► Nio EP9 driven
► CAR drives fastest 'Ring EV
► 1360bhp, 1092lb ft, 2.9sec 0-62mph
On May 13, the all-electric Nio EP9 set a Nordschleife record of 6min 45.9sec. Two days later, the same car arrived at Bedford Autodrome to give CAR an exclusive first drive in the world's fastest and quietest torture rack on wheels. The seat is a naked non-adjustable carbonfibre bucket, and the meat in this hard-baked composite sandwich is 6ft 8in of Kacher – and that's before the helmet and HANS system are in place. This should be fun.
Nio is not a household name, but the Chinese-backed company has four bases around the world: China, Germany, USA and the UK. The UK arm is responsible for the EP9, and for the NextEV Nio Formula E team, which took Nelson Piquet Jr to the inaugural championship. Before I can drive, I'm playing ballast with former racing driver Tommy. In front of me, a full-width Euston Station-type rectangular display awakes. Further left three more monitors glow. Six green lights above the windscreen signal that the high-voltage system is active.
To fully deflate my ego, Tommy seasons the warm-up lap with a few hard-to-believe numbers. The wide-body racer is claimed to hit 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-125mph in 7.1 and top 196mph. True, a Bugatti Chiron is even quicker but for a purely electric vehicle, the Nio's one megawatt (1360bhp) power output and massive 1092lb ft are simply sensational.
In the pits, climbing out and getting back in this car are two more gymnastic embarrassments. But never mind the cramped cabin. What boggles the mind now is the variety of alien noises: intermittent driveshaft clatter, yelping transmission whine, tyres drumming in all four wheelhouses and the high-pitched hissing of electric motors, two up front, two in the rear. The EP9 provides electromobility in its purest form: on/off, forward/reverse. No gears to select but neutral, no driving programmes to choose from, no torque vectoring, no trickeries like rear-wheel steering or active anti-roll bars.
Watch: Nio EP9 smashes EV 'Ring record
Since pedal modulation is both physical and delicate, you must think braking points before flooring the throttle. As soon as the floodgates open, the torque flattens you in the seat like a mighty breaker. Although the pedal effort required to make the Alcon discs perform could easily kick-start a truck engine, the deceleration is phenomenal.
One more familiarisation lap, and then I may increase the power from 362bhp to 510bhp per axle, still about 500bhp short of the Nio's no-holds-barred potential. Everything is happening a lot faster now, corners approach in timewarp speed, working the steering becomes physical. Ignore the numbers on the displays. Maximum stopping power is 3.3g, maximum lateral acceleration 2.5g. The data recorder says I'm well off the pace, but I feel like a hero.
The oddly sized 320/705 R19 Avon tyres are a secret compound that sticks to the pavement like fresh chewing-gum. The grip is simply out of this world, but so is the ride, which keeps shaking up the vertebrae hierarchy; the ride height and the body movements are kept in check by a hydraulic system. The adjustable downforce has a lasting slam-dunk effect, while the directional stability is that of a full-size slot-racer. Let's be very clear: the Nio EP9 is a hardcore racecar, totally electrifying, in no way road-legal, a visitor from a different galaxy. Visibility ranges from okay (straight ahead) to non-existent (rear three-quarter).
The monitor tells us that the range dropped from 295 to 167 miles in five laps, while the state of charge fell from 100 to 55 per cent. No big deal – charging takes a claimed 45 minutes. The bad news is that the cells have to come out. Since they weigh 317kg each, this exercise requires two strong men, an engineer with a laptop and a pair of transport cradles.
Millionaires wanting to play the high-voltage game must fork out £1.23m before tax for starters, plus pocket money for incidentals like spare batteries, special toolkits, a high-voltage charger and the qualified personnel to operate this PlayStation. Nio's biggest shareholders have taken delivery of their personalised trackday specials and a second batch of 10 more cars are claimed to have already been sold. Next is the still highly provisional re-engineered and road-ready EP9 evolution model, of which up to 250 units would be built.
Nio wants to keep all options open, using the EP9 mainly to boost brand awareness. Insiders say BEVs are not necessarily its core business, that it perceives the autonomous car more as an entry ticket to the digital world. If all goes to plan, stakeholders including Bitauto, Tencent and Lenovo will use future Trojan horses like the almost production-ready Nio ES8 – a China-only SUV – for marketing purposes.
Wishful thinking? Well, internet giant Tencent has 830 million users who spend 95 per cent of their time online with it. That's another way of saying the future is now, and the EP9 is doing a remarkable job promoting it.