Does ex-Pininfarina chief Ken Okuyama’s design and Prodrive handling elevate this Aiways Chinese EV above the rest?
Aiways is unusual in that, unlike any other Chinese EV manufacturer, it has chosen to establish itself in export markets before building a fundamental sales base and widespread recognition at home. It was founded only six years ago yet is already represented in 15 markets.
Up until now, the Shangrao-based firm’s volumes have been fairly limited. But with the launch of the U6, it is looking to build on its existing operations and enter more markets, including right-hand drive which is currently limited to the UK although Australia is under consideration.
There’s pedigree in the styling of this notchback SUV. It was overseen by Ken Okuyama, the ex-Pininfarina chief who is credited with celebrated cars including the Ferrari Enzo, plus some of Japan’s bullet trains. As such, the U6 has an eye-catching look as well as a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.25.
Among the distinguishing elements is what Aiways describes as a shark nose, with a blanked-off leading edge, thin horizontal LED daytime-running lights and vertically stacked headlights, all housed within a heavily structured bumper with a prominent splitter and small fins low on each side.
The U6 is 4800mm long, 1880mm wide and 1640mm tall, making it a touch larger in all directions than the Volkswagen ID 5, with a 29mm-longer wheelbase to suit. The U6 has a uniquely styled five-seat interior featuring more tactile and higher-grade materials than those in the smaller, traditionally shaped U5. There is some hard plastic but mostly lower down, below the driver’s line of sight. Most surfaces reflect a more mature and upmarket positioning than for Aiways’ original model.
The basis for the U6 is a further developed version of Aiways’ More Adaptable Structure, as used by the Aiways U5. This steel and aluminium platform houses a 63.3kWh pack of lithium ion cells supplied by Chinese battery giant CATL and fitted within a flat floor. It can take rapid-charging rates of up to 90kW, which is some way off the pace now.The material mix for the platform is crucial in providing the U6 with a surprisingly low weight of 1790kg.
Power comes from a single synchronous motor, mounted at the front. Developed and produced in-house by Aiways, it delivers 10kW and 5Nm of torque more than the motor used by the U5, at 160kW and 315Nm. Drive is transferred to the front axle via single-speed transmission.
There’s no physical start button inside; as in the U5, a press of the brake pedal primes the electrics and gets the car ready to go. Step-off is quite lively, and the U6 is brisk enough to prove entertaining when you want it to be, with hot-hatchback-typical levels of performance. Gunning it from 0-100km/h takes 6.9sec.
Power delivery is smooth and linear. There’s noticeably better throttle sensitivity and calibration than that of the earlier examples of the U5. A series of regenerative braking modes provide varying properties, including one-pedal driving with strong deceleration under periods of trailing throttle.
Refinement is also good. There’s a faint whine from the motor under heavy throttle loads and some tyre noise on coarse-surfaced roads, but overall the U6 is a quiet and relaxed car to drive.
The chassis tuning of the U6 was largely carried out in Europe, in partnership with Prodrive, the British outfit famed for running race and rally icons for BMW and Subaru and honing road cars such as the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Mazda RX-8. But don’t presume that makes the U6 a sports SUV: the dynamics are dependable but don’t distinguish the car in any great way.
It grips well by front-wheel-drive standards, allowing you to string corners together with a good deal of confidence, and the damping and resistance to body roll (provided by MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear suspension) are well judged, making for progressive body movements and generally controlled handling, but it’s hardly overflowing with feel. And while the steering is light and precise, it’s lacking in feel and feedback.
Aiways has been hinting at plans to enter right-hand drive markets for a few years now, and it says that remains on the agenda, with plans for the U5 to arrive in the UK first by the end of this year and the U6 likely to get a start by the end of 2024. Plans for Australia have not yet been confirmed, however.
With a starting price of €47,588 (AUD$78,000) in Germany, where Aiways has a sales and engineering base, it’s pitched some €8000 (AUD$13,000) above the U5. Such pricing invites competition from the likes of the Kia EV6, Skoda Enyaq iV and Tesla Model Y – a fight in which surely only a brave gambler would back it.