The Porsche Taycan Is the 2020 Design of the Year
A leading light for Porsche in nearly every way.
There is nothing surprising about Automobile choosing a Porsche as our Design of the Year. But that the model we honor is a four-door sedan and doesn't have an engine, well, that might be a little startling to most of our readers. Yet we stand with the simple credo set out with our first issue 34 years ago: No Boring Cars. And, believe it, there's nothing at all boring about the Taycan. It is in fact a truly important car, as important to automotive history as was that feeble little Volkswagen hot rod put together in an Austrian lumberyard more than 70 years ago, leading inexorably to this excellent battery-powered electric automobile.
Electricity and the technology of its application was important to Ferdinand Porsche, paterfamilias of what has become one of the world's most important prestige car companies. His Löhner-Porsche automobile was almost a full century ahead of Honda's and Toyota's popular applications of the hybrid concept; his mid-engine formula race cars were decades ahead of the Cooper and Lotus racers that ultimately transformed serious car racing worldwide. The good professor left this world 69 years ago, but his name shines even more brightly today than it did during his lifetime.
Porsche AG is now a part of the Volkswagen Group, a result of a lot of fancy but unsuccessful financial maneuvering intended to make all of VW part of Porsche, and today it makes more SUVs than it does sports cars. But all of its products are seriously engineered, and they are probably the world's best-made serially produced vehicles, with nearly perfect fit, finish, and reputation. The company earned the reputation quite legitimately, so it is truly significant when a carmaker with so much to lose embarks upon an adventure that breaks entirely with the past and puts it on an uncharted path.
The Taycan line is Porsche's third sedan, after two generations of the Panamera; both versions of the latter are really excellent cars whether equipped with gasoline or diesel powertrains. Performance and quality made them highly desirable, though, not their appearance. The first edition was less than beautiful, the second improved slightly but was definitely not a styling leader. All the intangible virtues they possess are part and parcel of the Taycan, too, but it has another attribute that is far more important: It strongly and convincingly resembles the half-century-old 911 line, which to most people is Porsche.
More than any other model Porsche has ever produced, the Taycan captures the famous 911's roof profile, side glass shape, downward sloping nose, and solidly planted stance. It is also closest to the Erwin Komenda designs that began at Auto Union with Porsche, from the Type 64/VW 60K10 that is now claimed to be the first Porsche (it isn't really) and on to the Type 356 that put Porsche into the manufacturing business under the family name.
That's quite a heritage to live up to, and we think the handsome Taycan honors it well. Front overhang is quite long, actually longer than the rear, surprisingly, but it does not seem at all excessive. The substantial opening under the nose ingests cooling air—electrical machinery generates heat in operation exactly as does internal-combustion machinery—and more is taken in below the headlamps. The headlamp fairing and the black inverted "L" shape including the vertical inlets is a strong visual identity mark for the Taycan. Hot air is exhausted down the body sides just at the leading edge of the front doors, where there is a notable mismatch between the convex lower portion of the fender cross-section and the considerable indent at the bottom of the doors. The two separate panels are tied together visually by a dark trim piece on the fender side with a sort of speed streak flowing back toward the door handles but disappearing halfway down the length of the door skin.
The cabin is classically simple, appearing to be comfortable, if perhaps a little tight for rear seat passengers. But that has been the case for sport sedans forever, and it's not inappropriate here, because however quiet and smooth the Taycan may be, it is indeed a sports car from one of the finest sports-car companies of all time. What jars a bit is the option of wood trim in what is, after all, one of the highest-technology cars in existence. Some of the best interiors ever designed laid claim to the title without using any wood—open pore, piano finish, oiled, lacquered, or whatever. The Taycan's steering wheel is blessedly just round, nicely covered in leather, and clearly intended for the serious driver, around whom the cockpit is organized.
The Porsche's trunk, even, is an exemplary design. Load height is reasonable, there are ribbed metal scuff plates to protect the inner carpet, and above all, the lid swings up high and out of the way on giant arms that are free of asperities, linkages, struts, or other impeding elements that might mar your luggage. It's impressive, and a lesson to some other manufacturers that have not been as solicitous of their customers' real needs. The external aspects of the rear body are impressive, as well. The single, simple, full-width taillight bar is quite elegant and naturally relates to previous 911 solutions. The actual rear bumper runs across the tail at the statutory height and completes a rear graphic composition that is at once classical and cleanly modern.
In transmuting the 2015 Mission E concept car into a purchasable product, Porsche was able to more than fulfill the promises made at the show car's Frankfurt unveiling. There is more power, the car can turn a lap of the Nürburgring in less time than claimed, and if it may not have quite the range hoped for at launch, it is adequate for most owners' purposes, and it can indeed be charged more quickly than most other cars, specifically the Tesla Model S that has forced all the major luxury-car manufacturers to embrace electric power.
It's going to be fascinating to see how all this plays out in the next few years, but one thing is certain: Porsche is going to hold onto its preeminent position in the world's automotive universe, with our Design of the Year as a leader.