Nio joins an ever increasing glut of Chinese brands to land on UK shores. SAIC arguably entered via the back door by purchasing the British MG brand over a decade ago, and in recent months there’s been GWM Ora and BYD, while firms such as Zeekr and Omoda are waiting in the wings. Those brands have had success to varying degrees, but Nio could be the most compelling yet for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, and easily the biggest differentiator of all, is Nio’s battery swapping technology. When the firm arrives in the UK, likely in the latter part of 2024, it’ll have a network of workshops that’ll be able to change an EL6’s battery as quickly as it takes to refill a car from a petrol pump. Owners need only drive into one of Nio’s ‘power stations’ and a robot will remove the depleted battery for another fully charged one within five minutes.
There’s also the community Nio is keen to build around the brand and its products. Owners can give feedback to the company to improve current and future models, and Nio has built a number of ‘Nio Houses’ and ‘Nio Spaces’ in the markets it has already launched in (Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden) which are a bit like Apple Stores. Here you can buy a Nio if you wish but the places are more designed to act as a space for owners to chill out, hold meetings with colleagues and listen to talks.
Nio has been around barely a decade but it already has a full model line of saloons, SUVs and an electric estate car. The EL6 is the car that’ll be coming to the UK first, sold primarily through finance packages – but also via a subscription method (expected to be around £1,000 a month) or to buy outright – and will rival premium models like the Mercedes EQE SUV.
Range and charging
There are two battery sizes on offer – 75kWh and 100kWh – giving ranges of 252 and 329 miles respectively. That doesn’t sound all that impressive, especially when rival premium brands are adding larger batteries to their new models all of the time, and neither is the maximum charging speed of 182kW with a 10 to 80% top-up taking 40 minutes.
But the card up Nio’s sleeve is its battery-swapping technology, for some owners won’t need to lug around a heavy battery for the odd occasion they may make a long trip as they’ll be able to exchange their battery for another. While it’s something that likely won’t appeal in the future when EVs have lengthy driving ranges, for the short term the idea of quickly swapping a depleted battery for a fully-topped up one is the answer to many people’s prayers – not to mention eradicating both range anxiety and long queues at peak times for motorway chargers at a stroke.
The 100kWh car should give 3.3 miles/kWh and on our varied test route in the hills between Germany and Austria on a warm October day, we saw as high as 5 miles/kWh. In Britain on a cold, damp day, less than 3 miles/kWh would be more likely.
Interior and practicality
While the battery and range might seem a little underwhelming the interior is a real highlight. The cabin is covered in rich feeling materials such as alcantara that feel great to touch, and while there aren’t many switches due to the designers taking a minimalist approach, the ones that are present feel really good to prod. The doors thud with a quality feel and you’re left feeling the EL6 has the measure of a Mercedes EQE SUV.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the car’s features are controlled through a touchscreen – more on that later – and the whole interior feels really spacious and airy. Part of this is thanks to some light interior options available, but primarily it’s due to the vast panoramic glass roof; Nio calls it the largest in the class and it really adds to the premium feeling.
Back seat passengers can really stretch out thanks to acres of legroom and an electrically reclining backrest, and it’s possible to fit three adults if you really want to. The plush feeling materials up front are carried over into the rear, but the boot, at 579 to 1,430 litres, is just average, and there’s no ‘frunk’ or front boot.
Square in shape, the 12.8-inch touchscreen happily doesn’t dominate the interior like some such as the vast portrait affair in the Ford Mustang Mach-E, but it isn’t all good news. Many features require two or three prods or plenty of finger scrolling to reach them which takes some getting used to, and if you spend too long staring at the screen the car tells you to ‘pay attention’ to the road.
Things are improved with the voice assistant, though – Nio calls it ‘Nomi’ and it can do most basic tasks for you such as adjusting the climate control and turning on the massaging seats, and the head-up display is easy to read and packed with information. One thing to note, though, is Nio has no intention to add Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to its cars as it believes its own operating system works best.
Like with all modern cars, the EL6 comes with a full suite of safety features as standard and it has already been awarded a full five stars by independent crash safety testers EuroNCAP. And, like we have found with a number of Chinese EVs, the safety tech is a little on the strong side, with the car constantly correcting itself by adjusting the steering and emitting a succession of bongs and beeps. Happily, much of the tech can be switched off.
Speaking of safety, if you’re wondering what the humps are on the roof then the EL6 comes with LiDAR. It stands for ‘Light Detection and Ranging’ and assists with self-driving capability – it’s clever stuff but it makes the EL6 resemble a Black Cab.
It sounds mad to say it but even with 483bhp and 700Nm of torque the Nio EL6 doesn’t feel all that quick. There are a number of different driving modes, including a dedicated ‘towing’ option and an off-road one, and when you prod the throttle the EL6 gracefully picks up speed. Of course, there’s a ‘sport’ and an even sharper ‘sport+’ mode, which unleashes the twin electric motors’ full power, sharpens the throttle response and adds some unnecessary weight to the steering. Engage these modes and the EL6 will dash to 62mph from a standstill in just 4.5 seconds.
However, the EL6 is very much a car that suits the more laid back modes, particularly ‘comfort’. That’s mostly due to the steering, which is extremely vague and doesn’t give a definite sensation of being connected to the front wheels, and how the EL6 likes to roll around corners. It’s not unpleasant, by any means, but it’s clear the car feels at home threading its way through tight city streets rather than stringing together a series of fast, flowing bends.
This easy going nature is backed up with pretty comfy suspension, and how it’s deathly quiet when on the move with very little tyre or wind noise.
Nio hasn’t priced up the EL6 yet, and we feel that’ll be the thing that could make or break the car’s chances of being popular with UK customers. But if it’s priced competitively, it could gain a loyal following on account of its smart styling, premium feeling interior and refined driving experience. The EL6 could also woo plenty of Brits who have yet to take the plunge with EVs, as Nio’s clever battery-swapping technology might cure the range anxiety for some.
Ultimately, though, just like with any new brand, the key will be how to get people behind the wheel and establish a presence in the market. On this first impression with the EL6, and understanding how Nio plans to be a little different from established carmakers, we rate Nio’s chances highly.