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NIO ET5 2024 Review | Goodwood Test

Fast estate is China’s best effort yet...
23rd May
Russell Campbell

Overview

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NIO is a Chinese EV car builder that sells cars on the continent and is expected to join the UK market in the coming years. 

The company made a splash in 2016 when its EP9 electric supercar set the Nürburgring lap record for EVs with a time of 7 minutes 5.12 seconds– beaten only by the Volkswagen ID.R Concept. It is also a track-only car not sold publicly. 

On the continent, NIO offers a wide range of cars, including the ET5 small saloon, EL6 SUV, ET7 luxury saloon, and range-topping EL7 SUV. However, the car we're driving today is the ET5 Touring. It's a small estate that straddles the middle ground between mainstream models like the Peugeot 308 Electric estate and posher – and larger – alternatives like the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo.

NIO's USP is its NIO Power network, which gives you access to a network of fast chargers and battery-swap stations where you can swap your flat battery for a fully charged replacement in less than five minutes. 

We like

  • Stylish inside and out
  • Huge performance
  • Long range and battery swap tech

We don't like

  • Dynamics need a polish
  • Boot small for an estate
  • Not in the UK, yet

Design

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NIO calls its ET5 estate the Touring, but in reality, its sleek back end makes it more of a shooting brake. Either way, it's nice NIO hasn't gone down the SUV route like everyone else.

Up front, there's a flavour of Tesla Model 3 to the car's platypus bill style bonnet that concaves between the headlights, but the NIO is more striking than its American counterpart thanks to its laser thin LED headlights and the huge airbreathers that channel air around the front tyres. The three pods at the top of the windscreen provide a talking point because they house the car's sensors, including the Lidar, that will allow the car to be nearly wholly autonomous when legislation catches up with technology. 

The car's sporty profile sets it apart from rivals. You get EV-essential flush-fitting door handles that pop out as you approach the car and a window line with NIO's version of a Hofmeister kink; the creaseless bodywork sweeps around to the wraparound light bar at the back of the car. 

Our car came equipped with the optional 20-inch (cringely named) Gladiator wheels, which looked suitably aggressive, especially with optional Air Glow Orange brake callipers contrasting against the car's Artic Green paint. 

Overall, the ET5 feels like a mini Porsche Taycan, avoiding the 'budget' feel of many Chinese brands. 

Performance and Handling

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The NIO ET5 Touring boasts an impressive depth of engineering for a firm approaching its tenth operational year. It has a boot full of performance and an impressive battery range, but NIO also has the confidence to do things its way. 

First, to the performance, because the NIO has plenty of it. In Sport+ the estate will hurl itself towards the horizon from 0 to 62mph in four seconds - an official figure that feels conservative as your internal organs move towards the boot like paratroopers jumping out the back of a Hercules.

The ET5 separates itself from its battery-powered brethren in its willingness to get out of shape in corners. It's happy four-wheel drifting on motorway slip roads and will shred its front tyres as it scrabbles out of low-speed deviances like a Nissan GT-R plucked from finishing school and sent straight to Borstal. 

There's no denying it's fun in an 'oh, that was exciting, and we – did– survive' way. Unfortunately, the Jinba Ittai (horse and rider) ethos that Mazda uses to shape its driver's cars, like the MX-5, is MIA in the NIO. In fairness, a 2.2-tonne estate car will never captivate you like a sports car weighing half as much, but other things could be improved. 

Things like the steering. It can be numb, light, and gloopy in equal measure, with an alarming dislike for self-centring as you spear towards the verge, your entrails following tight in your slipstream. Damping is another struggle point, as more than two tonnes of EV is asked to deal with mid-corner bumps; the NIO is absorbing the last lump as it barrels head first into the next. 

Before we get too critical, it's worth remembering that the NIO costs much less than a Porsche Taycan. This car suffers its dynamic shortfalls but is endlessly more enjoyable to drive than a Vauxhall Astra Electric Sports Tourer, which occupies roughly the same price point. 

The NIO does everything you ask if you're not driving like your hair's on fire. In town, it's effortless, with no gears and instant power. Sure, visibility out the pillar box rear window isn't excellent, but the 360-degree camera makes up for it. A recent software upgrade means the speed warning chimes (thanks, NCAP) can be switched off by pressing a hard button that is permanently displayed on the home screen.

Engaging NIO's autopilot is equally as easy via a physical button press on the steering wheel, and the car's full complement of sensors ensures you stay arrow-straight in the lane. You can feel the car making micro throttle adjustments to keep a steady cruise, but it's no more annoying than the light amount of tyre and road noise you get at a cruise. 

