Taycan unveiled: Porsche goes electric with a Tesla-fighter

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Niagara Falls, Canada – The two most-anticipated performance cars of 2019 are the Chevrolet Corvette C8 and Porsche Taycan — but for very different reasons. While the Corvette reaches for new performance heights with its first-ever mid-engine layout, the Porsche is out to prove its first-ever electric vehicle isn’t compromised by battery power.

As governments from Europe to China to California mandate EV production, Porsche is determined to put its performance stamp on battery-power just as it has for high-horsepower gas engines.

"We want to be the benchmark. That is a good word," said Porsche executive board member Detlev von Platen as he unveiled the stunning Taycan on the edge of Niagara Falls Wednesday morning. “The Taycan sets a new standard. It is the sportiest EV in class. Just like every other Porsche."

Porsche debuted its first-ever electric vehicle, the Taycan sports sedan, on Wednesday.

The performance specs on the all-wheel drive Taycan are nearly as spectacular as the Niagara Falls backdrop. In top Turbo S trim (the EV maintains the brand’s “Turbo” trim nomenclature though it lacks turbochargers), Taycan hits 60 mph in a face-flattening 2.6 seconds. That's on par with the gas-fed Porsche 911 Turbo supercar.

Credit twin electric motors and the massive 93.4 kilowatt-hour battery that sits under the Taycan’s seats. The battery is nearly on par with Tesla’s 100-kWh Model S sedan which (in Performance trim) can hit 60 mph in just 2.4 seconds.

That electric power was the inspiration for the Taycan’s introduction at Niagara. The hydroelectric plants around the falls produce enough electricity to supply one-quarter of the power used in Ontario and New York state. The Taycan was simultaneously unveiled in China and Europe, two important markets for Porsche where governments are targeting gas engines for elimination.

Porsche is the first foreign automaker to challenge Tesla on performance after the Model S stunned the auto world seven years ago with its electrifying acceleration. But the German automaker does not try to compete with Tesla on price.

Where the Model S starts at $85,000, the cheapest Taycan Turbo that debuted here starts at $152,250 (including $1,350 destination fee). The Turbo S stickers at an eye-watering $186,350.

These prices are in line with top-trim 911 coupes and Panamera sedans, and well beyond that of Tesla's sedan. Expect a base single-motor, rear-wheel drive version of the Taycan to eventually start closer to $100,000.

Raw speed is where the Taycan seeks to separate itself from Tesla and other EVs like the Jaguar i-Pace and coming Audi e-tron GT (with which the Taycan shares a platform and LG Chem-supplied battery).

“This car does things that no other Porsche has ever done in terms of acceleration, braking and the ability to change direction,” said Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer in reference to the Taycan Turbo S’s prodigious 774 pound-feet of torque, electric motors and 16.5-inch, 10-piston brakes.

Taycan has already set the fastest, four-door EV time around Germany’s legendary 12.8-mile Nurburgring race track at 7 minutes, 42 seconds. That's just 10 seconds off the fastest gas-engine production sedan record clocked by the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

This despite the Taycan weighing a porky 5,132 pounds, nearly a ton more than the Alfa and on par with a Ford F-150 Super Crew.

Unlike the Model S which has famously struggled to make laps around U.S. tracks, Taycan was designed to run blistering track laps with its Porsche kin.

The hardware required to do that — extensive liquid-cooling for the battery and massive electric cables — takes up significant space in the 194-inch long sedan. Yet, despite being 3 inches shorter than the Panamera (Porsche’s gas-powered sedan with which the Taycan is competitively priced), the EV has similar interior space due to the lack of gas engine under the front hood. Similar to Tesla's skateboard chassis, the Taycan's battery is located under the floorboards.

Like all EVs, Taycan will face consumer resistance on range and charging infrastructure.

The German maker seeks to quell these concerns with a range of up to 279 miles (compared to the Model S’s 370) and the unique ability to charge at 270 kilowatts (Tesla can charge up to 200 kW) on Electrify America’s nascent U.S. charger network. Porsche says that at 270 kW, the Taycan can charge to 80% of capacity in 22.5 minutes – or about 9 hours on a home, 240-volt plug.

Outside, the EV sedan is unmistakably Porsche with its blunt nose and sleek coupe roofline. The production car largely adheres to the signature elements of the futuristic Mission-E concept car that dropped jaws when it debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show. Aerodynamic gills flank the front, four-point optic headlights and a horizontal taillight spans the rear deck lid.

But physical changes required to meet regulatory rules and budget ceilings have compromised the production design. Gone are the Mission-E’s doors; the racy, conceptual rocker panels have been trimmed.

Inside, Porsche has crafted a sci-fi digital cockpit to match the car’s futuristic ambitions. The console is adorned with digital touchscreens including an industry-first, curved-glass instrument display. Porsche teamed with Apple to create the first Apple streaming service with access to over 40 million songs. "Foot garages” are carved in the rear floor between batteries for for better foot room, and the trunk and "frunk" combine for 15.7 cubic feet of cargo space.

Taycan development set Porsche back $6.6 billion, the most expensive project the automaker has ever undertaken.

To spread costs, Taycan shares its EV platform with Audi. Porsche promises more electrics in the years to come: first up, the Taycan Cross Turismo, a crossover due next year.

“By 2025, 50% of Porsches will be sold with a plug,” says Zellmer. “(Taycan is) more than just one new model. It’s a milestone as Porsche enters the age of full electrification.”

As Porsche test-drives an EV future, Taycan is one leg in a three-legged drivetrain strategy that includes EVs, hybrids and Corvette-fighting, gas-powered sports cars like the 911.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.