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The best Chinese cars - from Aiways to Zeekr

The best Chinese cars
The best Chinese cars

The rate at which Chinese cars are improving is unprecedented. Twenty-five years ago, China was knocking out models like the Lubao CA6410 – essentially the front end of an Austin Montego, mated with the rear end of an Austin Maestro, with a Toyota engine thrown in up top for good measure.

But today, via decades of economic growth, a few copycat creations and concentrating firmly on electric cars, Chinese models are up there with the best in the business.

They tend to be among the cheapest and most reliable cars on the market, while the latest EVs from China also top the charts of the most efficient electric cars too.

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And don’t think it’s all price-driven pragmatism either. They’re catching up with European, Japanese and Korean efforts in terms of interior quality and driving fun too.

Below you’ll find our favourite cars from Chinese companies that are either currently on sale or coming to UK roads soon.

The best Chinese cars

MG 4

02 Chinese cars
02 Chinese cars

The car that really changed things for MG. The 4 truly shuffled SAIC’s brand from builders of cheap-but-boring transportation devices with long warranties and tempting finance offers to a car manufacturer of note (again).

The MG 4 is a car that doesn’t need a qualifier or explanation, it’s just brilliant on its own. Key to this experience is the way it drives. It flows well, with strong, reassuring brakes and a RWD platform that provides a bit of fun when poked.

The interior is sensible and well laid out too. The heating controls are easier to use than in the Volkswagen ID 3, and the electric range pegs it as one of the most efficient electric cars on the market, even in our real-world testing.

It’s even available as a dual-motor all-wheel-drive hot hatch called the MG 4 XPower. Despite the added traction and power, it’s not quite as fun as the regular car. But there are very few other options out there that offer 429bhp for under £40,000.

Read our MG 4 review

Nio ET5

Nio will likely launch in the UK in 2025, as part of the firm’s plans to sell in 25 markets by the end of that year.

The company is most famous for its battery swapping technology, which allows cars to change out depleted batteries for fresh ones in under five minutes.

The ET5 is the first Nio explicitly created for Europe. It’s pitched at the premium compact exec market, so rivals include the BMW i4 and Tesla Model 3. Curiously, the ET5 will also be available as an estate - Nio claims it’s the only premium electric estate on the market.

Two different batteries are offered; 75kWh and 100kWh. Range from the 100kWh model is a claimed 348 miles, and during our testing the indicated range was 323 miles.

The ride quality is top notch. The five-link suspension with hydraulic dampers help it deal with sudden torque demands, which is useful when you have close to 500bhp on tap.

Read our Nio ET5 review

Nio ET7

The ET7 is Nio’s 5.1m-long all-singing all-bonging flagship designed to take on the Mercedes EQS and BMW i7.

The company is offering up the ET7 with a semi-solid-state battery in China, theoretically capable of up to 600 miles of zero-emissions driving. This hasn’t been confirmed for these shores yet, but we will get 75kWh and 100kWh options capable of 276 or 360 miles respectively.

Twin electric motors insure an overindulgence of power - 644bhp total with a split of 241bhp at the front and 402bhp for the rear. The 0-62 sprint is completed in less than 4.0sec in bombastic flat-out mode. But in its most efficient setting, which essentially turns off the rear motor, the same test takes around 13.0sec.

The interior is brimming with soft-touch materials and a whopping great 12.3-inch touchscreen, as well as a letterbox-shaped display behind the steering wheel.

Standard fit air suspension completes the premium feeling. It uses a camera feed and sensors to ‘see’ the road ahead and make adjustments. It feels serene and befitting of something that goes toe-to-toe with Mercedes and BMW flagships.

Read our Nio ET7 review

Xpeng P7

03 Chinese cars
03 Chinese cars

China’s answer to the Tesla Model 3 is from a company that quietly expanded into Europe in 2021, with plans to enter the UK in the near future.

The P7 borrows heavily from the Palo Alto playbook. So it’s a saloon with rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive variants, and comes with different battery sizes and power options. Top banana is the Performance version with 466bhp and a range of 358 miles.

It’s not just about the numbers, though. The steering has fluency that some newer car brands lack and the hammer of electric torque makes for easy progress.

Interior space - especially in the rear - is more than ample and the infotainment’s software is up there with the best in the business.