Battery range is not something you ever need to worry about. Our car's 100kWh battery (a 75kWh option is available) seemed suitable for its 348-mile range, and NIO's battery swapping marks it out from all other EVs. 

The NIO's features border on endless. There's kit like rear-facing cameras that clear blind spots when moving into the right lane, Camp Mode, which keeps the interior at a set temperature with the car off, and an Offroad Mode, which prepares your, eh, low-slung EV for trips off-piste.

It's all done with the forward-thinking you don't find in established brands set in their ways. The drive select is a prime example. As well as offering the regular driving modes – arbitrary settings like Eco, Sport+, and Custom – NIO also outlines exactly what performance each offers – in Eco, the ET5 ambles to 62mph in 12.9 seconds down to the 4-second 0-62mph, you get in Sport. 

Interior

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The swooping interior has a Lexus LC feel but far, far better infotainment. While it doesn't feel as posh inside as a plus £100,000 GT, the ET5 is pleasingly well made – better than a Volkswagen ID model and significantly more flare. 

Before any of that, though, the driving position strikes you. From the outside, the ET5 looks sporty and sleek, but from the inside, the driving position is too high to feel sporty; it's odd – like you're squeezed between a tall floor and a low ceiling, but you do forget about it after a few minutes of driving. The flip side is that you get a decent view out of the front of the car, with the 911-style lumps on either side of the bonnet making road positioning easy.

Cabin plastics are of good quality everywhere (bar foot height,) and you get interesting materials like ribbed rubber (no sniggering at the back) that line the inside of the doors and classy Alcantara for the headlining. A band of colour distinguishes the lower half of the dashboard, and it sweeps around onto interior door handles, appearing to float in mid-air, backlit with mood lighting. Oddly, the NIO must be one of the few cars on sale that doesn't have a glovebox. 

Jump in the back, and the NIO doesn't have the airy feel of an electric SUV like the VW ID.4, despite its panoramic glass roof, which, like in a Mercedes, turns opaque at the touch of a button. Having said that, it's plenty roomy enough for a tall passenger to sit behind a tall driver, and the middle seat isn't as uncomfortably ridged as most fifth seats. 

The 450-litre boot isn't massive and the opening is relatively small for an estate car. The floor is tall but with no load lip to worry about. Even heavy luggage should be easy to load, and 42 litres of extra storage are hidden under the floor. The electric boot is painfully slow to close, though.

Technology and Features

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It's easy to be sceptical of NIO's NOMI Mate personal assistant - a little robot head on the dashboard, as a gimmick, but it’s surprisingly helpful. 

Saying 'Hey NOMI' spins the robot's head to face you, telling you that it's listening to you and not your passenger. It understands what you've asked of it as it transcribes your question on the screen. It's surprisingly useful for this reason, and if you don't like it, you can save yourself money by sticking with the standard NOMI Halo central speaker that does the same job. 

The voice activation is probably the best we have encountered. It almost always understood even my twangy Glaswegian tones, which is just as well because NOMI controls nearly everything from the sat-nav to the electric windows and the heated seats.

When you're not using voice activation, the car can be controlled via a pair of high-definition screens: a pillbox-style display behind the steering wheel and a central infotainment screen in the middle of the dashboard.

But NIO hasn't thrown all its eggs in one basket. You still get buttons for the front and rear electric windows, your indicators are controlled with a stalk, and a simple button on the steering wheel activates the car's autonomous driving mode. 

Verdict

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With its stylish looks and premium feel, the NIO ET5 Touring separates itself from the budget (MG) and oddball (ORA) brands we expect from Chinese brands in the UK. Instead, the NIO is pleasingly mainstream with a style all its own. In the past, more than this would have been needed to compete with the likes of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes, but electric cars tend to break through the badge barriers that conventional cars find unscalable, as Tesla has readily proved. 

NIO certainly doesn't feel like a brand that's been a decade in the making, with a depth of design that's genuinely mind-blowing. Sure, the drive still isn't going to engage you like the best petrol sports saloons, but we would say the same about all other EVs, EVs that don't have the electric range and battery-swap innovation of the NIO. As it is, the ET5 can compete with the best electric cars on the UK market, so it will be worrying news to established car makers that when NIO does come to the UK, it'll likely be with a new generation platform that'll be even better than the car we drove today. 

Specifications

Engine Twin permanent magnet motors
Power 490PS (360kW)
Torque 700Nm (516lb ft)
Transmission single-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Kerb weight 2,210kg
0-62mph 4.0 seconds
Top speed 112mph
Battery 100kWh
Range 348 miles
Price £43,000 

Our score

4 / 5

This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.


  • CAR Magazine
    4 out of 5
  • Autocar
    4 out of 5
  • Auto Express
    3.5 out of 5