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Chinese EV firm’s first European-developed model is a Tesla Model 3 rival that comes as an estate

Nio has been coy on its plans to launch in the UK, but it now seems inevitable that it will happen in 2025.

The Chinese electric car maker is already present in five European countries, the most recent addition being Germany, and Europe is the focus of its latest car, the Nio ET5.

There's no difference of any note between the saloon and estate versions of the ET5. Pick your bodystyle and you’ll have effectively the same car to drive

Previously, all Nio models have been created in China and then tuned to European tastes. The ET5 is the first Nio electric car to have been created in Europe for Europe.

Like any good executive car, the ET5 is available with a saloon or estate bodystyle, the latter of which Nio claims is a first in the premium segment. In truth, there’s unlikely to be much cross-shopping here between the ET5 and Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer Electric or MG 5 SW EV.

Both the saloon and Touring versions are 4790mm long and have a generous 2888mm wheelbase. That makes the ET5 almost identical in length to the BMW i4 and around 10cm longer than the Tesla Model 3, so it’s pitched at the core of the premium compact executive market. 

A 4.8m-long car is hardly a tiddler, but for now and the foreseeable future, the ET5 will be Nio’s entry-level offering in Europe. Nio believes premium car makers shouldn’t drop below a certain size and price, and the ET5 is at the lowest end of that.

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It’s a junior sibling to the ET7 flagship saloon, a BMW i7 and Mercedes-Benz EQS rival that’s also on sale in Europe. The other Nios available in Europe are the EL6 and EL7 SUVs and, in Norway, the larger Nio ES8 SUV.

DESIGN & STYLING

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nio et5 touring review 2023 02 panning side

UK car buyers will be getting one of the more interesting Chinese car makers when Nio does launch in the UK. The ET5 has real presence on the road and looks cool, almost stealth-like; the proportions are far racier than the Model 3's and there are some nice sporty touchers, such as the red brake callipers and a large rear diffuser. 

It’s not dissimilar to Tesla in styling but feels an evolution on from them, although you’re unlikely to mistake a Nio for a Tesla, thanks to the three lidar sensors that sit atop the windscreen for the Nio Assisted and Intelligent and Assisted automated driving functions.

This car also has none of the naff branding or questionable names some Chinese firms have brought to Europe. Okay, 'Nio ET5' isn’t overly evocative, but it’s inoffensive and passes whatever the modern equivalent of the golf-club test is.

The outer two cameras make the car look like it has little horns, which is quite apt, as the assisted driving functions just seem to want to beep, beep and beep again all the time, which is seriously annoying and seemingly done without good reason.

The ET5 fits on a platform that Nio says is dedicated for its saloon and estate models. It’s a mix of high-strength steel and aluminium that Nio claims is light and strong and allows for plenty of space inside. It has already been given a five-star rating from Euro NCAP in 2023, too.

The saloon and Touring models are all but identical in many of their numbers, stats and specifications, apart from in their boot space. The saloon has a 386-litre boot and the Touring a 450-litre boot that rises to 1300 litres when the rear seats are folded flat. That boot has a wide opening and an adjustable shelf that allows for a flat load lip, too. 

INTERIOR

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nio et5 touring review 2023 08 driving

The interior is minimalist but still nicely executed. There’s about as much or as little going on inside the ET5 as in the Tesla Model 3, but there's far more to keep your eyes interested and materials that are pleasing to the touchful. The perceived quality of the materials is excellent and it’s a very tasteful design.

As in many new EVs, the interior is dominated by a large central touchscreen (Nio’s is a portrait 12.8in unit) with an additional digital display for the driver. Given the absence of any other controls of note (apart from window switches, which were the one cheap-feeling part of the interior), you find anything and everything on the screen and it takes some learning and getting used to.

Sitting on top of the dashboard is a voice-activated personal assistant called Nomi. Frankly, it feels like a gimmick and is a little creepy. Not something created for European tastes, nor something that needed a physical presence.

Our test drive wasn’t long enough for us to claim to have mastered it and even simple functions required a second look away from the road to validate our input. Still, the graphics are excellent and the speed the system operated at was beyond reproach. Further buttons on the steering wheel can be linked into the touchscreen.

The seats are very comfortable with excellent adjustability (if you can master the screen to do so) and rear passengers reported plenty of space. 

