What a decade it's been for the electric car. PH recalls with some fondness the arrival of the second generation G-Wiz at Autocar in 2008 - mostly its terrible, laughable build quality and its abject failure to get from Teddington in Surrey to Chobham in Surrey on a single, measly charge. Bangalore's miserable quadricycle seemed no more associated with the future than an old episode of Tomorrow's World. Oh, how we chuckled. Then, not long afterwards and seemingly from nowhere, the Tesla Roadster rocked up with about 6,000 laptop batteries onboard and slew us all dead.
Sure, it was every bit as bad as it was good, and took days and days to charge - but it was clear to everyone that the concept of an electric sports car had raw potential up the ying yang. A year or two later, Nissan introduced the Leaf for mainstream consumption. Then came the mould-breaking Model S. Then the i3. And on and on, each new entrant kicking the zero-emission, battery-powered production car a little further down the road toward public recognition and the much discussed tipping point beyond.
Now, with the memory of recharging that G-Wiz with an extension lead trailed from someone's sitting room window still fresh, we have an all-electric Porsche - the manufacturer's first. In the 'Turbo' S format tested the Taycan has 761hp from a brace of electric motors, and will get from PH's head office in Southwark to, say, Leicester, and back again, on a single charge of its low-slung 93.4kWh battery. No, the WLTP-certified 257-mile range is not class leading and nor is the 2.8 seconds it takes to get to 62mph. But Porsche says it has set a new standard regardless.
It would say that, of course; the new model is the result of a question it asked itself five years ago and it has invested vast sums of money in developing what it believes is an appropriate answer. "We promised a true Porsche for the age of electromobility," said the R&D boss. "Now we are delivering on that promise." What does that mean exactly? Well, even the manufacturer's own engineers privately admit to squirming a little when subjected to the marketing videos that make too much mention of the word 'soul' - but certainly time and no little effort has been expended on the building of an electric car faithful to the brand's fearsome heritage.
To that end, the Taycan gets a number of standout technical features. It has an 800v system architecture (the Tesla Model S and most other rivals make do with 400v) which permits a peak charge of 270kW (for now the Model S manages 150kW via a Tesla Supercharger). The chief advantage of this advancement is less time spent at a roadside charging station; fed at the optimum DC rate, the Taycan will get from 5 per cent to 80 per cent in around 22 minutes. Just 5 minutes should provide you with an additional 100km (62 miles) of range.
To put that into perspective, it means you could prospectively drive the Turbo S from London to Newcastle with only the time penalty of a single pee break to hinder you. Or at least you could, if the UK's charging infrastructure was operating at Norwegian levels of efficiency. Sadly it is not, and while the OEM-backed 350kW IONITY network plans to open at 40 locations in the country by 2020, the current open-for-business tally is two. Which doesn't really seem like enough.
Not unreasonably, Porsche points out that this is not its fault. The Taycan's 800v capability is as much about ensuring its compatibility with the near future as it is the present, and for now most people will recharge their cars at home anyway (a home-installed 11kW AC charger ought to do the job in around 9 hours). This will not be sufficient to placate everyone's range anxiety and nor does it absolve Porsche's electric car of the fundamental shortcomings that handicap every battery-powered model currently sold in the UK. But the Taycan could certainly be said to be on the outer edge of what is currently possible or practicable - and for now that will have to be enough.
Elsewhere, the technical configuration is more enlivening. There's an electric motor on both axles, although it's the unit to the rear that features a novel twin-speed transmission, meaning that it has a ratio for assisting with acceleration and another for higher speeds (most pure EVs make do with a single-speed configuration). As ever though, it's the management of all this instantly available torque - as much as 774lb ft when in launch control mode - that is where much of the really tricky, clever stuff happens. A "centrally networked chassis control system" is how Porsche likes to describe fun central - but there's no questioning the sophistication of the technology that allows the Taycan to monitor and synchronise the PASM, PDCC and PTV Plus in real time. Or the result.
But more on that anon. Let's first get to grips with the car we've been drip fed for the past 18 months. Even if you're not totally sold on the way it looks (and from the front, the jury is still out) the Taycan fits the bill in the metal. It's obviously shorter than the Panamera - its maker considers it a C segment car, not D - yet it looks better along the flanks and from the back. And, as it promised it would, Porsche has sunk it to the ground like a beached depth charge. The Turbo S's roofline is around 50mm lower than the Panamera, yet it seems lower still - especially on standard 21-inch alloys.
