The All-New NIO ES6 Is A Downgrade (That's Actually Better)
Issuing time:2023-06-15 23:07
What is it?
127,000, that’s how many first generation ES6 NIO says they sold over the last 4 years. That number makes it their highest volume model and therefore their most important. It sits between the BMW X3 and X5 in terms of length and wheelbase. That means it slots below the ES7 in NIO’s lineup, with prices ranging from 52-60,000 USD before options.
However, if you pay a monthly fee to rent the battery pack, you can buy the rest of the car for just over 42,000. That makes it noticeably cheaper than the first generation ES6. Time to find out if that lower price came with some compromises.
As smooth as possible
A great deal of work has gone into making the ES6 as smooth as possible, for both stylistic and practical reasons. That includes touches like the aero ducts on either side of the headlights, side glass and pillars that are flush from A-pillar to D-pillar, and concealed turn signals in the door mirrors.
The new ES6 is also 55mm lower than the first-gen car. That wouldn’t very noticeable on its own, but they also swapped out the chrome greenhouse accent for a completely blacked-out roof, and the combination does make this car look sleeker and slightly more wagon-like.
The final result of all this is a drag coefficient of just 0.25, slipperier than the 0.26 of the Mercedes EQS, but slightly behind the Tesla Model X at 0.24.
The all-new rear-end design is a departure from the first gen, but one that feels more modern as a result. The front and rear lights are LEDs, and the rears use Super Red technology. NIO claims that the upper brake light is the thinnest in the industry, at about 5mm in width.
Finally, they nailed it
This generation of NIO interiors has been consistently good looking, but with some material choices that left me genuinely confused. The ET7 and ES7 both cover their center consoles in a recycled material called Karuun, which looks alright, but feels cheap. Not so with the ES6, which wraps the center console and pretty much every other surface in soft leather. Karuun is found only on the dashboard, where it used as a design accent, not a touch point.
This is also true for the cloth material used in the ET5 sedan. That car covered the lower dash in the rough, scratchy stuff, but you will only find it on the lower doors of the ES6. Oh, and that that weird rubber on the doors of the ET5 also stays where it belongs on the ES6, in the bottom the door pockets and storage cubbies, and that’s it.
Heated front-row seats are standard on the new ES6, but you’ll have to pay an extra 1,350 USD to add cooling and massaging, as well as heated second row seats. Those who want the most premium option can pay 2,100 USD to make sure all occupant gets heated, cooled, and massaging seats. On a similar note, it costs an extra 2,300 USD for the real Nappa leather interior on our test car. Base models use synthetic leather. Heating and cooling function for front seat backrest and bottoms are separate, and you can save specific scenarios. Like if I have a serious case of sweaty legs and a sore back, I can set it to cool on the seat bottom, and heat on the seat back.
The optional queen seat is a signature feature of NIO SUVs, and it’s gotten an upgrade for the second gen ES6. In addition to the fold-down foot rest and leg rest of the first gen car, it now has a zero-gravity mode, much like the one in the Zeekr X. That means it will lay down the seat back while lifting the seat bottom, allowing for a much more comfortable posture. This feature only works when the vehicle is in park.
The center screen of the ES6 measures 12.8-inches, a modest size among Chinese electric vehicles. This is complimented by a 10.2-inch instrument screen and a standard HUD. NOMI can now do Siri-style reminders based on time, location, or the next time you get out of the car. For example, I could ask her to remind me at 9:30 to call my mom, or remind me to buy flowers for my girlfriend when I get near home, or remind me to get something out of the trunk when I get out of the car.
Rear legroom wasn’t a problem on the first generation ES6, and it certainly won’t be on the new one, thanks to an additional 15mm of wheelbase. NIO also says they redesigned the seats in order to allow for better headroom. But what truly increases comfort in this car is the fact that the rear seatback is now has 8 degrees of adjustability.
As in other NIO’s, the small LCD screen that controls your seat functions, media, air conditioning, and the panoramic sunroof, is located on the back of the center console. The rear cargo compartment of the ES6 now has three different levels of storage, for a total of 668L with the seats up, and 1430 when folded down.
