Nio EL6 review: luxury electric SUV driven

October 23, 2023 by

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The Nio EL6 is a luxury SUV with some fascinating technology such as swapping batteries, but you can’t buy it in the UK yet – and it will probably be very expensive once you can

Pros:

  • Fascinating battery swap tech
  • Spacious cabin
  • Luxuriously trimmed cabin

Cons:

  • Voice assistant doesn’t work very well
  • Can’t buy it in the UK – yet
  • Will be expensive if it does go on sale

Is the Nio EL6 a good car?

The EL6 is a large family SUV made by Chinese electric car manufacturer Nio, a company that could be considered the Chinese equivalent of Tesla. And if Tesla was the iPhone of electric cars, Nio would be like the Android: they both do a very similar job, and although they do it in slightly different ways, the latter is no less compelling or appealing than the former.

We should say at this point that, currently, the EL6 – and every other Nio model, for that matter – is not available to buy in the UK. Yet. The brand has operated for several years in its home market of China, and has launched in a handful of European countries in the last couple of years – Germany, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

But Nio hasn’t actually 100% confirmed that it’s definitely coming to the UK as yet, but the fact that the firm invited us all the way to Germany to drive the EL6 would be a strong indication that it will – and sooner rather than later.

While many of the Chinese electric car brands making their way into Europe tend to be budget-focused ones, the same does not apply to Nio: this is very much a premium offering, and its products will be priced accordingly. Take the EL6 as an example: as a large premium all-electric SUV, it’ll be going up against alternatives such as the Audi Q6 e-tron (when it arrives) and Q8 e-tron, BMW’s iX3 and iX, the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the Polestar 3.

The question is, when most of these brands are so well established, and their products are so good, how does Nio stand out? Well, it has a couple of tricks up its sleeve on that score, and the first is its battery-swapping service. Like all electric cars of its type, the EL6 can be slow-charged at home or rapid-charged in public when its battery level is running low, but Nio customers potentially have an extra option open to them.

If you happen to be nearby one of the company’s battery-swapping stations, you can simply book an appointment through your car’s infotainment system, and then rock up and have your depleted battery swapped out for a fully juiced-up one. The process takes less than five minutes, and then you’re on your way again.

Obviously, it’ll take some time for the roll-out of these stations in the UK to become widespread enough to make this a genuinely viable and useful option, but it has happened pretty quickly elsewhere in Europe, with around 30 such stations already spread across the countries mentioned above in just a couple of years, while in China, there are 1700 of the things. And, once the rollout is extensive enough, we can see this being a very interesting and appealing prospect for potential customers, particularly those who don’t have off-street parking that would allow them to charge at home.

And then there’s Nomi. See the little robot-like head on top of the dashboard in our pictures? Well, that’s Nomi. Nomi is a personal assistant that can carry out a wide variety of tasks in response to voice commands, and it uses AI artificial intelligence to learn your preferences and potential needs. You simply say ‘Hey Nomi’ to wake her up (yep, the company insists on calling Nomi a ’she’), followed by your command.

In theory, that is. In reality, it usually takes several goes at ‘Hey Nomi’ before she registers the prompt, which can be quite frustrating and annoying, and makes you feel like you’re having a very one-sided argument with somebody who’s ignoring you.

Whether or not you see Nomi and the whole battery-swapping thing as mere gimmicks will be completely up to you, but there’s plenty to like about the EL6 besides. It looks good, it has a hugely spacious and luxuriously trimmed cabin, and it’s absolutely packed with luxury equipment and cutting-edge technology. There won’t be conventional trim levels, just a single high-spec version, and you’ll then make a handful of other choices including paint colour, interior colour and alloy wheel design.

It’s enjoyable, sophisticated and comfortable to drive, too. Like many premium EVs, it has the capacity to be blisteringly fast and exciting, courtesy of a twin-motor, four-wheel-drive layout delivering a maximum of 483bhp. The 0-62mph dash can be covered in just 4.5 seconds, and you have to be travelling at licence-losing speeds before the acceleration tails off.

