Everyone gets on Nissan for leaving the same products on the market for a long, long time. Now, the company is making efforts to turn things around. In the last few years, nearly every vehicle in the brand’s lineup has been completely redesigned or heavily updated. That means the long-lived Leaf is getting another all-electric sibling. And the Ariya should get people talking.
Full Disclosure: Nissan flew me out to Nashville and put me up in a beautiful “sustainable hotel” that was covered in plants and wood. They fed me and tossed me the keys to the Ariya to drive through the beautiful Tennessee countryside.
The production Ariya was previewed by a concept car by the same name at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2019. It was shown again at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2020. Nissan said the concept represented the next generation of the brand, adding that “it embodies the Nissan Intelligent Mobility vision of personal transportation – one where electrification and vehicle intelligence will offer seamless and adaptive travel experiences free of accidents or harmful emissions.” Bold claims.
The Ariya is the first step in Nissan’s Ambition 2030 plan, which will see the company expanding its lineup with 15 all-new EVs in the next five years. These plans ride on the assumption that the U.S. will see 40 percent of all new vehicle sales going to EVs by 2030, so there’s some big moves to be made.
Ariya rides on an all-new modular EV platform called CMF-EV. This is the first vehicle on the U.S. market to utilize this platform, but future EVs will share it. Of course, Nissan went with what’s popular for its first all-new EV in years: a crossover, about the size of a Murano but with better interior room. There’s no third row, and I think that’s a good thing — I’d rather a third row with usable room than one that’s just crammed back there for the sake of marketing.
Nissan positions the Ariya as near-luxe. Not quite an Infiniti, but high-end enough to show Nissan’s ambitions. It’s extremely quiet on the road. EVs are already quiet for obvious reasons, but Nissan engineers added another layer of serenity to the Ariya’s ride that makes it library-like. From noise-absorbing cabin materials to suspension improvements that work to quell road noise, it all works. You could fall asleep instantly riding shotgun in this thing.
. Even though it’s an EV, dont expect that punch-you-in-the-chest instant power and torque you’ve come to hear about with EVs.
The Ariya I was driving was the Premier trim, with front-wheel drive and an 87-kWh battery, good for 238 hp and a claimed 289 miles of range. Power delivery, of course, is instantaneous, and especially in Sport mode, the Ariya is decently quick, but don’t expect that punch-you-in-the-chest torque you’ve heard about with performance-oriented EVs.
Once up to speed, the Ariya drives like any other near-luxury crossover. Which is to say, not bad but not particularly exciting. What I didn’t expect was the excellent steering feel. I went in anticipating an artificial, numb disconnect, but none of that was present. The Ariya handles corners with ease, though the turning radius could be a little tighter in parking lot maneuvers.
The Ariya’s brake pedal was a bit mushy, but we were driving pre-production vehicles at the media event; I expect the brake calibration will improve on regular production models. Body roll is nonexistent as far as I could tell. I wasn’t trying to drive this thing like a sports sedan, but it handled well. Despite the crossover proportions, you don’t sit terribly high up in the Ariya, and there’s never any sensation of wallowing through curves.
It wouldn’t be an EV without a lot of tech, and the Ariya has tech in spades. Take ProPilot Assist, here upgraded to version 2.0, which equips the EV with a bunch of sensors and cameras. All those combine to allow Ariya to achieve Level 2 driver assistance, meaning hands-free driving, but you damn well better pay attention and be prepared to take over if needed.
Based on traffic conditions, the Ariya can be driven in three different driver-assisted modes: White is Intelligent Cruise Control, which handles changing speeds and stop-and-go but leaves the steering to you. Green mode adds steering assist, while the final blue mode is what Nissan describes as hands-off/eyes off. This offers full-on steering assist and allows Ariya to do things like execute a lane change to get around slower traffic. You can watch all this happen on giant dual 12.3-inch displays on the dashboard in front of you.
When you need to park, Nissan has your back. The Ariya is equipped with ProPilot Park, which can reverse into a parking spot or handle a parallel-parking situation.
Don’t go looking for actual buttons on the Ariya’s interior. Aside from the steering wheel controls and some feature buttons on the left, nearly every control on the dashboard is haptic. While this looks cool and cleans up the dashboard design, I still like physical buttons. And I found myself pressing harder than needed to activate certain things.
The center console is also powered adjustable, allowing you to move the whole thing a few inches forward or back for maximum comfort. The armrest can be brought far enough forward to nearly touch another interesting feature, what Nissan calls the power console box. Think of it as a power-operated glove compartment that’s in the center of the dash, not way over on the passenger side. The gear shift, that jet-black phaser-looking thing, is a little confusing if you’re used to conventional shifters. Simple buttons would have worked better.
Nissan has priced the Ariya competitively, but it’s not necessarily cheap: You’ll drop nearly $44,000 to get into a base model. Of course, Nissan has its targets set on the Tesla Model Y, but things have shifted, and the new hotness is the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or the Kia EV6. The midsize EV near-lux crossover class is growing, with the Audi Q4 E-Tron, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, and the Toyota bz4X/Subaru Solterra. That goes to show how important crossovers will be as automakers make their EV transition.
What Nissan has here is a solid entry into the crossover EV space. It’s stylish enough to stand out while being conventional enough for mainstream buyers. If this is the kind of EV we can expect from Nissan, the company might just surprise everyone.