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buying: 2023 Nissan Ariya First Drive Review: Silent Lucidity

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  Audi RS E-Tron GT Road Test Review | The EV deluge is coming Audi RS E-Tron GT Road Test Review | The EV deluge is coming originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 17 Mar 2022 06:00:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

In this world, big leads are awfully hard to come by. That's true in the auto industry, too. If you're smart enough -- or lucky enough -- to stumble into one, you'd better work like hell to protect it. Nissan had just such a lead: Nobody, and I mean nobody had an affordable, mass-market electric car on sale during much of the Leaf EV's lifetime. In fact, beyond the Tesla Model S (which arrived shortly after costing nearly twice as much), there were no other electric cars available during the Leaf's formative years. It took ages for a competitor to surface.

Today, we're knee-deep in the electric revolution with dozens of EVs on sale globally, yet it's taken over a decade for Nissan to introduce its second battery-powered model, the Ariya SUV. It's fair to ask, "What the heck happened?" But for the moment, let's start with a simpler question: Was the 2023 Nissan Ariya worth the wait?

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Starting with the Ariya's most obvious first impression -- its looks -- my answer is yes. This crossover appears modern, distinctive and premium in a way that many of its rivals do not. There's simply more visual interest and complex surfacing on this Nissan than on the bland, corporate Volkswagen ID 4 or the faceless, slipstream-to-a-fault Tesla Model Y, not to mention the Ford Mustang Mach-E, whose designers only somewhat successfully reconciled applying historic muscle-car cues to its utilitarian shape.

2023 Nissan Ariya Prioritizes Style Over Performance

The truth is, the Ariya looks like it could be the next-generation Murano, a model that's always pushed design boundaries like few other SUVs. However, at 182.9 inches long, the Ariya is actually smaller. It's sized like Nissan's ultra-popular Rogue on the outside, yet its 109.3-inch wheelbase is several inches longer, giving the design a planted, wheels-at-the-corner stance while maximizing interior space.

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Underneath that crisp attire lies the first application of Nissan's new-from-the-ground-up platform designed explicitly for EVs. In the case of my European-spec prototype tester, the architecture houses a low-slung 63-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. This is the smaller of two packs that will be available at launch, with the larger 87-kWh unit pegged to provide 300 miles of range.

Buyers will be able to choose from a single-motor, front-wheel-drive setup or a significantly more powerful dual-motor all-wheel-drive version. Both batteries will be available with either drivetrain. The front-drive, small-pack model's output is modest in view of today's hyper-inflated EV power wars, offering just 215 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. Those are specs similar to that of Nissan's gas-powered Rogue, albeit with a big, heavy battery to haul around. (The larger-battery FWD model will have 238 hp.)

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That might sound like a recipe for disappointing performance, but in practice, the Ariya has plenty of oomph. Company officials estimate the 0-to-60-mph time is a ho-hum 7.2 seconds, but due to the electric powertrain's smooth, instant torque delivery, it feels quicker off the line than that number suggests. Unfortunately, Nissan's driving course didn't really allow for the chance to gauge the Ariya's freeway passing prowess.

The Ariya isn't made for the track, though it handles reasonably well. Nissan © Provided by Roadshow The Ariya isn't made for the track, though it handles reasonably well. Nissan

If that's not enough oomph, Nissan will happily sell you a two-motor 2023 Ariya with E-4orce AWD. Checking this box essentially doubles the power, delivering 389 hp and a whopping 443 lb-ft of torque. Hitting 60 mph should take somewhere in the high 4-second range, making this Nissan a worthy performance foil for Tesla's Model Y Long Range (4.8 seconds, 318 miles of range). An E-4orce model wasn't available to sample during this early test, however; it's not due until late fall, versus the FWD model's early autumn on-sale timeframe.

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Importantly, Nissan cites a maximum charging rate of up to 130 kilowatts (CCS standard), allowing for the larger 87-kWh pack to go from 10% to 80% in around 45 minutes on a DC fast charger. That's a lower rate than many competitors, including the excellent Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6, models that may be this Nissan's toughest competition. Both Koreans boast charge rates of up to 350 kW. Nissan officials say its engineers chose to focus on a consistent, repeatable fast rate of charge instead of an impressive-but-short-lived peak rate that drops off quickly. The company maintains that the Ariya's higher steady rate of charge will yield similar -- if not shorter -- full charge times and more consistent results, but the only way to know for sure will be back-to-back real-world testing.

My first drive comes on the billiard-table-smooth but frustratingly rainy surfaces of Circuito de Jarama, a 2.4-mile road course on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Even with only two driven wheels, power delivery proves to be crystalline smooth, whether negotiating tight hairpins simulating low-speed parking maneuvers or with the hammer down on wide sweepers. It's certainly possible to induce wheelspin of the inside front wheel in corners with a heavy right foot, but the Ariya's traction management quickly gets with the program and deals with the problem sensibly, avoiding killing the acceleration and fun stone-dead like many such systems.

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The interior is spacious and comfortable. Nissan © Provided by Roadshow The interior is spacious and comfortable. Nissan

Nissan's user-selectable E-Pedal returns, offering one-pedal driving with maximum regeneration or a more traditional freewheeling-like experience. I've always enjoyed one-pedal driving even in performance settings, and I'm able to quickly find my rhythm with the Ariya's energy recuperation software on the track.

Even on Euro-spec 255/45R20 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx summer tires, safety-first understeer remains the Ariya's order of the day, with the stability-control system not allowing for much in the way of rear-end rotation, even in Sport mode. That's only sensible -- this is a comfort-oriented, family-minded SUV, not a performance model. Nissan may eventually decide to sic its Nismo team on the Ariya, but for now, automaker reps say Nissan is emphasizing driver confidence and serenity over elevated heartbeats and lower lap times. According to Aditya Jairaj, Nissan's US director of EV sales and marketing, Ariya customers are looking for style, capability and utility. Perhaps most important of all, Nissan's target buyers "are looking for meaningful performance," Jairaj said. "They're not looking for a rocketship."

