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Well-sorted, lavishly equipped electric limo has tech wizardry to spare but the competition is fierce

The Nio ET7 is a 5.1m-long saloon showcasing the full kaleidoscope of this very modern Chinese car maker’s tech and luxury and is Nio’s answer to the Mercedes EQS, BMW i7 and Tesla Model S.

Mind you, it’ll be a while before you can get one in the UK, because Nio isn’t likely to start selling cars on our shores until 2024, and it’ll be the family-friendly Nio EL6 that arrives first.

Still, the ET7 gets the company’s trademark battery-swap tech so (provided Nio gets a network of its stations functioning across the UK’s infrastructure) you’ll be able to drive up, have your depleted battery dropped out, and get a fully charged one installed in five minutes.

If you want to charge rather than swap your battery, you’re looking at 140kW maximum DC charging for the 75kWh battery, or 180kW for the 100kWh, while the WLTP combined range is 276 or 360 miles respectively. The company is also offering a new, 150kWh semi-solid-state battery in the ET7 next year that’s said to be good for more than 600 miles of range. However, it’s still unconfirmed whether it will come to Europe or not.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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The ET7 has the slippery, aerodynamic shape that’s becoming essential for any efficiency-seeking EV, but there’s a distinctive Nio squint to the front-end styling and something of an appealing Audi-ness to the rear end, which has an LED light bar spanning the 2m width of the car.   

Perhaps most distinctive feature is the raised, lump of lidar housing above the windscreen. It’s hard to avoid looking for a light that tells you if the car’s available for hire or not, but this is all part of the suite of driver aids that – if or when legislation allows – gives the Nio close to fully autonomous capabilities.

As part of that, the processors hidden in the boot can apparently process more data in each minute than Netflix typically uses to stream a full-length movie. We’ve not had a chance to try the self-driving systems out beyond the semi-autonomous motorway cruise control that’s familiar from many high-end cars these days, so we’ll have to hold judgement for now.

INTERIOR

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Slide into the broad driver’s seat and there’s no missing the fact that the ET7 is the brand’s fat-cat model. It comes complete with swathes of cushioned, soft-touch materials, offset by a textured insert that bisects the simple double-decker dashboard design. Nomi, the robot helper perched atop the dashboard, also greets you with a twee swivel and wave when you get in.

It can feel a bit ‘over-screened’ in the ET7 when you first get in. The huge, 12.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen forms the focal point and main interface for all of the car’s settings and readouts. There’s also a letterbox-shaped screen behind the wheel for speed and other key readouts, and a standard head-up display. But this level of readout provision is par for the course in this class, and the screens are all clear to see, while the touchscreen is quick to respond and fairly intuitive to use.

The Nomi ‘AI assistant’ robot swivels around on the dash top, is capable of controlling driver aids, audio, climate, the sunroof and more, and is one of the more accurate voice control systems.

Other standard highlights include massage seats in the front, and heated and cooled seats for those up front and in the back, with the latter enjoying a huge amount of leg room if not quite as much head room as you get in the BMW i7.   

The boot is deep, so you’ll get a couple of big suitcases in, but the saloon aperture is fairly small and the rear seats don’t fold. There’s no ‘frunk’ either so the hatchback Mercedes EQS is a more practical option.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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It's no surprise that there’s an overindulgence of performance courtesy of two electric motors – a permanent magnet motor deliver 241bhp up front and a 402bhp induction motor at the back. Together, they give 644bhp and 627lb ft for a 0-62mph time of 3.8sec, despite the near-2.4-tonne kerb weight of the 100kWh variant that we tried.

The ET7’s performance is dictated by the prod of a screen, where you can select from the usual carousel of drive modes that tweak the steering, throttle and the standard adaptive air suspension. However, the Nio is a bit different in that you can also choose the level of performance, which ranges from the maximum-attack 3.8sec, through to 12.9sec when the ET7 becomes front-wheel drive only for peak efficiency.

The initial step-off response is a little sharp in the two faster settings but it’s manageable, while the middling drive modes and performance parameters that most will settle for on a daily basis give the ET7 a happy, mellow punchiness that suits this big, wafty cruiser.

Brake feel could be better in harder use, with a slightly inconsistent response as the pedal shuffles friction and recuperative braking, but the actual stopping power is solid and it’s easy to drive the ET7 smoothly in everyday use.

RIDE & HANDLING

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Ride and handling are very decent in the ET7, with the lower centre of gravity and active four-wheel drive coming into their own for a noticeably more involving drive than the EL6 SUV achieves. That’s not to say that this is going to challenge the Porshe Taycan for ‘driver’s car of choice’ in the luxury electric car classes, and an Audi E-tron GT also has usefully more tactility and feedback on offer.

But, in its more focused modes, the ET7 does have an edge of playfulness to it, diving in to corners with impressive balance and keeping its body from any distracting levels rolling or wallowing.

Don’t get us wrong: this is a meaty-feeling electric limousine, and it is at its happiest in unflustered, unchallenging progress with the 23-speaker system in action and the world at bay behind the thick glazing. But if you do have the inclination to gee the ET7 into full wakefulness on a decent road, it feels direct and mobile. Big and heavy, yes – it never conceals that – but it does control the weight neatly and delivers enough response and feedback to make the long way home worth the detour.

Then, settle back, turn your massage seat on, dial the settings back and the ET7 shuffles its many personalities and lets you make the most of the cushy yet controlled ride. The air suspension responds to a camera feed that delivers information about the road surface coming up, as well as various other sensors, and generally feels well sorted. There’s a bit of heave over fast undulations, and that heaviness is still there in the bump absorption at town speeds, but most of the time, the Nio manages a controlled serenity that suits its luxury executive standing.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Prices for the ET7 aren’t confirmed. In fact, the Nio brand’s UK entry isn’t officially confirmed, even though it’s widely expected to happen in the next year or so. Pricing in Germany, Norway and the other European markets where Nio is now on sale suggests that the ET7 will start at around £75,000 for the smaller-battery model, which, given the equipment and tech levels, isn’t too bad. More relevant is that the company expects subscriptions to cost around £1000 per month and up, which will be the more popular way of getting into a Nio ET7 because it means you won’t own the battery so can make use of the battery-swap stations, should they become a feasible option in the UK.

The range on offer isn’t bad, either, but it’s also a way off what you can have in a Mercedes EQE or EQS, both of which fall within the ET7’s price range and remit. Ultimately, even with the Nio offering more kit and an impressive bafflement of sophisticated tech geekery, it’s going to take a real leap of faith to spend this kind of money on an unfamiliar brand from China when the same cash will get you something that – in some cases - will go farther to a charge and that has a trusted, aspirational badge on the nose.

VERDICT

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The Nio ET7 is a very respectable luxury electric saloon in its own right, but – if or when it does arrive in the UK – it’s likely to be something of a low-volume curio, at least for a while. However, that could all change if Nio can successfully battle the UK’s ungainly road infrastructure and restrictive planning laws to roll out a usable battery-swap infrastructure.

Or perhaps even more game-changing would be the ultra-long-range solid-state battery tech that seems to be on the cards for the car in China. With one or both of those features behind any forthcoming UK operations, Nio could go from a curio to a class leader in record time.

Until either happens, though, this remains a car full of tech wizardry and standard luxuries that’ll cost extra in most rivals. However, some more familiar alternatives go farther to a charge, are more fun to drive, and will top up more quickly at an ultra-rapid charger. So it’s hard to see why you’d opt for the Nio, at least until the company can offer battery-swap support or solid-state battery tech.