Cars with Jan Coomans. Porsche Taycan Turbo: The first drive, finally

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Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Nearly a year after I first laid eyes upon Porsche’s first fully electric vehicle, finally an opportunity arose for me to find out how it actually drives. The venue, as is so often the case, was Moscow Raceway. Not because the Taycan is a track car, but simply because the German-registered test cars couldn’t be driven on regular roads.

The thing is, just because you’re on a racetrack doesn’t mean that you have to drive fast. I mean, it’s clearly the obvious thing to do, but with sufficient self-restraint (and one eye on the state of the battery charge) it’s just about doable. It helps when you’re given the keys to the car and a track all to yourself, so there is no other traffic to contend with and you can come to a stop in the middle of the road for a photo op whenever you like. The Americans would probably call this freedom.

Of course, I already had a pretty good idea of what to expect from this car as it’s already been filmed and reviewed so many times by now.

Even so, and even after driving some Porsche hybrid models which are also capable of limited driving on electricity alone, I found being able to take off swiftly in a Porsche whilst producing virtually no sound at all is still a slightly surreal event. It seems contrary to how the world has always worked, in violation of some kind of innate rule of motoring. Especially when you’re setting off from a pit lane and not a driveway. Apparently, it took Porsche a lot more money and development work than usual to get rid of all potentially unwanted noises in the interior. It turns out that, in a car this silent, even some barely perceptible creaking sounds made by the leather seats upon which you sit can be perceived as annoying. But I’m not here to talk about the leather seats, lovely though they are. I think I probably covered that aspect of the car well enough in my initial article last year. I’m not going to repeat the exact specifications either. Not least because I’m not sure they actually matter much. No, I just want to talk about driving it.

Porsche Taycan
Porsche Taycan world premiere in Canada

The Taycan was billed (not by Porsche, admittedly) as the first EV that would not only be able to take on Tesla, but beat it at its own game. It’s probably not a coincidence that the range-topping Taycan Turbo S was just a little quicker than the fastest Tesla when it came out.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

For a high performance car brand like Porsche, anything less would probably have been perceived as a disappointment. I say perceived, because I believe that in the real world these numbers have become entire irrelevant. Back in the day when a car would do 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 7 or 8 seconds, maybe there was something to argue about. Now that we’re talking about times in the 2.5 to 3 second range, who on earth is still counting. I know, people in the YouTube or Instagram comment sections probably. Where a car which does a 2.6 second time is “crushed” by one which does it in 2.5. It’s probably fair to say that relatively few people so far have experienced the acceleration associated with these numbers, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of the population would find them extremely uncomfortable when subjected to it.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

As such, I think that the most grown up thing to do would be to start ignoring the exact figures which the engineers have worked so hard for. Driving performance cars on the road these days is like browsing a web forum with a gigabit internet connection. You’re never using more than 1% of what it is ultimately capable of, and I feel this renders your bragging rights in the local pub somewhat moot. I also think that, although even the fastest cars in the world have become increasingly easy to drive, we’re well past the point where non-professional drivers can no longer extract the performance on offer. In fact, all those electronic driver aids are very much needed simply to stop terrible drivers from finding out that they are, in fact, terrible drivers. We’ve had to come this far to realize that, if pure driving pleasure is what you’re after, you actually just need a small-ish car with not too much horsepower.

However. All that having been said, actually experiencing the Taycan Turbo’s favourite party trick is rather memorable. Having the whole track to myself, I stopped the car on the entrance to the longest straight, put the car in Sport Plus, placed my left foot hard on the brake whilst my right foot floored the throttle and then released the brake as soon as the launch control activation popped up on the digital dashboard. What happened next was a bit of a blur, mostly because the G forces that are imparted on your body during the initial getaway sort of make all the blood in your head rush towards the back of your skull. This creates a moment of dizziness, and by the time your brain’s processing power returns to normal the speedometer is already well on its way past 100 kilometers per hour. Getting to 200 from there is only another seven seconds or so.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Sure, if you step into the newly released 911 Turbo S generation 992 you will end up going even faster, but not by a whole lot. And that car represents the pinnacle of what Porsche’s gasoline-powered sportscars are capable of right now. The EV line is only just getting started. So, for all the talk about it being pointless and immature to focus on the Taycan’s frankly absurd acceleration capabilities, it certainly is impressive. And I imagine for the lucky people who will be getting one soon, it’s the first thing you will “demonstrate” to your family and friends. And all will be amazed. Except perhaps for mad uncle Dmitry who has always been a bit of a contrarian git. But I digress.

The Taycan’s braking system, which comes in very handy when you’re barreling towards a slow 90-degree corner at well over 200 kilometers per hour, is something of a work of art as well. The brake pedal is not directly connected to the physical brakes which, by the way, are absolutely massive. Instead, there are some wires through which electrons flow and a computer which decides how to operate the regenerative braking and the actual brakes to slow you down in the most efficient way possible. The first part of brake pedal travel the car will be slowed down purely by the energy recovery system.

