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2023 Nissan Ariya First Drive Review: Fashionably Late

Stylish and supple, the new Nissan Ariya emphasizes comfort and style over outright performance, and is better for it.

2023 Nissan Ariya
This color is very good.
Nissan

The Nissan Ariya is a late arrival (OK, a very late arrival) to the compact electric crossover scene, but thankfully, it makes a heck of an entrance. On looks alone the Ariya is worth your attention, but sink into its quiet, comfy cabin and you'll find even more to like -- with a few quirks.

Styling is subjective, so I'll let your eyes decide if the Ariya is pretty. But what's notable is that the Ariya isn't as large in person as it sometimes comes across in photos. I originally thought this thing was the size of a Nissan Murano, but at 183 inches long, the Ariya is the same length as a Rogue, and it's even smaller in terms of passenger and cargo volume.

One you step inside, however, the Ariya feels like a much larger SUV. The low dash, raked windshield, nearly flat floor and open space between the power-sliding center console and firewall really give the cabin an airy vibe. Buttons are kept to a minimum, and the haptic controls below the multimedia screen are backlit, crisply shining through the open-pore wood (think BMW iX).

Get a lighter color and the cabin looks super airy.

Nissan

It's that attention to detail that really makes the Ariya feel special. The USB ports for the multimedia system are positioned on the bottom front of the console, out of the way, and Nissan designed this housing so you can neatly wrap the cord around the base. There's a hidden cubby to the left of the glovebox that can be electronically opened and closed, ready to hold things like a phone or wallet, and then hidden from plain sight. The two-spoke steering wheel lets you see down to your feet, further opening up the cabin, and that single line of copper trim that breaks up the air vents is damn elegant. Combine all this with soft leather and Nissan's Zero Gravity ergonomic seats and you've got a lovely interior. Rumor has it the Ariya was originally supposed to be an Infiniti, and it shows.

A few nitpicks: The plastic cup holders look and feel cheap, and the aforementioned haptic feedback for the backlit controls is laggy, giving you the wrong impression of how hard you have to push to register the desired command. Nissan's electronic gear shifter also feels flimsy and hollow -- a complaint I remember from the Rogue -- and the gloss black sides of the steering wheel become a mess of thumb smudges after just a few hours behind the wheel. Also, Nissan, please add hard buttons for the heated seats on the dash, the console, somewhere. Having to go into the touchscreen to turn these on is dumb and distracting.

The 12.3-inch center screen runs a new version of Nissan's infotainment software, with smartly organized tiles on the home screen and a column of icons along the left for things like audio, navigation, or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (only the former of which connects wirelessly). A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster displays all sorts of pertinent information, and both of these big screens are standard on every Ariya, even the base model.

The whole center console moves electrically. But too bad the electronic gear shifter feels like flimsy plastic.

Nissan

The Ariya's coolest bit of tech is its updated Nissan ProPilot Assist 2.0 driving aid, which is standard on the top two trims only. This is a more advanced version of the company's Level 2 driver-assistance suite, which allows for legit hands-free operation on highways -- like GM's Super Cruise or Ford's BlueCruise. Nissan says it has about 200,000 miles of pre-mapped roadways in the US stored in its system, and the company is investigating the possibility of expanding this tech to Canada.

ProPilot 2.0 works smoothly and easily, and the steering wheel has both touch and torque sensors for when hands-on driving is required. Wait, hands-on driving with a hands-off system? Yep, if you're using the automatic lane-change function, which can be activated by the driver or the system can suggest a pass. You have to put your hands back on the wheel in order for it to work, which is really weird.

When your hands are controlling the action, the Ariya drives like a perfectly competent compact SUV. The steering is light and vague, the body motions are nicely controlled and really, the biggest takeaway from a day spent testing the Ariya in Tennessee is that it's quiet. Really quiet. It's very relaxing to drive.

Nissan specifically tuned the Ariya to make it feel as much like a gas car as possible, mimicking the acceleration characteristics of, say, a Rogue. That means you don't get the typical EV rush of instant torque while pulling away from a stoplight or while merging onto the freeway. Instead, speed builds progressively, with Nissan estimating a 7.2-second 0-to-60-mph time for the single-motor, front-wheel-drive Ariya. If you do feel the need for speed, Nissan will add a dual-motor setup in a few months, which is expected to be much quicker.

The Ariya is the same length as a Nissan Rogue.

Nissan

Unlike the Nissan Leaf, which was known for its one-pedal driving, the Ariya doesn't offer enough regenerative braking to bring the car to a stop. You can turn the E-Pedal on and off via a button on the console, but there aren't selectable levels of regen. Also -- and super annoyingly -- the Ariya does that thing where it automatically moves the brake pedal in line with the amount of regen being applied, which takes a long time to get used to and makes it so the amount of pressure you apply to the pedal with your foot is inconsistent. I hate this feature -- Mercedes-Benz does it, too -- and hope it's something other companies don't adopt.

Two battery sizes are offered. There's a 66-kilowatt-hour (63 kWh usable) pack that's only available on the base trim, while all others upgrade to a larger 91-kWh (87 kWh usable) battery. The smaller setup offers 214 horsepower while the bigger bumps output to 238 hp, though both are rated at 221 pound-feet of torque, so it's kind of a wash in terms of outright power. Each battery can handle DC charging speeds of up to 130 kW, which is good but not great, especially when major competitors like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 can charge significantly faster.

The major discrepancy between the two batteries is range. Official EPA numbers aren't yet published on the government agency's website, but Nissan says that, with front-wheel drive, the 66-kWh Ariya will do 216 miles while the 91-kWh variant will do 304. This is likely why Nissan only offers the 66-kWh battery on the base model.

The Ariya's max charging speed is 130 kW.

Nissan

Speaking of models, the Ariya's different variants have the absolute weirdest names, not matching up with the usual S/SV/SL trim walk of other Nissans. (Again, this was supposed to be an Infiniti.) The base Ariya Engage starts at $44,485 including $1,295 for destination, and the upcoming AWD variant will command an extra $4,000. For other front-drive trims, the Venture Plus comes in at $48,485, the Evolve Plus is $51,485, the Empower Plus is $54,985 and the Premiere is $55,985. There's even a tippy-top Platinum AWD version coming soon that crests the $60,000 mark. Yeesh.

This all makes the Ariya a little more expensive than most of its competitors. And even worse, the Japan-built Ariya is not eligible for the usual $7,500 federal tax credit thanks to new rules designed to incentivize American EV production. On top of that, good luck finding one, as Nissan recently closed its Ariya order books "indefinitely."

Assuming you do come across an Ariya -- or you're one of the folks who already ordered one -- the good news is that you're in for a really nice car. I'd rather live with one of these than the drab Volkswagen ID 4 or weirdly styled (inside and out) Toyota BZ4X. Late as it is, the Ariya earns its place in the spotlight.

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 CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.