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NIO ES8 EU-Edition Review — Finally Someone Is On Tesla’s Level

Before you start, we just wanted you to know that we are also working on a thorough video review that shows a lot of what we will tell you about in this article. We will release this video in the coming days.

For many years, you have seen our writers and the general EV community praise Tesla and hope that the EV market will soon diversify. Today there are quite a few battery-powered vehicles on the market, but until now, there was not a single other car in Europe or the USA that we could call a computer on wheels.

What most consumers often fail to appreciate is that in a Tesla, every single component is computer driven and can be updated over the air, either to improve its function or to interconnect it with other parts of the car. A simple example: if it rains, move the passenger seat backwards. Totally useless, but possible. This is how countless improvements have been introduced, like Dog Mode, Pin to Drive, Sentry Mode, and even basic things like moving the seat back once you enter park.

There are a lot of automakers that have claimed to have OTA update functionality, but they have not done much with it, and in fact, other than the infotainment screen, many can’t do much with it. NIO, on the other hand, has added more than 100 new features since 2018. The reason this went unnoticed is because the brand’s cars had not yet reached markets outside of China, until now.

This week, NIO invited us to visit the company in Norway and take a close look at its flagship ES8 vehicle. Only, this one is special because this is already the version that has been made for the European market. What happened next, I did not see coming, I absolutely fell in love with the ES8. We had about 2 days with the car, so we could not extensively test range, charging, and handling on various roads, but other than that, we made sure to note and record on film everything there is to know about this car.

NIO lights

I used to be a skeptic

I have known for years that NIO, BYD, and XPeng were getting ready to start selling their vehicles outside of China and might give Tesla a real run for its money. However, considering that NIO had the smallest infotainment screen that wasn’t landscape, and an exterior that doesn’t look as futuristic as the others, other than its partnership with Intel Mobileye and its attempts at battery swapping, I wasn’t certain what NIO’s vehicles had going for them. While, admittedly, we have yet to try the vehicles of XPeng and BYD, it now seems to me that NIO could easily become one of the best selling electric brands worldwide.


The camera adds 10 pounds, but the beauty is also on the inside

First of all, before seeing the car in person, I was not very enthusiastic about the design. However, the car looks a lot better in real life than it does on camera — this is not something that happens very often, but it is absolutely true for the exterior, the steering wheel, and the front air vent of the ES8. The beautiful headlights and taillights, the contours — a camera can’t accurately show what this car is actually like. Second of all, this car has more features and great subtle design choices that are not apparent until you have had the time to fully check out the car. In this article, we will fully detail all of the car’s features, and if you want to see it for yourself, we have it all on film as well.

Performance & handling

We had the chance to test this car on an air strip, in extreme off-road conditions, as well as on all the road curves that make up Norway’s highway. The car handles fantastically, and if you don’t like it, change the setting to make it fit your taste. The car has pre-made driver modes like Comfort, Eco, and Sport, but you can also just customize it by choosing between 3 steering modes (comfort, standard, steady), 3 regenerative braking modes (very low, low, standard), and 3 acceleration speeds (from 0–100 km/h in 4.9, 7.2, or 9.9 seconds, which in the case of 4.9 seconds or sport mode will also lower the height of the car — because, that’s right, it has air suspension. Too bad that you can’t set a custom ride height. In a Tesla, when you change the height, the car will remember it, but considering that this too is a computer on wheels, perhaps after the next update, it will — and that once again shows how powerful this is. Once I set the steering wheel to steady, the car handled perfectly, and the steering wheel itself is also fairly pleasant to touch, fairly smooth, and did not cause any sweat during a 45 minute drive. The buttons are big and logical and can be operated without looking. This is better than almost all I have tried. The only superior ones are Tesla’s ingenious scroll wheels.

