Nissan Ariya 2023 EV first drive — surprisingly thrilling

nissan ariya first drive
(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

Nissan has been on the electric car bandwagon for a decade now, but recently its plans for electrification have really kicked into gear. The most obvious next step is the launch of the oft-delayed Nissan Ariya, which is set to launch this fall for a starting price of $45,950.

Nissan recently held a European taster day to showcase the vehicles and technologies that form part of its ongoing move to electrification. Nissan Electrified the event, as it was called, featured the likes of the Nissan Qashqai with the latest e-Power tech, the Nissan Juke hybrid and the all-electric Nissan Townstar van. 

Naturally, the star-turn everyone wanted to drive in its almost production-ready splendour was, of course, the all-electric Nissan Ariya.

After seeing plenty of images and concept creations over the last couple of years it was great to lay eyes on the real thing. Nissan bills the Ariya as a mid-size, all-electric SUV crossover with powertrain variants to suit all needs. 

The cars we tried were still described as prototype vehicles, but everything important seemed to be in place. The Ariya boasts plenty of comfort, oodles of tech and delivers cool vibes with its premium interior styling. Ideal for a first spin then, just not in highway conditions.

Nissan Ariya 2023 models and specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Nissan Ariya Venture+Nissan Ariya Evolve+Nissan Ariya PremiereNissan Ariya Platinum+
Starting price $45,950$48,950$53,450$58,950
RangeUp to 300 miles Up to 285 milesUp to 285 milesUp to 265 miles
Motor238 hp/178 kW238 hp/178 kW238 hp/178 kW389 hp/290 kW
Special features PIlot Assist with Navi Link, Quick Charge Port CCSAround View Monitor, Power panoramic moonroofProPILOT Assist 2.0, ProPILOT ParkHands-free liftgate, Nappa leather seats

Nissan Ariya: Taking to the track

nissan ariya first drive

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

The location was Circuito del Jarama, the former F1 track just north of Madrid. It’s quite a tight course normally, but the Nissan team had made things even more interesting by laying out bollards to follow within the lines of the regular layout. The thinking was to try and recreate everyday driving scenarios, allowing us to experience the pre-production cars as realistically as possible.  

The rules also stated we had to travel in convoy, with no overtaking allowed, and to come off the track when we were told. A handful of laps and that was it. Thankfully, this was a very tight and twisty track, with plenty of ups, downs and the odd beefy straight to get stuck into. So there was still enough time to squeeze plenty out of the Nissan Ariya. 

nissan ariya first drive

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

A convoy of SUVs on an obstacle-ridden course may sound a bit stressful, but each car was spaced out enough to give everyone enough space to drive normally. So no problems accidentally shunting the car in front or being rear-ended. The Ariya is equipped with a plethora of in-car driving aids, which acted as an additional back-up — dishing out warnings if any of us pushed our Ariya a little bit too much. 

While it was slightly odd driving a car not designed for track use around awkward bends, it did give an insight as to what’s on offer from this SUV.

Inside the Nissan Ariya

nissan ariya first drive

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

Hopping into a dark coloured Ariya the first pleasant surprise was the interior. The fit and finish is premium in feel with comfortable seats, a great driving position and plenty of space. My car’s interior was a combination of light-coloured seats and other trim highlights, supplemented with darker shades. 

The tops of the door panels and across the dash boasted a suede-effect covering that added a touch of panache. Nissan has incorporated a neat Japanese-flavoured pattern effect into areas of the trim, which was a nice touch. I also noticed my car had a Bose in-car entertainment system fitted.

One definite point of interest is the central console, which houses the drive selector plus other switchable controls — including Nissan’s addictive-to-use e-Pedal button. Interestingly, the whole console can be moved backwards and forwards when the car is stationary, using a couple of buttons on the side. It’s a bit like the design found in the Hyundai IONIQ 5.

nissan ariya first drive

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

The general theme of the car is one that’s in vogue at present with the interior seemingly designed to emulate the warm and welcoming effect delivered by your own living room. And, as you’d expect, there are plenty of home comforts on hand, with an assortment of the essential USB ports to keep everyone powered up while they’re in transit. 

