First ride: Porsche Taycan development prototype
Clever electronics give the Taycan impressive traction even on snow
Porsche has built its sporting reputation on the 911, but can the Taycan pave the way to an electric future?
“So what do you want to do now? We could go and do some doughnuts,” says the chassis engineer with ill-disguised hope in his voice. Out here in the frozen wastes of northern Sweden, it seems almost obligatory to scribe some circles in the snow. Which is how I find myself rotating at impressive speed in a Porsche Taycan, at least until it rumbles what we are up to and starts flashing rude messages at its driver.
“It’s the same in all our four-wheel-drive cars,” sighs Christian Wolfsried, Porsche’s handiest hand on the Taycan programme. If I understand correctly, the front and rear axles have a bit of a pow-wow, figure out they’re being asked to do dramatically different things, rapidly conclude the driver is a lunatic and then shut the show down.
I mention this episode now because it seems that Porsche’s intention when inviting me to Lapland in the first place was to reiterate the fact that despite the Taycan being powered by electricity alone, it remains above all a Porsche.
This is the stage in the proceedings at which I become sufficiently uncomfortable to feel the need to issue a hygiene notice. I have not driven the Taycan, I have merely sat next to someone driving the Taycan. Can I tell you that what I felt that day had everything to do with the deftness of its chassis and nothing whatever to do with the evident skills of its driver? Of course not. And even if I could, would I be able to accurately estimate how behaviour on a frozen lake and roads covered with snow translated to what most of you recognise as more conventional conditions? Not with any confidence.
The good news is that you will now be spared the ghastliness of reading an entire story of impressions, only to realise at the last that the author has not driven the car, only by an absence of reference to steering feel. Besides, there is still plenty to be learned and plenty to be said, not least because by Porsche’s own estimation, the Taycan is its most important new car, certainly since the Cayenne transformed the business beyond all recognition in 2002, and quite possibly since the 1963 launch of the model that became known only sometime thereafter as the 911.
The first surprise is how small the Taycan feels. Because it’s a four-door car and because you know there’s a more off-road-oriented ‘Cross Turismo’ version coming, you mentally file it somewhere between a Panamera and a Macan. Or at least I did. But that’s not how it feels. No official dimensions have yet been issued but, based on what is known from the Mission E concept from which it is derived, the car is around 4.85 metres long, compared with well over five metres for the Panamera. Its wheelbase is far shorter too – not 911 short, of course, which only manages occasional rear seats and positions its engine outside the wheelbase, but short enough that with four-wheel steering it changes direction with startling alacrity.
Behind the wheel, it feels far closer to a 911 than a Panamera. The driving position is low, the centre console rising up commandingly beside you. As a result, it is very much a car you sit in, like a sports car, rather than on, like a family car. And that is entirely deliberate: Porsche knows it has a job on its hands convincing the world that electric cars and sporting cars are not diametrically opposed objectives, and if it can create the ambience of a 911 it will have gone some distance towards nailing that challenge. And even in the disguised prototypes in which I travelled, I can say with certainty that this at least has been achieved.
So Christian and I head out into a blizzard. As far as I can see, it’s a complete white-out, as disorienting as flying a light aircraft through cloud, but he pretty much lives up here over the winter and does not let such trifles bother him. A barely discernible track has been cut into the snow so he goes to work, apparently guided by bat-like sonar.
Would you be surprised if I told you the Taycan sounded like it had a cross-plane V8 under the bonnet? Me too. It hasn’t and it doesn’t. Porsche is big on authenticity and it sounds like an electric car because that’s what it is. The strategy will be to engineer out as many of the whines and whirrs of these very early prototypes so there is as little sound as possible. It’s “the luxury of silence”, as one Porsche person put it to me. I expect we’ll hear rather a lot of that particular soundbite in the near future. Oddly enough, therefore, there will be an additional and optional ‘sound pack’ customers can choose, but more of that later.
