its own hands-free / eyes-on driver assistance suite. ProPilot 2 is a geofenced system that works in certain circumstances. The vehicles use high-definition maps along with cameras and radar to center a vehicle within its lane on a highway. The vehicle is also limited to how quickly the wipers are moving. Medium and above, and you’re back to hands-on driver assistance with lane-keep assistance and adaptive cruise control. It’s a safety issue, and good on Nissan for not sacrificing the lives of those in and out of the vehicle in order to crow about their technology working anywhere and in any conditions.
During my limited testing time (because of the rain), I found ProPilot to slot right between Ford and GM’s hands-free systems. It does a better job centering the vehicle and tracking corners than Ford while as smooth as GM’s Super Cruise.
The dash cluster changes colors to indicate the mode the driver assistance is in. It’s a good way to reduce mode confusion, but I wish that in addition to the cluster and HUD, the steering wheel also had a light to indicate assistance modes the way GM, BMW, and Mercedes have in their vehicles.
The biggest head-scratcher is the lack of one-pedal driving
I find these systems to be great in dense traffic at slow speeds. Gridlock is horrible, and letting the vehicle assist in some aspects is nice. That said, I’m here to remind you that you are still in control of the vehicle and need to pay attention to the road. Nissan has an in-car monitor on the steering column to make sure the driver does exactly that.
Sure, you can take your hands off, but they need to be ready to take over at any moment. I typically end up resting my hands on the wheel. They may work great 99 percent of the time, but it’s good to be ready for that 1 percent error.
It’s inside that counts
The interior of the Ariya is something you’d expect to find on a much more expensive vehicle. Nissan is using Kumiko patterns throughout the interior to recreate the feeling of lanterns both in the doors and below the dash. It’s a bold move that pays off spectacularly. It also helps that the climate controls below the 12.3-inch infotainment display are haptic buttons integrated into wood. It looks cool and works well.
The center console gets the same wood treatment. It’s classy and more commonly found on high-end BMWs and not something you would expect from a Nissan. The whole interior design is more mid-level luxury than a crossover. Kudos to Nissan for creating an inviting space as it returns to form in the EV space.
If you’re dragging more than people around, the vehicle has 22.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. With the seats down, that jumps up to 59.7 cubic feet of space. That’s right up there with the Hyundai Ioniq 5 (27.2 and 59.3 cubic feet of space, respectively) and just a bit below the Volkswagen ID.4 (30.3 and 64.2 cubic feet, respectively).
I found ProPilot to slot right between Ford and GM’s hands-free systems
The seats are more in line with what you expect at this price point. They’re comfortable but lack much definition, and after a few hours, you start to feel it. They’ll be great for around town and commuting, but road trips will require some stretching while charging up the vehicle.
The infotainment system is also nothing that exciting. It’s the usual tablet layout with a few design flourishes within the widgets on the homescreen. I encountered very little latency while tapping and swiping, but mostly you’ll be using CarPlay and Android Auto with the Ariya.
The cluster is bright and easy to read and doesn’t overwhelm you with data. That is unless you surface the vehicle’s trip and efficiency information. Then it’s a bit much.
This brings us to the voice assistant. It’s not great. I got it to set the temperature once, and after that, it was just confused by my voice. After testing, I got fed up with it and just forgot it existed.
While the Ariya does have a front-wheel-drive variant that can travel up to 304 miles between charges, according to the EPA, the all-wheel-drive e-4ORCE has a range of 272 miles with the larger 91 kWh capacity battery pack (of which 87 kWh is available). A 32-mile difference in day-to-day use really shouldn’t be an issue. This is especially true if you live in an area with inclement weather where having all four wheels tackling the ground at once helps.
But the Ariya comes with two battery choices. There’s the smaller 66 kWh pack (63 kWh usable) that’s available on front-wheel-drive vehicles with 216 miles of range, according to the EPA. Opting for the 87kWh pack on the front-wheel-drive variant can push that range up to 304 miles. Doing so pushes the starting price for the front-wheel-drive Ariya up to $47,190. The all-wheel-drive e-4ORCE starts at $51,190 and is only available with the larger pack.
At first glance, it might seem confusing, but it’s a nice range of choices for potential customers looking at an EV that fits their life and circumstances.
This brings us to the voice assistant. It’s not great
For all these variants that need on-the-go charging, the Ariya supports DC fast charging at compatible stations at up to 130kW. Not great, but also fine if you’re doing road trips on a weekly basis. Nissan says it’ll charge from 10 to 80 percent in 40 minutes.
For at-home level 2 charging, the Ariya has a 7.2 kWh onboard charger. Overnight charging shouldn’t be a problem. We were unable to test the vehicle’s charging but hope to do so in the future.
Nissan is back
The Leaf was a big deal, but it languished and was eclipsed by the Model 3. It’s still in the Nissan lineup, and while it’s a good EV, the Ariya is a better indication of where Nissan is going with its EV transition. Unfortunately, Nissan is running into some of the same production issues other automakers have been struggling against. In addition to supply chain hurdles, the company’s new “intelligent factory” is reportedly experiencing some growing pains as they ramp up production.
But if you can find one, for those on the hunt for an EV crossover, the Ariya offers an impressive interior, more than adequate range, and with its weirdly named e-4ORCE drivetrain, a safer way to get around town on slick roads. Just don’t ask too many questions while driving around.