Prototype Drive: Porsche Mission E Cross Turismo
We grab the wheel of the plug-in five-door wagon/SUV and walk away impressed
Just three months after the Mission E Cross Turismo wowed the press at the 2018 Geneva auto show, Porsche rolled out the concept car for its first test on real roads, in real traffic—even if only as silent meat in a highway patrol car sandwich.
In contrast to other design exercises, which can be moved but are rarely properly driven, the Mission E Cross Turismo is a real runner. In fact, there are already over 100 Cross Turismo prototypes racking up test miles on all five continents—one of which, a crowd-stopper with matte blue alloys, neo off-road livery, and a semi-transparent roof was put aside for our use.
Despite promising stats that it's intended to be a proper Tesla Model X rival, we go easy on the hand-built multi-million-dollar one-off. That's easy as in under five seconds from 0-60 mph—no full-throttle hooliganism—and cornering at three-fifths as a tribute to the soft-compound 275/40 R20 General Grabber off-road tires.
The man in the passenger seat introduces himself as Stefan Weckbach, head of Porsche's global electrification efforts. "One motor up front, one motor in the back, all-wheel drive, underfloor battery pack—all that is already quite close to the final configuration. Still missing are the air suspension and rear-wheel steering. Also conspicuous by its absence is the sound generator that mimics a switchable exhaust. Don't laugh—listen to it! At this early stage in the development process, we're of course not yet running on maximum power and torque," he explains.
To protect the pre-production componentry, first gear is bypassed, so we're in second at all times, including take-off. Instead of the promised 590 hp, only about 450 hp can be used. There is torque vectoring is by all-wheel drive, brake actuation, and an optional electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential. In combination with the low center of gravity, which beats any 911, and near-perfect weight distribution, this car is as firmly planted as a rare-earth magnet on steel, even at speed.
"Yes, we are indeed working on the E Cross with volume production in mind," admits the wiry project leader. "But so far, there has not been an official go-ahead." According to the supplier community, the Cross Turismo will go on sale in late 2021, though the design was allegedly frozen in 2017, together with that of the Taycan—the car formerly known as the Mission E—with which it shares much of its hardware.
Porsche's second BEV is a good looking car—one-third Macan, one-third Panamera Sport Turismo, one-third all-new. Having said that, the mixed response to the design exercise, especially from North-America, suggests that the number one market would prefer a more rugged, SUV-like appearance. This is going to be difficult to achieve. At 55.9 inches high, the Mission E Cross Turismo is as low as a Panamera; at 78.3 inches, its width shouts overtaking prestige rather than off-road ability; and even the increased ride height and loud go-anywhere body kit don't do much to change the proportions.
Up in the hills above Malibu, on the winding backroads that connect one canyon to the next, other traits are more important. Take for instance the electrically assisted steering, which is true to Porsche's reputation in terms of weight, damping, precision, speed, and turning circle. Praise is also due to the complex deceleration apparatus, which blends conventional (or, for a price, carbon ceramic) brakes with a single-speed recuperation device. Why not install a three-step system to warrant that one-pedal driving style everyone is talking about? "Because one pedal is not our philosophy," quips Weckbach. "This is a proper sports car, and as such its mission is untamed acceleration and instant torque, not lift-off braking."
Flooring the throttle in this car flattens any hill. Give it stick, and the Mission E Cross Turismo feels like a winch-powered glider before letting go of the tow hook, a videogame racer in full attack mode, a monorail thundering through the esses. Physical, immediate, awe-inspiring—and somewhat unsettling to novices who tend to flinch when the electric motors deliver their mighty shove in full force. There is no doubt about it: we are still a long way from fully recalibrating to electric cars, their mind-boggling on-ramp performance (one rocket per green light, please), their coasting efficiency, their super-physical overtaking ability. True, you can still hear the wind, the squealing tires, the movement of the suspension, and the occasionally grating brakes. The batteries, the transmissions, and the motors, on the other hand, are all but noiseless—it's like touchscreen versus keyboard, clean air versus smog. For one precious moment, high-end BEVs like this seem to harbor only assets and virtues, no downsides and drawbacks. Is that what enthusiasm does to one's judgment?
