2023 Nissan Ariya First Drive Review: Silent Lucidity

Nissan's first battery-powered SUV prioritizes comfort and style over outright performance.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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