The Arcfox Alpha S Has Huawei's Best Lidar Tech
Issuing time:2022-12-23 20:00
What is it?
The Arcfox Alpha S is an upscale electric sedan that competes with everything from the XPeng P7 to the NIO ET7 here in the Chinese market. The Arcfox brand isn’t one that get’s a great deal of attention, both inside and outside of China. One reason for that is its sales, which lag behind rivals like XPeng. The company sold about 6700 Alpha S sedans in the first half of 2022. XPeng sells that many P7 sedans in a month.
Interest in the company peaked back in 2021 when it released an eye-catching, but controversial, video exhibiting the car’s Huawei Inside, or HI, self-driving technology. That tech is finally making it to customer hands (a full year late), which is why Arcfox invited us to try it out. Since we hadn’t driven the Alpha S or the company’s EV SUV, the Alpha T, we thought we’d do a quick test drive while we were at it.
Sedan shape, crossover proportions
The Alpha S has a generically handsome look, with some hints of Tesla Model S in its front fascia. But that impression fades when you view it from the side and rear. Despite being essentially the same length as a Model S (4.98m/195 inches), the Alpha S is a full 15.4cm (6 inches) taller, giving it rather strange proportions for a sedan.
The matte black paint job shown on our test car is one of the standard colors for the HI edition cars, and pairs well with the black wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires (the SUV version, of course, because this thing is heavy). The sloping roof of the Alpha S is no trick, this is a true liftback and so it enjoys true liftback storage, a total of 560 liters. That’s far better than the paltry 364 liters of the larger NIO ET7, but pales in comparison to the 744 liters of the Model S.
Plenty of space for hard plastic
The advantage of this design can’t really be appreciated until you sit inside, which feels positively cavernous. That sensation is only enhanced by the layout of the front row and its two-tiered center console that further emphasizes the sense of space. This not only results in room to move around, it also provides a plethora of storage solutions, with an upper storage area and two more down below.
The upper tier of the console is home to a collection of physical buttons, including a dial that only seems to control the volumes of various sound sources, like media, voice controls, navigation, etc. During my time with the car, I vacillated between thinking this dial was unnecessary, and truly appreciating the fact that I didn’t have to dig into the menu to tell the navigation to shut up. There were also individual physical buttons for the driving modes, Eco, Comfort, and Sport, a design we usually see in BMWs.
The interior of the Alpha S suffers from the car’s pricing. At its starting price of 32,000 USD, the interior materials are quite nice, easily on par with similarly-priced competitors. But the top-spec HI version we drove cost 62,000 USD, putting it in the same league as the likes of the NIO ET7. In that company, the shiny, hard plastics of the Alpha S start to see like a bit of an eyesore.
One thing I can’t complain about is the center screen, which measures 22-inches and uses the Harmony OS that we saw in the Aito M5, as well as the Primeval Chaos software platform of the Beijing Rubik’s Cube. Harmony OS continues to be very good at mimicking the functions and convenience we normally associate with smart phone operating systems, including the ability to customize your interface by dragging and dropping apps with a long-press.
The rear seat lacks the small LCD touch screen of the NIO ET7, but occupants can use a small touch panel on the rear of the center console to control the AC mode, as well as adjust the media volume. The roof above the left and right seats is scalloped, making for impressive headroom, and legroom is plentiful as well.
Huawei Inside rivals XPeng City NGP
The Alpha S joins the XPeng P5 and its City NGP as the only Chinese cars offering navigation on autopilot (NOA) in urban environments. Both systems are currently limited to specific cities, with the XPeng system only available in Guangzhou, and the Arcfox system only available Shenzhen and Shanghai. The HI system has 400 TOPS of computing power, while the much cheaper XPeng P5 has 30 TOPS. The XPeng G9 and NIO ET7, which have a similar price to the Alpha S, have 508 TOPS and 1016 TOPS, respectively.
It should also be noted that there are two different trim levels for the Alpha S with Huawei Inside tech. Both have the same hardware (34 sensors and cameras, including 3 lidar units with a 300-degree FOV and high-definition maps), but their software and capabilities differ quite a bit. The cheaper trim costs around 57,000 USD, and only has NOA capabilities on the highway, while the more expensive version, costing around 62,000 USD, is capable of using NOA in city environments. Arcfox says owners who choose the cheaper version can upgrade their car later via OTA, but specific prices have not been announced.
