Riding in a preproduction Porsche Taycan Turbo with chief project engineer Stefan Weckbach at the wheel is a bit like living inside a Marvel movie while wearing a VW headset while sitting in a Dallara race-car simulator. The whisper-quiet all-electric Porsche with a driveline on steroids lifts the terms “velocity” and “acceleration” to altogether different levels.
The very first g-force attack, encountered two corners into the ride near Porsche’s Weissach facility in Germany, is a shock to the system. That’s what two potent electric motors and 1400-plus-pounds of fully charged lithium-ion batteries can do to you. The Taycan boasts an instant-on, instant-off direct-drive layout instead of wet clutches, angle drives, a couple of differentials, and a fat, high-inertia propshaft. Its pulse inverter that masterminds the torque vectoring acts five times faster than the chips that govern a conventional four-wheel-drive system. Forget stability management by brake actuation; the black box deep inside of the Taycan controls the experience exclusively by wheel-selective torque feed. “Zero loss, 100-percent dynamic efficiency,” Weckbach says.
Range Anxiety Gives Way to Charge Anxiety
We are cruising swiftly through the Weissach hinterland, and even though the car has already been on the road for more than two hours, the batteries are still going strong, showing a 48-percent state of charge. There is no doubt that the car industry and its partners have conquered range anxiety well before EVs have become household appliances. But the next big thing destined to undermine widespread acceptance of clean-air vehicles already looms large, and it’s called charge anxiety.
For 2020, the energy provider consortium led by Ionity and backed by most major carmakers has promised 400 fast-charging stations across Europe, each with six spaces. Sounds like a plan, but the real test starts with the summer holidays, when legions of new-to-the-game planet-savers will line up from dawn to dusk for a refill while their PHEV- and combustion-engine-saddled fellow travelers are already sipping their third Aperol spritz at their final destinations. Even though the Taycan is the first EV than can be fed with up to 250kW at an 800V charge point, the corresponding infrastructure is still patchy, to put it mildly. Even those who are lucky enough to discover one of a handful 400V stations, most of which can typically muster only 150kW, will have to remain idle for at least 40 minutes before the power pack is 80 percent full. Imagine being number four in the queue.
All Taycans come with specially coated PSCB brakes for reduced brake dust, but you can also specify overkill carbon-ceramic stoppers. Blending these systems with the regenerative braking function to perfection was one of the biggest challenges for Weckbach and his team. A small portion of the deceleration energy flows back to the batteries even during an emergency stop controlled by ABS. Unless the driver activates the mild recuperation mode by pushing a button on the steering-wheel, lift-off equals coasting (free-wheeling) which is obviously the most efficient type of forward motion. Alternatively, you may leave it to the cruise control to match the car’s speed to the flow of traffic. Maximum regeneration is an unrivalled 250kW. Dialing out the electric motors while dialing in the hydraulic brakes is key to the riveting performance and the allegedly totally progressive pedal feel.
Since a consumption of 40 to 50 kWh is allegedly not an exception to the rule, selecting the Range mode extends the mileage by about 10 percent, although it automatically checks out when speeds exceed 85 mph. A Sport Plus-esque mode with a totally different raison d’être, Range scales back the air conditioning and adjusts torque vectoring. Within a range of -31 degrees to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, Porsche says battery temperatures are not an issue, irrespective of load and speed.
It’s Stupefying in Motion
Like all EVs, the Taycan is not primarily about high velocity. True, it can cruise at 162 mph for miles and miles without battery heatstroke or exceeding the motors’ maximum speed of 16,000 rpm, and it has lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in less than eight minutes, which is no mean feat. But the Taycan’s true forte is empty secondary roads on which the low-riding, two-ton car is every bit as quick as the lighter and nimbler 911 Turbo.
What gives the electric car the edge is a whopping 649 lb-ft of telepathically triggered peak torque (or 738 lb-ft in a 10-second “overboost” window), an amount that would shred the driveline in one quick go if it weren’t for the protective torque limiter, the two-speed transmission that blocks first gear at times to prevent mechanical disintegration, and the electronic rear differential lock.
The Turbo version—there’s of course delicious irony in that nomenclature—features a beefy 96-kWh battery, a 160-kW (215-hp)/221-lb-ft motor up front, and a 300-kW (402-hp)/405-lb-ft motor at the rear. In launch-control mode with your left foot on the brake and your right foot on the throttle, the whiplash effect that happens when you launch flattens your eyeballs against the back of your skull while taxing your spine to nearly its breaking point. Porsche claims that just more than three seconds elapse from takeoff to 60 mph; the zero-to-125-mph acceleration time is less than 10 seconds. Once more, this is 911 Turbo territory.
