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First drive: The 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S boosts Porsche into electric era

December 10, 2019

Reports of the Porsche Taycan have evoked the kind of superlatives that can only overstate. Porsche’s first electric vehicle has been called game changing, the future, and, of course, a Tesla killer. It’s even been posited that the Taycan (pronounced TIE-khan) will not only outperform and outsell the 911, but that it is also objectively better than the 911.

Hype engenders such silly talk. Nothing is better than the 911, even with the 0-60 mph time of 2.6 seconds in the Taycan Turbo S. The Taycan is worth the notice, but it is a niche car for now.

Starting at about $106,000 for the 4S and ranging to more than $187,000 with the ridiculous Turbo S model, the Taycan swims in the crystal waters of the 911 shopping pool.

The Taycan is not expected to cannibalize sales from the 911 as much as usher in more well-heeled buyers into a brand that has maintained its identity even as its competitors have gotten whitewashed by crossovers of every size and spec. Staying true to its core with performance engineering and adaptive technology that can push the limits of veteran drivers and make novice drivers feel much more capable then they are, Porsche has had 9 consecutive years of sales growth in the US and does so without a three-row SUV or subcompact crossover.

Porsche is known for the driving experience. The Taycan furthers that.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

Unlike the Tesla Model S, the four-seat sports sedan is not so much revolutionary as evolutionary. The future is indeed electric and electric is compelling as a performance proposition, moreso than an ecological one.

Having driven the entry-level 4S pre-production prototype one morning on the Angeles Crest Highway, I can say without driving the Turbo or Turbo S variants, that there is more than enough performance in the 4S. The Turbo and Turbo S are trophies. The 4S is plenty, and for that extra $80,000 you can get a damn fine second car.

The tester had the Performance Battery Plus, which boosts range a yet-undetermined amount, and horsepower from 522 to 563. Mashing the throttle from a stop at the base of an on ramp can make you believe, for just one second, that it can rocket above LA traffic into a new kind of airspace. That’s worth six figures, if not eight. The 472 pound-feet of instant torque produced by a motor on both axles shoves the hips and back into the seats and squeezes your breath as the low-slung sedan hits 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. The Turbo does it in 3 seconds, and the Turbo S in a violent 2.6 seconds. It would seem the Turbo S would be the track car, but with a top speed difference of 161 mph to 155 for the 4S, the Taycan is not the best track car for that money.

Porsche designs cars to excel on the track and the road, which is why I would put my money on it against a Model S. It’s the DNA. The Taycan uses a two-speed transmission on the smaller rear motor. The initial speed is essentially for launch control, to deliver the most wheel torque and so that repeated hard starts from a stop won’t cause heat buildup. I didn’t notice the shift to the second larger gear in hard or soft driving.

The ride is unquestionably smooth, even in huge available 21-inch wheels with low profile all-performance tires that ride right under the wheel arch. The standard adaptive air suspension softens while cruising and firms up when pushed. A suspension lift button just to the right of the steering wheel provides necessary adjustments coming down out of driveways or anywhere else where uneven pavement meets. But the Taycan isn’t quite delicate-supercar-low. On our drive, a brick-sized rock had jumped off the mountain into the road. While the steering is precise, the curve was tight and oncoming traffic was present. Only choice was to go over it, and fortunately it didn’t scrape the pre-production Taycan in the lowest suspension setting.

On more sustained highway driving, the Taycan 4S was a snug cruiser. There are some neat tricks, but the low, distant fake engine noise in Sport Plus mode is not one of them.

The auto regenerative braking setting is much more interesting. When set to “auto” instead of “on,” it essentially reads traffic ahead as it would in adaptive cruise control, and adjusts the amount of regen braking based on the car in front of you. If the car in front slows, there will be much more significant regen. There’s no one-pedal driving and it won’t take the car to a stop, but it’s the height of energy optimization.

That low center with the large 93-kwh battery pack in the floor between the axles gives the vehicle its exceptional handling dynamics as well as its sexy curvaceous bod. It’s low and lean, with a rounded coupe roofline and curving wheel arches flexed out from the body. There are 911 elements to its curves, and if not for the four doors or the lack of rounded headlights, it could be. The angled headlights cut into vertical air intakes to help the 6-piston front calipers cool the ceramic brakes on the massive rotors. We didn’t push it to extremes, but the brake pedal feel was more like a grand tourer than the firm feedback of a sports coupe.

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, 2019 LA Auto Show

Like the Model S, the door handles are flush in the belt line until you click the fob and they emerge. Unlike the Model S, there are two charge port doors on either of the front fenders. The doors don’t pop out like a gas lid, but slide up into the body. Instead of jamming all charge protocols into one port, one is AC, the other is DC. Porsche spaced them out so the doors are small and fit in the overall design, even with a slight black lip to push the doors open and close.

The beltline wraps into the rear light signature on the rounded rear, with the white reverse lights as small subtle dashes on either side of the badge.

Cargo volume of 14.3 cubic feet is longer than it is tall, and the larger motor of the Turbo cut 1.4 cubic feet of cargo space in back.

Up front, the cabin features four screens, all pretty much streamlined. The prototype had limited functionality, but we were able to get a feel for the climate screen, the navigation screen, and the digital instrument cluster. The passenger gets their own screen. It’s too much. Aesthetically and functionally.

But the fast charging is exceptional, and free for the first 30 minutes for three years at Electrify America sites, which is the network created by parent company Volkswagen Group as part of the penalty from the diesel scandal. We charged from 40% to 85% in 21 minutes; Porsche says it can charge from 5% to 80% in 22.5 minutes.  

The Taycan is a compelling vehicle, perhaps moreso for Porsche than it is for the automotive market. Just as Porsche has proven that a 911 without a manual transmission can be better, it has proven with the Taycan that Porsche can excel at electric luxury performance as well.

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