Xpeng P7i Test Drive: Hands-Free Driving Comes to Life

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Since launch, the P7 has been a very important model for XPeng, and has been the company’s best seller in most months. Launched in 2020 it was a real trailblazer, a sleek sports sedan in a Chinese world where EVs were either SUVs, crossovers or pretty boring sedans. What seemed like a risk paid off and since then there have been a number of other Chinese EVs entering the sector.

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Three years later the original P7, dare we say, was looking a little tired at least in terms of performance and features. Enter the P7i, the mid-life update, which aims to take the fight to some of the upstarts. Most importantly the Max version comes with XPeng’s latest and greatest XNGP self-driving tech. So is the P7i any good and what can XNGP do now and going forward?

Exterior

External differences are minimal which is probably just as well. There is a slight redesign of the front to accommodate the dual Lidar sensors in the front fender. Then at the rear, the tail lights extend slightly further into the trunk lid than before. There is also now privacy glass for the rear windows. Overall the new model is 8mm longer but all other dimensions remain the same. Purchasers get a new color option, Kaitoke green, which is exclusive to the model.

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Interior & Infotainment

Where the original P7 never quite stacked up was with the interior, while it might have looked the part the materials just didn’t feel as good as they looked. With the G9 XPeng finally got serious about the quality of materials and luckily this is carried over to the P7i which now feels far more premium than the old model.

Firstly there’s grey Nappa leather seats that are more comfortable than before. The steering wheel is new as is the design of the sub-dashboard. Also improved is the Dynaudio sound system which now features twenty Dolby Atmos enabled speakers. Ultimately everything just feels that much better to the touch.

Performance and Driving Feel

Performance is up with more powerful motors delivering better acceleration and a higher top speed more in line with how the car looks than before. On single motor versions there is now a 203kW (276hp) motor driving the rear wheels up from 196kW (267hp) in the original. This adds up to a 200km/h (125mph) top speed and a 0-100km/h (0-62mph) acceleration figure of 6.4 seconds down from 6.7. Before the Performance versions weren’t quite fast enough compared with the competition with an acceleration time of 4.3 seconds. With the P7i that time drops to a far more respectable 3.9s and it has the same top speed as the RWD version. Driving the front wheels is a 145kW (197hp) motor up from 120kW (161hp) in the original. Torque figures for the RWD and Performance versions are 440 and 757Nm respectively.

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So what does this all mean? Most of the time the P7i drove me, but I did get to drive the Performance version on a track. Handling seems to be tighter than with the old version with a better feel in the steering which even in the original P7 was well weighted. The chassis of the P7 was originally developed with assistance from Porsche and the car really manages being thrown around a slalom well.

XPeng says the heat management has been improved in the P7i meaning a speed of 190km/h can be maintained for 30 minutes without risk of the motor or battery overheating. The X-HP 2.0 thermal management system has 88.9% improved cooling capacity whereas in winter it can improve driving range by 15%. Quoted ranges are 702km (436 miles) for the RWD and 610km (379 miles) for the Performance version.

XNGP & self-driving

March 31 saw an OTA make the first phase of XNGP go live for drivers of the Max trim levels of the XPeng P7i and G9. There are two main parts to the first phase. Firstly City NGP, an inner city self-driving system, expands from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and Shanghai. Secondly it introduces LCC. City NGP first came out with the P5 and is currently dependent on high-definition mapping which is part of the reason for the limited city roll-out. LCC is lane centering cruise control which works in areas which do not have high-definition mapping.

My route took me in loop from a hotel in Pujiang Town, Pudong through central Shanghai and back to the hotel taking around 2 hours. As the hotel was outside the high-definition mapping area the initial part of the drive was under LCC. This currently will work in any area of China and works based on a destination entered into the navigation. It can handle traffic lights and will go straight across an intersection but cannot make turns by itself.

After a short distance the road ended and required a turn to the left and into the area covered by City NGP. Both systems are activated by pulling down quickly on the drive select lever twice.

I haven’t experienced the original City NGP as used on the XPeng P5, however, those who have and that I have spoken to were not overly complimentary. The main problem it seems was that although it works, it is often too slow and hesitant. One of the primary aims of XNGP is for the car to drive like an experienced driver.

By and large, XNGP does seem to achieve that aim. Does it make mistakes? Yes it does, but so do experienced drivers! Certainly the speed of manoeuvers was no problem, for example when at a traffic light the car would start moving as soon as the light went green.

I probably made a handful of interventions. Two of those were probably unnecessary. After exiting the elevated road the P7i needed to turn right into a road. I intervened because I didn’t think the car knew where it was going. The reality is I was probably more disorientated than the system and I think it was probably working fine. On another occasion, a car aggressively cut in and I took control to take evasive action. I perhaps should have given the car longer to respond.

The only two things the system really did wrong was that one time on a highway it announced that it was going to start making preparations to turn off to the right, at this stage, it was about 1.7km from the exit. It then immediately changed lanes despite there being a solid white line meaning that lane changes weren’t allowed at this point. Then, on two occasions when exiting highways or elevated roads, it didn’t signal when entering the ramp.

There were also some things it could have done better. One situation called for the P7i to make a U-turn and then shortly afterwards enter a tunnel. It should have done the U-turn and got into the correct lane to enter the tunnel but instead did the U-turn and then immediately afterwards had to change lanes to the right to get in the correct one to enter the tunnel. When entering a different two lane tunnel it made an unnecessary lane change into the left lane only to have to change to the right lane again as soon as it exited the tunnel.

On one or two occasions other road users caused XNGP a problem. The most notable incident happened when on a slip road joining a highway. A BMW behind joined the highway before us and we ended up running out of road due to this.

As mentioned the Max versions of the P7i and G9 now have phase one of XNGP. The second phase is due to launch in the second half of this year and will mean that City NGP is no longer dependent on high-definition mapping allowing the system to work in any Chinese city. The car will effectively build up its own map using its sensors. Then next year the system should be capable of door to door self-driving with minimal intervention.

Sum up

Changes of the P7i over the original car are really quite minimal in terms of looks and that’s not a bad thing. More importantly, the P7i brings an upgrade to comfort, quality and equipment which means that the car once again becomes really competitive. The driving experience is also enhanced thanks to the boost in performance and it now really lives up to the promise of its looks. XNGP is an excellent selling point and delivers a real world usable system for inner city driving. While the self-driving tech only currently works in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen to its full extent, once it launches in other cities the Max version will be the car to buy.

Verdict

Power & Drive feeling9
Passenger space8
Tech & UX10
Price quality ratio9
The best thingXNGP really works
The worst thingLack of a head up display

Overall: The updated P7i brings enough tweaks to an already good car to keep it competitive for the next two to three years. On the other hand the XNGP system creates a compelling reason to buy a Max version of either the P7i or G9. One of the great benefits of modern cars are OTAs and the capability of XNGP is really set to grow over the next year or so. Already it delivers a safe system which takes the strain out of inner city driving in the three cities covered making it a very good choice for anyone living in Guangzhou, Shanghai or Shenzhen but things will really get interesting with the second phase which will no longer depend on high-definition mapping which should go live in the second half of 2023.

Based in Shanghai, Mark Andrews is one of the leading English language authorities in the Chinese auto industry. You can follow him on Twitter.


Read also:
XPENG G9 Review: China’s FSD Leader Finally Gets Its Act Together


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