NOP Plus getting better
Our test car was equipped with the latest version of NIO’s highest level driver assistance system, NOP Plus. The version we drove had yet to be pushed to consumers, but should be available via OTA within the next few months. We spent quite a couple hours on the highway, where we were able to get a healthy first impression of the system’s performance.
The ES6 uses the same Aquila Sensor suite as other second-generation NIOs. This includes lidar, high-definition cameras, ultrasonic and millimeter wave radar, and 2 high precision positioning units. All that hardware is backed by the Adam Super Computing platform, which has up to 1016 TOPS of computing power.
As it happens, I drove a NIO ET7 with the publicly available NOP system in Shanghai just the week before I drove the ES6, and I was not particularly impressed. The system was slow to make lane changes and often transitioned from NOP to the less advanced NIO Pilot for no apparent reason.
The version I drove in Beijing was an improvement, with quick, decisive lane changes and smooth braking and acceleration inputs. Lane centering still felt a little uncertain at times, even on very clearly marked roadways with little to no traffic. The system also insisted on disengaging in circumstances that found hard to explain. Overall, I would rate it highly, but not as highly as the latest driver assistance from Huawei or XPeng.
More solid, less floaty
This leg of the journey also allowed me to see the ES6’ highway manners, and I was quite impressed. While the first-gen car had optional air suspension, this new generation makes due without. It also forgoes the double-wishbone front suspension of the last gen car in favor of a five-link suspension both front and rear. Thing is, I didn’t miss the air suspension in the least. I thought the ride of the all-new ES6 was a noticeable improvement, feeling more solid and less floaty than the first-gen car.
Like every NIO, the ES6 has battery swapping, allowing you to trade your dead battery for a fresh one in around 5 minutes. There are two different batteries available, a 75-kWh unit that provides 490 km of CLTC range, or a 100-kWh pack with a claimed range of 625 km. NIO says their 150-kWh, semi-solid-state battery with a 930 km range will be available for rental at swap stations, starting this summer.
The ES6 has the same dual motor powertrain as the ET5 sedan, making 360 kW and 700 Nm of torque. That’s more than the 320 kW that was available from previous base model. It's also less than the 400 kW that was available from the performance version of the first gen car, but NIO claims a faster 0-100 km/h time of 4.5 vs. 4.7. Having driven this car, I think that number feels very believable. In fact, I think it’s probably quite conservative.
Reaching that number requires the ES6’s electric AWD, but the system can switch to RWD mode to increase efficiency, such as when we were cruising on the highway. Eventually, we reached the mountains north of Beijing, where were able to test the ES6 on a closed-off mountain road. Throwing it into a few corners was fun, but I quickly realized this wasn’t its natural environment. The suspension of the ES6 has adjustable stiffness, but it’s more noticeable when going over speed bumps than it is in corners. Whether it’s in sport plus or comfort, body control is pretty decent, but it’s definitely not tuned to be a sports SUV.
A Porsche Cayenne it is not, but that’s something I’m willing forgive, because NIO has never marketed the ES6 as such. It didn’t take long for me to conclude that the positive characteristics I saw on the highway, also applied to these twisty roads. Whereas the first-generation car was just too soft, this one felt noticeably more solid and confident as I drove it up and down the mountain, finally reaching our destination, and the conclusion of our review.
On paper, it seems like NIO had to give up quite a bit in order to hit the lower price point of the new ES6 and differentiate it from its more expensive sibling, the ES7. But having actually driven, I can say with confidence that despite the lack of air suspension and the lower power figure, it is a noticeable improvement over the first-generation. Not only is the interior just as luxurious, but the driving experience is a step up in terms of solidity and control.
NIO ES6 100-kWh
Motor: Front + Rear-mounted
Power: 360 kW, 700 Nm
Range: 625 km CLTC
0-100 km/h: 4.5 seconds
Wheelbase: 2915 mm
CDM Price (base price): 55,200 USD
Article classification: Electric Vehicles