Our experience of the Navigation Cruise Assist, Arcfox’s name for its urban navigation on autopilot system, took on an hour-long route that included a mix of major urban thoroughfares and smaller side streets. I wouldn’t call it a comprehensive test, but it was enough to get an initial impression.
Like City NGP, the Alpha S HI attempts to put you at ease by showing the status of stoplights as you approach them. The HI system then takes this a step farther by detecting and displaying whether the brake lights of cars in front have been activated. Does this aid you in operating the system in any way? I would say, no. But it does go a long way in making the system feel more capable and “smart” enough to do its job.
The NCA system smoothly navigated through some complex road conditions during our test drive, but it did require me to intervene at a couple points. The first intervention occurred when our lane was blocked by construction, forcing the Alpha S to go from the far-left lane into the middle lane, which had about ten cars worth of traffic.
At first, the lane change began as it should, with the car gently nosing into the other lane in order to make space. However, after creeping in for 5-10 seconds, the car appeared to be headed straight towards the side of a Buick GL8 MPV. I can’t say for sure that we would have hit the Buick, but the distance was close enough that I felt the need to intervene.
I also had to turn off the system at several points when negotiating especially narrow roads with street-parked vehicles. At multiple points, the car moved over to accommodate oncoming traffic, and then found itself stuck behind a parked car as the oncoming traffic went by on our left side. Without my intervention, we would likely still be there on the side of the road. Put another way, the Huawei system is impressive, but like similar systems, it should not be misconstrued as self-driving. It requires constant attention!
Fast and soft
With the driver assistance system test out of the way, I could see what it was actually like to drive the car myself. The first order of business was to get a firm grip on the wheel and smash the accelerator pedal, because with a 0-100 km/h time of 3.5 seconds, the Alpha S promised to be the fastest car we’ve ever tested. I was not disappointed, as the thrust provided by the dual motor powertrain with 473 kW and 655 Nm (643 hp/485 pound-feet) was enough to bounce my cameraman’s head off the headrest with a satisfying thud (don’t worry, he’s fine).
The good news is that all HI cars will enjoy this kind of thrust, because the package is only available on the performance version of the Alpha S. The bad news is that unlike standard performance cars, which use a 94-kWh battery pack, HI cars use a 74.5-kWh pack, dropping range from 603 km (375 miles) to 500 km (311 miles). Lower spec cars have a single, front-mounted motor and a range of 525 km (326 miles) to 708 km (440 miles), depending on whether you choose the 67-kWh pack or the 94-kWh pack. Keep in mind, all those ranges are NEDC, rather than China’s more optimistic CLTC standard.
But speed doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to the Alpha S. That very tall profile I mentioned before is a hint that the Arcfox sedan isn’t really intended to be a sporty handler. Outward visibility is great, but that height, and a very softly sprung McPherson strut front suspension, means that body roll is very noticeable. That front suspension, doesn’t keep the Alpha S from being comfortable over bumps, but it does contribute to poor turn-in and numb steering.
The use of McPherson comes as somewhat of surprise, as most competitors use a more advanced double wishbone or even a multilink, as is the case with the NIO ET7. For the prices Arcfox is charging, a McPherson strut just won’t due.
The Arcfox Alpha S is a spacious, well-equipped sedan, but with an asking price of 62,000 USD, I expect a more luxurious interior and driving experience. As for the Huawei Inside system and it’s Navigation Cruise Assist, it ranks among the most advanced driver assistance systems I’ve ever used, but that only means that it requires constant attention, just like every other system of its kind. Is that worth the extra 7,000 USD over a standard performance version of the Alpha S (make that 11,500 USD if you actually want the urban NCA function we used)?
Arcfox Alpha S HI
Motor: Front + Rear-mounted
Power: 473 kW, 655 Nm
Battery: 74.5 kWh
Range: 500 km NEDC
0-100 km/h: 3.5 seconds
Wheelbase: 2915 mm
CDM Price: 62,000 USD
Article classification: Electric Vehicles