Between The Black Hole of Swabia and The Bermuda Triangle of Upper Bavaria where law and order are typically on annual leave in early May, my chauffeur suddenly feels like injecting a dash of time-warp sci-fi to his driving. Anticipation—and a little fear—comes in three waves. First, the ESP warning symbol starts flashing to indicate it’s off. Then Sport Plus firms up the ride, speeds up the steering, and quickens the throttle response. Finally, oodles of instant torque produce a positively physical forward thrust like a land mine exploding just aft of the rear bumper.
The sudden shift from lazy Sunday driver to part-time hooligan is backed up by an extraterrestrial amount of grip and traction. Even though the wheels are fitted with mid-spec 275/40R20 tires, and not with the more extreme 21-inch footwear, the Taycan produces as little wheelspin as an Airbus A320 cleared for takeoff. Although energy is released with an overwhelming urge and distributed with surgical precision, at the same time a touch of cold professionalism creeps through the vehicle’s pores, relaying a hunch of invincibility confirmed in microsecond intervals by the unerringly plotted directional stability.
Even at what feels like 11/10ths to the wide-eyed novice, there is absolutely no tugging, twitching, or fidgeting by the car, nor does it divert from the chosen path. In terms of dynamic enhancements, the top-of-the-line Taycan features the full set of high-tech goodies. The complex setup includes air suspension (except on the base car), all-wheel drive, available rear-wheel steering, 48-volt antiroll bars, active aerodynamics, and steel brakes with serious stopping power. Genetically, this car is more closely related to the 992 911 than the Panamera.
Diving into the Details
The Taycan actually sports an even lower center of gravity than its rear-engined sports-car brother. The batteries are cooled by a liquid circuit integrated in the floorpan, and the available full set of assistance systems is a present from the Audi A8. LG provides a total of 408 pouch cells per vehicle, packaged in 34 individual modules.
“Despite its zero-emission status, this is a proper Porsche,” claims Bernd Propfe, platform director for the Taycan. “As a result, performance is of the essence. Even when driven flat-out for an hour or more, this car will only go into a limp-home mode when the distance-to-empty is at zero. Unlike other products, the Taycan’s power and torque curves will not be dented by a drop of state of charge. As long as there is juice left, an all-out attack always remains an option. In terms of repeatability, this is in our view the undisputed leader of the pack.”
With my heart still in my shoes, I’m grateful for every speed limit and speed-limited village that come our way. These short breathers present a welcome opportunity to check out the cabin ambience, the quality of the seats, and the instrument panel. The Taycan is a four-seater with just about enough space for two adults in the back, where the so-called “foot garages,” clever rectangular recesses in the floor, preclude the use of a rectangular monolithic battery pack but help accommodate long legs.
Up front, headline features include the fully adjustable power-operated lightweight buckets and the curved digital display, the design of which harks back to early 911s. An additional rectangular monitor on the passenger side is offered as an option. Like most recently launched infotainment systems, this one needs an in-depth introduction to decipher the hidden features. The multifunctional steering wheel is peppered with 10 control elements distributed across the two horizontal spokes, the conveniently positioned center stack is loaded with haptic and visual delights, and in addition to the main full-width content screen, extra money buys an extended head-up display.
Despite the generous 115.0-inch wheelbase and the substantial estimated curb weight of just less than 4,630 pounds, a cushy ride is not one of the Taycan’s fortes. Our driver says, “This is a sporty GT which digitally reinterprets traditional Porsche values. While you may search the menu in vain for a Comfort button, there are four additional chassis options plus a lap timer for those who want to go play without disturbing the wildlife.”
Porsche is not interested in slowing down the car unless conditions require it. If our brief driving experiences in the Mission E concept and the Cross Turismo concept, plus this ride in the preproduction Taycan Turbo, are anything to go by, the real thing promises to combine the best of many worlds. The rear-wheel steering is bound to enhance maneuverability as well as straight-line stability, the steering strikes a fine balance between bold and beefy, and the brakes are as sharp as a laser pointer yet easy to modulate and full of stamina. Having said that, we have yet to find out how the deceleration apparatus works at high speed; how ride, handling, and roadholding harmonize on the autobahn; and how the drivetrain responds to repeated brutal torque inputs.
Says Propfe: “The Taycan Turbo can do 10 full-throttle zero-to-62-mph and four zero-to-125-mph sprints without a one iota decrease in performance.” Speaking from the second-best seat in the house, the car’s motions are indeed subtly coherent and nicely fluent as the Taycan follows the driver’s instructions with aplomb. The one dynamic virtue that stands out most is the amazing tarmac-hugging flatness with which the Taycan holds its body; it glides, supercar-like, as if magnets were holding it to the ground. Like the massive torque punch, this surreal amount of grip underlines that the Taycan is anything but your father’s Porsche.
