Living in a world of tiers, curfews, travel corridors and lockdowns, the mind wanders. Freedom that was previously taken for granted now seems a precious commodity. All those road trips undertaken with little to no preparation suddenly seem like distant, fond memories.
Or perhaps not. While travelling from London to Devon in a Giulia Quadrifoglio and a Porsche Taycan 4S is hardly road trip nirvana, it would pack in a lot of what makes a good automotive adventure. There would be the motorway trudge to get to some great roads hundreds of miles away, the inane radio chatter as plans chop and change, curry and beer in the evening before followed by silent prayers regarding the weather. Business as usual, then, albeit with a smaller timeframe than usual - and the added dimension of an electric vehicle...
For decades, the only possible way to countenance any kind of driving tour would be with a combustion engined vehicle. And although Tesla has shown the viability of electric as a long-distance tool, it was arguably not until the Taycan arrived that that usability could be allied to genuine driver involvement. This is the alternative, at last, to years and years of conventional thinking. Obviously that convention is embodied here by the Giulia, making it our favourite petrol sports saloon - and its 510hp, 2.9-litre V6 is a large part of its appeal - against our favourite 530hp electric one, pitched head to head in exactly the sort of situation you'd hope they get used for. So, without further ado...
Our first meeting point is the Solstice services; about halfway into the journey to Exmoor and, crucially, blessed with a fine selection of eateries for lunch. With the Taycan collected from Reading the day before, it would need charge - the first potential challenge having mooched imperiously down the motorway. Handily, the Polar 50kW charger (in the Harvester car park, of all places), couldn't be simpler: non-account holders just use their contactless card, plug and charge. While KFC Boneless Banquets are ordered, consumed, and tidied up, the charger supplies 41.20kWh of energy in 52 minutes, costing £12.36 and taking the 4S to 81% charge, meaning 170 miles or so.
It says something of the Taycan's long distance ability that, even having never driven the Giulia and with all the hype surrounding it, there's no great desire to swap with Nic. The Porsche is utterly serene at a cruise, its driver isolated in the best way possible from any outside distractions. Perhaps optioning on 21-inch wheels in place of the standard 19s disturbs the peace on occasion, but otherwise it's exemplary: comfortable, composed, a pleasure to use.
It isn't too far on - where the A303 meets the A358, in fact - that the Giulia needs its fill of super. Obviously it takes this on rather faster and more expensively than the Porsche onboards electricity, although it's telling that his nibbs appears to have had enough of the Giulia. It doesn't take long to find out why: for ostensibly similar cars - four door, four-seat sporting saloons, albeit of mildly different sizes - swapping Taycan for Quadrifoglio feels like going from the opera to a nightclub. What was quiet, calm and mature is immediately louder, angrier and more intense, forcing you to get involved even if your mood is elsewhere.
Some of that can obviously be attributed to the sextet of half-litre cylinders doing the best to burst from the bonnet, but the slightly frenzied nature also comes from the way the Alfa drives. And crucially, it's a disposition that takes more getting used to than the Porsche. Believe it or not, it's the EV that has the more natural steering, the better brake feel and the driving position that proffers a better relationship with what's important. It's the traditional Alfa, the one with its Ferrari-fast steering, all-or-nothing brake pedal and slightly perched driving position, that actually takes more acclimatisation to drive. Once settled, the Quadrifoglio is the joy it always has been - vivid, rasping, roguish good fun - but the difference is a point worth noting.
By the time we reach Minehead's brand-new Premier Inn (journalism really is nothing but glamour) the Taycan would benefit from another top up. Once more, and despite what the naysayers might tell you, charging is a breeze. Well, once another app had been downloaded and the charge cable found. Using a 7kw charger for the Porsche is the equivalent of heating your home with a lighter, given a Performance Battery Plus car like this can accept 270, but it's perfect for a hotel. You're going to leave the car for hours anyway, and who's to turn down free energy? It completes at 1am, and so the car is ready to depart with 220 miles range showing first thing.
The Porsche is not here to surpass the Alfa as a mile muncher, though. In the same way that a great trip is not defined by the hours spent on major roads, the Taycan needs to impress away from the motorway. Especially as this 4S is a car we've only driven on snow, and lacks the headline grabbing power figures of the Turbo models. Can a 2.2-tonne Porsche saloon really compete against the best Alfa in decades as a driver's car?