One of the more eye-catching features of the ET5 Touring is the standard panoramic roof that. Running the full length of the car, it lets in lots of light and, unlike other roofs of its type, doesn’t rob rear head room at the same time. It's a welcome addition to the standard spec sheet.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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nio et5 touring review 2023 04 handling

The ET5 is four-wheel-drive as standard, being powered by two electric motors: a 201bhp induction motor at the front and a 282bhp permanent magnet motor at the rear.

Two different batteries are offered: a standard 75kWh pack and a larger 100kWh one, as tested here. 

The ET5 doesn’t emit any kind of memorable sound upon acceleration. It’s all unobtrusive and doesn’t try to fake anything.

The maximum charging speed is 125kW, but the ET5, like all Nios, benefits from the company's battery swapping technology, whereby you can swap your flat batteries for a fully charged one in as little as four minutes at a dedicated swap station.

A key part of the Nio story is this battery-swapping, and should the brand launch in the UK as expected, this will come here too. Part of Tesla‘s dominance in the EV market has been a superb proprietary charging network that no other car maker has come close to; Nio is set to be the first to seriously try.

The ET5 isn't sledgehammer quick, instead it has a nice level of driveability, with as much power as you ever need when you need it. It’s as powerful a car as you need in the real world, and its one-pedal driving is also very well judged, with a good level of regenerative braking.

Powertrain refinement is perhaps the ET5’s strongest suit. It doesn’t have bags of character, nor do you ever feel particularly underwhelmed by it. A fellow journalist from Germany told me about a 560-mile drive from Germany to Denmark that he had just done in the ET5, and he marvelled at how refined it was.

However, the one thing that really irritated him was the constant beeping and banging from the autonomous driving functions, which is annoying enough on short drives, so I can’t imagine how irritating it would be over that distance. I feel his pain.

RIDE & HANDLING

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nio et5 touring review 2023 05 action rear

The ET5 feels right-sized for Europe: not too big, not too small and not too wide, crucially, much like the BMW 3 Series.

You're instantly impressed by the ride quality: it rides very well indeed and is comfortable at low speeds and at high. There's five-link suspension all round with hydraulic dampers and a virtual kingpin axis at the front to help to deal with sudden high-torque demands. It rides this well without the air suspension of the larger ET7.

While the steering isn’t quite right, Nio claims it’s more stable at higher cornering speeds than it otherwise would be by placing the steering rod in front of the wheel centre.

Handling too is impressive, too, although more in terms of roadholding than an ability to excite you. It’s not fun and not overly memorable, except from in its level of accomplishment. 

Nio isn’t the first car maker and won’t be the last to not build a particularly engaging EV, but such is the breed - for now. Still, Nio clearly knows something about roadholding and a level of stability that makes you feel comfortable and confident pushing on.

It could do with improving the steering, though, and some of the springiness around the straightahead position, as well as an overall level of quickness to it that doesn’t feel in keeping with the rest of the car’s dynamic characteristics.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

nio et5 touring review 2023 01 cornering front

The Nio ET5 is currently on sale in five European markets: Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The ET5 is priced at just over £50,000 in Germany (including the battery), making it comparable with the BMW i4.

You can pay around £10,000 less and instead lease the battery for around £150 per month, which gets you two battery swaps at a Nio Swap Station, and around £250 for four swaps at a battery station.

As well as pure purchase options, Nio also offers subscription services for the ET5 for either 12- or 24-month terms, and it's available through company leasing schemes. 

The range of the 100kWh version is a claimed 348 miles, and our indicated range on test was 323 miles. 

VERDICT

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nio et5 touring review 2023 24 static front

The Nio ET5 is a car to watch by a brand to watch. It gives a very creditable impression of a European premium car; a blind test would never have you guessing its Chinese parentage.

It’s a good car to drive and to sit in and is from a brand with good branding and growing credibility.

The battery-swap functionality adds even further intrigue to the Nio story as it gears up for a UK launch, and this is working successfully in China and now in Europe too, with more than 28 million swaps completed.

If new brands are to stand out in the EV world, they need to have something to stand out with beyond cars, and Nio has found a way to do so. 

The ET5 is a good car, then, from a brand that shouldn't be discounted. 

Mark Tisshaw

mark-tisshaw-autocar
Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.