And despite being a big, heavy car, it dispatches corners with precision and accuracy, thanks to incredibly strong grip and a body that effectively resists leaning over as it changes direction.

Yet when you calm down and select Comfort mode from the wide range of settings, the EL6 can also play the role of comfortable and sophisticated luxury car, with near-silent running at any speed, and an impressively cosseting ride.

Importantly, it also has decent range. Two battery options are offered –both swappable. A 75kWh one gives the EL6 a range of up to 252 miles, and a 100kWh one that bumps the range up to a potential 329 miles.

If you like the sound of the EL6, you’ll have a range of options over how to get yourself into one. You can pay for the car and the battery outright, but if you do this, you won’t have access to the battery swap service – you can’t exchange a battery that you own for one that you don’t.

Alternatively, you can buy the car outright and pay a monthly fee to lease the battery, or you can pay a much larger monthly fee for a subscription that effectively leases you both the car and the battery, and both of these options give you access to battery swapping.

Prices for all this are some way off being confirmed, but we’ve seen what Nio charges in those other European markets, so don’t expect the EL6 to be a bargain-basement alternative to an Audi, BMW or Mercedes. It won’t be. Do, however, expect it to be a very credible and tempting alternative that easily stands comparison in pretty much every area, and that’s before you factor in the USPs it has to offer.

Can’t wait? Check out our guide to the best electric SUVs you can buy right now. You can also take a look through a huge stock of used cars from our network of trusted dealers, and when it’s time to sell your current car, carwow can help with that, too.

How much is the Nio EL6?

Since Nio hasn’t even confirmed that the EL6 will go on sale in the UK yet, it’s no surprise that prices are yet to be announced. However, the German prices for the car should provide some guidance as to what to expect (although it’s not an exact science due to differing tax regulations, international laws, etc). Over there, the car costs €53,500, which if echoed over here, would make it around £46,500 with the exchange rate at the time of writing. But that’s without the battery, for which German buyers pay €12,000 (around £10,500) for the 75kWh battery or €21,000 (£18,500 approx) for the 100kWh battery.

That puts the total price of a 75kWh Nio at €65,500 (£57,000) and the 100kWh car at €74,500 (£65,000). That sounds like a lot, but when you compare those prices to those of equivalent BMW and Audi rivals, you’re paying quite a lot less for the Nio, while usually getting more power, battery capacity and equipment for your money.

As mentioned, you can instead choose to lease the battery instead, which in Germany costs €169 (around £150) per month for the 75kWh unit, and €289 (around £250) for the 100kWh. Leasing the battery gives you access to the battery-swapping service. So does Nio’s subscription model, where you effectively lease both the car and the battery, and it also includes insurance, maintenance and unlimited battery swaps. In Germany, a three-year subscription costs €1,179 (around £1,000) per month on a 75kWh car and €1,309 (around £1,200) on the 100kWh version

Performance and drive comfort

The Nio EL6 is fast and capable, but although it felt comfortable on our test drive, we’ll have to test it on the UK’s poor road surfaces to be sure

In town

Like we’ve already said, all versions get the same twin-motor, four-wheel-drive propulsion system, and the amount of power it dishes up depends on which of the numerous driving modes you’re in. In urban environments, you’re most likely to be driving around in Comfort mode, which as the name suggests, is one of the least hardcore settings. That’s not to say it’s in any way slow or sluggish, however. The pickup is instantaneous and reasonably brisk, making it easy to exploit gaps in traffic and swiftly pull out of congested junctions. You will however, be aware of the sheer size of the car – particularly its substantial width – when plotting a course through tight city streets.

Comfort mode also makes the steering fingertip light, which makes low-speed manoeuvres a doddle, and it also eases off the adaptive suspension to its softest setting. However, this is where there’s still an element of mystery, because the German roads on which we drove the EL6 were all, without exception, immaculately surfaced. Seriously, there wasn’t so much as a lump or bump in sight, let alone the potholes and sunken drain covers that are all too common on the battered streets of the UK. So, while the car felt impressively comfortable on our test drive, we can’t be absolutely sure the same would be true on a more challenging surface.

