2020 Porsche Taycan first drive review: Breakthrough
Has there been a more anticipated Porsche in modern history? More desirable? Sure, I think most folks would rather take home a Porsche 918 than a Taycan, but all the buzz and chatter about that car and its relative position within the then-Holy Trinity of hypercars doesn’t begin to approach the anticipation that’s been brewing since the Taycan was still a sultry prototype called the Mission E.
The volume of that buzz has only been increasing as the EV performance wars have intensified, battlefields spreading to engulf Laguna Seca on one side of the world and, on the other, the spiritual home of performance pissing contests: the Nurburgring.
It’s been a fun if extended ride to get here, but it’s time to move on past all that speculation because I’ve finally had a day behind the wheel of a fully production-spec Taycan. That’s not enough time to do a full review and readily compare all its merits with those of competition like Tesla’s Model S. However, it is enough time for me to confidently say that the Taycan Turbo is very, very good — but not without a few significant flaws.
As is the fashion today, the Porsche Taycan is built around a skateboard-style battery pack built into what makes up the floor of the chassis. However, the Taycan is distinctive for a pair of what Porsche calls “foot garages.” These two cutouts within the battery allow for lower rear seats, providing enough headroom for a 6-foot guy like me to squeeze into the back, albeit with no headroom to spare.
The Taycan Turbo and Turbo S also rely on a pair of motors, one at the front and one at the rear, again a common layout shared with cars like the Tesla Model S. However, Porsche augments this with a two-speed transmission at the rear, the car noticeably upshifting under acceleration, usually somewhere around 50 mph. This shift, Porsche’s engineers say, allows short gearing to accelerate hard off the line, while also providing greater torque on the highway, an area where many EVs struggle.
How much acceleration? It’s 2.6 seconds from 0 to 60 mph for the Taycan Turbo S, the non-S getting it done in a still-spine-cracking 3.0 seconds. Interestingly, though, that’s about the only time you’ll tell the difference between the two, as both the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S rely on the same motors and 93-kilowatt-hour battery. It’s just the circuitry in between that differs, enabling the Turbo S to “overboost” to 750 horsepower in launch control. The Turbo puts down 670 hp in that condition. The rest of the time, both cars make do with a mere 616 hp.
The test route
My drive in the Porsche Taycan Turbo began in what must surely be the most active hotbed for EV adoption in the world: Norway. Government incentives here make it incredibly difficult to buy anything nonelectric. And so, as I made my way out of Oslo early on a chilly Monday morning, I spotted at least one of nearly every production EV on the market today, including multiple Audi E-Trons, Jaguar I-Paces and both a Chevrolet Bolt and its European cousin, the Opel Ampera-e.
None look as good as the Taycan. No, Porsche’s first production EV isn’t as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as the Mission E concept was, but this car made its way to production with admirably few tweaks to its shapely lines. It readily turns heads, even in the sedate shade of gray that my morning ride wore.
My route took me south out of Oslo, heading along the coast and making my way to Gothenburg, Sweden, another hotbed of EV innovation thanks to the headquarters of both Volvo and Polestar. I stayed mostly on the E6 highway for the run down, ducking off occasionally to get a taste of rural Scandinavian scenery and, more importantly, to turn the steering wheel more than 5 degrees in either direction.
On the highway the Taycan is a lovely tourer. On either the 20-inch wheels, standard on the Turbo, or the 21-inchers that come on the Turbo S, the car handled the few bits of road imperfections I was able to find without complaint. Separation joints in concrete and the like flashed seamlessly underneath while road and wind noise was nearly absent. This level of isolation is doubly important in an EV, which lacks the drone of internal combustion to mask any acoustic foibles.
More impressive on the highway, though, is that the Taycan Turbo proved remarkably eager at any speed. Most EVs accelerate quickly between lights around town, but get up to highway speed and suddenly they don’t feel so lively. That’s not the case with Taycan, which surges forward with aplomb given any opportunity. That two-speed transmission, it seems, pays off.
Slowing the thing down, however, is another matter. As I learned from my first ride in the Taycan back in March, Porsche has taken a stand against regenerative braking when you lift off the accelerator. Most EVs will immediately start to harvest momentum as soon as your foot leaves the pedal, but Porsche firmly believes that if you want to slow down you should hit the brake pedal. By default, then, the Taycan coasts.
Regen can be boosted somewhat via a button on steering wheel, but even on its maximum amount you’ll still be moving a foot over to the brake pedal far more frequently than on just about any other EV on the market. I’m an avid fan of one-pedal EV driving and so I found this limitation frustrating (why not give drivers more regen if they want?), but there’s a bigger issue: how that brake pedal feels.
The braking feel in the Taycan is, in short, not particularly good. The pedal has a long, soft throw that’s not what I’d call sporty. It’s also not what I’d expect from a car wearing giant carbon-ceramic stoppers like those on the Taycan Turbo S. An entire generation of hybrids with awful brake feel are testament that the process of tuning the brakes in a complicated regenerative system is not easy. However, cars like the Acura NSX show that such systems can feel and work perfectly. The feel of the system in the Taycan needs work, which is disappointing given how often you’ll need to use it.
