There’s a new production car lap record holder at the infamous Nordschleife, and it’s electric. The NextEV NIO EP9 stormed to a new record of 6m45.9s, decimating the Lamborghini Huracan Performante’s record by a full six seconds.
This the world’s most fearsome track, a circuit that was deemed too dangerous for Formula One competition after Niki Lauda’s horrific accident in 1976. Since then, the old Nurburgring has become a mecca for enthusiasts and manufacturers. So, the record is serious business.
It had already taken the production car record at Circuit of the Americas in the US, where it set a time just seven seconds slower than the fastest World Endurance Championship prototypes. It also set the lap record at Paul Ricard in France, but that’s nothing compared to this heroic feat.
Overnight, the EP9 became an instant icon, but we’ve only actually seen it smashing records on track. So what do you really know about this new electric hypercar that claims to be the fastest EV in the world?
Let us fill you in on the details.
NIO EP9 History
Even for an EV company, NextEV has remarkably little heritage and history to draw upon. There are no stories of grizzled old engineers making cars with hammers and wrenches. This is the new order.
The Chinese name, Weilai, means Blue Sky Coming, and the company intends to produce an entire line-up of cars. The NIO EP9 is the flagship, the monster that grabs the headlines, but it’s aiming at a fully-connected car that makes today’s EVs look like dinosaurs.
It has HQs in Shanghai, San Jose, London and Munich, but right now the company is big on hyperbole and short on substance. It has announced plans to make a seven-seater SUV that will take on the Tesla Model X and Faraday Future FF91, but right now this is the only car we have.
Smashing the Nordschleife record is a serious statement of intent, though, and the whole world is starting to pay attention.
So, we have to say: mission accomplished.
NIO EP9 Price
It won’t come as a surprise to find out that this ultra-rare record setter does not come cheap. The price is a cool $1.2 million, but that didn’t matter before now. The company was only going to build seven cars and they were already spoken for before the car broke cover as the company investors wanted one.
Now, on the back of this record breaking run, the company will build 10 more. But by the time you read this, they’ll probably have sold out too.
NIO EP9 Design
NextEV’s flagship is a thing of beauty, there’s no denying that. It combines elements of the LaFerrari at the front, Koenigsegg in the side profile and even a Formula One car’s aerodynamics, but we wouldn’t go so far as to call it generic.
It has its own flavor, but it has been clearly influenced by some of the finest hypercars in the world and it isn’t as unique as the Rimac that realistically forms its only competition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The front end is defined by that massive front splitter and single-seater style wings, punctuated by the thin strip LED lights. The canopy looks a little awkward from the front, but then the shape has been largely dictated by the pursuit of pure speed and there are very few elegant hypercars in the modern age.
There are some novel touches, the gullwing doors only open at the top to give increased structural rigidity and to make space for access to the battery compartment. So, this is a car you’ll have to slide into, rather than climb into.
At the back, the electronically adjustable rear wing gives the car twice as much downforce as an F1 car. It’s supremely low, too, which might work on track but could be an issue on the public road.
Under the skin, there’s an FIA LMP1-spec carbon-fiber monocoque and inevitably the bodywork is carbon-fiber as well. Sadly, all the lightweight materials in the world can’t compensate for the battery packs and this machine still weighs in at a hefty 3825lb.
NIO EP9 Power
The power of this car is simply breathtaking. Four separate motors combine to produce 1000kW of power, which is the electrical equivalent of 1360bhp. That’s insane, but even that pales in comparison to the borderline unhealthy 4761lb/ft of torque.
It’s an interesting technical innovation that each motor comes with its own gearbox and we guess, with that level of torque, it’s more about limiting the twisting power to each wheel and preventing the tires shredding themselves against the tarmac.
NextEV hasn’t given us all the details yet, but Rimac has already shown us that an EV with an electric motor for each wheel can be controlled by a central computer to produce a four-wheel-drive system that can allocate exactly the right power to each wheel at the right time. It’s torque vectoring taken to the next level.
NIO EP9 Performance
Unsurprisingly the performance is brutal. NextEV claims it hits 60mph in 2.7s, but with four-wheel-drive, torque vectoring and that much torque available from 0rpm, we reckon that’s on the conservative side.
Even more impressive is the 0-124mph (200kph) time of 7.4s, which means it should leave pretty much everything this side of a dragster trailing in its wake on the strip. The 194mph top speed is actually pretty tame, when you consider the power this thing has at its disposal, but that probably leaves a little headroom for another model.
The numbers just keep coming, too, as the NIO EP9 pulls 3.3G under braking. So you might need to dress like a fighter pilot to drive this car to the limit.
Cornering should be just as impressive, thanks to four-way adjustable dampers that are designed to work with the aerodynamics and keep the car planted. It’s also designed to run on slick tires on track, which provide way more grip than standard street tires.
The truth is that the weak point in the car is likely to be the driver. The forces this car can produce might literally overcome the soft, squishy thing behind the wheel.
NIO EP9 battery packs
The battery packs are one of the trickest parts of the car. Yes, they’re still heavy, but they’re designed to charge in just 45 minutes. If you can’t wait that long, then you can simply pull them out and replace them in just 8 minutes.
That simply doesn’t make a difference on the road unless you’ve got a support car following you wherever you go. But, on track, that means you can just head to the pits, swap out the batteries and get back on track after a quick coffee stop.
NextEV hasn’t told us the kwh rating yet, but you can expect a 265-mile range and that is pretty epic. If it’s true. We’re not entirely sure which body issued that rating and we know that Japan, for instance, is far more generous than the EPA.
NIO EP9 Autonomous control
This is one of the few hypercars that can operate independently. Again, we’re light on details, but the car did set an autonomous record at the Circuit of the Americas. It hit speeds of 160mph on its way to a laptime of 2m40.33s, compared to 2m11.3s when a human took the wheel. So, the system isn’t perfect, but the fact that it could take on a race circuit at all is pretty impressive.
How you’d feel about handing over the controls to a $1.2 million car on the public road is another matter, but Tesla has already proven that a well-sorted autonomous system is twice as safe as a human driver.
We just don’t know how clever this system is, though, because we just don’t have a frame of reference for NextEV.
NIO EP9 Interior
The interior of the EP9 is functional, high tech and not much else. There’s basically nothing there, apart from a pair of seats that are really just mouldings and a few screens.
The square wheel contains its own LCD screen, linked to a series off dials and buttons on its front, where an airbag would normally be. You get three more screen, too, and a BMW iDrive-style controller in the center console. That’s it, less is more here and it looks a little like the interior of a Tesla, with even less window dressing.
In a way, it makes perfect sense that the EP9 would be so sparse and minimalist. It’s an electric racing car for the road and it should be sparse in there. The screens look suitably high-tech and it’s the way car interiors are headed, so this might be a blueprint for the future.
On the downside, that A-pillar looks massive from the inside and we have to wonder about visibility. When it comes to pure driving pleasure, the ability to place the car on the road is one of the most important things. We’re not sure whether that letterbox of a windscreen would do the job.
NIO EP9 Rivals
We can look at the likes of the Koenigsegg Regera hybrid, the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 and even the Bugatti Chiron, but they all feel like slightly unfair comparisons. This is a pure EV from a boutique manufacturer. As such, the only real rival is the Rimac Concept One.
Now the NIO EP9 looks like a faster car than the base model Rimac, although we’d like to see them square off on track and the dragstrip before we draw any meaningful conclusions. But there’s a fly in NextEV’s ointment anyway. The Rimac Concept S is coming.
That car will have 1032kW (1384bhp), it should hit 60mph in 2.5s and top out at 227mph. So then we’ll have two EVs that are a match for the very best hypercars on the planet. Whichever one comes out on top, we have to say this is good news for the industry and the competition at the top end will drive the whole EV movement forward.
The NIO EP9 has confounded the specialist press, and us to an extent. It has appeared out of nowhere, laid waste to some serious records and it has shown us a lot of impressive technology.
A car that can drive itself round a race track at 160mph and blow the very fastest cars in the world off the road at the world’s most challenging race track is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. It just shouldn’t happen.
But it has. NextEV has created a scintillating piece of engineering and we should celebrate it for what it is.
With so few cars destined for production, we have to think it’s a publicity exercise and a halo car that the company will lose serious money on. But then if it goes round the world setting records at every track then maybe this is priceless publicity and an invaluable part of the business plan.
If the technology filters down to the SUV, a sedan, a compact hatchback and a city car, then we’ll look back on the NIO EP9 as a car that changed the world. For now, it’s an incredible novelty and a unicorn that you’ll probably never see out in the wild.
But we’re glad that a new legend is out there and that the EV movement has a new champion, for the moment at least.