The car I’m in is the top-of-the-range model but the truth is that it has snowed for much of the night and a Fiat Panda 4×4 would probably be able to spin all four wheels on the surface that has been left, so at least half of the 600bhp-plus at Christian’s disposal is superfluous to our needs.
No matter. The car feels spectacularly composed with all of its electronic safety equipment turned on. I get Christian to do a full-bore standing start and the car just accelerates away as if on Tarmac, and not at all slowly. Put it this way: an original Boxster on a dry road would have no chance against this thing on snow. In Sport Plus mode, the car maintains the same direction but sashays somewhat as it does. Turn it all off and, were Christian not there to correct it, it would draw a semi-circle in the snow very quickly. It’s good to know that, even in these risk-averse, increasingly electrified times, at Porsche ‘off’ still means ‘off’.
Then the track starts to wind. Porsche deliberately keeps it as narrow as possible because the engineers don’t want discrepancies caused by drivers taking different lines. The engineers all keep note of who has to call how often for the Cayenne tow truck to dig them out of the drifts. Christian has only binned it once all winter; some of his colleagues are in double figures.
As speeds rise, so the Taycan becomes ever more balletic as my driver delights in showing me the angles it can not only reach but from which it can also be easily recovered. He says because of the way the motors mete out their power and the fact that the Taycan has the lowest centre of gravity of any Porsche, it is the easiest to drift of the entire bunch. And just to make the point, when we reach an enormous circle cut into the ice, he does a few laps at high speed with the nose pointing directly and unwaveringly at the circle’s centre, chatting away as he does.
Even so, if the business of getting any kind of impression from a passenger seat is hard, it’s harder still on a frozen and featureless lake where the ice is three feet thick. So after lunch I head out onto the roads with Bernd Propfe, who is project manager for the whole Taycan platform, which, while it will be adapted and adopted by Audi for its E-tron GT (and possibly by Bentley for an electric car of its own), is an entirely Porsche-led project.
Out here, where nothing is simulated, the Taycan remains unprovoked by its driver. All the systems stay on: it is entirely possible an elk might wander out into the road and they tend not to give way. The surface is compacted snow and ice. It is not a place to mess about.
And yet we go fast: there’s a Taycan ahead and another behind, and our convoy is somehow proceeding across this pretty hostile terrain at a pace that is not so much impressive as borderline befuddling. We’re on winter tyres, of course, but nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not studded. It’s not just a comfortable way to get about, out here it’s comforting too, because the composure of the car is totally reassuring. If I’d not already done all the work on the lake, I’d have presumed Propfe and his chums had gone mad; in the event, I just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Ironically, the only drama comes when we reach a bridge offering the sole stretch of dry Tarmac for miles around. He knows it’s coming so slows to a crawl before pinning his foot to the floor. And even though there are well over two tonnes of Taycan to accelerate, it gathers momentum at a rate that suggests the 3.5sec 0-62mph sprint claimed for the Mission E concept that begat the Taycan is now looking very conservative.
Sadly, however, there is not much more I can tell you, other than it will seat four average-size adults in reasonable comfort, but if there’s a tall one in the back, he or she will likely feel a little short of room. A Panamera is substantially more spacious.
The remaining pieces of the puzzle won’t now be slotted into place until September, when the Taycan is formally unveiled and drives begin ahead of cars being delivered to owners before the end of the year. What can I say with certainty now? That if a huge diesel-powered SUV can credibly call itself a Porsche, so can a compact electric four-door coupé like this. It’s smaller than you probably think and feels smaller even than it is and, so far as I could tell, lighter too. On low-grip surfaces, it is not only agile but also tolerant of the most preposterous of provocations.
But it felt also like a car with a proper story to tell, one I’ve only been able to provide in patchy outline here. If it can find that sweet spot where it combines something of the practicality of a Panamera with the ambience of a 911 and a relevance to the world as it is today, I think Porsche could really be onto something here.
It’s a big ask, and I don’t yet know the answer. But the indications seen so far – and they can be no more than that – are good.