The car’s steering, too, has a bit of a distant feel, but that’s not to say the car doesn’t respond when pressed. That steering is quick and the car is far more responsive through the corners than its 5,132-pound curb weight would suggest (5,121 pounds for the Taycan Turbo S). But the laws of physics are indeed the law, and trying to hustle through quick complexes of corners results in the kind of reluctance you can only attribute to a car that weighs 600 pounds more than a Panamera Turbo. That said, opportunities for challenging the handling of the Taycan were admittedly few on my drive, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’m able to get more seat time on roads with a little more character.
When the current-generation Panamera launched, it ushered in a new generation of in-cabin interface that began the process of shrugging off Porsche’s button-heavy ways to embrace a new, capacitive-touch future. The interior in the Taycan takes that trend another big step forward, virtually abolishing all buttons.
The primary, Porsche Communication Management display sits front and center in the dashboard, presenting a widescreen interface that’s more comprehensive but not radically different from what we’ve seen on the Panamera and elsewhere. The more radical change is found below. Here lies another touchscreen, this one split in two halves. The top portion is dedicated to climate controls, with pop-up menus to toggle things like the heated and ventilated seats and to aim the dashboard vents (which, annoyingly, cannot be moved without diving into a submenu).
The lower half of that screen has a few areas for frequently used controls, like volume adjustment and opening the trunk, along with a large surface that effectively works like a touchpad, allowing you to highlight different areas on the main PCM screen above. This portion feels like wasted space, but then there’s plenty to go around.
To the right of the dashboard, in front of the passenger, lies yet another touchscreen, this one a secondary widescreen PCM interface. This $1,130 optional display is purely for passenger use, enabling your co-driver to find and enter destinations, control media and even view a simplified version of the car’s dashboard. It’s a cool idea that’s occasionally useful but also occasionally infuriating. For example, while riding shotgun I attempted to pair my phone with the car so that I could stream some media. The passenger display told me that the car must be stationary before I could do so.
As laughably maddening as that moment was, the most annoying part of the Porsche infotainment experience was the voice assistant, which triggered itself no fewer than seven times over the course of a 5-hour drive. That’d be fine, except I only said, “Hey, Porsche” once. The other half-dozen times the system interrupted a conversation with, “How can I help you?”
The final bit of in-car interface is a dramatic, sweeping, curved gauge cluster that admittedly looks cooler from the passenger seat. From behind the wheel the curved effect is somewhat lost, but that doesn’t make it any less useful. Using a controller on the wheel, the driver can quickly cycle the left, right and center portions of the display through a number of useful pieces of information, or push the numbers to the side in favor of a sweeping navigational display. It’s the rare piece of tech wizardry that looks good and works well.
As of now, Porsche has not completed EPA testing of the Taycan Turbo nor the Turbo S, but on the European WLTP cycle, a manufacturer favorite thanks to its optimistic results, the Taycan is rated for 450 kilometers or about 280 miles. On the harsher but more realistic EPA cycle, expect a rating of somewhere in the ballpark of 225 miles.
I covered just short of 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) in a Taycan, but along the way we had a mandatory stop at an Ionity charger, where the car I was testing took a quick gulp of some electricity at a rate just shy of its advertised 800-volt maximum. The charge speed was impressive, but also foiled any attempts at really challenging the car’s range.
That said, the average consumption clocked over the total trip came out to 21.8 kWh per 100 kilometers. Divide that into the Taycan’s 92-kWh pack and you come up with a theoretical range of 427 kilometers (265 miles). Given that my drive route consisted of equal parts highway miles and heavy-footed antics, I’d say 450 kilometers is actually realistic under normal conditions.
Now it’s time for the big question: is the Porsche Taycan Turbo worth your $150,900, or the Turbo S worth your $185,000 (plus $1,350 destination)? That’s a tough call, and one that I ultimately won’t be able to answer without more time in the saddle for a full review. That’s time I’m eager to commit, because while the Taycan Turbo looks nicer, drives fresher and has an interior miles better than any Tesla, a starting price that’s $50,000 higher than a Model S Performance is a bitter pill to swallow. This car will have to seriously deliver on the day-to-day to make up that difference.
The giant asterisk to that inevitable Tesla comparison is that these are the two top-shelf Taycans. Future models, coming soon, will be far more affordable. For comparison’s sake, a base Porsche Panamera will cost you $87,200. Meanwhile, the full-fat Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo starts at $191,700.
Setting price aside for now, the Porsche Taycan is remarkably impressive in many ways. It’s quick, it’s fun and it’s also comfortable and quiet. Its technology package, though not without its foibles, is miles ahead of what we’ve seen from Porsche in the past and, in many ways, this is a car I’d rather own than the Panamera. There is room for improvement, but Porsche’s first production EV is a win and yet another sign that an all-electric future is worth getting excited about.
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