One thing is evident from the off: entry level Taycan or not, this 4S remains a formidably capable car. Building a car off the Premium Platform Electric which will be shared with Audi means seemingly no compromise: with batteries low and central (and optional rear-wheel steer), the Taycan changes direction with an immediacy that doesn't so much belie its kerbweight as make a total mockery of it. The front tyres have apparently limitless purchase, the torque vectoring abilities of every wheel mean unflappable traction and, of course, any power request is instantaneous. It's immense.
What separates the Taycan from the EV playbook are the same things that mark out great combustion engined cars from the rest, namely the subtlety and handling nuance that enthusiasts crave. So here you can left foot brake and make catapulting from corners even more explosive, measure out regenerative braking accurately to avoid the left pedal at all coming to bends and actually enjoy the process of a corner, such is the quality of the steering response and the damping. It isn't a conventionally rewarding process because it isn't a conventional car, but don't let that fool you into thinking there aren't elements here a keen driver will appreciate. There's even, like every Porsche, a Sport+ mode that's best avoided, making a switch of the throttle and introducing some unwelcome stiffness to the ride. And, if all of that sounds like gobbledygook, consider it this way: anyone with experience of a current 911 will recognise a lot of that car in the Taycan. Whether that says more about the 911's evolution than it does the state of the Taycan is for another day, but familiar Porsche traits fall into place like dominoes.
And the Alfa? On Exmoor, it can't keep up. Even with a 3.9-second 0-62mph time and 190mph potential. Not even close. Or rather, it's further away than would have been expected; the Porsche has four-wheel drive (and mucky weather) in its favour and tracks seemingly almost as wide as the road, but then the Alfa has a 600kg weight advantage. Turns out that doesn't help much. Once more, beyond the obvious points around traction and the immediacy of throttle response, there are less predictable areas where the Giulia falls behind. It feels skittish and less faithful by comparison, behaving in different ways despite apparently similar inputs and with the Porsche's metronomic consistency as a benchmark. Bumps and crests the Porsche dismissed unsettle the Alfa, its cornering speed is lower, and it would be hard to say with conviction that the Quadrifoglio was a great deal more communicative. Driving it over the same roads feels like reverting to a cookbook having just had Alexa provide all the same recipe help. For considerably less effort, the same end result - perhaps a better end result - has been reached.
However, cars and driving are not just about the end result. In the same way that the cookbook would be marked over years with advice and hints that deviate from the prescribed instructions, so you learn things in the Giulia; to take this gear here to avoid it spinning up, to make sure Bumpy Road is engaged here keep the ride placid, to turn in here and allow for less grip and the steering's lightning responses. The Porsche is good enough to be stress-free and brilliantly fast all at once. The Alfa requires a lot more effort to go quite a lot slower. But it's like 600-page historical fiction versus a Hollywood blockbuster: the Giulia's layers need peeling slowly back for you to properly get to know what you're dealing with, and how best to join up what is good with what is less so. In the Taycan, the cinematic gloss washes over you in moments.
Right up to the moment where you need to go home again. For anyone keeping score, more than half a day spent making Harry the photographer happy results in a (anecdotally and not at all scientific) similar level of consumption. Which is to say that both cars turn tail for home with roughly 100 miles of range to empty left. Predictably, this is where the experience of petrol and electric diverge somewhat in 2020: Nic made it back to Surrey in less than four hours, having spent all of 10mins refuelling on the A303. My way was trickier. And longer.
With constant updates in the navigation, the Taycan plots the most efficient route home using the best chargers. Which makes eminent sense: far better to divert slightly for a noticeably better supply than trundle home with a series of tepid top-ups. And it all began brilliantly, too. Driving the opposite way to home down a motorway for charge feels weird, but the Cullompton Services Ionity charger was a dream: a preview, in fact, for how one day it might work. Well, alright, the first charger didn't work. And it requires a refundable £67 (€80) authorisation. But once hooked up the Taycan and the 350kw charger made considerable hay, providing 48.842 kWh in 25 minutes. The nav, still being peerlessly, smugly smart, suggested this was enough to be getting on with and we could frog leap to the next location on Plan A.
Which was a has.to.be charger somewhere in North Somerset council's building. And which, at rush hour on dark, wet, December Friday evening, is nowhere to be seen. No bother, apparently there's a 50kw at the next services - which was in use. The one after that was broken. So having got to the M4, the car was showing 119 miles home with 120 miles of range - and I wasn't feeling lucky. Salvation was close, though, as Porsche Reading has, like every OPC, 350kw chargers for Taycan customers to use. Only the charge cards aren't yet in the press cars, so that was a no go. And the Ikea around the corner was jam packed. The Reading services charger was occupied, then free, then froze after a few minutes charging. I finally got home with 7% battery left - many, many hours after Nic, who had the temerity to moan about the time a closed motorway junction had cost him.
