Porsche has gone to the ends of the earth to establish the performance credentials of its first ever electric car, from Death Valley to the Arctic Circle.
The flagship Porsche Taycan Turbo S has already demonstrated its exotic supercar performance: 0 to 100kmh in 2.8 seconds, incredibly close to the 2.5-second Bugatti Chiron, the world’s fastest car.
What we have here is the cheapest model in the range, the Porsche Taycan 4S.
At an estimated $200,000 when it goes on sale in Australia in late 2020 it’s not exactly affordable by mainstream standards, but Porsche needs to prove it can deliver 911 performance if it’s going to charge 911 money.
The stats are impressive: a 0 to 100kmh time of 4.0 seconds puts the cheapest model in the Taycan range in the same company as an Audi RS3 (4.0 seconds) and a fraction faster than a standard Porsche 911 (4.2 seconds).
But this is a test with a twist. We’re in Finland to explore the endurance of the battery pack in sub zero temperatures, and push the electric motors to their limits.
Batteries hate super cold and super hot weather and use a lot of energy in thermal management, which can blunt driving range.
The first technology torture test saw the speedometer reach in excess of 180km/h, even though the vehicle was moving at glacial speeds.
Although the front and rear electric motors were working overtime, seamlessly apportioning power between them, it looked like the world’s most elegant drifting contest – on a patch of ice no bigger than a basketball court.
Rather than the roar of a highly-strung engine, all you could hear from the outside was the sound of the tyres buffing the surface as if they were polishing a floor.
The ice was so slippery you could barely stand on it, and yet Porsche chose these conditions to show how far you can push electric-car technology.
Porsche elected not to fit studded tyres, instead it bravely let media loose on a frozen lake on winter rubber, creating a near impossible challenge.
It’s a good thing the Taycan’s silhouette is almost symmetrical: here’s hoping the Porsche minders can't tell the car is facing the wrong way from the other side of the course.
Before we get into more detail about how the Porsche Taycan’s abilities far outweigh the skill of those behind the wheel, a quick recap.
There will initially be three models in the Porsche Taycan sedan range when it arrives in Australian showrooms in late 2020.
The Taycan 4S tested here will start from about $200,000, while the more powerful Taycan Turbo will cost about $300,000 and the flagship Taycan Turbo S will likely eclipse $350,000. We can debate the use of the word 'turbo' on an electric car another time, but this is Porsche-speak for 'fastest model' – for now.
There are no immediate plans for RS versions but expect wagon variants – and a soft-roader wagon line-up – to follow.
There may one day be a more affordable rear-drive Taycan added to the line-up, but that’s likely a long way off as Porsche is selling every car it can build at the moment, so there’s no need to limbo on price.
Porsche was so adamant about the Taycan’s credentials that it squeezed a new production line on the same factory site in the heart of Stuttgart that makes the 911.
The complete list of standard equipment is yet to be announced in Australia, but in Europe the Taycan is available with the works.
Customers will have a choice of two battery packs: the standard version provides 333km to 407km of driving, the long range can cover 386km to 463km, based on real-world testing data.
The cabin is like stepping into the future. In addition to the curved 16.8-inch digital widescreen instrument cluster – which has touch controls at each end – there is the option of two massive 10.9-inch widescreens that stretch across the entire dash.
The centre binnacle also has a large tablet-size display, and the centre console has two USB-C charge ports and a vertical wireless phone charging slot.
An option in Europe, even the passenger can have his or her touch screen (above the glovebox, in the dash) to take control of audio, navigation and other functions.
The design is simplistic but functional. There are good quality materials throughout, and the front and rear doors have large storage pockets. The centre console and glovebox are a bit on the small side, however.
For the number crunchers it’s 4963mm long, 1966mm wide, 1379mm high, with a 2900mm distance between the front and rear wheels.
Cargo capacity is 366 litres in the boot plus an extra 81 litres in the “frunk” (the term adopted by electric car makers for the front trunk).
By comparison, a Volkswagen Golf has a 380-litre boot, so the Taycan’s boot is small by mainstream standards but massive compared to a 911, which has only 132-litres of cargo space in the nose.
Despite the extra space, Porsche Australia is yet to decide if Taycans sold here will come with a space saver spare tyre or an inflator kit. Either would be better options that what the Tesla Model 3 has: a phone number for a tow truck.
Service costs and routine maintenance intervals are yet to be announced for Australia. The warranty is the same as other Porsches: three years/unlimited kilometres.
On the road
To demonstrate the breadth of the Taycan 4S’s all-wheel-drive system Porsche put its electric car on a giant ice rink.
It was so slippery we had to try to grab onto parts of the car’s bodywork to avoid falling over.
That should have been the first clue that if I could barely stand, it would be quite a challenge to negotiate tight corners in a 2200kg sled.
The tyres didn’t have spikes, so it was like roller-skating on ice. It also explains why I was facing the wrong way within 30 seconds of hitting the course.
I then spent most of the session trying to see how many times other cars on adjacent obstacle courses were in a spin. Thankfully, I was not alone.
Then the instructor came out and outclassed us all, putting the Taycan in a perfect drift, around and around in a circles with apparent ease.
This is where we got to see the car’s speedometer show 180kmh-plus even though it was in fact moving no faster than a merry-go-round.
That was the fun part of the day. Earlier, we did some driving on real roads. But given the tarmac had a thick covering of snow – and we were on winter tyres, not studded rubber – there was a fair degree of caution.
What we could glean from the 200km road loop was the epic power, the well-sorted suspension, and the clever artificial sound enhancer.
The acceleration is phenomenal and instant, and this is the slow one. Even when cruising at 80kmh or 100kmh, floor the accelerator and you feel an instant surge as if it was taking off from rest. It truly is remarkable, and quite addictive.
Of course, the more you explore the power from the 320kW output (390kW on overboost), the more power you drain from the battery. But we weren’t driving to conserve energy and came away impressed by the real-world driving range. It’s no worse than a petrol car, and yet has blistering performance.
The suspension damping is also a highlight. The balance of the Taycan is no doubt aided by the low centre of gravity thanks to the floorpan doubling as the battery pack, but you can tell Porsche has sweat the details.
In sport mode the suspension stiffens and is a little less forgiving but it also introduces a rather convincing V8 hum. It’s muted, and of course is completely fake, but it kind of works. I wonder if Porsche will ever let customers adjust the volume on the synthesised sound.
Other pleasant surprises: the sharper throttle and steering response in Sport Plus mode, and the tendency to send more power to the rear wheels. It’s hard to put into words just how well sorted Porsche engineers have got this chassis, including its incredibly accurate and subtle stability control intervention.
The Taycan is also one of the few electric cars whose brakes don't grab sharply (a trait of electric motors); thankfully large, race-inspired brakes add to the confidence at higher speeds.
One of the Finnish rally drivers on hand to scare the living crap out of media guests said the Taycan’s all-wheel-drive system is faster and more responsive than mechanical all-wheel-drives, climbing out of corners with seemingly impossible levels of grip.
He was being paid by Porsche to drive guests and say nice things about the car, but after having tried to wrestle the Taycan in next-to-impossible conditions myself, I think his flattery was sincere.
Negatives? Only a few. Even though electric motors have effectively just one gear, I miss having shift paddles on the steering wheel, even if just used when braking.
And there’s no AM radio because of the interference from the car’s sophisticated electronics. Some electric cars shield their AM antennas, for some reason Porsche doesn’t believe it’s a priority.
Few cars in the world hit the bullseye on debut, but the Porsche Taycan is one of them.