What am I looking at here?
It’s the HiPhi X, a large, luxurious and tech-packed SUV with gullwing rear doors as its party piece. It sits alongside a quicker, more performance-focused saloon as one of two key launch products from a fully electric start-up brand as it moves into Europe.
Yes, the story feels quite familiar: HiPhi’s first European employee even helped establish Tesla on our shores. Just to compound the parallels, this X is the tech party piece, but a smaller, cheaper HiPhi Y will provide the real sales opportunity when HiPhi’s British sales begin around 2025. There’s a script being followed, one might cynically observe.
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Do I really pronounce it ‘hi-fi’?
You do. We’re not going to claim it’s an evocative brand name, but then how could it be? The company overarching HiPhi – ‘Human Horizons’ – is barely six years old. Start-ups rarely rise at such a rate of knots; in its native China, the X already accounts for a quarter of the sales in its segment.
Where the country once thought ‘West is best’ for its premium products – purchasing Mercs and BMW on a whim – its younger drivers are growing up with more pride and patriotism when it comes to car buying.
Another Chinese electric SUV, then. What sets it apart?
Well, the doors. They’re different to a Tesla Model X’s falcon wings in that they’re split in two, the bottom half opening independently. You can drive with the roof panels aloft for ultimate peacocking, but only below 3mph. Not so fancy. They’re made entirely in-house under HiPhi’s own patent, and they’re accompanied by the usual claims of practicality and useability in an attempt to back up what’s surely their primary goal: wow factor.
Because boy, do cars in this corner of the market need a healthy dose of that. Its €109,000 entry ticket in Germany equates to around £95,000, which currently buys plenty of chunky crossovers with dual motors, a sub-4.0s sprint to 62mph and inch upon inch of glitzy touchscreen.
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What’s the specs on the X?
Dual motors bring 590bhp and 605lb ft peaks, enough to hustle its circa 2.5 tonnes to 62mph in 3.9 seconds and onto a limited 124mph top speed. It fits roughly into the footprint of a Range Rover, albeit it’s a touch longer, wider and lower. There are four and six-seat versions, the former commanding another €14,000 on account of the more luxurious feel of its layout. It’s a car to be driven around in.
The six-seater is the cheaper, more practical choice, and adults can climb into the rearmost pair of seats with surprising ease. Having the roof panels open allows you to stride into the back with your head held high. They’re taught not to open in the rain, though, while the lower doors’ no-touch, proximity-sensor opening proved hard to get our heads around. We kept inadvertently standing right in their line of fire, pausing the whole process. Doing away with traditional door handles can sometimes feel like tech for tech’s sake.
And is that the case here?
Perhaps. There’s a touch of technological Buckaroo about the X, not least on its dashboard, where there are three separate screens. The driver gets a slim, relatively traditional instrument display – and thus speed readout – while there’s a central 17in portrait screen for most functions and another 11in landscape layout for the front passenger, who can watch videos without the driver being distracted.
READ MOREHiPhi’s wildly futuristic X and Z models go on sale, priced from €109k
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We’ve driven a Chinese production car, with very little of this enabled for European use. A member of the HiPhi team even hopped in as our co-driver in lieu of a satnav. But if you like screens, it’s got ‘em. Even in place of the rear-view mirror.
Wasn’t Jaguar Land Rover doing that a few years ago?
It was, and several of the HiPhi folk introducing us to the car have decades of service at JLR on their LinkedIn profile. The speed of progress and less risk-averse nature of a Chinese start-up is what enticed them away.
And it’s in this context the X shines brightest. It drives well, but in our short test drive, without much razzmatazz. It feels every inch its weight, size and mechanical layout, behaving much like every other EV crossover with a similar Top Trumps card. Which – from a company that was little more than an etching on a Tsingtao coaster back in 2018 – does impress.
It handles corners well, ten degrees of rear wheel steer helping its bulk around pretty deftly, and the refinement is exemplary. Few EVs I’ve driven mask road noise as well as the X, this despite it riding on 22in wheels wrapped in reasonably hardcore Michelin tyres. JLR products were always good at cocooning their passengers. It appears the magic has headed East.
Is it quick?
Certainly quick enough, and predictably you can ramp it up through four different drive modes and four levels or brake regen, both via the steering wheel paddles (you do a Ferrari-style double-pull to alternate between which you wish to adjust). And joy of joys, there’s an intuitive Individual mode should you want the lightest steering and softest suspension paired with the most urgent powertrain response.
We’ll need a longer, more twisting route to see where it really slots into the EV driving landscape, and lack of confidence in its brake feel underlined this isn’t the product of a century-old company. But it’s all more cohesive than you might dare expect.
What about range and charging?
The HiPhi X uses a 97kWh battery that’s touted for a WLTP range figure of around 285 miles. Its current 100kW charging capability falls short of Korea’s best EVs, with 45 minutes on a rapid charger topping you back up to 80 per cent.
So what’s the verdict?
HiPhi launches with two products in Europe, and doors aside, this is the more conventional of the pair, being assembled with more off-the-shelf parts than the HiPhi Z saloon. It fits the posh EV SUV template neatly and while the 2.6 million pixels of its headlights bring all manner of functions (you can project movies onto a wall…) its styling is ultimately pretty conventional once those gull wings clasp shut.
We’ll need full access to its tech to really identify its USP over a healthy array of existing – wholly established – rivals already on UK sale. But the base beneath it all appears as solid as any company’s ‘first car’ could feasibly target.