On the air strip, when the car is in sport mode, it has that fantastic electric kick to it that the EV community loves. It reaches 50 km/h in a mere 2.1 seconds, which even beats the Model X Long Range’s 2.3 seconds. Though, it still has a long way to go to beat the Model X Performance’s 1.3 seconds. For the 0–100 km/h speed, the NIO ES8 officially has a 0–100 km/h time of 4.9 seconds, but in our test, we actually managed to get from 0–100 km/h in 4.2 seconds, which then beats the Model X Long Range’s 4.6 seconds. What this means is that on a highway, quickly taking over another car is easy. Altogether, this is very impressive considering the weight of the car is the same as the Model X but has a price tag that is half that of the Model X (in China). Now, with the upcoming Model X refresh, Tesla kicks the performance up a notch, but that the ES8, which is not NIO’s newest car, is in the same league makes me seriously respect NIO for its achievement.

Range & not charging

When it comes to the range, at 500 km WLTP, the NIO ES8 also exactly matches the Model X Long Range (pre-refresh), but that is where the similarities end. The Model X has a peak charging rate of 225 kW, whereas for the NIO ES8, this is only 90 kW. Normally, this would be a downside, but in this case, that is just not the whole story. For a Model X, a full recharge from 0–100% takes nearly 2.5 hours, and even 20-80% still takes 30 minutes, but for NIO that speed can be 3 minutes — because it doesn’t have to charge, it just has a battery swap.

Battery as a service will blow your mind

BaaS is what NIO calls it, and there is a lot more to this than most people have even considered. First of all, this is no longer an experiment with an uncertain outcome. No sir — NIO has already performed this party trick more than 3 million times. By the end of the year, NIO will have more than doubled the battery swap network in China to 700, and it plans to have 4,000 of these stations globally. In September in Norway, it is starting with 4 stations and will expand from there.

What makes BaaS so fantastic is that most people can get a cheaper car with the smallest battery pack and swap it for a big one right before they take a long road trip. Personally, unless I am going out of town, a tiny 30 kWh pack would more than suffice for my grocery store trips, but for now, the battery sizes NIO will offer are 70 kWh and 100 kWh. The price per month for the BaaS service in Norway has not yet been announced, but in China it’s the equivalent of €124 for the smaller pack and €187 for the larger pack. However, buying the car without a battery means that you get a €9,000–16,000 discount on the car depending on the pack size you are looking to buy. When larger packs go into rotation in the swapping stations in the future, you will be able to take advantage of them even with an older vehicle.

NIO Pilot

Sadly, Norway is probably one of the worst countries to be testing NIO Pilot. The country is full of hills and mountains, so there are hardly any straight pieces of road for you to slowly learn to feel and trust the system. Also, it’s possible that the NIO Pilot system was still using the version intended for the Chinese market rather than the Norwegian one.

From my short test of the system, it was unable to handle some of the very steep road curves at speeds like 70 km/h and disengaged at the most dangerous possible moments, which, if you were not fully concentrated, could end very badly, very quickly. I do not blame NIO Pilot for this. I can guarantee that the autosteer of any other cars I have tested would not be able to handle this either — whether a Tesla could is what I wonder, so if we have any Norwegian Tesla drivers here who know, please let us know in the comments below. Once I get the chance to drive a NIO in the Netherlands, then I will be able to tell you how good or bad NIO Pilot actually is relative to other systems. In the bits where roads were sufficiently straight, the system seemed to work well enough, but once again, this was a rather short test under bad conditions.

What is actually important to understand is that NIO Pilot works on the technology of Intel Mobileye, the company that in my opinion is in second place after Tesla when it comes to autonomy. After Tesla parted ways with Mobileye, the company did not sit still. What is important is that this is a system that actually looks around and thinks rather than a system that merely combines adaptive cruise control with autosteer and only looks at its own lane markings and the car directly in front of it. The current ES8, sadly, does not have the most up-to-date sensors, like the upcoming ET7, and is thus not going to reach level 4 autonomy. 