That sense of tranquility over speed is reinforced by the Ariya's cabin, which might be Nissan's nicest effort in ages. At once contemporary and tech-forward, this EV's interior doesn't try to stun you with its modernity, nor does it confuse austerity for restraint. Nissan hasn't moved all of the controls to a gigantic center touchscreen -- there's a much-appreciated traditional volume knob and dedicated climate-control switchgear present, along with redundant steering wheel controls. It's all fairly straightforward, with a handful of surprise-and-delight features.

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The new dashboard is dominated by a pair of 12.3-inch displays housed to appear like a single continuous electronic billboard of information. One is a dedicated, reconfigurable gauge cluster and the other the heart of the infotainment system. The dash itself floats above an almost completely flat floor, lending the front Zero Gravity seats an airiness you won't find in Nissan's other SUVs.

The center console slides fore and aft. Nissan © Provided by Roadshow The center console slides fore and aft. Nissan

As for those surprise-and-delight features, a novel motorized center console whirs back and forth at the driver's command to enable just the right reach to the stubby monostable gearshift, the armrest, the wireless charge pad and a pair of somewhat chintzy cupholders. This sliding console may seem a bit gimmicky, but those who are particularly short or long of stature should appreciate the adjustable control reach.

Similarly, my tester features a power-deployable center cubby that swoops from beneath the dashboard to accept your wallet, sunglasses or any number of other objects. This deep bin sits to the left of the glovebox within easy reach. It's a lovely little feature enabled by engineers' decision to relocate the HVAC system's guts underhood, a move made possible because the electric powertrain is far more compact than a traditional internal combustion engine. Unfortunately, Nissan didn't go the extra mile by adding USB power outlets to the bin, which somewhat limits its utility. Instead, USB-A and USB-C ports are located on a separate floor binnacle.

The Ariya's driving position is comfortable and outward visibility is good, even from the second row. Material quality appears a notch above Nissan's already much-improved game, and the cabin's ambient lighting hidden behind kumiko-patterned screens has a pleasingly calming effect. So too does the woodgrain-like expanse running along the dashboard, a nice change from fingerprint- and scratch-prone piano-black trim.

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If you don't want to use Nissan's native infotainment tech, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. Nissan © Provided by Roadshow If you don't want to use Nissan's native infotainment tech, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. Nissan

Under that same surface, Nissan developed backlit haptic feedback climate control switchgear to keep a clean look while still offering tactile button feedback. Unfortunately, it's hard to operate these controls without first taking your eyes off the road to locate them, and annoyingly, the physical controls are incomplete: If you want to activate the seat coolers or heaters, or adjust which vents the air emirates from, you still have to go through the touchscreen.

Given the limited, track-focused nature of this event, there wasn't time to try out the wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, nor assess the quality of the Ariya's audio system, but I look forward to doing so when I get a full US-spec test drive. I did, however, check out the backseat and found it to be quite comfortable when the front chair was set up for my 5-foot, 9-inch frame. There's plenty of head-, knee- and legroom, along with vents and seat-heater controls. Slightly more toe room would be welcome, though -- the front seats are close to the floor.

In my front-drive version, there's only about 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats thanks in part to that rakish sloping rear window. Fortunately, there's useful underfloor space and a helpful movable partition to keep groceries in place. There's no frunk for additional front storage.

The Ariya's active safety game is strong, with standard Nissan Safety Shield 360, a bundle of driver assists that includes blind-spot and lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic rear braking and high-beam assist. Parking sensors and a crisp 360-degree birds-eye display are also available.

The Ariya will go on sale later this year. Nissan © Provided by Roadshow The Ariya will go on sale later this year. Nissan

The Ariya will also be available with ProPilot 2.0, Nissan's next-generation assisted-driving tech. This partially automated Level 3 system includes single-lane, hands-free, eyes-on operation on high-resolution-mapped freeways, although the driver must first set their destination using the navigation system. ProPilot Park, which allows for hands-free parallel and perpendicular parking, will also be offered. Over-the-air updates will help keep the Ariya's drive systems abreast of road network changes, as well as allow for new features and bug fixes to be downloaded.

Nissan is targeting pricing between $40,000 and $60,000 for the Ariya depending on powertrain, battery and content, making this model a clear strike at the heart of today's EV market. On the shallow end, the Ariya's FWD Venture Plus trim starts at $47,125 including a $1,175 destination fee -- $39,625 including the $7,500 federal tax credit. (Nissan expects to have enough incentive to last beyond 2023 orders.) While markedly less powerful than a Tesla Model Y Long Range, that also means that Nissan's gateway to electric SUV ownership is significantly more affordable (membership to Team Elon currently runs $66,190 including $1,200 for delivery). A more apples-to-apples comparison is Nissan's top-shelf $60,125 MSRP Ariya Platinum Plus AWD (as low as $52,625 with the tax credit). That's still a yawningly large gulf.

At first blush, the 2023 Nissan Ariya impresses with its sleek style, sophisticated and serene cabin and ease of use. This isn't an EV that tries too hard to wow with its tech, nor does it force its owner to fundamentally rethink the way they drive. It's an easy and surprisingly elegant way to dip into the EV lifestyle. Of course, it'll take a much longer US-spec drive on normal roads to know whether the Ariya's lower peak charging speed deficit and limited cargo space are significant real-world liabilities, but one thing's for sure: America's burgeoning electric SUV segment is about to get a tough new competitor.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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