First Drive: The Nissan ARIYA AWD

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The Nissan ARIYA is the tip of the spear in Nissan’s second big push into electric vehicles. It follows behind the Nissan LEAF which was an attempt to build a truly affordable electric vehicle for the masses. Then CEO Carlos Ghosn believed that designing and building an affordable electric vehicle would help the company achieve high enough production volumes to catalyze a full transition to battery electric vehicles, setting Nissan up as a leader in the space.

The LEAF never truly fulfilled its purpose and after more than a decade, the Nissan ARIYA has taken up the mantle, with all the learnings from the Nissan LEAF to help steer its trajectory. The Nissan ARIYA is a crossover, positioning it to be a top seller for Nissan, achieving significant production volumes. Having waited several years to step back up to the plate with the ARIYA, Nissan stands to benefit from a much more established electric vehicle component supply chain including much more widely available and affordable lithium-ion batteries.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

We were fortunate enough to spend some time with the ARIYA front wheel drive a few months ago and Nissan invited us out to California’s wine country to get to know its all wheel drive (AWD) big brother. Nissan spoiled us at the lavish Montage Healdsburg, where their engineers unpacked the ARIYA lineup along with a bit of technical information about the car.

The ARYIA was designed with a focus on the driver and that mindset permeates the design. The interior feels like a lounge at a high end resort, with kumiko patterns, soft tones, and open spaces to create the effect. A decision was made to open up as much of the interior as possible, which pushed components that would typically live up under the dash into the space under the hood of the car.

Nissan’s Senior Director of EV Programs Aditya Jairaj explained that, “in the interior of the ARIYA, it’s not what you see, it is what you don’t see.” The thinking was that drivers use the interior every single day they are in the car whereas a frunk is infrequently used. Interesting logic. It’s refreshing to see a manufacturer optimize a vehicle around their own ideals and design methodology instead of simply copying the ten bullet points of design liberally borrowed from Tesla.

The interior of the ARIYA is spacious and calming. Image courtesy: Nissan

The rear view mirror is a bit quirky in the ARIYA. By default, it is a standard rectangular mirror, but it can also be at the touch of a button transformed into a rear view mirror camera. In this mode, the mirrored surface fades away with a small rear view camera display lighting up to take its place. The surface of the display is very reflective which often made it difficult to see the display in brighter conditions.

The Drive

The weather during the event was absolutely frightful. Northern California was in the middle of its tenth or so major storm of the season which was causing all sorts of flooding, downed trees, extreme wind, mudslides, and accidents. As we hopped into our cars for the drive, it felt a bit like the start of a post apocalyptic ride at a theme park, just with real weather, real risk, and real consequences. Thankfully, we were reviewing the ARIYA all wheel drive and had the extra assurance of its all wheel drive traction.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

That said, we saw a number of accidents, flooded roads, downed trees, emergency response vehicles, road closures, and mudslides in what ended up being only a half day drive as the afternoon course was literally inaccessible due to the weather. As Nissan’s first all wheel drive electric vehicle, the expectations were high for the Nissan ARIYA e-force all wheel drive and right out of the gate, the car delivered.

Driving through heavy rain on the freeway, the ARIYA AWD was planted and confident. It confidently accelerated through a patch of standing water on the onramp and it maintained solid traction as it silently adjusted power to each wheel for optimal control. At freeway speeds, the ARIYA cut through the deluge of water with an acceleration range that’s familiar whether coming from a Nissan Rogue or a Tesla Model 3.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

With nearly double the horsepower of its front wheel drive sibling, the all-wheel drive ARIYA is flush with power and it’s not shy about laying it down. Exiting the freeway, we headed out into the backroads of California’s wine country. Stepping on the accelerator in an open stretch resulted in a balanced boost forward that felt somewhat magical on the narrow road. Acceleration was nice and flat, with the ARIYA feeling like a bird of prey tucking in its wings for a rapid boost forward.