Moving Forward at the VW Group
Production has already started in an extension of the Zuffenhausen plant, that portion of the facility consuming a large chunk of the $1-billion-plus J1 program. Peak capacity is close to 60,000 units per year, which corresponds to a daily output of up to 266 vehicles. Starting in 2021, one third of the available volume will be allocated to the CUV known as the Cross Turismo. Audi is expected to assemble its own derivatives—the e-tron GT and GT Sportback—in the Bollinger Höfe factory near Neckarsulm, the current home of the R8. The production base for Bentley’s reinterpretation of the short-lived Mercedes R-class is still to be decided, and the Lamborghini spinoff is reportedly still four years away.
Although Porsche has so far approved only two Taycan body styles, chapter one of the BEV adventure ends in 2023 when J1 II is to be introduced. Why launch a major update only four and a half years after the start of production? Because the costs must come down as the overall efficiency increases, and because Porsche is keen on adding three more Taycan spinoffs over time. Waiting in the wings are a 928-style coupe, a matching cabriolet, and a proper SUV. Not surprisingly, these carrots are also attracting the attention of Audi, Bentley, and, with certain reservations, Bugatti.
Since the Taycan’s official debut remains some months away, the final specs remain undecided, but we do know for sure that there will be three different versions. The base Taycan is rear-wheel drive only, sports an 80-kWh battery, and is powered by a choice of 240-kW (322-hp) and 280-kW (375-hp) motors. A Porsche brand ambassador who must remain nameless confirmed the contents of a document obtained by this magazine that stated the entry model—due late next year—will be priced in the low $90,000s, the 4S equipped with a 96-kWh battery pack and 320-kW (429-hp) or 360-kW (483-hp) of power will be positioned in the high $90,000s, and the Turbo will start at about $140,000. All-wheel drive and the bigger battery are standard on the latter two versions.
Still to be signed off are an even rawer 540-kW (724-hp) Turbo S and a lighter RWD GTS. Starting with J1 II, solid-state power packs will be phased in as they become available. By 2021 at the very latest, the peak charging power is set to increase from 250 to 350 kW, which should—in combination with that best-in-class 800V energy provider—reduce the charge time to a swift 14 minutes. In contrast, a plug-in at your home takes up to 30 hours. The pending inductive-charging ability is initially restricted to a miserly 11 kW, which means a charge will take just about the same amount of time as a season of Game of Thrones.
During a lunch break, we munch on bratwurst and then spend some quality time with the infotainment system. The selective display puts the focus on speed, state of charge, consumption, range, and, eventually, the closest charge points. There even is an autopilot function, which will—like in the A8 from where it originates—be activated as soon as regulations permit. Individual mode allows you to compose personal dynamic preferences, like mating the softest spring setting to the sportiest drivetrain calibration.
“It was our goal to create reduced, user-focused, distraction-free, increasingly voice-based ergonomics which provide only the information you need or want, no more and no less,” says Weckbach. “Unique to the Taycan is the optional sound generator which adds some bass to the oomph.” The noise that fills the cabin is best described as the subdued hum of a synthetic multi-cylinder boxer engine. Switch off the artificial orchestra, and you will only hear faintly whirring motors, the occasional suspension thump, rumbling tires, and the howling wind. This is the music of the future.
The Taycan’s main mission is to eclipse the Tesla Model S in all key departments. Expectedly, it fails to do so in terms of packaging and (super)charging infrastructure. While the P100D Tesla versions are even quicker off the mark than the hottest landshark from Stuttgart, the repeatability of such a task is what allegedly separates the wheat from the chaff. Porsche engineers are adamant that the high-performance tag is not an empty promise.
The long list of surprises put together by the engineering and marketing teams includes a leather-free trim, a separate cycle plan for connectivity improvements, significant over-the-air updates, and a host of brand-specific digital services. Comments Porsche’s chief technical officer Michael Steiner, “We still have a few aces up our sleeve. For example, the battery weight will come down step by step while the energy density goes up. The performance-oriented balancing of different cell types is another potential differentiator.” And what is our provisional verdict on the car? Well, the Taycan is good looking and solid as a rock even at ludicrous (sorry, Tesla) speeds, and it’s a remarkable high-performance high-end GT which can’t wait to rearrange your internal organs. It most certainly has the potential to become a real trendsetter that ticks critical social-acceptance boxes and leaves behind a virtually invisible CO2 footprint.