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Porsche Taycan first drive: The most important electric car of 2019

We take the Taycan Turbo on a road trip across Luxembourg and Germany

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When Porsche finally revealed the production version of its first electric car, called the Taycan, it was all too easy to draw comparisons with the Tesla Model S. Indeed, we did exactly that once Porsche had released the Taycan's spec sheet.

At first, it was easy to point out how the Porsche Taycan — even the flagship 'Turbo S' variant — was slower than the Model S, with fewer seats, no charging network of its own, and a much higher price.

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Having driven the Taycan, we admit these comparisons are still true. But what driving the Taycan helped us understand, is just how different the two cars are from each other. Porsche, a 70-year-old sports car maker and 19-time winner of the Le Mans 24 hours, cannot be fairly compared to Tesla. Yes, these are both electric saloon cars, but they are different far more than they are similar.

Engineered character

First, there is the technology. It is widely assumed that car makers will struggle to give their electric cars a personality of their own, given how most all-electric platforms perform in a very similar way. There is less scope to inject character than there is with an internal combustion engine, where capacity, layout and the number of cylinders all make big differences to the overall character. Not to mention the inclusion of a manual gearbox.

Porsche has tried to change this in several ways. Primarily, there is the Taycan's two-speed gearbox — unique among electric cars. The car uses first gear to get off the line and, if the driver is accelerating hard, will hold onto first until around 50 or 60 mph, before shifting into second. Although the gears cannot be changed manually, the very fact they are changing gives the driver a greater connection to the car, and a clearer understanding of how it is working beneath them.

Porsche Taycan The Taycan has a motor at the front and backPorsche

This is enhanced by the Taycan's optional sports sound system, which takes recordings of the electric motors, amplifies and enhances the soundtrack, then pumps this into the cabin through the stereo speakers. The system may sound like a sci-fi gimmick at first, and admittedly it can become tiresome when cruising through town, but when driven more enthusiastically the soundtrack again helps to boost the Taycan's character.

Another major difference between the Taycan and all other electric cars is its 800-volt architecture. Compared to the 400v systems of others (including Tesla), the Taycan's system operates at a lower current, which reduces heat and means the car's performance isn't handicapped by sustained high-speed driving.

This might not be an issue for many drivers, but remember Porsche is from Germany, where some of its Autobahn highways have no speed limit. High-speed cruising is as much as part of a German's commute as a coffee to go and searching for a parking space. As such, the Taycan can sit at 150 mph for sustained periods of time without overheating — and it can use its launch control system to surge from rest to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds (or 2.6 for the Turbo S) over and over again.

Again this could sound superfluous. But, just as Swiss watch owners don't often go diving to 1,000 feet, when spending $150,000 to $190,000 on a car, the knowledge that it can perform at a certain level is as important as actually doing it.

Porsche Taycan We think the Taycan looks smart and subtle in blueGearBrain

Driving

All this adds up to a car which is a Porsche that just so happens to be electric. From behind the Taycan's steering wheel (borrowed from the company's 911 flagship, incidentally), the car feels every bit a member of the Porsche family. It doesn't feel like compromises have been made to make the Taycan work; instead, it acts and feels like a Porsche should — albeit, a heavy Porsche with a different soundtrack.

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As with most electric cars, the Taycan's battery is fitted in the floor and is very heavy — over 600kg including its mountings. This gives the car a total weight of 2,300kg and, while almost 700 horsepower can neatly disguise this when accelerating, even Porsche's engineers can't defy physics when you reach a corner.

The Taycan remains composed for the most part, but on the damp country roads twisting their way around Germany's Eifel mountains, the weight still makes itself known.

Another unique aspect of Porsche's electric drivetrain is how the Taycan does not feed kinetic energy back into its battery (known as regenerative braking) when you lift off the accelerator. Instead, unless you alter the default setting, the Taycan coasts like a normal internal combustion engine car, and the regenerative system only wakes up when you press the brake pedal.