On the motorway

Our caveat over the EL6’s comfort applies here, too, because even the motorways in the particular part of Bavaria in which we drove the car were surfaced in a manner that any golf course greenkeeper would be proud of. Again, it was impressively comfortable on our test drive, but we can’t be sure it would deal with the south-eastern stretch of the M25 quite so well. You might want to select one of the sportier driving modes, though, because in Comfort, the steering feels a little too vague to be reassuring on the motorway.

What will strike you most about driving the EL6 at higher speeds, though, is the tranquillity. Like with most EVs, the EL6 is really quiet at low speeds, and the most prominent noise there is gravel and other road debris being kicked up into the wheel arches by the tyres. However, the difference with the EL6 is that it stays almost as quiet when pounding along at the national limit: it’s almost eerie how quiet this car is. You could have a whispered conversation with your passengers so as not to wake a sleeping child, and you won’t struggle to be heard.

On a twisty road

It’s on a winding country road that you might consider switching the car out of Comfort mode and into one of the racier ones. Go the whole hog and select Sport+, and you’ll be served up with the EL6’s maximum power output of 483bhp. Predictably, this gives the car absolutely devastating performance, with 0-62mph coming and going in just 4.5 seconds, and the level of acceleration won’t tail off until you’re moving at licence-losing speeds (we know this thanks to the German Autobahns on which we had the pleasure of driving). Pace like this really is a hoot.

Sport+ mode puts some valuable extra weight into the steering, which feels more reassuring, and it also shifts the suspension to its firmest setting. In truth, however, you can barely feel any difference in stiffness between the firmest and the softest settings. Again, this could well be a symptom of the immaculately smooth roads, so it will be interesting to see who the car fares in the UK.

Regardless of the mode, the EL6 changes direction with impressive precision. Grip and traction levels are truly immense, and while you can feel the considerable size and weight of the car in corners, it stays controlled, predictable, and capable of handling its prodigious power.

Space and practicality

Lots of passenger space and decent storage, but the generous boot capacity figure is slightly misleading

The front seats have lots of space on offer, and the wide cabin also means that there’s plenty of distance between the driver and front passenger, so they don’t ever feel like they’re rubbing shoulders. The seats are nice and supportive, too, and you don’t have to pay extra for the massage function.
Adjusting your driving position can be a bit of a faff, mind. There are switches on the base of your seat to operate its electric adjustment, but you have to move the powered steering column by using the touchscreen (more on that in a moment). Your forward visibility is pretty good thanks to reasonably narrow windscreen pillars, and there’s plenty of glass in the rear end of the car, too, so your over-the-shoulder view is decent.

Cabin storage looks pretty good initially: the wide ‘floating’ centre console houses two cupholders, a wireless phone charging plate and a deep lidded cubby with USB ports inside, while there’s also a large shelf-like storage space below the console. You also get deep door bins, but some won’t like the fact that there’s no glovebox.

Space in the back seats

It’s in the rear seats where the EL6’s cabin really impresses, because there’s absolutely loads of space in the back. That’s perhaps no surprise given that it’s such a large car: at 4.8 metres long, it sits halfway between a BMW X3 and X5 for size.

Legroom and headroom are particularly generous, so a pair of tall passengers will be able to stretch out comfortably. A third will fit reasonably comfortably, too, because the wide cabin allows space for three sets of shoulders, while the middle seat is almost as wide as those either side (with ISOFIX child seat mounting points), and has a flat floor in front of it.

If the middle seat isn’t being used, the central armrest folds down to reveal two integrated cupholders and a small lidded cubby.

Boot space

Open up the EL6’s powered tailgate, and you’ll find a loadspace that looks fairly reasonable for capacity, but is rather shallow. You’ll then look at Nio’s claimed boot capacity figure of 668 litres, and wonder how the heck they’ve worked that out, because it doesn’t look anywhere near that big. However, you’ll then lift up the moveable boot and find a large additional storage area underneath, and realise that this area is included in that maximum figure.

With the floor out, there’s a large load lip and a step up to the rear seats when they’re folded, but reinstalling the floor levels these off perfectly and gives you somewhere to store your charging cables tidily: just as well when there’s no ‘frunk’ under the bonnet like in many electric cars. The rear seats fold down in a versatile 40/20/40 split, even if the backrests lie at a slight angle, leaving you with a sloped load area.