Overall, in the fairly short space of time I spent sitting in it I’d say the Nissan Ariya will make a very decent home away from home, especially for families.

nissan ariya first drive

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are present, alongside dual 12.3-inch HD displays that are easy on the eyes and Nissan’s Intelligent Voice Control System. The Ariya also benefits from Nissan’s suite of driver assist features, including its ProPilot automatic parking system. There’s an ‘intelligent’ rear view mirror too, and the rear facing camera looks like being an essential part of the package since the view out the back window looks fairly limited thanks to a combination of the tapered roof line and headrests.

On a related note, the 16.4 cubic feet of trunk space seemed decent too. It’s not as much as you’d find in other crossover SUVs, like the 30.1 cubic feet trunk in the Tesla Model Y. But you should find it has more than enough room for all the family-related cargo that comes with moving people from one place to another. 

nissan ariya first drive

Like the Nissan leaf, there's no frunk to be seen. (Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

Where some electric vehicles benefit from a small “frunk” under the hood for additional storage, the Nissan Ariya seems to have skipped this option. However, the generous feel of the main interior didn’t leave me thinking I’d be looking for more storage opportunities. There’s even plenty of headroom for all the taller passengers that might need a ride.

And so, to the drive. 

Driving the Nissan Ariya

nissan ariya driver's seat

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

We got enough laps of Nissan’s specialized circuit to try all the driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport, while also experiencing a good cross-section of driving styles. Being a circuit there were none of the potholes or bumps you’d get on a normal highway so, unsurprisingly, the Nissan Ariya stuck to the road nicely enough. 

At 181-inches long the car is quite large, and at 72.8 inches tall it’s pretty high too. Both of which could be felt when driving the Ariya around. 

My car was a prototype single motor, front-wheel drive variant packing a 63kWh battery. Nissan has plenty more options available, though. The Ariya will also be available with a larger 87kWh battery pack, and so far that’s the only battery option that will be going on sale in the United States.

American drivers will be able to buy the Venture Plus, Evolve Plus and Premiere models, all of which have FWD, while the Platinum Plus packs in Nissan's e-Force AWD setup. Nissan’s e-4ORCE technology is neat in that it can automatically balance power output and braking to offer a more dynamic driving experience.

nissan ariya from rear

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

In terms of range, the Venture+ comes with an estimated EPA range of 300 miles, while the Evolve Plus and Premiere models estimate up to 280 miles of range. The AWD Platinum Plus comes off worst, but still offers a today 265 mile range estimate. However all these figures are pending the EPA’s final stamp of approval. Charging can be done with AC chargers up to 7.2kW, or CCS rapid chargers up to 130kW.

The dual-motor, all-wheel-drive edition benefits from near 50/50 weight distribution and the e-4ORCE technology, making it the one to head for if you’re an enthusiastic driver. Expect 0-62 mph in 5.1 seconds using Sport mode for that one. The 87kWh front-wheel drive models should do the same in a not-so-sprightly 7.6 seconds.

Even in the less potent model, the core drive modes provide everything you need for day-to-day motoring. There’s Eco if you’re pootling around town, or watching those battery levels. Normal is exactly as the name suggests, with power on tap for tackling all your driving requirements. 

Meanwhile, the Sport mode offers up a slightly racier edge to proceedings. Again though, the size of the Ariya and the power supply in the car I drove meant this added some zing to the drive without turning the car into a tearaway.

The main benefit of driving an SUV is the fact you’re quite high up. This is particularly noticeable if you hammer the Ariya around a tight corner, with a little bit of the expected roll. Although this was probably exaggerated by the fact I was driving on a track covered with bollards, with all the bends feeling a little more extreme than what you’d face on a regular stretch of road.

Bottom Line

nissan ariya

(Image credit: Rob Clymo/Tom's Guide)

All things considered my first impressions of the Nissan Ariya were certainly positive. It’ll be good to try it on real roads next, though that's not likely to happen until closer to the car's European and U.S. launch. At least a few months, in other words.

But it is still possible to pre-order the Ariya right now, despite the fact it isn’t going to arrive in the U.S. until this fall. European drivers will be slightly luckier, with deliveries currently expected to kick off during the summer.