Nio EL6 review: a full charge in three minutes!
The Nio EL6 offers an interesting solution to the issue of electric car charging - but can it stand up to rivals from Mercedes, BMW and Tesla?
Another day, another Chinese manufacturer trying to wangle its way into the UK car market. You may not have heard of Nio, but it’s already established itself with eight models in mainland China – including a 1,341bhp supercar – and has even dabbled in battery swapping stations as a faster alternative to charging – more on that in a moment.
The Nio EL6 is set to be British buyers’ introduction to the brand, assuming the form of a desirable electric SUV (could it be anything else in 2023?). But given that Nio has positioned the EL6 as a rival to strong and established competition like the Mercedes EQE SUV, BMW iX, Audi Q8 e-tron and even the Tesla Model Y, why should you even look twice?
Well, for starters, the Nio EL6 is set to drastically undercut the competition; it’s already gone on sale in Germany from the equivalent of £59,000 including the battery, which is over ten grand less than the slightly smaller Merc and BMW.
We say ‘including the battery’ as the reason why the Nio is roughly 55mm wider than the EQE is the brand’s trademark ‘battery swap’ technology which, at one of its growing number of automated ‘Power Swap’ stations, can replace the EL6’s depleted battery pack with a fully-charged one in just three minutes.
Compare that to the time it takes to charge the EL6 using a DC ultra-rapid charger – a peak 182kW charging speed means top models take roughly 40 minutes to top up from 10-80% – and you’ll see why Nio’s unorthodox solution to the range anxiety problem could be revolutionary, provided the necessary infrastructure is put into place.
That being said, it’s not like you’ll need to charge the car too often; Nio says top-spec EL6 models with the 100kWh battery pack are capable of up to 328 miles on a charge – a figure that lags behind rivals, but not by much. There’s also an entry-level 75kWh option which is a whole 20kg lighter than the bigger battery car and offers a range that’s ideal for city buyers of 252 miles.
Out on the road, the Nio’s pair of electric motors provide plentiful performance, with the 0-62mph sprint taking just 4.9 seconds. You’ll want to take things at a more relaxed pace, though, as while the EL6 does offer a relatively firm ride, it’s incredibly easy to drive, with light steering that makes tight manoeuvres and nipping around town a breeze.
There are several drive modes to choose from; we spent most of our time driving the Nia EL6 in Comfort mode, although there’s also the usual Sport and Eco, as well as a host of off-road driving modes, with clever technology designed to make the most of the Nio’s dual-motor, four-wheel drive setup.
Speaking of tech, the Nio EL6’s interior is full of it. Unlike some rivals, it neatly treads the line between luxury lounge and video gamer’s bedroom. Much like its Mercedes EQE competitor, the EL6 comes as standard with a large square-ish touchscreen in the centre. This, curiously, lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, though Nio has told us that if enough customers demand it, adding the functionality via an over-the-air update will be considered.
Behind the steering wheel lies a slim driver’s display that clearly showcases all the necessary information – including sat-nav maps – while a particular highlight for us was the Amazon Echo Spot-esque spherical screen on the dashboard which, like the smart speaker that it’s reminiscent of, is the home of a virtual assistant. In this instance, it’s called Nomi. Nomi has its own personality and can swivel in its mount to face you when you address it, adding a welcome dose of charm to the Nio’s otherwise restrained cabin.
Chinese products have garnered a reputation for shoddy build quality in the past, but the Nio debunks this stereotype, boasting a fabulously crafted interior that features sumptuous vegan leather and some of the most comfortable seats we’ve tried in recent memory.
Ultimately, the Nio EL6 looks to be an interesting and impressively capable addition to what is becoming a somewhat crowded segment of the market. Only time will tell whether the Nio’s bargain price and quirky tech offerings are enough to persuade European buyers to ditch their beloved household names for something new from another continent. We’ll hold our full judgement for now until we’ve tried a UK spec car on familiar soil, but from our first impressions, things look very promising.