Johannesburg - If you’re like me, your vision of a future where electric cars are the norm might have seemed somewhat dystopian at first, featuring roads clogged with silent and soulless transportation capsules that offer nothing in the way of driving excitement - and that’s assuming we’re even driving them.
How would we, as car enthusiasts, live without the guttural bellow of a V8? Or the general feeling of connectedness you form with a machine consisting of thousands of moving mechanical parts. Yet in recent times I’ve been lucky enough to have driven some high-performance EVs, and they’ve really blown my mind in ways I never expected. But the Porsche Taycan takes things to a whole new level.
This week we were invited to try out Porsche’s striking new electric car contender on an almost-300km route through the Magaliesberg region. The first demonstrator units have arrived in South Africa, although customer cars are only set to hit showrooms in the fourth quarter of this year. Prices will start at R2 586 000 for the Taycan 4S, rising to R3 426 000 for the Turbo and then R4 027 000 for the Turbo S that we got to try out.
Cruising along the N1 and N14 en route to the great open countryside, the Taycan impressed with its refinement and whisper-quiet cruising capability, but it was only when we hit some near-deserted country roads that this car really started to stretch our smiles out.
On an empty stretch my co-driver Willem brought the Turbo S to a halt to try out the launch control system. Instant thrust is the word that comes to mind here.
Now consider this. Pulling 1.2g from a standing start, the Turbo S actually accelerates faster over the first few metres than the force of gravity, which means you’re picking up speed more rapidly than a skydiver in free fall. In fact, for the first 2.5 seconds of acceleration, it's even quicker than an F1 car.
Take off foot flat with Launch Control activated and it feels like this car wants to rip your face off and send your organs hurtling through your throat. It almost borders on painful, but I’m not complaining.
Porsche claims a 0-100km/h time of 2.8 seconds, and I’m not arguing with that. The two permanently excited synchronous electric motors, one mounted on each axle, collectively produce 460kW - although 560kW is briefly available on overboost. Of course, it’s the torque figure of 1050Nm that excites us the most here.
Electric motors are not inherently capable of extremely high speeds, which is why the Taycan tops out at 260km/h, which is impressive for an EV, and attributable to it having a two-speed transmission rather than the single speed set-up that other battery cars have. But do you really need to go faster than that? It’s just downright dangerous if you ask me. The thrill here is in the acceleration, as far as I’m concerned, and despite the lack of mechanical forces, it’s still a highly satisfying driving experience. I’ve even come to enjoy the sound of an electric motor. Sure, in Sport Plus mode there is some acoustic fakery going on, but I honestly preferred the hum of the motor on its own.
Porsche has also done all the things you’d expect to make it corner like a Porsche should, as I discovered when it was my turn behind the wheel. You still feel connected to the road in this Porsche and the low centre of gravity enabled by positioning the batteries in the chassis ensures that it hugs tarmac the way you’d expect from a sports car built in Stuttgart. Of course, it helps that Porsche has also thrown in a rear axle steering system as well as its renowned Porsche Active Suspension Management system and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control.
The Taycan also excels as a comfortable, mile-gobbling grand tourer and the ride comfort is quite cushy, thanks to the standard three-chamber air suspension system, which can also raise the car to tackle large speed bumps.
Drivers can choose from four driving modes, namely Range, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus, which adjust the suspension and other performance parameters.
If you’re not stretching to the Turbo S flagship, Porsche is also offering two less expensive alternatives. We didn’t drive the regular Turbo version, but its credentials do sound impressive, with 460kW on tap (or up to 500 on overboost), 850Nm of torque and a 0-100 time of 3.2s. There’s also the tamer Taycan 4S entry model, with 320kW (390 on overboost) and a four-second claimed sprint time.
But is it practical on a day-to-day basis?
Porsche claims a range of between 388 and 412km for the Turbo S, based on the WLTP cycle, while the long-distance range is said to be 340km. The Turbo has a WLTP range of between 381 and 450km, and a long distance figure of 370km.
Given the high performance nature of our drive, we didn’t get to test the range under day to day conditions, but the fact that we had over 50km of range left after an almost-300km route was fairly reassuring.
While most electric vehicles have a system voltage of 400 volts, the Taycan is the first production car with an 800 volt set-up, which allows for faster charging times.
With the Performance Battery Plus, which is standard in the Turbo models and optional in the 4S, the car can be charged with direct current (DC) at a fast-charging facility. Here you can charge the battery up to 80 percent capacity in under 23 minutes, says Porsche, and if you’re in a hurry then 100km of emergency range can be added in just five minutes, under ideal conditions of course.
But most of the time you’re going to be charging it at home, and to facilitate that, every Taycan comes standard with Mobile Charging System for charging at home. With the 22kW charger and 3 phase power, Porsche says a full charge should take around four-and-a-half hours. Just make sure you install some solar panels though, because there’s no point in driving a coal-powered car, is there?
Finally, we get to the cabin, which is one of the things that impressed me most about the Taycan.
It’s fully digitised, yet it looks the way you’d expect a Porsche cockpit to look, complete with wing-shaped upper and lower dashboard sections. The 42cm digital instrument cluster is curved at either side, and offers four display modes. There’s also a large central screen, measuring 27.6cm and housing the intelligent voice command system which activates when you shout “Hey Porsche”. Buyers can even opt for a passenger-side touchscreen, which is something we’ve never seen before.
So is this a worthwhile purchase?
The Taycan is a brave new direction for Porsche, and while you might miss the more involving and intimate sensation of a 911, this car has a completely different fun factor and it’s one that we certainly like. Yes, it is extremely expensive, particularly if you go for the flagship Turbo S (which you should), but man, what a car.
And don’t think for one moment that this is the only future path for Porsche - the company assures us that its iconic 911 will retain its internal combustion heart for as long as it’s around.