Intel Mobileye plans to use lidar sensors. What is important to understand about that, and this is contrary to what Elon Musk often says, is that this does not mean that the system won’t be able to reach level 4 autonomy. It can, however, mean that it is not likely to be in the same league as Tesla’s robotaxi’s as soon. It could also result in a local maximum at any point along the way and get stuck at a level as safe as a human driver but not 200%–1000% safer than a human driver that Tesla is aiming for and that regulators might demand. All in all, after Tesla, this is still the next best thing out there and I have my fingers crossed that Intel Mobileye will surprise us in the coming years. The fact that the system will be in a fleet of vehicles and might be able to collect data and edge cases for Intel Mobileye is what is very significant here for the future of both companies.

Infotainment hardware

When it comes to the hardware powering the infotainment system, we had concerns regarding how powerful it is. NIO was kind enough to let us in on some sensitive information about their hardware. While we can’t say too much, as someone who knows processors and computer hardware (feel free to check that out for yourself in this and this article), I can tell you that what they have told us has completely persuaded me that this is not going to be a problem. Once NIO publicly shares this information, a lot of jaws will drop, and I already commend NIO for it. Alright, a little hint that they approved: NIO is going to pull a Tesla. (Not literally. Though, that would be fun to see as well.)

Infotainment software

When it comes to software, we were confused by NIO’s initial partnership with Tidal and lack of alternatives like Spotify. This made us worry that it would be a difficult task for developers to adapt their apps to run on a NIO and would cause western app development for NIO to stagnate. However, it turns out that NIO OS is actually a heavily modified version of Android. This means that app developers will have very little trouble adapting their apps to run on a NIO. Just like with a Tesla, this would make Android Auto and Apple Carplay practically obsolete.

Whether something like Netflix or YouTube is coming anytime soon is still a question that NIO has decided not to comment on at this time, most likely because they have bigger fish to fry in the meantime, or they just can’t say anything about such partnerships before they are public.

Also, NIO has pointed out that because of battery swapping, people won’t need to wait for the car to charge, and thus have less need for video(game) entertainment while parked. They also pointed out that you can always stream your music over bluetooth. Nonetheless, there are plenty of other cases where having these services as apps is useful. My greatest hope is that they will introduce a web browser that can play video. This would be great, but again is not something NIO could confirm at this time.


All the features that make this car special

The power button

The NIO ES8 doesn’t have a power button to start the car. Just like a Tesla, this car is always on and ready to go at a moment’s notice. After recently driving the Fiat 500 electric and the Ford Mustang Mach-E, I am extra appreciative of this luxury. In those cars, you first press the button to turn the screens on, and then you need to hold the brake and press the button again to start the car. Sometimes you can turn it on in one go, and sometimes it will take 3 tries, and this has really gotten on my nerves, especially since this is completely unnecessary in an electric car to begin with. So, the fact that the NIO ES8 starts as simply as a Tesla is fantastic. 

The gear shifter

However, in my opinion, the NIO ES8 has also made an improvement that is better than Tesla’s. That is the gear shifter. All Teslas but the new Model S Plaid use stalks that you need to press up or down. Finding the right stalk and remembering which way to press it is not nearly as intuitive as it could be (for a new driver). In the NIO ES8, this is simply a handle that you can operate even if you are blindfolded. You pull it to go into drive, you push it to go into reverse, and there is a nice big button on the side to go into park. This is by far the best system I have tried and trumps my previous favorite in that regard, which was the Hyundai Kona, with logically placed buttons one can feel and remember. The one thing I do feel is a bit backwards in the ES8 is that to go forward you need to pull the lever backwards rather than push it into the direction the car has to go in, which in my opinion would be even more intuitive. If this could be a setting in the car, NIO would make me very happy — who knows, maybe one day through an update.

Front/Rear and 360 cameras

NIO ES8 backup camera

When going up a steep hill and we see nothing but sky, the 360 camera shows you all.

This feature is not necessarily unique all on its own, but it is very well implemented in this car. When going in reverse or when entering a cramped space, the cameras jump into action automatically. What is unique in the 360 view is that lines are projected based on how the steering wheel is turned. This shows how far you need to turn to safely get by a cramped spot or parking space. This is something many cars have with the reverse camera, but here you also have it with the 360-degree cameras and can see how the front will turn as well as the back. What is also very convenient is the moment you switch to reverse, you see the reverse camera, and when switching to drive, it shows the front camera.