At 194.8 inches long, the Mission E Cross Turismo is anything but a small vehicle. Inside, however, it's a tight fit. Despite the "foot garages"—transverse troughs in the front and rear floorpan intended to make room for those inconvenient bits at the ends of your legs—this four-seater feels more Panamera Junior than Macan. There is just about enough front legroom, and while headroom is compromised by the low flying roof, shoulder-room is trimmed by the tapered greenhouse.
Due to the 911-inspired coupe shape, it takes a shorter adult or teenager to fully appreciate the accommodation in the back. The seats are a bit like those designer chairs installed in certain first class airline lounges: stylish, beautifully trimmed, and nicely made, but the backrests are too short, the padding is economy-class thin, and lateral support is more in the eye than in the back of the beholder. The three-quarter visibility from the driver's seat triggers the usual guessing game, the boot is long and wide but not very deep, and access to the second row would have been so much easier through the rear suicide doors of the Mission E concept that were shot down by management for the production-intent vehicle.
While the latest Cayenne and Panamera pushed ergonomic complexity to new extremes with the new touch-centric interface, the Mission E Cross Turismo partially pursues a less-is-more philosophy. Why only partially? Because the center stack is again a distracting touch-zoom-push-slide affair, the center display above it continues to be filled with a bunch of swipe-away graphical tiles, and the very same layout is duplicated on the passenger side.
The neatest part of the new instrument panel is without a doubt the lozenge-shaped main readout, which has obviously been inspired by the set of dials in the very first 911. Together with the optional head-up display, it tells you everything you need to know, even though the digital speedometer should be about three times bigger. Instead of the trademark rev counter, the center of attention is now a combined state-of-charge and range readout. Riding the steering wheel are numerous buttons and thumbwheels, as well as a contrasting, race-inspired center marker.
Looking for the ignition or starter button? Don't bother, they're not there. Instead, there is now a small touch-sensitive area to the left of the steering column that sets things in motion while adhering to Porsche's Le Mans-inspired tradition. Since the shift lever was moved to the two o'clock position behind the steering-wheel, the center console is now big enough for six cupholders or two smartphone chargers.
Labelled PRND, the gear selector is operated by the driver´s right index finger. Sounds boring, but the menu can be spiced up by selecting one of five modes, labeled Normal, Range, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual. Waiting in the wings but not yet confirmed modes are Eco, Wet, and Off-road. Normal is all about lift-off coasting; Sport and Sport Plus are relatively close together; Range does its best to squash anxiety; Individual lets you tweak suspension, steering, stability control, drivetrain, and soundtrack to your personal preferences.
"With the new infotainment system, we have digitally remastered Porsche´s genetic code," states a proud Stefan Weckbach. "When the driver switches mentally to autopilot, only the bare essentials are on display. As soon as he is back in sports car mode, however, the environment will automatically switch to dynamic."
Find an 800-volt charge station (good luck—there aren't any yet), and it only takes 15 minutes to refill the Cross Turismo's energy cells to the brim. Settle for 400 volts (difficult enough to find outside of the Tesla ecosystem), and don´t forget to order a nice steak frite to kill the next 40 minutes. Hook the car up to any old 220-volt (110 volts in the U.S.) socket, and be prepared to take a 30-hour sabbatical. Although cordless inductive charging is on the table as a possible option, most will probably be topped-up at home by a Porsche wallbox. Extrovert trendsetters are invited to order the power-operated charge door, which puts on a show by quietly disappearing beneath the front wing.
"A plug-in Porsche must drive and perform like a Porsche fitted with a combustion engine," says Weckbach. "It must sustain long flat-out autobahn stints without overheating. Repeatability is key when it comes to full-throttle acceleration. The main dynamic parameters have to remain intact through the entire battery charge span. Only when the warning light comes on, under certain conditions performance may be compromised for range."
It seems safe to expect at least 250 miles between recharging stops in European WLTP-spec terms, which might translate to about 230 miles in EPA testing. Even though it is theoretically possible to free an extra 20 miles of range via an over-the-air command, eventually the moment will come when empty simply means no more go. While electricity is at this point notably cheaper than fossil fuels, the asking price for the Cross Turismo won't differ much from the Panamera Sport Turismo: The base Cross Turismo should come in just under $100,000 while the range-topping Turbo is expected to cost well over $150,000. Early adopters better be rich.