What does an electric SUV partly developed in Australia and built-in China drive like? We find out.
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, Silicon Valley coded its software, and testing came Down Under.
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 per cent aluminium to weigh 2425kg.
Power comes from two Bosch motors, driving all four wheels. Total output is put at 405kW and 724Nm, compared with 300kW and 663Nm for the E-tron in its 55 quattro guise.
The battery is estimated to yield a 500km range, beating that E-tron by 92km. 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.
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.
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.
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 Australia. However, future models might be different and the ES8 is proof that the brand is more than good enough to compete against rivals.