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Driving the Taycan, Porsche’s first electric car


That’s the feeling, and also kind of the sound, I experienced when I mashed the throttle in the “launch control” mode of the Taycan, Porsche’s first electric car. Three seconds later, with my neck straining and the back of my skull rebounding from the headrest, I blew past 60 miles per hour, the car automatically switching to second gear in order to keep delivering 670 horsepower to the wheels below me.

I was driving the $150,900 version — the Taycan Turbo — on a mercifully empty stretch of winding mountain road in the Angeles National Forest, just a few dozen miles east of downtown LA. As part of Porsche’s post-reveal roadshow for the car, the automaker made a handful of pre-production Taycans available to drive and charted out a five-hour course for journalists to drive outside the city.

It was enough to get a fairly good first impression of the Taycan, which was originally announced as the Mission E concept car back in 2015, just days after news broke about the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, which Porsche was a part of. But the part of the experience still rattling in my brain two weeks later is that jolt from launch control.

Lots of performance cars have launch modes, including Tesla’s. But nothing I’ve driven has felt as sudden and violent as Porsche’s. It was like being caught in a human-sized rubber band that had been stretched to its limits and released. As someone who loves adrenaline, it was an exhilarating delight. And the fact that Porsche designed the Taycan so that it can repeat this experience a dozen times or more — something you definitely can’t do in other EVs — helps shore up the Taycan’s dream car credentials.

It was a shame, then, to discover that the Taycan’s braking feels so mushy. Porsche made a somewhat controversial decision with the braking on the Taycan, and it’s been one of the more divisive parts of the driving experience in the early going as automotive journalists get their first seat time with the car.

Here’s what’s happening. Most electric cars spin their electric motors backward when you lift off the throttle. This helps feed energy back into the battery pack, thereby allowing the car to travel farther. At the same time, this also acts as a brake (hence the term regenerative braking, or “regen”). Electric cars use this trick to varying degrees, and some even let drivers change the aggressiveness of a car’s regenerative braking.

But Porsche wanted the Taycan to offer a more “pure” driving experience, one where drivers can lift off the throttle and coast, just as if they were in any other Porsche. While you can switch on a little automatic regen with a button on the steering wheel, the Taycan does almost all of its actual regenerative braking when you hit the brake pedal. And this is where the mushiness came in. Instead of the rock-solid mechanical braking feeling I expected from a car of this caliber, it instead felt more like I was stepping on the brake pedal of a Prius — not exactly what you want from a car that’s capable of such fierce acceleration or one that commands such a high price.

The braking isn’t helped by the fact that the Taycan weighs more than 5,000 pounds. While that tonnage helps make the car feel planted in the corners — never once did it seem like the back end was about to slip, regardless of how aggressively I drove — trying to stop the Taycan at high speeds provides the wrong kind of thrill.

Add to all of this the steering, which is also… a bit mushy? I’m still trying to figure out exactly what felt wrong about the Taycan’s steering, but I didn’t love it on the mountain roads. The best way I can describe it is that there was a disconnect between the feedback I was getting from the way the tires gripped the road and the feedback from the steering wheel. The steering wheel fought me more than I expected it to every time I tucked the Taycan into one of the many twists and turns, despite how the heavy car always felt like it was headed exactly where I wanted it to go.

Despite all of this, the Taycan is ultimately still very fun to drive, especially because of the ease of which it can reach ludicrous speeds. The car is so effortless with its power that I could actually see it becoming something of a problem for owners; more than once on the drive, I looked down at the speedometer to find out I was cruising a little too high above the speed limit for my (and possibly a police officer’s) liking.

Some of that can be blamed on the fact that the Taycan’s electric motors are fairly quiet and almost indiscernible at high speeds, thanks to road and wind noise. Porsche does offer something called the “Electric Sport Sound” as a $500 add-on, which basically pipes a more amped-up, futuristic electric motor sound into the cabin. Not only did I like it, but I found it was the only way to keep my speed in check. Paying $500 to have Porsche pre-load an .mp3 file into your six-digit sports car is ridiculous, but it might be worth the money to anyone who can afford this car if they’re at all worried about speeding tickets.