Interior style, infotainment and accessories

Smart, modern design and impressive quality, but the touchscreen system can be bamboozling at first

We’ve already mentioned the easy comparisons with Tesla, and nowhere is this more evident than inside the EL6. The infotainment screen is the most obvious place to start, because it looks like it could’ve been ripped straight out of a Musk-mobile. The fact that it’s portrait-orientated and roughly the same size immediately suggests some mimicry, but when you take a look at the graphics, the menu layouts and the operation system in general, you’ll realise that this feels like something of a carbon copy.

And like in a Tesla, this drastically cuts down on the amount of physical switchgear in the cabin (the dashboard has just three buttons, in fact) because pretty much everything is done through the touchscreen. The sheer amount of functionality it has to deal with makes the system a little bit overwhelming and hard to navigate at first, but once you have a play with it, it doesn’t actually take all that long to figure out where the various functions live. That’s because they’re quite logically grouped, and the submenus are sensibly arranged, so with practice, the system actually becomes quite intuitive especially given its complexity. Still, we’d much prefer a set of good old-fashioned buttons and switches to set the air-con with.

You’ll also like the fact that the system looks and feels nice and slick, with funky graphics, cool animations, swift menu transitions and a screen that responds keenly to the prod of a finger. However, you might not be quite such a fan of the fact that no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are provided, and Nio currently has no plans to change that. That’s because Nio says that some of the services and functions provided by its own native system couldn’t be supported.

The thoughtful, modern mix of colours and textures is also Tesla-esque. However, the Nio is streets ahead of Tesla when it comes to quality, because the materials are uniformly of a considerably higher standard, and they’re assembled in a far more substantial-feeling way. We wouldn’t quite say it’s on a level with Audi and BMW, but closer to its German alternatives that it is to its American one.

MPG, emissions and tax

While the EL6 gives you the ability to swap your empty battery over for a full one, most of the time it’s more likely that you’ll be charging your EL6 up like any other EV.
The 75kWh battery can rapid-charge at speeds of up to 140kW, which isn’t bad, but it’s not exactly game-changing, either. Find a powerful enough public DC rapid charger, and you should get a 10-80% top-up in around 40 minutes. The 100kWh battery will take on charge a wee bit faster, with a maximum speed of 180kW, and Nio says that earns you the same level of charge in 30 minutes.

Charging at home is by far the cheapest way to top up an EV. Connect your EL6 to a standard 7.4kW wallbox home charger, and Nio says the 75kWh battery will be replenished in about eight hours, while the 100kWh unit will take a little over 12 hours.

And how far will a full charge take you? Well, the claimed range figure on the 75kWh battery stands at up to 252 miles, while the corresponding figure on the 100kWh battery is increased to 329 miles. Compared with the competition, these figures are competitive.

Safety and security

The EL6 has already received the full five-star crash test rating from Euro NCAP, and has done so when tested against the latest – and most stringent – testing standards.
Precise UK specs for safety equipment are some way off being finalised, but the cars we drove were absolutely packed to the rafters with just about every electronic driver aid you can think of.

Despite all the LiDar sensors, cameras and processing power, it’s perhaps surprising that the EL6 only achieves Level 2 autonomous driving and not Level 3. However, since Level 3 isn’t yet legal to use in the UK, this isn’t a massive issue. Besides, Nio regularly applies over-the-air updates to its cars, and most of the hardware needed for Level 3 seems to be in place, so there’s a chance that capability could be added in the future.

Reliability and problems

Predicting the reliability of a brand new car is notoriously difficult due to the shortage of relevant data available, and when that car comes from a company that’s a completely unknown quantity in the UK, there’s even less information to go on.

So right now, your guess is as good as ours. In theory, an electric car should be more reliable than a combustion-engined one because there are far fewer moving parts to go wrong, but that certainly doesn’t make EV ownership risk-free. Nio hasn’t yet divulged what its warranty offering will be in the UK, either.