2023 Aiways U5 Review

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aiways u5 front

Primed for right-hand drive production next year, we see if the Chinese-made Aiways U5 would be a good fit for the expanding electric car segment in Australia.

What value do you put on a badge or a brand? It’s a question you might ask yourself after a drive in the Aiways U5, an electric family SUV that is made in China by a car maker that only came into existence five years ago.

The U5 is a rival to the likes of the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV, MG ZS EV, Nissan Ariya, Skoda Enyaq iV and – if you are feeling especially kind – the Audi Q4 e-tron.

Its standout features are its space, tech, and likely price. So, while in other areas it’s capable if rarely remarkable, it still holds appeal. After all, 10 years ago very few people had heard of Tesla.

aiways u5 driving

And while it still has to pass the test of time, consider this: while it’s assembled in China, the Aiways U5 was developed by some of the best names in the European automotive network, from Bosch’s input to its chassis to CATL putting together the battery and Lear supplying parts and materials.

These names may be as unfamiliar as Aiways, but a quick Google will reveal they are associated with many of the world’s biggest car makers. That’s no guarantee of success, of course, but it does give kudos to the proposition.

Our Aiways U5 test drive took place around the outskirts of London, offering an opportunity to run on everything from A-roads to potholed back streets. And yes, the vehicle’s test run in the UK is because the model is expected to launch in right-hand drive in around 12 months, although nothing official has been confirmed yet. This bodes well for a possible Australian launch after 2023.

As in all electric vehicles, acceleration is instant and brisk. Progress is quiet, too, with road and wind noise damped and the buzz of the electric motor only audible if you really listen for it. The brakes felt well modulated too, and the regenerative system – which turns braking power back into energy for the battery – was reasonably regulated to help you slow down smoothly.

In order to get the most from the relatively modest 63kWh (useable) battery’s range, top speed is limited to 160km/h – not an issue for most drivers in most countries in the world.

aiways u5 rear driving

Despite its size, the U5 is not especially heavy compared with other electric SUVs and as a result it is rated as having an official 400km of range on the European test cycle, which is on a par with many rivals. Charging via a 50kW DC rapid-charger (it can take up to 90kW) takes it from empty to 80 per cent in little more than 40 minutes.

While it’s fair to say that the Aiways U5 won’t trouble any of the established opposition dynamically, it’s on a par with the MG ZS EV. That means that if you push on it leans and wallows a bit in the corners and isn’t quite as good at controlling its movements as you might like after hitting bumps and lumps in the road.

However, the upside is that in less challenging circumstances it is set up for comfort, such that it sails over smaller road imperfections. That’s a tell-tale that its suspension set-up is largely unchanged for Europe from China, where the condition of many roads is average. In a family SUV, you might well decide that’s a compromise worth making.

Likewise, the steering is a fraction light, albeit still precise enough. Out in normal driving it does take a little getting used to, and there’s no doubt that the likes of the Niro EV and Skoda Enyaq deliver a far more rounded, confidence-inspiring driving experience, but the set-up is just the right side of being decent enough.

It’s notable that the first thing you notice about the Aiways U5 when you get in is just how much space there is. That’s partly because it actually is more spacious than most rivals, by around 10 per cent, but also because of some nice touches that open up the interior.

aiways u5 dash

For instance, there’s no glovebox, opening up the dash and giving the front passenger a considerable amount of knee room. The owner’s manuals are online and accessible through the infotainment screen, which itself is sensibly sized so as not to dominate the view. And, if you must have somewhere to put stuff, you can buy a laptop bag-sized case that neatly clips into place in the recess.

It’s in the back where the benefits really shine, though. Legroom is limousine-like and, aided by the fact that the floor is completely flat, with no intruding centre tunnel, the rear has space for three adults to fit comfortably. If you have smaller people in mind, you’ll welcome the two Isofix child-seat points on the outer seats, and ample room to carry whatever they might decide to bring.

Boot space is also generous at 496 litres (1619 litres with the seats down), while the rear seats are relatively simple to fold flat, broadening the range of uses for the space.

The materials inside range from soft-touch leathers to hard plastics. Yes, there are more of the latter than in some rivals, but the overall impression was positive, and after a few years of family life, you might be grateful for their durability.

The U5’s tech wizardry revolves around the central infotainment screen. The car can receive over-the-air updates in the same way a Tesla can, meaning everything from performance to information modifications can be sent direct to the car.

aiways u5 rear seat space 0

Notably there’s no sat-nav. Aiways reasons that your phone has better capabilities, so it would be wrong to charge you for one. Instead, it offers a subscription to an app – called Pump – that features live traffic and charging point updates, and easy-to-use mirroring facilities between the car and your phone.

At worst the Aiways U5 is competent and capable, and at its best – chiefly its space and tech – it’s impressive. The promise is that it will be affordable, too, with estimates suggesting it will cost from around £40,000 in tops-spec trim in the UK, which is on par with the price of the new Kia Niro EV (estimated at a bit over $60,000 before on-road costs in Australia).

There are questions you’ll still want to ask yourself. The three-star Euro NCAP safety rating warrants detailed examination (the occupant protection scores are okay, but the pedestrian and safety assist ones are less so), as does the reliability data that emerges when U5s have been on the road for a while.

But with another year of experience at least before the U5 likely hits right-hand drive production, for a section of the market looking for no-nonsense, common-sense electric transport with a frisson of excitement at the unknown, it could well be worth putting on the long-list.

Jim Holder

Final Verdict:

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