Porsche Taycan at Ionity charger As well as Ionity in Europe, the Taycan works with Electrify America charges in the USGearBrain

This means you cannot employ 'one-pedal driving' like you can in a Tesla or BMW i3, but it does keep the car's behavior consistent. This is because the amount of braking force applied by regenerative braking in other EVs can diminish almost to zero in cold conditions, making the car's behavior unpredictable.

Porsche does away with this, as the Taycan coasts when you lift off, then slows when you press the brake — either by using regenerative braking, or the brake discs and pads, depending on how hard you press the pedal.

Porsche says the Taycan will use regenerative braking 90 percent of the time, and even gives the discs a tungsten coating to prevent rusting due to lack of use. From behind the wheel, the shift from regenerative braking to using the discs and pads is imperceptible.

Interior tech

Porsche Taycan dashboard displays The Taycan has up to five computer displaysGearBrain

Inside, the Taycan is recognizably Porsche but with the high-tech flourishes you'd expect from an all-electric car. There are no analogue dials apart from a lap timer. Instead the driver sits in front of a curved, 16.8-inch display which can be customized however they like. There is a 10.9-inch touch screen in the center of the dashboard for the car's infotainment system, and below this sits a second touchscreen for controlling the cabin temperature and climate system.

This lower display features haptic feedback, which works just like the trackpad of a MacBook, issuing a firm click to your fingertips when pressed. I found this feedback helped reassure me that I'd pressed the screen correctly, without taking my eyes off the road to check.

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Porsche also offers an optional display for the front passenger. This sits next to, and is identical to, the central 10.9-inch screen. With this installed, the passenger can adjust the music or look up the address of a local charging station without distracting the driver and using their screen.

My passenger and I found ourselves instinctively using the second display, but in hindsight I think it's mostly unnecessary - especially as the curved instrument display behind the steering wheel can be used to interact with music and view navigation instructions, too.

Finally, a second optional display can be fitted centrally behind the front seats, giving rear passengers their own climate controls.

Charging

Porsche Taycan at Ionity charger The Ionity charger can refill the battery from five to 80 percent in 22.5 minutesGearBrain

Another benefit of the 800-volt system I mentioned earlier is very fast charging. Porsche says the Taycan can be charged at up to 270 kW, around double that of the Tesla Model S and Model X, and a little more than the Model 3.

To try this out, we stopped at an Ionity station equipped with 350kW chargers. Arriving with 4 percent battery remaining, the Taycan filled up to 87 percent in exactly 30 minutes, which falls in line with Porche's claim of five to 80 percent in 22.5 minutes.

Ionity chargers are Europe-only for now, but they have an equivalent in the U.S. called Electrify America, which offer refill speeds of between 50kW and 350kW. You can view a map of Electrify America chargers here. Both of these networks, and many others, can be used by Taycan drivers carrying their Porsche charging card. Just tap this on the charger, refill your battery, and the credit card attached to your Porsche account will be billed.

As for range, the Taycan Turbo is rated at between 237 and 280 miles, while the Turbo S claims 241 to 256 miles. These figures fall short of Tesla, but are still plenty given the Porsche's faster charging ability.

Porsche Taycan Turbo in Mamba Green We're not quite sold on the 'Mamba Green'...GearBrain

First impressions

After a day with the Taycan Turbo — and a wet day at that — I have just as many questions as answers. Yes, of course, Porsche's first electric car is very quick indeed. It also feels a little more interesting than any other EV, thanks to its gearbox, sound and different approach to regenerative braking.

There's also a build quality and attention to detail missing by Tesla, especially when it comes to the interior, which strikes a neat balance between tradition and modernity. I also happen to think the Taycan looks good too, especially in white to match the Mission E concept on which it is based. Although I'm not quite sold on the 'Mamba Green' of the car I was designated, it must be said.

The biggest question is, has Porsche made the electric car exciting and engaging? Has it given it character? To an extent, yes it has. But for as much as the Taycan Turbo proves electric cars can be given a dose of character, it also shines a light on the limits of what's currently possible. It lacks the flair, drama and of course the soundtrack of a traditional sports car, but substitutes these with a character all of its own.


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