First taster from Chinese firm Aiways provides an interesting insight into its forthcoming affordable electric SUV

What is it?

The U5 is a mid-size electric SUV from Chinese start-up company Aiways. 

It will go on sale in mainland Europe in spring next year and should arrive in the UK in late 2020, priced from around £27,000. It has an admittedly over-optimistic NEDC range of 313 miles; the WLTP range, yet to be established, will be substantially less. At least 200 miles is needed for it to be competitive. 

The U5’s 65kWh battery sounds reasonable, however, and it can be replenished from empty to 80% in 44 minutes using a 50kW DC rapid-charger. 

A not-unalluring set of statistics, then, prompting the “who are Aiways?” question, to which the answer is a privately funded Chinese car company whose founders and key managers are mostly ex-Volkswagen-First Automobile Works and ex-Audi China, plus former GM Europe designer Ken Okuyama and a heavy-hitter from the artificial intelligence industry. Aiways plans to be big on connectivity and intelligent driver assistance systems. 

The car you see here is a pre-production U5, one of a pair that has been driven from Xi’an in China to Frankfurt in Germany, the early products of stamping, welding, paint and final assembly plants that have already been constructed from an investment of well over £1 billion to date. A welter of suppliers are involved including Bosch (which developed the chassis), Lear and many other well-knowns. 

So Aiways appears to be a serious car company – one that will build only electric vehicles. The line-up is planned to include a five-door coupé, smaller and larger SUVs and even a high-performance sports car.

The U5 is the first of this new range. Its most direct rivals are the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric, both of which it looks likely to usefully undercut price-wise, plus the MG ZS EV, which is cheaper but has only a 40kW battery.

2 Aiways u5 2019 proto drive hero side

What's it like?

Among the U5’s more usual features - or non-features – is the absence of a starter button. Instead, powering up is achieved by unlocking and climbing in, an action that lights up the smartphone-mimicking bent-glass instrument cluster and a decently sized infotainment screen, while pressing the brake pedal performs the duty of the start button and a rotary knob is used for selecting gears. 

Step-off is slightly abrupt unless you’re careful with the throttle, and acceleration is solid rather than electrifying. The throttle calibration needs work, in fact; feathering the pedal without surges is a little difficult, or very difficult when you’re in maximum regeneration mode, which some will find too jerky for comfort. The regeneration levels and Eco mode are called up via the screen rather than handy paddles – another disincentive to play with the settings. 

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The U5 is a slightly larger-than-average C-segment SUV (think Volkswagen Volkswagen T-Roc and Seat Arona) whose notably compact electric motor delivers 188bhp and 232lb ft of torque. That’s enough to score 0-62mph in 9.0sec and a top speed limited to 99mph in the interests of range preservation, if not German autobahnists. It's not scintillatingly fast, then, but it's brisk enough to play the family wagon role that is the lot of the modern mid-size SUV.

Progress is otherwise pretty civilised, with wind and road noise rarely intrusive, at least on Germany’s mercury-smooth roads. The motor’s whine sometimes penetrates, power tool-like, though. Those same roads made ride assessment near impossible, although it feels well damped, while a series of fast, smooth bends can be confidently tackled, thanks to pretty accurate steering. Other positives include decent room up front and limousine levels in the rear, together with an averagely dimensioned boot. The rear seats fold down, but certainly not flat.

The main downside, other than the middling performance, is the quality of the interior furnishings. The dashtop is soft-feel, as are the door uppers, but the are wrapped in leather that could easily pass for plastic. There’s a lot of cheap plastiminium, too, door pulls included, while the piano black centre console in our car already looked used and the weird absence of a glovebox (it’ll be a clip-on accessory) makes the lower fascia look insubstantial. 

Yet if the lease price is right, the throttle calibration is sorted and the ride proves acceptable, the U5 could carve itself a slot in the market, because it provides a practical range, reasonably brisk charging, loads of room and a competitive suite of electronic safety systems and infotainment features. The infotainment system’s digital assistant, incidentally, is a virtual whale, the aim being to burnish the U5’s environmental credentials.

3 Aiways u5 2019 proto drive hero rear

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Should I buy one?

There are plenty of unknowns here, with range and price being only the most significant and numbers that could drop the U5’s rating below three stars. In fact, Aiways plans to offer the U5 only through a lease scheme, so it’s the monthly price that will be critical – as will the acceptability of only being able to buy online, with maintenance and repairs carried out through roadside assistance. 

The U5 itself certainly isn’t without appeal at the right price, standout features being its quietness, spaciousness and potentially the sophistication of its infotainment system. And if the quality of some interior materials can be improved as well, its appeal will strengthen.

Aiways U5 specification

Where Frankfurt, Germany Price £27,000 (est) On sale 2021 Engine permanent magnet electric motor Power 188bhp Torque 232lb ft Gearbox single-speed automatic Kerb weight tbc Top speed 99mph 0-62mph 9.0sec Range tbc CO2 0g/km Rivals Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Kona Electric, MG ZS EV

8 Aiways u5 2019 proto drive otr left

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Supriya 8 October 2020


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