Only If you want to brake harder than it is capable of will the regular hydraulic brakes come in to assist – which wastes some of the energy but is sometimes quite necessary in order to not hit anything.

This must have been an incredibly difficult system to program in such a way that it feels natural and easy to modulate, but as is usual the Porsche engineers have done a stellar job. If you’re paying very close attention you can sort of tell when the real brakes start to work but it’s mostly seamless. The only time you have to keep it in the back of your mind is at very slow speeds when you’re about to come to a full stop, as obviously the physical brakes are required for that so you need a bit more pedal pressure than you’d be used to from a conventional system.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

One good thing about being on a racetrack is that you can explore the limits of a car’s handling in a way that simply isn’t possible – or responsible – out on the public roads. The Taycan hides its considerable mass very well indeed while driving about normally or even quite spiritedly. Only when you push it to within an inch of what it is capable of, do you notice that this car weighs what it does. Pretty much 2.4 tons by the time you’re sitting in it. 2.4 tons! Most of the time, one would guess that it’s at least 600 kilograms lighter than that, so the suspension is doing some absolute magic. You can do some pretty quick lap times in the Taycan if you wish, and don’t mind the tires screaming for mercy around every corner. Which is all the more unsettling because it’s basically the only sound you hear other than the faint spaceship-like zooming that comes out of the speakers in Sport+ mode.

The Michelin tires that were fitted to the Taycan are specifically designed for this model, and I reckon quite a lot of engineering must have gone into them to withstand the kind of abuse that this car is capable of putting them through.

In order to get the Taycan to fire out of corners with maximum power, you do need to at least partially turn off the stability management by putting it in sport mode, or disconnect it altogether. If you do that, the Taycan becomes a very capable weapon but it does require you to treat it with some caution and respect. A lot of power goes through the rear wheels so the car is happy to over-rotate on corner exit if you give it more throttle than you probably should.

It’s actually quite a lot of fun. But make no mistake – while Porsche absolutely wanted the Taycan to be able to do things on a racetrack that no other competitor can, it’s not meant for these kind of shenanigans and it doesn’t feel entirely in its element doing them. The steering feel is remarkably like Porsche’s sportscars, and the low driving position further amplifies that sentiment. But as good as the Taycan can be on a track, the road is where it really shines. Since I had no road, I simply had to drive very slowly around the track instead. In normal and sport modes, smoothness and silence are the order of the day. But if you take a stab on the throttle pedal, you are reminded of why people fall in love with EVs. The wave of power which greets you is both huge and completely instant in a way that no combustion engine can manage. Ramp things up by selecting sport plus mode, and you get the synthetic sounds and a much more aggressive drivetrain. In this mode, the shift which the Taycan’s unique 2-speed gearbox makes is actually very noticeable. It’s nowhere near as smooth as, say, a shift from a PDK gearbox. But this gearbox is a big part of the reason why the Taycan’s numbers are so impressive, as it it has a lower and higher gear to help both acceleration and high-speed efficiency whereas other EVs have no gearbox at all.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Speaking of efficiency, if I drove normally and used only regenerative braking I was able to do a shortened lap of Moscow Raceway without seeing the battery percentage drop at all. On the other hand, if I went full Stig mode then the battery would drop two percent just on the long straight alone. The car I drove had been driven by another journalist before I got into it, and the battery was sitting at 67 percent. A mix of fast and slow driving made the battery go down to 10% in a matter of 25 minutes. Which made me suspect that probably it drops a bit quicker in the second half of its charge. There is no EV yet that can come anywhere close to the driving ranges offered by conventional fossil fuel burning cars, but with Taycan easily capable of doing more than 300 kilometers on a single charge in the real world, you’ll be fine for all but the longest of drives. We’re still in the early adoption phase, where only people who are really interested in switching to electric driving are jumping in, but that will probably change soon enough.

If there is an elephant in this room, it’s probably another Taycan. While the Turbo and Turbo S models were launched first to make sure the headline figures were sufficiently impressive, there is also a Taycan 4S which wasn’t sent into the world with quite as much fanfare but is probably the one you’ll actually want to buy. There’s a bit less power, still more than enough mind you, but if you get the 4S with the same 93.4 kilowatt-hour battery that is found in the top models via the “performance battery plus” option you get the longest driving range of all. And it’s significantly less expensive. Food for thought. In the meantime though, I’ll be thinking of how much actual fun the Turbo was to drive. Considering that there is still the slightly quicker Taycan Turbo S, and that this is only the beginning of the EV revolution, the future is looking pretty bright indeed.

29 июля 2020
Ян Кооманс для раздела Cars