Read our Xpeng P7 review

Zeekr X

Built in China, engineered in Sweden and designed by a German. The Zeekr X is, as you’d imagine, a crossover.

It comes in two variants; 268bhp single motor rear-wheel drive and 422bhp dual motor four-wheel drive. Sound familiar? Yes, it uses Geely’s SEA EV platform. So it has the same building blocks as the Volvo EX30.

Like the Volvo, it’s blisteringly quick in a straight line, but its laid back gate makes it better suited to town driving. And like with the Volvo, nearly everything is on the 14.6in touchscreen.

It’s hugely frustrating if you like physical controls for virtually anything. But good rear seat space and a decent sized (362 litres) boot makes it appropriate family transport.

Read our Zeekr X review

MG 5

04 Chinese cars
04 Chinese cars

There aren’t many electric estates around. Sure, Porsche will sell you a Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo, but they’re knocking on for six figures and the firm would prefer it if you didn’t call it an estate anyway.

And the Nio ET5 (above) is en route - but still not here yet. So the MG 5 sits in a class of its own, for now. And it certainly fits the bill for sensible, practical and no-nonsense motoring thanks to a 479-litre boot and an official 249-mile range in Long Range spec.

It constantly finds itself in and out of the best-selling car charts and you’ll struggle to walk around central London without seeing an Uber driver making use of its efficiency and value for money.

Read our MG 5 review

BYD Atto 3

05 Chinese cars
05 Chinese cars

Your parents might not have heard of BYD (Build Your Dreams). But anyone au fait with the internet probably has.

The company tops the charts for innovation and sales, but it has only recently entered the UK.

The Atto 3 is the firm’s first car over here. Social media users were dazzled by its infotainment, which switches from portrait to landscape at the awkward prod of a touchscreen, as well as its guitar string speakers, which, to be frank, don't work very well.

Look beyond the gimmicks and you’ll find a spacious, well-thought-out electric SUV. It will easily cover 200 miles in the real world, and its four-year/74,500-mile warranty and separate eight-year/124,000-mile battery warranty is reassuring.

Read our BYD Atto 3 review

Aiways U5

06 Chinese cars
06 Chinese cars

Another brand you might not have heard of. But Aiways has come on leaps and bounds since starting out in 2017.

The company prides itself on its ‘clean sheet’ approach to car making and, we have to admit, it is refreshingly simple.

For instance, it doesn’t come with an in-built sat-nav. It offers phone mirroring instead, because of course your smartphone has the best software built in.

To drive, it is relaxing, if a little unremarkable. Its softly sprung suspension deals with road imperfections well, but its 201bhp isn’t going to get Tesla fans out of their Model Ys.

Read our Aiways U5 review

BYD Dolphin

07 Chinese cars
07 Chinese cars

BYD is hoping its second car in the UK will make a big splash (sorry) in the electric hatchback market.

In terms of size, it sits between the Vauxhall Corsa Electric and Volkswagen ID 3, but it’s usefully cheaper than both.

Entry-level Active cars make do with 94bhp but they should eke out 211 miles (officially) from the little battery. Mid-spec Boost cars get a bump in power to 174bhp while Comfort and Design models get 201bhp and a 60.4kWh battery, giving an official range of up to 265 miles. In other words, there’s almost something for everyone.

The Dolphin shares a lot of mechanical bits with the Atto 3, and predictably the pair are quite similar to drive. So it’s comfortable but won’t set your socks on fire.

Read our BYD Dolphin review

GWM Ora 3

08 Chinese cars
08 Chinese cars

That’s right, the builder of the Great Wall Steed pick-up truck has gone all mainstream and is offering an electric supermini.

When it first launched it was confusingly called the Ora Funky Cat, but GWM has seen fit to rebrand itself with a less quirky and confusing nomenclature. Boo.

The GWM Ora 03 (which used to be named the Ora Funky Cat) is designed to take on the likes of the Fiat 500 and Vauxhall Corsa Electric, comes with a tiddly (but cheap-to-charge) 48kWh battery and should do 150 miles between the plugs, even in real-world conditions.

Truth be told, it isn’t quite as well thought out as either the Fiat or the Vauxhall, but it does offer more room for less cash.

Read our GWM Ora 3 review

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