Can EV firm emulate the success of compatriot MG with its own cheap crossover?

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Tesla, schmesla. Whereas the world’s favourite EV pioneer took the best part of a decade to break into the mainstream, Aiways has managed it in just five, albeit flying under our radar by taking most of its sales in China.

Founded as a start-up in 2017, Aiways has in short order built a plant with an annual capacity of 300,000, a full R&D centre and a battery factory, all to support ambitions of becoming a global brand by exploiting the oncein-a-century reset of electrification.

Aiways gives buyers in Europe a five-year, 150,000km warranty and guarantees 75% battery capacity at least after eight years or 150,000km.

Ahead of plans to break into the UK in around 12 months time, we took an exclusive drive in its U5 family crossover around London. The U5 is feted by Aiways for being a clean-sheet, no-compromises EV design, better to extract every inch of space and ounce of efficiency from.

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It’s certainly striking, albeit more for its presence than beauty, a knockon of the fact that it has been built to be roomier than many of its rivals. Leg room is strikingly substantial, with limousine-like levels of space for three adults to sit across the rear, even with tall people up front.

Boot space is also generous, at 496 litres (1619 seats down), although the rear seats don’t fold absolutely flat. The front passenger’s knees also benefit from the absence of a glovebox. If you do want somewhere to store bits, you can option a leather case that neatly clips into the recess.

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That last detail hints at an ethos of providing all you need but not a great deal more in order to keep prices down. While far from Daciaesque in its cost-cutting militancy, there’s something refreshing about Aiways’s decision not to sell you a satnav but rather offer effective phone mirroring and cost-effective access to an app, called Pump, that handles everything from live traffic updates to charge point monitoring.

The fact that everything, including starting and shutting down the car, is done via the touchscreen also adds a sheen of technical wizardry and hints at Aiways’ aim to be seen as utilising the best of China’s tech leadership.

To drive, the U5 is refreshingly simple, if a bit unremarkable. While its barely altered Chinese dynamic set-up leaves it feeling a bit light on steering feel and a touch too wallowy in the bends, it’s only small degrees off being the right side of controlled. Perhaps reflecting the state of roads in China as much as Britain, its softly sprung demeanour deals with the worst imperfections well.

So, it strikes a perfectly agreeable balance of comfort and control. Its performance is on the right side of enough, too. As with all EVs, stepoff is instant and acceleration brisk. Progress is quiet as well, with road and wind noise damped and the whine of the electric motor only audible if you really listen for it. Sure, top speed is limited to 99mph in order to preserve the relatively modest 63kWh battery’s range (249 miles), but that hardly matters here.

Most tellingly, I tried the U5 just after the Skoda Enyaq iV – a rival, as are the new Kia Niro EV and, if you’re feeling generous, the Audi Q4 E-tron. No question, the U5 felt different to them all, a bit less polished and a bit less controlled but majoring on space, refinement and a frisson of infotainment accomplishment, all for an appealing price.

Overall, it’s at least as decent as the latest lauded EVs launched by MG, and confirms that established family-car makers need to be ever warier of EVs from China.

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Aiways U5 First drives