HUD

NIO ES8 HUD

Image courtesy of NIO

The car has a HUD and it is very convenient, showing both the speed, the speed limit, and navigation directions.

Steering wheel adjustment

NIO ES8 HUD

In most cars, I don’t even bother adjusting the steering wheel, but NIO has made it so extremely easy that this time I did. On the left side of the steering wheel, there is this little knob that you can push up, down, left, and right and the steering wheel will move accordingly. This can be done at any time.

Fragrance dispenser

NIO fragrance

Under the center console, as many as 3 vials can be inserted with various fragrances to make the car smell nice, something very useful in areas with a lot of air pollution. A lot of people (including myself) would probably think that they don’t like car fresheners and won’t want this, but the fact of the matter is that this is not the same thing. The best example was given to me by a NIO employee. Imagine you are driving by a smelly farm and that smell has already gotten into your car. Normally, you would turn on the air recirculation and suffer for a few minutes until the smell dissipates. With the fragrances, you can fix the car smell in mere seconds and leave it on for only a few minutes in addition to turning on air recirculation. This is something even I can get behind even though I hate car fresheners and am not a fan of perfume.

Selfie camera

Carlos vs Andy ! NIO Nomi assistant

This is a feature that so far not a single other car has. NIO has built in a high-quality camera above the rearview mirror that can take pictures of all the people in the car at the same time. So far, the only thing you can do with these images is put them on a USB stick, but who knows, in the future, conference calls or uploading images to social media could be possible.

Built-in dashcam function

NIO DVR infotainment

That is right — the NIO ES8 can record up to 8 hours of footage and automatically make clips of what could potentially be risky situations, and also do so whenever the driver clicks the DVR button. The amount of footage stored can be increased significantly by inserting a USB or hard drive into the USB port.

Off-road capability

NIO ES8 off-roading

NIO took us all for some off-road testing on an adrenaline-inducing track in a sand pit where we went over a very steep obstacle to the point that we could only see the sky and then down an extremely steep slope to the point where the only reason we were still in our seats was because the seatbelts are made to handle these situations.

When it comes to going off-road, I am no expert. I defer to my colleague Jennifer Sensiba on that, since she does that sort of thing all the time. I spoke to her about the demonstration NIO made in a sand pit and showed her the footage we made of it. Here is what came out of that conversation:

She said that especially when it comes to that image of the steep downward slope, “its an impressive angle,” and that most vehicles would slide or get stuck. “That is Jeep territory” is what she said. This means that the car has good electronic traction control. Generally, sand is more challenging than most people think. It is in fact one of the hardest things, especially for a heavier vehicle. While the car does not have a “Gravel mode,” according to NIO, “Snow mode” works just fine for these purposes.

Now, there is an important distinction to make. In off-roading, there is something called “technical off-roading,” which means challenging terrain with rocks, obstacles, and crawling. This requires something called bash plates or skid plates. For those unaware of such things, like me, those are metal plates on the undercarriage that protect the car in case you hit something like a rock. Because, presumably, the ES8 does not have these, the ES8 is not capable of technical off-roading like a Jeep, but it’s performance is extremely impressive for a road-oriented vehicle.

A big safe

NIO ES8 console dimensions

The armrest portion of the center console can be locked and act as a sort of safe in the car. What makes this even better is that the center console storage space is the biggest I have ever seen. When I stick my arm down it, my elbow barely sticks out of the top. It is so huge that it is about 1 inch (3 cm) away from fitting a full blown 15 inch laptop. I measured it — it’s 13 inches (33 cm) deep, 12 inches (30 cm) long, and 6 inches (15.5 cm) wide. I also measured two 14-inch laptops. Those would fit in there. As well as a whole lot of other stuff.

