I’ve driven a NIO ES6 for a few thousand kilometers in between Shanghai & Suzhou, across highways, parking garages, and little alleys. I’m not an expert car reviewer, but I’ve driven (not owned) other full-electric and hybrid cars.
Last updated, September 17th 2020
Pros of the NIO ES6:
- The NIO ES6 is big. Especially the passenger seat can go all the way backward and I’m sure I could sleep comfortably in it if I had to. The backseat is big enough for three people. I can fold the backseat down and put my off-road bicycle into the car.
- It’s basically a Tesla in SUV size. Despite its big size and weight, it’s really fast and handles really well. The engine makes this beautiful alien-like wizzing sound, and the car is really fast to accelerate and the top-speed is great too. It’s an all-wheel drive. Filtering into traffic at high speed on the highway is easy. Tap the pedal and BOOM, I’m up to fast-lane speed. You might expect such a SUV to have lots of roll during cornering, but I’m guessing the battery is the most of the weight and it’s placed really low. In any case, there’s not a lot of roll during cornering, which is great.
- The interior is pretty and the dashboard is really great. The screen is big, but the navigation also shows next to the speed dials. My Mandarin isn’t flawless but I can command the navigation to a place, or ask the car to open up the hotspot, ask it to play a specific song, etcetera. I can also change some things without looking on the steering wheel, such as cruise control, volume or next song. Inside the settings I can also look at stuff like the tyre pressures in the wheels.
- The cameras around the car work really well. Parking in tight places is really easy. On the screen, the NIO ES6 will be shown from a top-down view, and you can see how much space you have left all around it. On the highway, there’s a subtle orange light that lights up in the mirrors if there’s a car in the dead-angle.
- The NIO app is like a social media network, although I doubt many people use it that way. You can remotely see how much battery your ES6 has left, and also use the app to open or lock the doors (if you forgot your keys). A nice feature is to remotely activate the air conditioner, so the car is cool when you arrive.
- It looks great and modern. The built-quality is great, there are no gaps in the panels and it oozes quality. Definitely not according to the stigma of Chinese-made cars.
- The ES6 comes with a 400-kilometer range, although it’s closer to 250-300. There are three options to charge:
- Slow-charging on the normal power plug: I used this for a weekend trip, which was 3 hours drive to a house in the mountains, which depleted the battery. Then it needed two days charging for the trip home.
- Fast-charging: There are official Nio fast-charging spots, as well as third-party ones. 30 to 40 minutes will do. Really convenient.
- Battery swap: There are dozens of battery-swap stations in Shanghai and one or two in Suzhou. Once you arrive on the location, you reserve the swap on your app and when it’s your turn an operator gets in your car, reverses it into the station, and there the car is lifted. Within a few minutes, a new full battery is put into the car, which is amazing technology that feels like science-fiction.
- A fourth option is when you run out of electricity. Nio will send a car to charge the car on wherever it’s stranded. I never had to use this, but once I was on 2 kilometers left with 5 kilometers still to drive to the charging place. I called Nio if there was some safety margin, and they said I could easily do another 5 kilometers when it reached 0, so I got there safely.
- Nio House: Buying a Nio is getting into a club. You get an app and you can open the Nio House with it. There’s a Nio House in Suzhou’s famous Dongfangzhimen building, with merchandise, tea and coffee, and sometimes events, like free noodles, or painting workshops. There’s also a play area for children, given how the ES6 is often used as a family car. In Shanghai, there’s a NIO House on the ground flour of the Shanghai Tower, the highest building in China. There’s no charging in these places, but there is in NIO Houses next to highways. My go-to one, next to the highway to Shanghai, has cable-charging and battery swaps — as well as toilets, merchandise, drinks, and a play area for kids.
Voice commands in the NIO ES6
Con’s of the NIO ES6
- Nio is so keen to promote the battery swaps, saying how it gives you 400 kilometers in 3 minutes, so when you purchase one of their cars, you also buy that future promise. Then it’s a bit of a downer that often there are big queues for it in Suzhou. Sometimes there are 6 cars ahead, while the station only has 6 batteries — which needs charging to be used again. Sometimes the operator will ask you: “I have a battery ready that is on 80%, do you want that or do you want to wait for a full one?”, then depending on the trip I’m doing to make, 80% may be enough. But a few times I’ve spent over an hour waiting for a full battery, and at the busiest times, even the cable-charging places were occupied. When a battery swap takes 5 minutes it’s really amazing, but half of the time NIO cannot yet live up to its promises due to their popularity.
- Update November 2021: The battery swap now is better. They added a new battery swap station nearby (so no more 20-minute drive) and there’s almost no wait there. There is still NIO staff there, but you can let the car auto-drive in it, so you can remain seated in your own car while the battery is swapped.
- The app doesn’t show the location of the car. Maybe that’s nice to have: I’ve sometimes forgotten where I parked it on huge parking garages.
- More proof that the NIO is very popular is the limited choice of its colors. The prefered color was actually green, but that waiting time was over 6 months. The grey color could be delivered in 2 months, so grey it was.
- It’s still lacking a bit of leg space for the driver seat. Mind you, I’m over 1.9 meters tall, but ideally, I could put the driver seat back just a little bit more to have my legs comfortable. But it’s very hard to buy a car in China that suits my height anyway.
- Three tiny things:
- The only problem with built-quality I had once was the passenger seat, for a moment it could only be moved backward (electrically) and not forward. But then the next day it worked again, hm.
- The brake pedal is a tiny bit weird, it feels like non-linear. Especially in the beginning, I had trouble stopping the car smoothly for a traffic light. I only mean the last bit of braking, from 2 km/h to a standstill, where I want to scrub off the last bit of speed smoothly. Then the last bit of braking goes non-linear and it stops a little bit too quick. Nothing serious.
- The seat (of the driver) goes forward every time you open the door. I guess it helps shorter people to exit the vehicle, but for me it’s super annoying, because the seat is already on maximum backwards, and when it goes forward it cramps my legs under the steering wheel. Yet every-time I open the door it goes forward and I need to interrupt it by pressing the button on the side to go back again.
Final thoughts on the NIO ES6
I spoke to other Nio owners. Some considered buying a Tesla S as well. The fact that the Tesla is American didn’t really matter to them. Some just found the S too small, or the interior too ugly. Some also considered that the Tesla had no battery swap. Most NIO owners are pretty young, late 20s to late 30s, sometimes a bit older. It’s surprising how young (and wealthy for their age) they are compared to the average car buyer in China. They often have young kids too.
The battery swap is a fantastic idea in theory, but whether it is so too in practice, depends on whether NIO will add battery-swap capacity parallel to the car’s popularity. A lot will also depend on whether people charge the car at home. If you just commute short distances daily, you shouldn’t really be needing to do a battery swap, because you can just charge the car overnight.
But the NIO ES6 itself is a beautiful electrical SUV, with lots of space and great handling. It makes you feel safe inside, and dare I say it, it also makes you feel a bit smart and cool, driving it.
PS: See here my tips on how to get a driving license in China.