The Tech

The e-Pedal Step driving system provided its own sense of balance to the drive, with an even transition from acceleration when the pedal was depressed to gradual but firm slowing when the pedal is let up. It effectively enables the majority of driving to be done with a single pedal. For times when more rapid deceleration is needed, the manual brake pedal is always ready to step in. One pedal driving is more relaxing and makes the overall driving experience in the ARIYA more tranquil and relaxing.

A row of Nissan ARIYA AWDs flanked by beautiful solar awnings. Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

The heads up display (HUD) is also a nice improvement over traditional vehicle layouts. After all, if you can accelerate and slow down without having to move your foot, why should you have to look away from the road to see what speed you’re going? The ARIYA’s HUD projects an almost holographic mini display onto the windshield with the speed and a few other key metrics in tow.

The status of the ProPILOT Assist system is a helpful addition, making it easy to see how much the system is helping at any given time. Navigation instructions on the HUD are easy to read and even the current speed limit sign is a useful addition, eliminating the need to try to find a speed limit sign when in doubt. It’s a beautiful balance and one that will surely replace the need to glance down at the primary display quite as often, if at all.

The ARIYA HUD is packed with useful data. Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

The Test

The 2023 ARIYA AWD e-Force is Nissan’s first all wheel drive electric vehicle and they were eager to showcase its capabilities. We headed out to the Sonoma Raceway for a quick track session where we were able to safely slam down the throttle and the brakes in rapid succession. Accelerating rapidly on the sopping wet track surface mimicked what we (safely) experienced getting onto the freeway, with the torque vectoring system helping everything play nicely to maximize power to the ground, improving overall control. On the track, it noticeably dampened of the output of the motors to maintain traction, as it should.

Braking was another matter altogether. Slamming on the brakes in the best of conditions is a risky venture but doing it at speed on a wet track is another thing entirely. After the rapid boost up to speed, the ABS system was put to the test by slamming on the brakes and it performed flawlessly, bringing the vehicle to a stop as if the soaking wet track was perfectly dry and grippy.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

Powering into turns, the ARIYA AWD’s steering was extremely balanced and didn’t understeer as is typical of a vehicle when you lay into the throttle on a turn. In the sharp cornering through the slalom section, the vehicle had somebody roll but felt extremely anchored to the ground, thanks to the massive battery anchoring it with its low center of gravity. This planted base is further improved upon with the ARIYA’s torque vectoring that dynamically throttles power up and down on each motor as the wheels gained and lost traction through the tight turns.

Nissan clearly put a of work to tune the throttle between the two motors to mitigate the nose pitching up when accelerating. There is still noticeable amount of side to side body pitch under more rapid acceleration but its still better than in traditional vehicles.

A Less Than “Pro” Pilot

Heading back on the freeway, we were eager to put Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist to the test. We had mixed results with the system when we first tested it in the ARIYA front wheel drive a few months back and our experience this time was similar. When it’s activated, the system works extremely well for the most part. Lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and even hands free mode on the freeway is a huge bonus.

Unfortunately, the transition from green ProPILOT Assist which helps steer the vehicle to white mode, which only does adaptive cruise control is invisible to the user. The result is seemingly random periods when the vehicle disengages from green mode, handing control back to the driver with minimal alerting.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

In our testing, ProPILOT cut out several times and even with a hand at the ready on the steering wheel, the invisible transition from “the vehicle is steering” to “take control immediately” caused a surge of adrenaline. With the adverse weather in Northern California during the test drive, the vehicle would also randomly kick out of ProPILOT Assist more often than usual. In some of these instances, it would emit an audible chime as well as a pop-up alert on the display behind the steering wheel but this was unfortunately not a consistent experience.

Overall, the new Nissan ARIYA all-wheel drive e-force is an extremely solid entrant for into the world of all-wheel drive electric SUVs. Priced in the mid-$40k to high $50k price range, it is now directly competing with the Tesla Model Y in the compact SUV space. It gives mainstream buyers and those put off by Musk’s shenanigans an option from a mainstream buyer with more than a decade of experience building EVs under their belts. With Tesla’s recent price cuts, the ARIYA does feel slightly overpriced versus the competition.

The design is sleek and refined and it’s not hard to imagine the ARIYA taking a top position on the sales charts if Nissan cranks up the volume on the production side.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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