New Nio EL6 review
Chinese EV SUV is gunning for Mercedes, but with a twist
We’re as excited about Nio’s arrival in the UK next year as its rivals should be worried. The EL6 is a hugely desirable SUV with impressive tech, a lovely, comfortable interior with strong quality, and a unique focus on the Nio community. Pricing will be key to our final rating, but for now, if we were due to swap into a new, premium SUV in about 12 months, we’d be making sure the Nio EL6 was on our list.
Standing out in an increasingly crowded electric SUV market is difficult enough for established brands, but new ones? And those from China? As many have shown, that’s hard. Nio, however, stands a better chance than most, and could well upset the premium-car apple cart – for a number of reasons.
Based on our first drive in the new EL6, the car is good. Really good. We thought the same of the ET7 when we drove that last year, so much so that it got our vote in sister title Auto Bild’s prestigious Golden Steering Wheel Awards.
We also like the way the Nio folk are developing their brand; we came away from the Shanghai Auto Show really impressed with how they’re curating the community around the company. That’s before you take into account the maker’s novel solution to range anxiety – with battery swap technology that can take less time than you’d spend filling your tank with fuel.
Let’s start with that. When Nio arrives in the UK towards the end of next year, there will be strategically placed battery-swap stations that will enable you to change your depleted battery for a near-fully-charged one in around five minutes. That makes long journeys in an EV far less painless – at least until battery tech moves on to bring longer ranges and faster charge times.
The EL6 comes with that battery-swap tech – which also explains the car’s width, dictated by the swap system that every Nio gets. To be fair, 1,995mm doesn’t feel excessively wide, but it’s 55mm wider than a Mercedes EQE SUV. At 4,854mm long, the Nio is actually a tiny bit shorter.
The benefit of that width is generous rear shoulder room (and legroom, for that matter) for three adults – a rare thing in any car. Yet the EL6’s size doesn’t make it feel unwieldy at all – the excellent all-round visibility and useful camera systems make it a very easy car to live with, as does a decent 668-litre boot.
This is the second generation of EL6, but the first destined for Europe, and designed with an eye on Western tastes. It’s a smart looking thing, nicely proportioned with clean lines. Certainly much less fussy than the Mercedes, although we’re going to have to get used to the Nio’s roof-mounted sensors that might get people trying to hail you down if you opt for one in black.
But it’s the interior that will win hearts; it’s a triumph of minimalist design, comforting materials and strong quality – we particularly liked the vegan leather covering the seriously comfortable seats.
Like everything else, the cabin is dominated by a large central touchscreen that takes a few too many prods to control some basic functions. Nio’s solution is something it calls Nomi (the EL6’s digital personal assistant) which can do most basic tasks for you.
There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and no plans for them either. But Nio makes a big thing of offering cars ‘shaped by its users’; that means if enough people ask, they’ll consider it. For now, though, Nio thinks its own system works best with this car’s features.
There is a crisp head-up display, and a small screen in front of the driver with important data (and some superfluous battery numbers) on it, plus a brilliant stereo developed in-house with Dolby Atmos surround sound.
Our EL6 came with the bigger 100kWh battery with a claimed range of 328 miles. That’s nothing groundbreaking – and nor is the maximum charging speed of ‘around 182 kW’. But who needs fast charging when you can simply switch out the empty battery instead?
Driving dynamics are a mixed bag. We really liked how easy it is to drive, first selecting Comfort mode where the steering is light and performance good enough. If you want to go for the 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds you’ll have to cycle through Sport to Sport+ mode, while there’s also an Eco setting, or you can customise things yourself. To make the most of the EL6’s four-wheel drive system, there are various off-road modes, too.
There are so many ways to personalise the car, as well – from lights, to the driver assistance features. So many, in fact, you’ll need a good hour or so to set the car up – like you would with a new computer.
You can also opt for a smaller 75kWh battery with a range of 252 miles, which offers the same performance and saves 20kg in weight. That, and standard 20-inch wheels rather than the 21s of our test car, may take the edge off a slightly firm (and occasionally noisy) ride, although it’s still better than a Polestar or a Tesla.
Currently Nio is aiming at a “late 2024” on-sale date in the UK, although that may slip – getting the battery-swap stations in place is key to that. That means we’ll have to wait a little longer for official pricing, though the EL6 starts at €65,500 (£57,076) in Germany. Nio expects to lease most of its cars, though, which will bring the battery swapping boons into play with, potentially, a couple of free swaps per month before additional costs.
|Price:||From £57,000 (est)|
|Powertrain:||100kWh battery, 2 x e-motor|
|Transmission:||Single-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|
|Range/charging:||328 miles / c.182kW (10-80% in 40 mins est)|
|On sale:||Late 2024|