More storage

NIO ES8 dimensions

While there is no glove box compartment (the safe makes up for that), there is also a huge space underneath the center console —  its 65×17.5x32cm (25.5x7x13 in) LxWxH. According to one female NIO employee I spoke to, this place is perfect for a large purse. Though, the space could probably use some aftermarket storage dividers for greater convenience. This space also cannot be fully filled up, because on top is where you insert the fragrance vials, and likely also where the fragrance comes from. The space in all 4 doors is also larger than in most cars and can also fit some more stuff.

Front passenger seat heaven

NIO ES8 seats review

If you are a guy looking to buy a family car, your wife will love you for choosing the ES8. The front passenger seat is the most luxurious and comfortable I have ever had the pleasure to sit in. Heating, ventilation, and massage already make it better than most, but that in itself is not unprecedented. The fact that you also get electrically controlled leg support and a foot stand is what makes this seat so unique. You can literally turn it into a bed, not unlike a first-class seat in a big airplane. The passenger seat also has a memory and can be programmed with 4 different custom positions, which is another feature you see less often than you might think. Finally, the seat has a very unusual function — once you electronically slide it all the way back, you can click a button and slide the chair even further back manually to the point that you are somewhere between the first and second row.

The sunshade mirror

NIO ES8 review

Women who like to put on makeup in the car will absolutely love this: The sunshade mirror is the largest I have ever seen. Without the lights, it’s 17 cm (~6.5 in) long, basically stretching nearly all the way across the sunshade. Some cars have rear-view mirrors that are smaller than this. In my car back at home, that sunshade mirror is just 11 cm long (4.3 in). I know numbers don’t often mean much to people, but believe me, it’s shockingly big. As a bonus, the moment you slightly push it, the cover satisfyingly jumps open all the way on its own. NIO’s attention to detail is amazing.

Nomi

As you may have seen before, the car has this little robot head on the dashboard, your personal assistant called Nomi. Before I saw the car in real life, I was very skeptical of this. It seemed like a gimmick that mostly people in Japan or China might like, and that it might push away serious men looking for an EV in western countries. Now, you can apparently buy the car without it, but after trying it, I would personally get the car with it. It’s hard to explain, but there is something about it that just makes it a nice addition to the car and is not nearly as distracting as I thought it would be. When addressed, it looks at you. When a passenger hasn’t buckled in, it will look at that person and show an animation of the seat buckle on the screen. When you play music, it occasionally shows that it likes the music and the animation can even adapt to the music genre — with pop or rap, it might show some cool shades; whereas with some other music, it might shake some rattles. It almost makes me think it likes my choice of music. 

NIO smart assistant Nomi

Nomi kindly asking you to fasten your seatbelt

The coolest part of all — and sadly, due to a bug, we only got it to do this once — I could reprogram the driver name to CleanTechnica when I played around with it on the first day. Then, during filming on the second day, at one point when we entered the car, it suddenly looked at the driver and said “Welcome CleanTechnica” — not me nor the person from NIO saw this coming, and we both at the same time went like “daaaaamn, that’s cool.” I really wish I had caught that on camera, but there was just something really nice about it that made me very happy. Even from the least likely category of customer to like a cute little robot like Nomi, I would say NIO gets the rubber stamp of approval — they did a really good job.

There are, however, two aspects of Nomi that have yet to be improved. One is its ability to answer — this however is because it is still in training for the English language, and it will be a lot more ready by the time the first ES8s are handed over to customers in Norway. The second is the way it is activated. Right now, after saying “Hi Nomi” (custom activation word is possible, fantastic), it takes 3 seconds for it to look at you and then say “Nomi is here.” Only then will it properly listen. To NIO, I would suggest changing this to a simple “Yes?” and to say it instantly, before the robot finishes turning. The fact that it said “Yes?” and is turning is enough for me to know it has recognized me. The fact that it is looking at me is a nice bonus, and it will still look straight at me for most of my query anyways. It is also possible to immediately get it to listen to you by pressing the voice assistant button on the steering wheel, but I like the wake word more.

