“Speak softly and carry a big stick” was Theodore Roosevelt’s approach to diplomacy, and given he was also an ardent naturalist and progressive, we can only imagine he’d approve of the new 2020 Porsche Taycan. Tough yet quiet in its mission to help save the environment, it’s everything Teddy could ask for in an automobile.
He was likely acquainted with the concept. Electric cars were common in the early 20th century before they were supplanted by the combustion engine. He may even have heard about the Lohner-Porsche hybrid electric horseless carriage, the prototype of which was a pure electric vehicle. The Taycan (pronounced tie-con) weighs half again what that beast did, but it’ll drive circles around that and any other EV you can buy today, plus more than a few sport sedans.
To be sure, we took a top-shelf 2020 Taycan Turbo S for a little road trip down from EV-crazy Oslo, Norway, to Gothenburg, Sweden, sampling some of Scandinavia’s back roads and a fancy new 800-volt charging station along the way. It’s not hard to see why Porsche wanted to make a splash here. You can’t turn around without tripping over three Teslas in these parts, and the Model S is Porsche enemy number one. As we arrived in Oslo, news broke of a highly modified Model S prototype potentially besting the Taycan’s Nurburgring lap time, and it’s all the internet could talk about.
It’s easy to see why. The Taycan faithfully follows the Model S’ formula as a large, handsome sedan that also happens to be electric and ridiculously quick in a straight line. Porsche hopes to set itself apart, though, by making the Taycan drive like a Porsche, even if it means the car’s range isn’t even close to the Tesla’s. The EPA still hasn’t published an official number as we go live with this article, but we expect something in the 200- to 250-mile range, or right where the Model S was when it made its debut seven years ago.
To get that trademark Porsche feel, the company has effectively designed the four-door 911 the Panamera never quite was. Owing to competing demands for performance and the ability to comfortably seat 6-foot-plus German executives in the back seat, the Panamera is too large to be a credible family-size 911. Suffering no such constraints, the Taycan is smaller outside and in with tighter, sleeker styling that silently screams sports car, not chauffeur car.
As it looks, the 2020 Taycan Turbo S drives smaller than it is. This is, after all, a 5,000-plus-pound four-seater with two trunks, and that weight gives it a solidity on the road. The standard air suspension and active dampers do masterful work keeping the ride plush while keeping the body flat and making half the weight seem to disappear. Bad pavement is felt lightly in the cabin, never harshly. The Taycan’s suspension takes its licks and shoves its tires right back into the pavement.
That’s good, because the way this thing picks up speed, it’ll hit those bumps fast and hard. Launch control starts hit with a ferocity and an unrelenting pull only Model S and Model X owners understand. You start to think the front wheels might come off the ground when the acceleration refuses to slack off in the least. Porsche’s proprietary two-speed rear transmission can be felt shifting at around 50 mph during launch control starts, but otherwise it’s seamless.
Go around a corner, and that road-hugging weight gives you the driving-on-rails feeling only certain cars can. Our tester’s Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetrics had far more grip than the car could use on public roads and never made a peep. Like a 911, the Taycan makes you feel like you’re one with the car. It doesn’t give you quite the feedback the 911 does, but it responds so naturally to your inputs, you barely have to think them. The steering is accurate and precise, weighted perfectly but a little numb for a Porsche. Put the car in Range mode, when the front motor is the primary, and it’ll even torque-steer, words no one ever expected to be used on a Porsche.
The braking will get the most attention, both for what it does and what it doesn’t. Porsche thinks you oughta let the car coast, and it feels like it’ll roll forever when you take your foot off the accelerator. Change it to one of the Sport driving modes or press a button on the steering wheel, and you’ll get regenerative braking when you lift off the accelerator, but it’s a small amount analogous to engine-braking a gas-powered car. There’s no one-pedal driving with this electric car, period. Instead, there’s a far more interesting Auto regeneration mode, which uses the forward-facing camera to watch the car ahead of you and automatically apply regenerative braking if it slows down. Consider how many times you lift and coast or have to brake slightly in normal driving to accommodate the traffic around you, and it becomes a really nifty feature.
When you do brake, it’ll always be regenerative. You have to be on the brakes very hard to get the mechanical brakes to activate, and even then the regenerative brakes will continue working all the way into ABS activation. The brake pads also engage as you’re coming to a stop, and if you pay close attention you can feel the difference; they’re a little more grabby. The brake pedal itself is polarizing, with some drivers unable to forgive its artificial feedback. As far as brake-by-wire systems go, it’s a good one, and the braking response is linear. It just feels a little different than you’re probably used to, especially if you’re coming out of another Porsche.
