► New Zeekr X EV to front brand’s entry into Europe
► Two models available, up to 422bhp
► Could be in the UK by 2025
The second Zeekr model to hit Europe is this – the Zeekr X. Of course, the Zeekr 001 shooting brake is all well and good, but every manufacturer knows you need a compact SUV if you want to succeed in the crowded European electric vehicle market.
Built on the same Scalable Experience Architecture platform as the Smart #1 and upcoming Volvo EX30, the Zeekr X is sized to face off against hard-hitters like the Renault Megane E-Tech, Volkswagen ID.3 and Kia Niro EV. How does Zeekr plan to make it stand out from the crowd when it launches later this year? With the ownership experience.
Well, it was never going to be with the looks…
No. It wasn’t. At least, unlike the Zeekr 001, the Zeekr X could never be accused of being a rebadged Lynk & Co model. Developed at Geely’s Global Design Centre in Stockholm, the brand boasts it’s ‘built on a decade of European experience’.
Bug eyes, torturously detailed flanks and droopy rump aside, the specs make for decent reading. Zeekr will offer the X with two power outputs in Europe – a Long Range model with a single electric motor and a Privilege with two.
The Long Range car has 268bhp and 252lb ft acting on the rear wheels, good for 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. The Privilege ups this to all-wheel drive with 422bhp and 399lb ft, capable of 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds. If those specs sound familiar, it’s because they’re identical to the ones offered in the Smart #1, though thanks to its slightly smaller proportions the Zeekr shaves 0.1s off the 0-62mph times.
Though Zeekr won’t tell us the usable capacity of its 69kWh battery it’d be fair to assume that’s identical to the Smart’s 62kWh. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the official WLTP range, of 277 miles for the RWD car and 264 miles for the AWD model, are very similar too. As is the 150kW max charge rate, making for a 10-80% top up in 30 minutes. These scalable platforms don’t make for much variety, do they?
They also don’t make for particularly impressive efficiency, at least in this case. The Zeekr X gets less range from its 69kWh battery than either the 58kWh VW ID.3 or the 65kWh Kia Niro EV.
So where does the Zeekr differ from the Smart?
Step inside and the Zeekr X differs from just about everything. Fair play to the brand for actually doing a bit of reinventing here. Some touches are more successful than others – we hated the square puck that passes for a key, but the unconventional toggle switches for the windows and Yamaha stereo are quirkily pleasant and aurally excellent respectively. Even if the switches do operate the wrong way round.
You can see that Zeekr’s aiming for the upper half of the market, too. Vegan leather swathes the dash and rather pleasant fabric the seats, while the doors are frameless and much of the switchgear is a pleasant sort of rose gold. It actually feels very solid and nicely screwed-together in here, with panel gaps that shame many a European manufacturer. It’s only averagely spacious – there was precious little room behind our 6’2” tester’s driving position, and the boot is shallow.
There’s an 8.8-inch instrument cluster and 14.6-inch touchscreen infotainment screen, but precious little physical switchgear. Everything has to be done through Zeekr’s own interface, which is acceptably good but would benefit from some user-experience tweaks. Functions such as the ADAS are buried under menu after menu, and the largely icon-driven interface doesn’t make it obvious where everything is.
Zeekr’s own sat-nav could do with some work too, running quite a distance behind where we actually were. There is at least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available, though you need to come out of them in order to use functions like the climate control.
At least you don’t miss out on gimmicks. The Tesla-aping dog mode is genuinely useful, but you also get a baffling array of noises that you can play from the external speaker. Put the car into Park and you can – very loudly – yell at a pedestrian that they can cross. Or if you’re feeling more whimsical, just play animal sounds. Another clear swipe at Tesla is the adjustment of functions such as the mirrors and air vents, which all takes place through the touchscreen.
Perhaps more useful is the little external display on the B-pillar, through which you can check the car’s state of charge or time remaining until you’re topped up. A bit more dignified than poking your head through the door.
Is it any good to drive?
Like the Smart, the Zeekr X is powerful, responsive, and quiet. The basic RWD model puts down more than enough power for this kind of car, and the AWD car has had precious few chassis tweaks to cope with the extra shove of the additional motor.
Suspension clearly tuned for comfort could have given the Zeekr X a pleasantly long-legged demeanour, but unfortunately it’s severely under-damped, making it more bouncy than floaty. We found it dangerously upset by mid-corner bumps, and nauseating on undulating roads. It doesn’t control its substantial weight particularly well either, and there’s a lot of body lean.
While there is a one-pedal mode for the brakes, this only applies at town speeds as there’s precious little deceleration from anything much above 30. Instead you’ll be forced to use the rather mushy brake pedal.
The steering is overlight, and the weighting up it does at speed feels quite artificial. This isn’t a car that encourages you to press on, in short – and in fact, if you live anywhere that doesn’t have buttery-smooth roads we’d say it actively discourages you. Zeekr told us this was a pre-production car, so we hope that before it launches in the UK the brand will have time to sort out the suspension.
Does anything else need sorting?
The ADAS – desperately. Though it’s not quite as irritating as we found on the Zeekr 001 – the driver attention warning appeared to recognise the spokes of its own steering wheel, for example – the warnings are still far too annoying and the intervention too hamfisted.
The overspeed warning is truly piercing and the lane-keeping aids yank at the wheel with little regard for what the driver’s doing. And this was on Swedish roads – getting it to cope with tortured British tarmac is going to take some serious work.
Will the ownership experience make up for it?
Time will tell. Many brands have tried the ‘direct-to-customer’ approach that Zeekr’s planning on using. Just ask Genesis, for whom it worked so well that the franchised dealer model is effectively dead. No, wait, we mean it worked so well that they’ve given up on it and are opening 20 dealers across the country.
Flagship Zeekr stores will open in Stockholm and Amsterdam by the end of 2023, followed by most of the rest of Western Europe throughout 2024. They’ll be supported by maintenance partners, a Zeekr Power network of charging partners and wallbox suppliers, plus up to ten years of warranty cover. You also get access to the Zeekr app store and 5G connectivity.
All this comes at a price, though. While the specs may be almost identical to the Smart #1, the Zeekr’s a good few grand more expensive, with prices in the Netherlands starting at 44,990 EUR – that’s almost £39,000. The #1 starts at less than £36,000.
UK pricing of course hasn’t been announced, nor has the brand’s definite ambition to sell cars here. But it has said it’s working on right-hand drive cars, and intends to be in all of Western Europe ‘by 2026’, so you fill in the blanks.
Certain aspects of this posh little EV SUV are quite convincing. The interior’s genuinely quite pleasant, and one can’t argue with the performance on offer, even if it is at odds with the car’s general demeanour. And only a fool would underestimate the scale of Zeekr’s ambition – since launching just two years ago it’s already sold 150,000 cars in its native China.
But appalling suspension tuning and that mess of over-eager driver assistance features mean we can’t recommend European customers take the plunge. Discerning luxury buyers won’t stand for something this half-baked – nor should they. And if Zeekr intends on making a splash in the UK market when it launches here, it needs to sort this out.
Price quoted is for the Privilege AWD model in the Netherlands, converted directly from Euros – correct as of 4/10/2023.