China’s most prominent EV start-up sets its sights on Europe with seven-seat SUV

What is it?

Few models exemplify the global nature of today’s car industry better than the Nio ES8. The first of four EVs from a Chinese firm that was established only in 2014 yet is now valued higher than BMW, this seven-seat SUV was developed by four ‘competence centres’ around the world: Shanghai conceived it, Munich styled it, Oxford engineered it and Silicon Valley coded its software.

At 5022mm long, 1962mm wide and 1756mm tall, it’s considerably larger than the Audi E-tron – just one of a number of premium EVs that Nio is targeting as it enters the European market via Norway this month. Unlike the E-tron, the ES8 is based on a dedicated EV platform. It hosts a big 100kWh battery and a body that’s 96% aluminium to weigh 2425kg.

Power comes from two motors supplied by NIO subsidiary XPT, driving all four wheels. Total output is put at 543bhp and 534lb ft, compared with 402bhp and 489lb ft for the E-tron in its 55 quattro guise.

The battery is estimated to yield a 311-mile range, beating that E-tron by 57 miles. It can be charged at a rate of only up to 90kW, compared with 350kW for its German rival, but Nio provides a clever alternative: the ES8’s battery can be swapped for a fully charged one in three minutes via a network of stations set to be built across five Norwegian cities. This also means the ES8 can always have the latest battery tech, not be stuck with what it had on delivery.

2 Nio es8 european spec 2021 first drive hero rear

What's it like?

As with all EVs, the floor-mounted battery gives a low centre of gravity. The dynamics are agreeable, and the ES8 controls its heavy weight quite well, delivering progressive and nicely controlled body movement as well as plenty of grip and traction.

The steering lacks feel, but the ES8 changes direction smartly, given its size, and can corner confidently at speed. It also tracks well in a straight line: despite its large frontal area, stability is very good, reinforcing the impression that the flagship Nio is more a car for measured cruising than back-road fun.

There’s a firm edge to the ride but not so much that it’s uncomfortable. The ES8 feels taut and purposeful, competently suppressing vertical movements on undulating roads, at the expense of shock absorption and overall compliance. Happily, the air springs’ self-levelling function gives good resistance to pitch and dive. In this respect, the ES8 feels almost Germanic in character, but this is no coincidence: Nio went to Continental for the suspension, which is similar in engineering to that of the E-tron.

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The cabin is very commodious, with seating for either six or seven in three rows of seats. Head and leg room are impressive in the middle row, and even with the third row in use the boot is a decent 310 litres.

Nio intends to join the premium crowd, and this is reflected in the quality of the ES8’s cabin, with very supportive seats and liberal use of nappa leather throughout.

The high dashboard hosts a 9.8in digital dial display and a fast-acting 11.3in touchscreen, both with superb clarity, plus Nomi, a pod-like virtual assistant that acts on conversational speech commands surprisingly well.

7 Nio es8 european spec 2021 first drive dashboard

Should I buy one?

The global approach taken with the development of the ES8 has paid dividends, as there’s plenty for which to recommend this car. It's arguably the best Chinese car yet, with Germanic qualities to match the established premium brands.

Sadly, though, the complication of right-hand drive means it will never be sold in the UK.

12 Nio es8 european spec 2021 first drive on road front

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scotty5 16 September 2021

That's the first real EV solution I've heard and one which makes perfect sense.

When something new hits market it's always propriatry, that's to say manufacturers have unique products to themselves. Several years later, we end up with a standard that all manufacturers adhere to.

Now if all manufacturers used the same battery specs, you could in theory, drive in to a petrol station, the fossil fuelled cars would fill up at their pump and the EV's would simply swap their depleted battery for a fully charged one at their bay. It solves all the problems with on street parking and needing specific adapters and cables spread across the roads and overnight charging and...  in effect it would be no different that how we fuel our cars today.

All it needs now is someone to set the standard. If you can't refuel an EV in say under 5mins then the tech is never going to be practical.

Yedar 16 September 2021

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BiggaJ 16 September 2021

It's a smart looking car, though I do wonder about not making it right hand drive due to cost. After all it's not only us that need RHD, what about Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa ......