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2020 Porsche Taycan: First ride in Stuttgart's world-conquering EV – Roadshow

The closer we get to launch, the clearer it becomes how important the Taycan, Porsche's first full-production, all-electric car, will be key to the future of the company. Since that first Mission E concept was unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, you could tell that Porsche was taking this foray into battery electrics very seriously. The billions and billions the company has invested in the intervening years serve as financial testament to that commitment.

And now, here it is: a real, functional Taycan. No, the cars you see here are not final production units, as they're still lacking many final features and details -- minor stuff like air vents and rear seats. And, as you can tell by the camouflage, Porsche isn't quite ready to let us see exactly what it looks like, either. These cars were, however, in good enough shape to open the door and let me in for the shotgun ride of a lifetime: sideways on ice in an all-wheel-drive, four-door, electric sports car with somewhere north of 600 horsepower.

In other words, you're looking at the most serious threat the Tesla Model S has yet faced, and what could easily be the most compelling choice on the market for would-be EV owners who want both performance and practicality. That is, of course, if it's any good.

What it is

In 2018, I was fortunate enough to drive an early precursor to Taycan, the Mission E Cross Turismo concept. Though I was able to get behind the wheel of that hand-built curiosity and take it for a quick spin in the hills around Malibu, California, that car was a very early prototype, of the sort where you had to be careful where you prodded the interior lest your finger poke right through.

The cars you see here are very different things. Though still not final production units, they are largely using final production hardware. Major components like chassis, suspension, batteries and drivetrain are all there and reasonably finalized. What the engineers are focusing on now is the specific tuning of those components, a process that is increasingly handled with laptops and a tangle of adapters, not a bundle of wrenches and tools.

However, given how much of a car's behavior is dictated by software, any impressions I was able to glean from the right-hand seat must be taken with a rather large grain of salt. And, since the interiors of the three cars I rode in were in various states of finish, and often covered by camouflaging fabric, I can't really give any impressions there -- except to say that I had plenty of headroom in the front seats but not quite enough in the rear.

All the cars I rode in were of the "top-notch" trim of the eventual Taycan, confirmed by the engineers but also evidenced by the big wheels and meaty brakes lurking behind them. Porsche engineers demurred on my questions regarding specific performance figures, instead quoting the company's most recent published estimates. That is to say, more than 600 horsepower down to all four wheels, the 0-to-100 kilometers-per-hour (62 mph) sprint accomplished in less than 3.5 seconds and, crucially, the ability to do that at least 10 times in a row. Porsche also promises an 80 percent charge in just 20 minutes from one of its 800-volt chargers and a range on the European NEDC cycle of 500 kilometers. That equates to about 310 miles, but given the EPA test is an altogether different beast, expect a lower rating here.

My test ride included a morning of sliding around on a massive frozen lake in Sweden before heading out on an approximately 100-kilometer loop of public roads, most covered in snow, giving me visions of stages of WRC's Rally Sweden. Temperatures were hovering around 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the day.

80 percent charge takes just 20 minutes.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

On cold and range

Sweden has long been a development locale for manufacturers looking to ensure their vehicles can go in the snow and the ice. With the advent of these newfangled electric cars, what with their temperature-sensitive batteries and their relative absence of waste heat, testing in a place like Lapland takes on even more importance.

Many of my first questions about the Taycan were just how that cold, which was 35 below just a week before my visit, impacted the range of the car. Still no formal figures were given, but I learned a lot about the Taycan's thermal management system, designed to keep the battery in its optimum temperature envelope for maximum range -- and, crucially, to keep the car's motors at the right temperature for maximum sustained performance.

Performance is a crucial component. "We didn't change the requirements for the car," Bernd Propfe, director of the Taycan's platform product line, told me in Sweden. "We are aiming to build a Porsche." That means the Taycan, like any other Porsche, has to complete a set number of laps around the company's test track in Weissach without overheating. How many laps? That, Propfe wouldn't say.

Interestingly, the Taycan can prioritize engine and battery cooling, and that prioritization will be based on the car's drive mode. Put the car in its standard mode and dial up 69 degrees F on the HVAC system and you can bet your driving loafers that you'll get 69 degrees. However, Propfe told me, throw the car in Sport Plus and head out for a lap of the Nurburgring and you might have to live with 71 or 72. But, he said, the thermal system in the car is "very, very powerful," so you should never stray more than a few degrees from ideal.

In Sweden, of course, the main concern is on the other end of the thermometer. Propfe explained that the Taycan not only has the ability to scavenge waste heat from the electric motors to warm the battery, but that it can precondition both the cabin and the battery temperature in the morning before the car moves anywhere. Ideally this is done using electricity sourced from a wall outlet -- like the outdoor plugs for block heaters that are near-ubiquitous in this part of the world.

The Taycan's AWD system makes short work of snowy Swedish roads. 

Porsche

Regen and rolling

Lift off the throttle in many a modern EV and you'll experience a rather dramatic deceleration effect, a conversion of the car's momentum into electricity by engaging the electric motor or motors. Most EVs allow you to tune this effect to some degree, with Nissan's latest Leaf and its E-Pedal offering the most dramatic regen, able to bring the car to a complete stop and hold it there. After a little practice in a Leaf, you can almost entirely forgo the brake pedal.

For Taycan, Porsche went a different way. In the default mode, when you lift off the throttle the car doesn't drag you to a halt. Instead, it just coasts along. "Coasting is the most energy-efficient way to do it, because braking always goes along with a loss of energy, because no engine has a 100 percent ratio," Propfe said. "We strongly believe that the customer, if he wants to brake, he should hit the brake."

So, what happens when you do hit the brake? Then and only then does the car begin the dance of regeneration, harvesting speed in exchange for battery juice. Dip into the brake gently and you won't engage the physical brakes. But, tuck in a little deeper and then the hydraulic system is engaged. I asked Propfe about the feel of this system, as I've driven many an electrified machine with clumsy stoppers. Propfe assured me that, thanks to the brake-by-wire system employed here (similar to that on the Acura NSX), it's impossible to feel that transition. "They have done a perfect job," he said of the car's engineers.

Getting the power down

Putting more than 600 horses' worth of power to the surface of a frozen lake is no small feat. Tires are of course a major part of what Porsche is testing in Sweden, tire engineer Benjamin Gehring spending hour after hour behind the wheel finding the right mix of size and compound. For Taycan, rolling resistance was a critical factor in tire selection. The cars I rode in were on either on unstudded Goodyear Ultra Grip or unmarked Pirelli snow tires. The final brand and fitment for the production car has not been finalized.

Then there's the hardware that gets the power to the wheels, and in that regard Taycan is unlike any Porsche that has come before. The car has front and rear motors, and on this "top-notch" spec of the car at least the rear motor has some interesting, performance-oriented attributes. First, it's connected to a proper limited-slip differential. Second, it has two speeds.

Yes, a two-speed transmission at the rear, which I could clearly hear switching ratios as the car gained speed during hard acceleration. Indeed, the car seems to rely almost entirely on the rear motor under normal driving conditions. One of the many displays that can be toggled on the dramatic, curved digital gauge cluster showed the torque split, and if the car wasn't accelerating hard or sliding across the ice, all the power came from the rear.

RWD most of the time, the Taycan is quick to send power forward when needed. 

Porsche

But, being an EV with two motors, the car can almost instantaneously demand power from either axle, without having to work around the limitations of some clumsy center differential or transfer case. For Christian Wolfsried, differential engineer on the Taycan, this presents some new challenges -- and opportunities.

"In the [Taycan's] AWD system," he told me, "there are no restrictions at all. You are absolutely free to put the power to the front or the rear. This is not possible with a regular combustion system, or a mechanical AWD system."

Wolfsried took me through the car's various drive modes on the snow. As you go into Sport and Sport Plus, the car becomes more aggressive and the throttle response sharper, as you'd expect. It also lowers itself, something also done at highway speeds to optimize aerodynamics. However, in the Taycan you can also toggle between different settings for Porsche Stability Management, a system that got a bit of a workout on the ice.

Out on the handling circuit, Wolfsried showed that with PSM enabled, the car doesn't allow much sliding at all. As the car starts to lose grip it aggressively cuts power and applies brakes automatically to keep the car in-line. However, step up to PSM Sport mode and you can start to have some fun -- to a point. Get the car too sideways, and PSM kicks in to bring you back inline.

Crucially, you can turn the stability control completely off, and off means off. In this setting, the Taycan morphed into an ice drift monster, happily sliding around the skidpad and getting way out of shape on the handling course. Despite the wild antics, the car felt poised and balanced from the passenger seat, distributing power where it was needed most and always coming back in line with just the right amount of counter-steer and throttle.

Cycling through the drive modes was incredibly telling, but there was one big surprise I hadn't expected when the car slotted into Sport Plus: It got louder.

Sadly, we're not allowed to show a picture of the interior. So, enjoy this lovely wide shot.

Porsche

Sound and other interior impressions

As I noted above, all the Taycan examples I rode in were in some way incomplete, and all were missing some portion of their interiors. What was present was largely covered in black fabric, but I couldn't miss the lovely, sweeping, curved digital gauge cluster that sits behind the wheel. No analog tachometer here.

Situated next to it is a version of the same silly little shifter that stands erect in the center of the new 911. I am not a fan of either the look nor the placement of the thing in Porsche's iconic coupe. Up on the Taycan's dashboard, however, it makes a lot more sense. In that now-empty space between the seats, the Taycan offers a second touch interface between, not unlike that found in the Audi E-Tron and other new Audis like the Q8.

But again it was the sound that caught me off guard. In the most finished of the three cars, the one with a nearly full interior, there was a distinct, and distinctly digital, sort of engine noise piped into the cabin. It sounded quite similar to the tune the Jaguar I-Pace sings, but more subtle and perhaps a bit more traditional.

Propfe, the platform engineer, was coy when I pressed for more details on the sound, saying only that this "E-Sound" is digitally created and that it will change based on the mode of the car. But, that's all still very much under development.

Don't be fooled by those fake tailpipes. There's an EV under that camouflage. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Wrap-up

While riding shotgun is never as much fun as actually driving, I learned a huge amount about the Porsche Taycan this week. Sliding sideways on the ice, the thing felt poised and capable. Out on the road, on a rare patch of dry asphalt, a few launches left me with little doubt about the car's sheer grunt -- and a bit of whiplash. Ludicrous? Not quite, but I don't doubt Porsche's claims that this thing will prove a more consistent performer than a Model S.

But to tell for sure we're just going to have to bring these two together, and that should make for a very fine day indeed. 


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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