Probably no manufacturer felt as stunned and threatened as Porsche by the 2012 arrival of the Tesla Model S – and the acclaim that followed. The German brand enjoyed an unparalleled reputation as the maker of fast, sleek, and pricey sports cars, and had lately expanded into high-end SUVs and then sedans.
In early 2013, when Porsche got its hands on a Model S to tear down, analyze, drive, and evaluate, it was faced with an unpleasant reality. A group of arrogant startup types from Silicon Valley had built a car that looked good, performed well, handled decently, and did it all with zero tailpipe emissions. Oh, and Tesla had started to roll out a national and international network of DC fast charging stations solely for Tesla owners, letting them cover hundreds of miles at high speeds with a few half-hour stops along the way – something no other EV in the world offered.
Porsche had nothing in its product line to equal the Tesla Model S. In fact, it had nothing in its long-term plan through 2030 that could match the 2013 California car. Its approach to electrification was to consist of plug-in hybrid versions of its standard products. Then came Tesla.
In September 2015, the company’s threat response broke cover at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The Porsche Mission E was a fast, all-electric, very low and sleek “four-door coupe” that stole the show. It was to do not only everything Tesla could, but improve on it in one crucial way: the Mission E’s powertrain operated at 800 volts, allowing DC fast charging at speeds up to 350 kilowatts – providing 80-percent recharges of a large 80- or 100-kWh battery pack in just 15 or 20 minutes.
Four years later, the 2020 Porsche Taycan is the production version of the Mission E concept. It is already offered in a range of three models, facing off against the Model S lineup – typically for Porsche, at much higher prices than the competition – and there will be more versions to come.
Arguably, amidst a yearly set of new “Tesla competitors,” the Taycan is the first credible vehicle to match everything the Model S can do. Befitting its performance-first credentials, Porsche also claims a few firsts of its own for the car beyond its charging speed (limited at launch to 270 kilowatts).
Firsts of its own
One, for instance, is repeatable performance. Owners of the very fastest Tesla Model S version (previously dubbed the P100D with Ludicrous mode) know they can get only a small number of back-to-back full-speed runs before the battery-management software dials down the acceleration to protect the pack from overheating.
Porsche claims the Taycan delivers more than a dozen such runs with identical times, and no doubt one of the enthusiast magazines will put that promise to the test.
Another first: some of the world’s most powerful regeneration on deceleration, despite the car’s 14-inch bright-red disc brakes. With a battery capable of charging at 270 kW, the company suggests that even in performance driving, the vast majority of “braking” will be provided solely by regeneration – with the sexy and very visible brakes reserved largely for emergencies.
The Taycan also offers its owners on-the-road access to the full Apple Music library of master files, underscoring its owners’ almost slavish devotion to the Cupertino company’s products. A full 80 percent of Porsche owners use Apple devices, the company said. The sad remaining fifth who use Android phones are out of luck, however. Porsche doesn’t include Android Auto on any of its cars, and has no plans to do so.
Just like any other Porsche
This doesn’t mean the Taycan drives like other electric cars. Porsche has gone to extraordinary lengths to position the Taycan as just another Porsche in the lineup, with similar driving experience, controls, and cockpit feel to the rest of its lineup.
In practice, that translates to an adamant refusal by Porsche to provide lift-off regeneration through the accelerator pedal. If you lift off, the car will simply glide, with no power delivered or braking applied. If you want to slow the car, you have to press the brake pedal – with most of the slowing provided by that powerful regen. One-pedal driving? Porsche execs firmly and repeatedly said no: That’s not how a Porsche driver wants the car to operate.
Thus far, the Taycan lineup has the 4S at the bottom (starting at $103,800 with a 79.2 kWh pack), the Taycan Turbo in the middle, and the Taycan Turbo S at the top end. Want a Turbo S with its 93.4 kWh battery and all the options? You’re looking at well over $200,000, a price level no Tesla model has ever attained.
Oh, and that “Turbo” business? Once more, that’s a model name Porsche owners know and understand. They can place Turbos in the Porsche lineup – above the base models, below the ultimate performance machines – and it aligns perfectly with every other Porsche model, from the Macan small SUV all the way up to the 911 that crowns the range. Never mind that no electric car actually has a turbocharger. The word is a signifier, not an engineering promise.
We already know there will be a second all-electric body style, the Taycan Cross Turismo “shooting brake,” first shown at the 2018 Geneva motor show. In the VW Group’s mandated spirit of cross-brand cooperation, Taycan underpinnings will be used for the future Audi e-tron GT, with entirely different bodywork and interior, but the same electric drivetrain.
Porsche itself will launch further variants, likely including some with even higher performance. But there’s a problem: the cars may well outperform the ability of their drivers to tolerate their capabilities. During a March interview at Porsche’s technical headquarters with Joachim Kramer, who leads high-voltage electronics for electrified vehicles, he noted that the company already had much more capable prototypes on the road.
“We can go higher” than the current cars’ performance, he said, smiling. But such a car “becomes hard to drive” because it has so much power, let alone the g-forces occupants must tolerate.
Tesla is now testing the next iteration of its highest-performance Model S version – known as “Plaid,” in a reference to the movie Spaceballs (don’t ask) – at the famous Nürburgring track in Germany. The speed and acceleration duel between the two companies over the next year or two promises to be fascinating, because Porsche has no intention of losing. It can also draw on the resources of a company that sells 10 million cars a year.
For what it is, the Porsche Taycan is an impressive vehicle. Odds are the early versions will be better built than early Teslas were, and it’s backed by a very large automaker with 75 years of experience.
But it’s not the most important electric car since the Tesla Model S.
That honor, which has yet to be awarded, will go to the first 250-mile battery-electric compact crossover utility vehicle that sells for $25,000 before incentives. Such a car doesn’t exist yet, and may not for several more years.
While the Taycan is an excellent Porsche that happens to be electric, it does little to broaden the appeal of electric cars. Which, to be frank, is not Porsche’s role anyhow.
Porsche tech, mass buyers?
The Taycan’s technology will undoubtedly migrate down the chain into far more affordable and mass-market EVs from other brands within VW Group. In fact, in his March interview, Porsche’s Kramer hinted that 800-volt charging might prove sufficiently inexpensive to use in the company’s mass-market EVs during their first mid-cycle refresh.
That is likely to happen in 2025 or so. And the possibility opens up a host of new markets, including drivers who live in multiple dwellings and have to park on the street. If they could go to a DC fast charging station once or twice a week for 15 or 20 minutes, that would cover their week’s driving without any need for a Level 2 station at which they could plug in overnight.
Porsche Taycan drivers likely won’t concern themselves with such issues. They’ll simply drive very fast with zero emissions, backed by a mighty brand inside a very large company – and use the fast-growing network of 350 kW DC fast charging stations for road trips as needed.
There are worse things than that.