As ever, there's only so much blame which can be laid at the manufacturer's door. The navigation is tuned to work by Porsche-trained professionals, expecting the world to function as they do. But it doesn't yet. That detracts from the Taycan as an ownership prospect somewhat - but doesn't diminish its achievements. This is an electric vehicle that's gone up against a century's worth of combustion engined development and decades of sports saloon evolution and given a great account of itself as a driver's car. That can hardly be dismissed out of hand.
That it does not possess quite the same depth or intrigue as a rear-drive Alfa powered by three quarters of a Ferrari engine is not surprising, and nor is it going to be a bone of contention that is going to go away very quickly. The Taycan's power source is ethereal and otherworldly. We've had a century to get used to what V6 ought to sound and feel like, and it's for that reason that we can identify the Alfa unit as one of the finest exponents. Its rival we simply know to be prodigiously fast, incredibly refined and, yes, often time-consuming to replenish. Because the cars do a very similar job, it is convenient to think them immediately comparable. But in many ways they are not. One is authentic and flawed and absorbing. The other is synthetic and soundless and stunningly rounded. Both imperfectly do what their makers intended.
The fact is though that the world around them is currently built to better serve the needs of the Alfa. That is why it is cheaper to buy, and also why it objectively does a better job of being an incredible fast car in 2020. Moreover, its all pervading sense of excitement is worth cherishing - even when you rather wish it would settle down. In the Taycan it is frequently you who needs settling down, because it isn't long before flinging a two-tonne, five-metre Porsche around feels a bit irresponsible. Plainly, there are things it does better than the Giulia - there are arguably several things it does better than any petrol car you care to imagine. For a long European journey, a car of this comfort, ergonomic clarity, refinement, quality and performance would be preferable to anything this side of a Phantom - it really is that good. But for what gets us excited about a road trip in a sports saloon, it's the Giulia that wins out before the book closes on 2020. Just don't bank on it staying that way for long.
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE TAYCAN 4S
Engine: Permanently excited electric motor, one per axle, 79.2kWh battery (93.4kWh Performance battery Plus optional)
Transmission: Single-speed (front) twin-speed (rear), all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 490hp (530hp on overboost with standard battery, 571hp with Performance battery Plus
Torque (lb ft): 479 (launch control maximum)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 2,220kg (DIN unladen)
MPG: 253 mile range, 24.6kWH/100km combined consumption, 225kW charging capacity (288milE range, 24.6kWh combined consumption, 270kW charging capacity with optional battery
Price: £83,367 (price as standard; price as tested £119,082 (!) comprised of Frozen Blue Metallic for £774, Black leather free interior for £2,538, SportDesign Package painted in black for £3,527, Electric folding exterior mirrors for £210, Side window trims in black for £245, Porsche logo LED door courtesy light for £203, Model designation painted in black of £168, Porsche Electric Sport Sound for £354, Performance Battery Plus for £4,613, Rear-Axle Steering including Power Steering Plus for £1,650, Brake calipers in black for £581, Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus for £1,052, Sport Chrono Package for £788, 21-inch Taycan Exclusive Design wheels with carbon aeroblades, LED Matrix headlights for £1,553, Panoramic roof, fixed glass for £1,137, Privacy glass for £354, ParkAssist including Surround View for £1,002, Ambient lighting for £299, Adaptive Sports Seats (18-way, electric, with memory package) for £1,440, Side airbags in rear compartment for £291, Accent package painted in exterior colour for £594, Graphite Blue seat belts for £345, 2+1 rear seat system for £336, Advanced climate control for £581, Interior Carbon package for £1,422, Heated Race-Tex steering wheel for £627, Bose Surround Sound System for £956, Passenger display for £725, Powered charging port cover for £443, 150kW DC onboard booster for £294, Mobile Charger Connect for £767, Public charging cable (Type 2) for £210
SPECIFICATION | ALFA ROMEO GIULIA QUADRIFOGLIO
Engine: 2,891cc, V6 twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@2,500rpm
Top speed: 190mph
MPG: 27.2 (WLTP)
Price: £67,195 (price as tested £73,460, including convenience pack, driver assist plus, Quadrifoglio leather/Alcantara sports steering wheel, Harman Kardon sound system)
Image credit | Harry Rudd
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