7
Electric seven-seat performance SUV aims to prove the Chinese can build a credible alternative to existing premium fare
  • First Drive

    Nio ES8 2018 review

    Electric seven-seat performance SUV aims to prove the Chinese can build a credible alternative to existing premium fare
17 December 2018

What is it?

Although Chinese vehicles aren’t widely available in the UK, they’re already plagued by reputation, mostly bad. But where we might expect a cheap sticker price, sketchy build quality and woeful crash test performance, Chinese company Nio’s ES8 is unashamedly targeting the premium segment.

Its weapon of choice for this assault is an SUV: five metres of performance seven-seater, aimed squarely at the Audi E-tron and Tesla Model X.

While prices for its American rival start at £78,000 in the UK, the ES8 is on sale in its homeland at the equivalent of £51,500. So far, so Chinese. Yet that is where, for the most part, the stereotypes end. At first sight, Nio's debut offering is a smart, substantial if conservative-looking SUV that wouldn’t appear out of place in any European car park.

Performance is competitive, too. Power comes from a 70kWh battery pack, located underneath and within the 3010mm wheelbase. This powers a pair of 322bhp motors, one on each axle for full-time four-wheel drive. The resulting maximum power is a more-than-healthy 641bhp, along with 620lb ft of torque. This manifests itself in a headline 4.4sec 0-62mph dash.

Performance is helped by employing Audi levels of aluminium to make up 96.4% of the vehicle’s structure and bodywork. And Nio anticipates five Euro NCAP stars. In light of that, you probably won’t be surprised to hear the company’s engineering and design base is in Munich, Germany.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

What's it like?

The team there has come up with a generic SUV to look at. More stand-out are the tight panel gaps, door handles that fold out of the bodywork and doors that close with a reassuringly solid thunk.

Inside, the ES8’s quality feel continues, with an interior that's cloaked in Nappa leather. The electrically adjustable, heated, ventilated and massaging front seats are comfortable and supportive. The passenger chair has a business class range of movement. Should its occupant wish to catch up on some sleep, there’s an electric footrest that folds out from where the glovebox should be. Alternatively, they can glide back to tend an infant seated in the middle row of three seats.

Look down and Nio's designers have used the electric architecture to replace the traditional transmission tunnel with a plunge pool-deep centre bin. And beneath where you’d normally find the gear selector, there’s a huge storage space to swallow all but the largest of handbags.

On top of the dashboard, with its 10.4in central touchscreen, sits an egg-like object with googly eyes. This is Nomi, the world’s first in-car artificial intelligence personal assistant. Nomi (Know Me, get it?) learns behaviour and does everything from opening the windows to directing you to the nearest charging station, taking selfies and entertaining the kids.

In addition to the fluff, the ES8 has eye-opening on-road performance. Plant the throttle and acceleration pins you to the seat. Nio sensibly bypassed Chinese suppliers when it came to performance componentry. Brembo-sourced brakes pull the car up smartly, decelerating from 62mph to a standstill in 33.8 metres, while all ES8s sit on the same Continental air suspension that Audi and Mercedes-Benz use. This can move between Sport, Comfort and Individual modes and provides a sound base.

Less impressive is the steering. Numb and over-assisted, it has been calibrated for the Chinese market, say Nio's engineers, where drivers clearly don’t like to feel any link between the front tyres and steering wheel.

The Chinese influence is also apparent in other areas. Should you prefer to use a controller rather than touch to operate the infotainment screen, you’ll find a fiddly little knob. And plastics around the lower portions of the doors and particularly the boot lining feel cheap and scratchy.

Should I buy one?

In the greater scheme of thing, that’s small beans, because as a first effort, this is the most refined Chinese car we’ve yet seen.

Nio has plans to come to Europe within the next five years, and the ES8 goes a long way to putting to bed the notion that China can’t build quality cars.

James Foxall

Nio ES8 specification

Where Hefei, China Price £51,500 On sale Now (in China) Engine Two permanent-magnet electric motors Power 641bhp Torque 620lb ft Gearbox Single-speed direct drive Kerb weight 2460kg Top speed 125mph 0-62mph 4.4sec Range 222 miles CO2 0g/km Rivals Tesla Model X, Audi E-tron, Mercedes-Benz EQC

Join the debate

Comments
7

17 December 2018

I kinda like this, well apart from the fact that its a fake off roader and the styling could be a bit better.

XXXX just went POP.

17 December 2018

The notion that the Chinese can’t build cars is the kind of foolish hubris that will ultimately be the demise of great swathes of western industry. The Chinese already build BMW’s and the like for their domestic market to a standard no less refined than for anywhere else in the world. They supply most of the worlds OEM’s with components in some of the worlds most expensive cars. The only thing they lack is brand heritage and recognition in the west. Much like the Koreans, this will change dramatically. 

18 December 2018

Apart from one or two ornamental details like the chrome strip above the windows that 'goes nowhere', this looks very promising both inside and out. Especially the delightfully simple and coherent interior. The overall design looks original and authentic.

19 December 2018

A lot of the design reminds me of The DS7, especially the rear end.

 

19 December 2018
I thoroughly agree. It's a copy of a Citroen or a ds. The badge even looks similar as does the display layout inside. It won't be long before they're approaching European quality. Just look at Korea and Japan before that. These are now mainstream rather than cheap and cheerful

19 December 2018
I thoroughly agree. It's a copy of a Citroen or a ds. The badge even looks similar as does the display layout inside. It won't be long before they're approaching European quality. Just look at Korea and Japan before that. These are now mainstream rather than cheap and cheerful

19 December 2018
I thoroughly agree. It's a copy of a Citroen or a ds. The badge even looks similar as does the display layout inside. The touchscreen is from Tesla. It won't be long before they're approaching European quality. Just look at Korea and Japan before that. These are now mainstream rather than cheap and cheerful

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week