You know just how low it is because you almost have to sink like a wilting damsel to get in. But the end justifies the means. Its maker boasts that the driving position is modelled on the 911, and, for once, it rings true; compared to most booster-seat modern saloons, the Taycan qualifies as sports car-like. That it has also been put together with the sort of tolerances that would shame Iron Man's suit ought to be of no real surprise - the entire Porsche lineup appears to have been hewn from a solid block - but with the Tesla Model S front of mind, it does rather feel like the German antidote to the American malaise of hollow build quality.
Not that it's perfect, of course. The frameless instrument cluster is very cool and the conventional layout handsome in a recognisable sort of way, but Porsche has plainly decided to combat the advent of ginormous touchscreens by shoehorning smaller ones in en masse. If you opt for the passenger facing screen (which you shouldn't, because it superfluously repeats many of the functions on the one next to it) you'll have four back-lit displays to look at. Which is at least two too many. Paradoxically - steering wheel controls aside - there are only two physical buttons in the whole cabin. Which, unless you're totally sold on the benefits of haptic feedback, feels like too few.
But we're nitpicking. The Taycan's interior is unquestionably modern, well laid out, well finished and fundamentally nice to look at - and the steering wheel, seat position and view out are going to be redolent of the 911 for anyone who already owns one (and if its manufacturer isn't interested in selling a second or third car to those customers, we'll eat our PH-branded baseball caps). All told, it feels not unlike any other present-day Porsche product, which is to say, fairly special. That's also handy, because initially - and somewhat predictably - the Taycan doesn't feel particularly remarkable to drive.
Or at least it won't to anyone already familiar with electric cars, and that's because every drivetrain supplied by a battery tends to get underway in much the same way - which is to say swiftly and anonymously and with a touch of whine. Short of launching fireworks from the roof it's hard to imagine a way around the stereotype. But at low, about-town speeds the Taycan moves around with the same sense of keenness, amenability and quietness as anything else powered solely by electric motors. Which is fine and totally understandable - and yet, thanks to the badge on its steering wheel, a tad underwhelming, too.
Counter-intuitively, the Taycan distinguishes itself not in the business of going gently forward, but rather coming slowly to a halt. Owing to the requirements of energy regeneration, electric cars are typically saddled with a disagreeable compromise when it comes to brake pedal tuning, yet the same trade-off in the Porsche has apparently been camouflaged by hours of meticulous development work. The progressiveness and easy-to-modulate feel of the pedal is even more startling when you consider that the Taycan performs up to 90 per cent of its stopping via system-based recuperation, saving its enormous 16-inch hydraulic brakes for only the most arduous stuff.
The rest of the control surfaces are similarly intuitive. Where other manufacturers have been known to let the availability of so much torque turn the accelerator into a short-travel 'go' button, it doesn't take long to realise that the Taycan's right pedal has been calibrated to measure out exactly the right amount of velocity. And when you consider that the Turbo S's gathering speed includes everything from a golf kart creep to hypercar-style neck strain, you realise how critical precision is to its basic drivability.
It's hard to overstate the effect of all this fidelity underfoot; it underwrites much of what is good about the car elsewhere. The ride quality, for one. The Taycan shares practically all of its chassis components with the Panamera (the standard-fit three-chamber air suspension is also employed more broadly within the VW Group - not least with Bentley) and yet the calibre of the rolling refinement is still a pleasant surprise. This, after all, is a 2.3-tonne car before anyone sits in it; with two onboard, PH's test car must've weighed the best part of 2.5 tonnes. But in 'Normal' mode - a setting you would hesitate to deselect - the Taycan sailed over uneven Swedish roads, refusing to be overawed by either the intrusions below or scale of the burden above.
In five hours of driving, some of it very spirited, the car abruptly tested the limits of the spring travel perhaps three times. Otherwise its wheel control (and we're talking 21-inch wheels here, don't forget) and mastery of vertical body movements proved first-rate; delivering almost exactly the compromise between comfort and control that you'd choose for a super-heavy, super-fast luxury saloon. Ditto the lack of noise from the running gear; a fairly important factor when there's no engine or exhaust note to disguise the function of a hard-working chassis.
What you get instead is either silence - or as silent as wind noise and moving parts can be - or else the amplified noise of the electric motors working, which isn't quite as appalling as it sounds. In fact, a sympathetic ear might even conclude that there's a hint of rasp deep within the idiosyncratic whirr. Regardless, you'll probably want to turn it on because at the very least it supplies you with an audible cue as to how fast you're going - which is almost certain to be quicker than the speed limit allows.