Second row seats

Here we are talking about the 6 seat configuration that has two seats in the middle row. These seats can move forward and backwards and they can recline backwards somewhat as well, not to mention fold down to make the trunk more than twice as large as before. Furthermore, they have an armrest that can be configured in lots of positions, but what I love most of all about the armrest is that it has an integrated cup holder that unfolds like origami at the press of a button and gives it the ideal position for effortlessly reaching your drink. Finally, the seat has a small pocket that can fit something like a wallet or phone. While the front row seats don’t have a net, which would offer more storage, this little pocket is perfect for putting away your phone/wallet yet making it very easy for quick access. Lastly, the seat has a USB port. This USB port is intended for the third row, but when the third row is empty, it can be used by the second row in a way that is more convenient then connecting it in the front where the second-row climate controls are.

Trunk

NIO Trunk big review

Let’s start talking about the trunk by conveniently mentioning that there is no frunk. Normally, I would be sad by this, but the trunk is so good that I don’t think I would miss it much. Before I get to the size, it’s important to mention that the trunk opens up automatically and can close automatically when operated by the exterior handle/interior button, the infotainment screen, or the car keys. Though, for some strange reason, the car keys can’t close the trunk. We assume that the smartphone apps can also open and close the trunk, but there was no opportunity to test this. Finally, the trunk can also be opened/closed by a motion sensor underneath the car — you just kick the air underneath and the trunk opens. Now onto size.

NIO ES8 trunk measuring

With the third row of seats up, the trunk is pretty small, because this is an SUV and not a minivan — a mere 44 cm (17 in). Then with the third row down, that length becomes somewhere between 109–157 cm (43–62 in), depending on how far the second-row seats are placed in the 6 seat configuration. Then, finally, with the second row down as well, you get 214 cm (7 feet) until the center console. These measurements wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that the height is 76 cm (30 in) and the width is 120 cm (47.5 in) at the bottom and 86 cm (34 in) at the top. By volume, that is 1903 liters with both rows down, 870 liters with the third row down, and 312 liters with all seats up.

The trunk fun doesn’t stop there either, since the small section before the third row can be opened up to reveal a space of 95×34.5×12.5 cm (37.5×13.5×5 in), which is enough to store 2 whole pairs of CCS cables or 2 of those somewhat old bulky laptop bags. Then underneath the left side of the hidden compartment is yet another hidden compartment. This is where the emergency tools for the car are and what seems like space for an emergency home outlet charger. So, basically, besides your CCS cable, you could store anything that would otherwise be rattling around your trunk.

The car’s UI

NIO ES8 front seats

This is yet another aspect of the car that gets very high marks from me, and since I actually studied UI/UX design, I know what I am talking about. Let’s start with the physical buttons. There are only 6 of them:

  • The hazard lights, this is just legally mandatory. 

The rest are the ones that you are most likely to need quickly. 

  • A home button that will bring you back to your navigation and the overview screen — this is crucial. 
  • An apps button that literally separates all of the necessary car UI from existing and future entertainment UI that isn’t crucial to have on screen — this way the UI does not get cluttered. 
  • A button to change driving modes, which I think was a fantastic choice. 
  • A button to quickly lock the car doors — it’s comforting to know that in an emergency you can very quickly lock the doors when someone approaches your car in a rough part of town. 
  • A volume dial with a mute button on top — while not strictly necessary, this is always good to have.

Maps

NIO ES8 navigation system

The map itself works pretty well. Sadly, I can’t rotate the map or change perspective with just two fingers as you can on a smartphone or something, but other than that, I have no complaints. The on-screen keyboard is very good, with both single-hand and two-handed input. It is very responsive. If NIO introduces a web browser, the keyboard is completely ready to go.

Climate control

NIO ES8 AC HVAC

The climate controls are better implemented than on most cars for the simple fact that you won’t accidentally press on the wrong spot, but accurately changing the temperature while driving could still be improved (but that is the case for all on-screen controls out there). The general climate control settings like vents and A/C are prominent enough, as are the fan speed settings. The fact that the climate control screen also offers tabs for the seats and fragrances is also fantastic. For years I have looked at Tesla and wondered why the seat heating controls need to be present at all times, especially when that valuable space could be used for other purposes, so that is a good design choice. Personally, I would recommend NIO do two things: 1) make the climate controls open by swiping up on the screen from anywhere on the bottom edge and 2) have more prominent buttons for changing the temperature on both sides underneath the fan and A/C settings to make it easier to operate while driving.

