Nissan's all-wheel drive Ariya is finally on sale, and Ars has driven it

Nissan's all-wheel drive Ariya is finally on sale, and Ars has driven it
Mar 2023

The 2023 Nissan Ariya was meant to be Nissan's EV comeback, regaining ground the automaker lost after delaying a follow-up to the pioneering Leaf by expanding into the popular crossover SUV segment. But Nissan has left what may be the Ariya's key feature on the table until now.

When US Ariya deliveries began in late 2022, Nissan only shipped front-wheel drive models, leaving the launch of its new e-4ORCE dual-motor all-wheel drive powertrain until a later date. Now the Ariya e-4ORCE is finally here, with cars scheduled to reach dealerships in the coming weeks. It's billed as not only providing the all-wheel drive option important to any crossover, but also a greater focus on handling quality than most rivals.

Adding a second motor powering the rear axle in addition to the standard front motor--both motors are of identical design--the Ariya e-4ORCE is rated at 389 hp (290 kW) and 442 lb-ft (600 Nm) of torque, compared to 238 hp (177 kW) and 221 lb-ft (300 Nm) in the front-wheel drive Ariya.

That makes the Ariya e-4ORCE substantially quicker than front-wheel drive models. Nissan claims the all-wheel drive version will do zero to 60 mph in a respectable 4.8 seconds, compared to an unremarkable 7.2 seconds for the front-wheel drive single-motor powertrain. But Nissan has done more than just ladle on more power.

Other mainstream brands tend to stick a second motor in their electric crossovers and call it a day, but Nissan went a bit further, harnessing the immense tunability of electric motors and their control software for granular control of power distribution. The e-4ORCE system can split power front to rear, brake the wheels on one side to help settle the car when cornering (something the Volkswagen ID.4 can also do to some extent), and modulate the rear motor's regenerative braking to reduce nosedive under hard deceleration.

To show off these capabilities, Nissan set up a small autocross course, including a spot where we were instructed to floor the accelerator with the wheel turned hard to the left--generally not good driving practice. The sudden application of power would normally be a recipe for understeer, forcing the front wheels to plow straight ahead as they struggled for grip. The Ariya held its line, though, and applied the power consistently without traction control cutting in and erasing momentum mid-corner.

We spent the balance of our time on public roads in California's Sonoma wine country that were soaked by heavy rain, making for a good test of any all-wheel drive system. In those slippery conditions, the software's interventions were well-hidden, giving the Ariya a natural feel. You get the grip you need without any unexpected quirks or spooky behavior.

Nissan's all-wheel drive Ariya is finally on sale, and Ars has driven it

The Ariya maintained its composure when pushed harder, the main limitations being slow steering and suspension that allowed for quite a bit of body roll. That's in keeping with Nissan's intentions, though. Engineers weren't trying to challenge the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT or Kia EV6 GT with sporty handling. Instead, the goal was "confidence and comfort," Dusty Pierson, senior engineer, vehicle performance development, explained. To that end, e-4ORCE sticks with a 50:50 front/rear torque split most of the time; there's no rear-biased setting to let the tail hang out. And accelerator response was tuned to be quick but not punishing, according to Pierson. We did find that, while the Ariya had the instant response typical of an EV, it lacked the harsh gut-punch feel of many other EVs. It's a good option for drivers who want something more mellow.

Under braking, the Ariya stayed fairly level when mashing the pedal thanks to the clever software. That's not something you'll be doing much, admittedly, as the level of regenerative braking is fairly high when using the e-Step maximum-regen mode. As with the front-wheel drive Ariya, though, e-Step won't blend regenerative and hydraulic braking to bring the vehicle to a complete stop like it does in the Nissan Leaf with its e-Pedal mode--a change made in response to customer feedback, according to Nissan.