That the Taycan is monumentally brisk is not a surprise, and nor is it precisely a blessing. Pick any weapons-grade scale you like for the car's accessible turn of speed; the Turbo S is on it. At peak silliness it can be felt pushing your lips against your gums and your organs against your back. It's a full-body experience, and, thanks to its choice of ratios, the effect doesn't seem prone to tapering (not at halfway sane road speeds, at any rate). Nevertheless, a physical outcome is no guarantee of an emotional response, and while there's an undeniable moreishness to lunging forward, it doesn't necessarily elicit the pant-wetting glee of an Atom or Seven - or even a 911 GT2.
It helps, of course, if you find a genuine purpose for its implausible ability. Like overtaking, which the Taycan does about as well as any car ever made. Changing lanes, the Turbo S is quite capable of getting from 100km/h to 150km/h before the offside wheels have crossed the white line, meaning that it requires very little time, space or forethought to execute what might be politely described as punctual passing manoeuvres. Factor in the car's plush ride and the all-round comfort of the cabin, and - charging limitations aside - it really does make for a superlative way to get down a motorway.
Away from one, it slips back to plain old impressive. Often very impressive; especially if you're inclined to admire the way an objectively heavy car can be made to do subjectively formidable things, dynamically speaking. If the reason for the Taycan's ground-hugging stance and low-flying battery pack weren't immediately obvious from the outset, they are brought into sharp focus on fast entry to any corner where more than a quarter turn of lock is required. As promised, the car's centre of gravity feels ankle high, ably assisted by a steerable rear axle (standard on the Turbo S) and a roll stabilisation system which counteracts lateral body movement to such an extent that the Taycan carries speed astonishingly well on a winding road.
Its steering is perhaps not among Porsche's greatest hits, but plainly it has been developed to be very direct and reliably weighted - which puts it leagues ahead of the EV-based competition. Nuance is not its stock in trade, but confidence most certainly is and it's easy to put your faith in a front end unencumbered by a petrol-burning engine (its maker has the front to back balance at 49/51, and it feels it). The Taycan's nose is unexpectedly positive, as is the contribution of a torque vectoring system clearly working gangbusters to see you away from a corner at a bewildering clip.
Ultimately, the sensation of expensive and sophisticated things happening in your favour is a familiar one. Twenty years ago, with an SUV essential to market success, it was unwanted height that Porsche could not remove from the Cayenne equation; this decade, it is the inconvenient weight of those cumbersome lithium-ion batteries. Characteristically, the manufacturer has contained the problem with another parapet wall made of technology and engineering finesse. At no point does the Taycan feel genuinely light on its feet - much as the original Cayenne never, ever seemed entirely car-like - and yet you drive it in a similar fashion. Baffled. And bemused. And very rarely bored.
The recognisable formula also spits out a familiar result - not everyone is going to like the Taycan. It is both ahead of its time, and behind it. For PH's money (leaving aside fantastically rare outliers) it is the best real-world electric model currently available by virtue of the fact that no-one else has spliced the gubbins of an EV so persuasively into the business end of a practical, well-finished and dynamically impressive car. If its considerable cost or Porsche's failure to deliver class-leading range or the current shortcomings of the nation's charging infrastructure put you off, well, those are legitimate misgivings. But it does not disqualify the Taycan as either a fine saloon or a legitimate new standard in the segment.
Is that sufficient to make it a bonafide Porsche? Well, there's the rub. A more bullish and less historically aware manufacturer might point to 20,000 paid declarations of interest - many of them from new customers - and suggest that the market has already drawn its own conclusion. But the firm would likely have achieved that aim with a lesser machine. The Taycan deserves much more credit, and if your definition of Porsche is already broad enough to encompass the Cayenne and Macan and Panamera and the compromises required to make them good, then, emphatically, the answer is yes. The manufacturer's technical expertise, and extravagant gifts in chassis and powertrain development, not to mention its outright perfectionism, has delivered an EV very much in its own image.
If your definition starts and stops at rear-engined sports cars, then possibly not. Although if that's the case it's probably worth remembering that the 911's distinctive configuration is also a packaging issue that Porsche had to tenaciously engineer its way around. The firm's EV experiment is obviously in the lowly foothills of that mighty, multi-decade ascent to greatness. But Porsche has made precisely the right kind of start. And just in time.
SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE TAYCAN TURBO S
Engine: Permanently excited electric motor, one per axle
Transmission: Single-speed (front) twin-speed (rear), all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 761
Torque (lb ft): 774
Top speed: 161mph
Weight: 2,295kg (DIN)
MPG: N/A (257-mile range)
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