Notifications/ quick access

NIO Apps

Interestingly enough, if you swipe down from the top, you get notifications. This is a design choice that I really applaud, because that is what phones also have. In fact, although we accidentally missed it while exploring the UI, when you swipe right from the left edge, a Quick Access screen appears.

Before finding out about this, I wrote that what was missing was an area with quick toggles for various settings, ideally in a way that the choice of which toggles and where they are located can be customized by the driver, so it is funny that NIO has already had this all along. Perhaps their only mistake was that you need to swipe right rather than down. With UI layout, you have to use what people already know, and this could get NIO very far.

Settings

NIO ES8 touchscreen

The settings are pretty well put together, just like Tesla’s — it has pretty good and large icons, multiple choice settings sliders. What is mostly missing is a single screen that has all of the most important settings in one spot, the stuff you would most likely want to quickly access while driving, like headlights, seat profiles, mirror folding, ride height adjustment, NIO Pilot settings like collision warning sensitivity and lane departure sensitivity, and screen brightness. As was mentioned before, this would be a perfect pull-down menu. The main problem with their settings is an issue that the Mach-E also suffers from. The categories on the left side should not be scrollable. They could be closer together and a bunch of them can also be combined, like driving and driving assistance. Just make them two tabs like you did in the ES8 overview. A person needs to learn to instinctively remember the position of a category — that is, how you can operate things while driving, muscle memory. Always take advantage of muscle memory.

In general, because the competition is so far behind, NIO scores high on touchscreen operability while driving. Overall, the design is good but has room for improvement.

What else does the NIO ES8 have?

NIO ES8 review

The NIO ES8 is full of surprises. We can’t guarantee that we have found all the features, nor that we have not accidentally forgotten to include something in this article, but some more features worth mentioning are:

  • The ES8 has a big beautiful sunroof that opens and can be covered up with a semi-transparent cover.
  • The car has a HEPA filter.
  • The climate control system can generate negative ions.
  • The interior of the ES8 also has ambient lighting, of which you can choose the colors — though, they are not visible in daylight.
  • What is very visible even in direct sunlight, however, is the instrument cluster. Unlike most cars, it’s a screen that hasn’t been covered. A lot of people might be concerned about that, but in our testing, it remained perfectly visible at all times and is nothing to be concerned about.
  • NIO offers its clients a service that other automakers don’t — NIO Power. If you are away from chargers and swapping stations, if you run out of power, or if you don’t have time to charge, NIO will drive an electric van to you that will charge your car regardless of where you are.
  • The smartphone app allows you to summon your car forward and backwards.

What are the downsides?

NIO assistant review

Now, I wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t share the car’s shortfalls. Luckily, there are not that many. In fact, this list used to be longer before we heard back on some of the more technical questions we had asked NIO. Working with the people at NIO to put this all together is a refreshing pleasure, and there will be a whole article on this and NIO’s company culture, including an interview with the general manager of NIO Norway next weekend.

Speakers disappoint

The first and biggest disappointment is the speaker system. Everything in this car is so luxurious, yet the sound was very average and can not hold a candle to the sound systems of a Tesla or the Ford Mustang Mach-E. You can always buy a tablet to use in the car for video, but you can’t plug a new sound system into the car. On the one hand, if this is because of speaker hardware, owners could get that replaced in a garage. If it’s software, NIO might be able to improve it via an update. But if it’s the computer hardware that causes this, then you might be out of luck. NIO’s next sedan, the ET7, advertises an updated system with 23 speakers and up to 1000W of output. This should be much better than the current system. I live in hope that NIO might still do something about this for the ES8 before too long. I should also acknowledge that centering the speakers around the driver or at least the first row in settings did improve the sound quality somewhat. As someone who loves music, lots of bass, and is spoiled with good speakers at home, this might be the biggest disappointment for me personally.