I’d love to focus more on the in-car experience, especially the software, but it wasn’t finished in the pre-production Taycan Turbo I drove. For instance, the Taycan is supposed to be the first car with native Apple Music, but that feature was completely absent. Porsche’s digital assistant also kept activating, even when I wasn’t saying, “Hey, Porsche.” I also found the car’s driver assistance system to be helpful on the highway, though I wouldn’t want to pass too much judgment on a critical feature after such a short drive. (The steering wheel stalk Porsche dedicated to this feature felt remarkably confusing to use, though.)

I will say I loved the boomerang-shaped digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. It’s one of the most striking digital displays I’ve ever seen in a car. It’s crisp and clear, too, with the ability to tweak the layout to the driver’s liking.

The main 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen, meanwhile, felt capable enough. It’s well-integrated into the dashboard, to the point that I didn’t really notice any seams. It’s big enough that you can easily glimpse navigation or information from Apple CarPlay (sorry, folks: there’s no Android Auto in the Taycan), but not so big that it’s a distraction. I got the feeling that Porsche’s menu system leaves a lot to be desired, but I’d rather reserve judgment until I spend time with a final version of the software that will ship in the Taycan.

The last screen that comes standard with the Taycan is found below the infotainment display on the center console. It’s an 8.4-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback, and it’s mostly reserved for climate settings, though it can display some other information. But while the haptic feedback is a nice idea in theory (and it does provide a satisfying thunk when pressed), it didn’t give me confidence that I was pressing the right buttons. In other words, I still had to look where I was tapping. It’s also easily the ugliest screen in the car, with one-inch bezels surrounding the entire display. I much prefer the touch-sensitive center console panel that surrounds the shifter on the newer Panameras, which has 1980s sci-fi spaceship vibes and a few physical buttons that make it easier to ensure you’re tapping the right settings without looking.

Halfway through the drive, the Taycan’s battery had drained to 52 percent and about 121 miles of estimated range. But that was after climbing basically a mile in elevation. Going downhill on the mountain roads that brought me back closer to sea level helped a lot; during one 45-minute stretch, the car actually gained multiple percentage points, thanks to the energy regeneration that happened during braking.

Once I was out of the mountains, after nearly five hours and close to 200 miles of driving, the car still had around 25 percent of its battery remaining, with an estimate of about 70 miles of range remaining. Porsche had us pull up to — what else? — an Electrify America charging station, which is the network being built out by the automaker’s parent company, the Volkswagen Group. The Taycan is supposed to be able to charge at a rate of around 270kW, and some of Electrify America’s stalls are able to go as high as 350kW. (Those figures beat out what Tesla’s cars can currently take and what the company’s new third-generation Superchargers can dole out.)

But the Taycan never really charged higher than about 150kW or so. That was fast enough to bring the battery from 25 percent to 75 percent in just under 20 minutes, but it was far from the kind of charge times Porsche is promising with the Taycan. Inconsistencies like this are still rampant when it comes to charging electric cars, regardless of which network you’re plugged into, and I’m interested to see if it’s something Porsche owners will put up with.

After a few hours in the Porsche Taycan, I can say it does a lot of things well. The acceleration is blissfully quick, especially in launch mode. It is a comfortable ride, thanks in part to the massive weight, which helps keep the car settled in any situation. And I didn’t notice any real sacrifices compared to “regular” Porsches.

That said, this extremely expensive electric car will ultimately only be bought by a relatively small number of people. Even the more “affordable” Taycan 4S won’t have much of a direct impact on emissions in the way that other mass-market EVs will hopefully be able to. The best outcome for a car like the Taycan is that it becomes a car people aspire to own, the one they think about driving before, and even after, ultimately buying or leasing a more reasonable electric car. But it will be a long time before we understand whether this new flagship electric vehicle accomplishes that mission for Porsche and the wider Volkswagen Group.

The Verge on YouTube

Photography by Sean O’Kane / The Verge


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