The braking isn’t the only thing that feels a little weird compared with other Porsches. If you pay extra, you can get a second infotainment screen in the passenger’s side of the dashboard. It looks just like the primary infotainment screen in the middle, but it doesn’t have quite as many functions. Mostly, it lets the passenger play DJ or look things up in the navigation system without getting in the driver’s way. It would be a more compelling case were it not for the fact the screen can’t control Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. And the driver can bring up a full-screen map in the instrument cluster so the passenger messing with the center screen at a critical junction isn’t much of an issue. Although it’s fun to live out your Star Trek fantasies on the go, the limited functionality makes the $1,130 price tag tough to justify. Hopefully, future over-the-air updates will add features that make the cost more reasonable.
Back over on the driver’s side, the driver seat doesn’t let you sit very low in the car. That’s interesting considering Porsche’s promises of a 911-like driving position because you can put a 911’s seat on the floor. The upshot is a clear view of the road ahead, with just the tops of the fenders visible ahead of you. The A-pillars are surprisingly thin and unobtrusive, and although the B-pillars are massive, they’re positioned such that you can see around them fairly easily when merging. Only the rear window is difficult to see out of, a gun slit obstructed by the rear headrests.
The rear seats are somewhat difficult in general. There’s just enough legroom for the average adult, but you’ve got to get in there first. Porsche’s so-called “foot garages,” sections of the underfloor battery compartment left empty to make room for the rear passengers’ feet, are a good idea, but getting your feet into them takes dexterity. There’s little space between the rear seat bottom and the lower B-pillar, so there’s a lot of twisting and pointing your feet as you work your way in there. Once you’re in the seat and your feet are settled, you’ll notice there’s just enough headroom for a 6-footer, though the roof rail crowds your headspace.
Front or back, you’ll appreciate how quiet the Taycan’s interior is. Quiet conversation is easy at freeway speeds, which is notable since the Turbo S has massive tires on 21-inch wheels, a combo that tends to make a lot of noise. There’s a faint noise from the motors and transmissions under acceleration and braking that mostly just reminds you mechanical things are happening. It’s actively enhanced by the sound system to make it sound a little more like a car from a sci-fi movie, and Turbo S models like our ride get Porsche Electric Sports Sound standard, which cranks up the sound and adds a lot of bass when you put the car in Sport or Sport Plus. On lesser models, you get to pay $580 for the privilege. As far as computer-generated EV sounds go, it sounds the most like actual machinery and not a ray gun.
Taking the scenic route down to Gothenburg reminded us of both the challenges and the promises of electric car driving. A stop at a high-powered Ionity DC fast charger had our mostly depleted battery back up to 80 percent state of charge in less time than it took to order and consume a hamburger and fries, demonstrating that cutting-edge charging infrastructure can make EV road trips no different than those powered by gas. On the other hand, we’re glad the charger was strategically located halfway between Oslo and Gothenburg, because it’s the only fast charger in the area, as we discovered when we went to plug in at our destination.
Although our route and driving style weren’t necessarily representative of the average driver (gotta test that handling, and the launch control), our trip indicates our range estimates of 200 to 250 miles for the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S are probably about right. The way we were driving, though, we probably wouldn’t have made it 200 miles. To be fair, driving a gas-powered vehicle hard kills your fuel economy, too, but gas stations are easier to find than fast chargers.
This is in part by design. The specs indicate Porsche has electronically walled off a significant portion of the battery to protect its longevity (charging to max capacity can damage a battery), which explains why such a large battery doesn’t go nearly as far as a Tesla’s. Then again, Tesla has been refining its batteries for the better part of a decade, so Porsche has some catching up to do. Like Tesla, Porsche may someday send out over-the-air software updates that unlock more battery capacity once the company has some data on how the batteries are holding up, but for now, Porsche is being conservative. At the very least, we know there will be other, less powerful Taycan trims that should put more emphasis on range and less on performance.
To date, Tesla hasn’t had a real competitor to worry about. No other EVs could match the combination of performance, style, and range of a Model S, and truth be told, the Taycan can’t quite, either. It has, however, come far closer than any other; close enough, it ought to make a few people back in California nervous. If Tesla’s surprise Nurburgring attempt is any indication, it already has. As long as “range anxiety” (or “charging anxiety,” as it would more appropriately be described) is still a thing, though, Tesla can rightfully boast a two-pronged advantage of range and Superchargers. There’s also the small matter of the Porsche’s dramatically higher starting price. Prices will come down as lower trims are introduced, but not likely to Model S levels.
Still, the Taycan is a resounding success of a car on its own merits. Porsche has built an EV that’s as stunning to drive as it is to look at, with handling and build quality straight out of the box Tesla still hasn’t mastered. As competition is known to drive improvement, it only means good things for both companies in the future.
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