USBs and power

Some might not care all too much about this, but in the front, there is just a single USB port that will be filled by a USB for the dashcam function. In the back, there are enough USB ports for everyone. Unfortunately, all of the USB ports are USB-A ports and they are very weak, to the point where they will only be useful to prevent discharging while using a phone rather than be used for charging. Even a cheap charger that comes with electronics like a chromecast can still provide 5 watts of power. The ports in the ES8 provided a mere 2.5 watts. For reference, most smartphones charge at speeds above 15 watts, and newer ones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 or the iPhone 12 charge at speeds above 20 watts. The car also has a very conveniently placed wireless charger, but it too is rather weak. This is an electric car with a powerful inverter. It should have regular outlets. The Mach-E has one port that can reach 15 watts and Tesla now has ports that can reach 27 watts. Now, in all honesty, this is an inconvenience, not a problem, because the car has two 12V outlets (one in the front and one in the trunk), which you can use to plug in fast chargers. With long cables, 4 people can fast charge their phones on the way. So, again, it’s just an inconvenience.

No dashcam clips while parked (Sentry Mode)

While the car does already have dashcam functionality, the car does not record events that happen around it while the car is parked. Though this is again one of those things that NIO can easily introduce through an update in the coming years.


The score

NIO ES8 review

For a few months now, we at CleanTechnica have been developing a scoring system for electric vehicles and all the functions and luxuries they might have. We are unveiling that now for the first time. For starters, let’s say that this system is still in Beta and we want to make sure you understand that the criteria and scoring methods might still change in the future. It is very comprehensive, meaning there’s a lot of space for imperfection and room for improvement. 

Because we only had about one full day of access to the car, we were not fully able to test the reliability of certain features, like NIO Pilot or the rain sensor. For those systems, we have given a lower preliminary score that will be improved once we can do more extensive testing. Nonetheless, I am excited to say that in the system where we have scored the Model 3 SR+ (835 points), the Mach-E AWD LR (652 points), and the New Fiat 500 electric (516 points), the NIO ES8 has gotten the highest score of all (863 points).

Feel free to take a look at the spreadsheet to see how we score vehicles. The comments there can also give valuable insight into the capabilities of the car. In the future, this will also become an interactive system for people to compare the different electric vehicles out there.


Conclusion — NIO is extending a handle to the future

Now that I am at home writing this article and editing our video footage, I already miss the ES8. I cannot overstate how excited I am to see this car enter the European market. For the first time ever, I can actually say that if I had a car that is not a Tesla, I would not be dissapointed. The ES8 does not yet fully take away Tesla’s crown, because Tesla still has entertainment and autonomy going for it, but that is a very, very short list. When compared to literally any other EV on the market, the list is much longer. 

There are also a lot of features this car has that are not gimmicks, things the car does better than a Tesla, like: luxury, battery swapping, HUD, safe storage, ventilated seats with massage function, and off-road capability, to name a few. This is also the first time one can get a Model X size EV without paying a Model X size price, and this will most likely result in the car becoming very popular in Europe. All it requires is to get people to try the car, something the EV community calls “getting butts in seats.” If NIO does that, then things will be golden.

 
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Written By

Chanan grew up in a multicultural, multi-lingual environment that often gives him a unique perspective on a variety of topics. He is always in thought about big picture topics like AI, quantum physics, philosophy, Universal Basic Income, climate change, sci-fi concepts like the singularity, misinformation, and the list goes on. Currently, he is studying creative media & technology but already has diplomas in environmental sciences as well as business & management. His goal is to discourage linear thinking, bias, and confirmation bias whilst encouraging out-of-the-box thinking and helping people understand exponential progress. Chanan is very worried about his future and the future of humanity. That is why he has a tremendous admiration for Elon Musk and his companies, foremost because of their missions, philosophy, and intent to help humanity and its future. He sees Tesla as one of the few companies that can help us save ourselves from climate change.

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