Payne: Porsche puts its DNA in an EV with the electrifying Taycan sedan

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Tesla pioneered the high-performance electric vehicle. The Porsche Taycan has put it on steroids.

The Tesla Model S caught the automotive world flat-footed in 2012. It could shoot from zero-60 mph in under 3 seconds and whip around interstate cloverleafs as if on rails.

Suddenly, EVs were cool. But while other legacy automakers scrambled to catch up to innovations like iPad-sized touchscreens, mega-batteries and on-air software upgrades, Porsche focused on raw speed.

With the Taycan, Porsche has set a new standard beyond Tesla’s Ludicrous-mode performance benchmarks. You know that because Tesla chief Elon Musk is camped out at Germany’s Nurburgring track trying to beat the Taycan’s lap time.

Raw speed is what the Stuttgart-based manufacturer has been doing for the last six decades. Significantly, Taycan does not go head-to-head against Tesla on autonomous driving, charging networks and minimalist big-screen interiors.

The Taycan is a market of one — a $100,000-plus electric four-door sports sedan boasting Porsche 911-like performance characteristics well above comparable EVs. It’s an EV for Porsche-philes.

Porsche is deserving of its reputation. Scott Burgess, one of my predecessors in this seat, advises journalists to grab a Porsche at least once a year to reacquaint themselves with the driving standard. When I asked K.C. Colwell, Car and Driver’s skilled test driver, which car stood out at the magazine’s legendary Virginia International Raceway Lightning Lap this year (a performance-car showdown including notables like the McLaren Senna and Mercedes-AMG GT63 S), he didn’t hesitate.

The Porsche Taycan Turbo S carved up Angeles Crest road north of Los Angeles.

“The Porsche 911 GT3," he said.

When I tested the mid-engine 2020 Chevy Corvette last month, I compared it to the Porsche Cayman, the best mid-engine sports car under $100,000 I’ve ever driven.

Now Taycan is the EV gold standard. Developed by Porsche’s mid-engine chassis team, think of it as a 5,200-pound electric Cayman.

The Taycan’s capabilities are welcome news for us motorheads. Automakers are evolving into highly regulated utilities as governments dictate their drivetrain choices. Michigan says DTE Energy must get 15% of its energy from wind power by 2021. California says about 8% of carmakers' product must be electric by 2025.

For most automakers, that’s a chore. But for a select few performance shops — Porsche, Tesla, Audi — the EV is an opportunity to explore the envelope of battery propulsion.

We’re talking serious giddyap.

I will never forget my first launch in a Tesla Model S P90D in Ludicrous mode. My brain slapped against the back of my skull by instant 100% torque in the 2.6 OMG seconds it took to get from 0-60. 

The Taycan offers the same concussive acceleration in its top-drawer 772-torque Turbo S, which explodes to 60 in a mere 2.6 ticks.

Mash the brake and accelerator pedals to the mat in launch-control mode as you would in a gas-powered 911 — wait a moment for instrument panel approval — then release brake. Zot!

Familiar but different. The new Porsche Taycan Turbo S console is digital with an all-glass, curved instrument screen. Future Porsches will adopt a similar look.

Also familiar is Porsche’s naming convention. Porsche wants you to know its EV has turbo-like capability. It calls the Taycan’s top-drawer trims “Turbo” and "Turbo S" just like the 911 and Panamera, even though EVs don’t use turbochargers like gas cars. (Taycan even options a guttural hum that mimics internal-combustion engine sound.) Porsche wants you to know its EV has turbo-like capability.

That capability is most apparent in the chassis dynamics.

This 5,121-pound beast is nailed to the road. Scraping myself off the seatback after the rocket-launch acceleration, my 760-horse Turbo S hurtled toward corners with alarming pace only to be brought back to earth by huge, 10-pot calipers clawing at ceramic brake discs. Then, miraculously, the Taycan would hug corner apexes as if they were magnets.

Credit Goodyear Eagle II summer rubber as wide as the slicks on my old Porsche 908 racer (12 inches rear, 10.5 inches front). It has the the same all-wheel steer, all-wheel-drive suspension magic that makes 911 the world’s best-handling coupe and the 4,500-pound Panamera GTS feel half its size.

But also credit battery physics. Instead of the low-slung “Boxer” 4- or 6-cylinder engine  in a Cayman or 911, Taycan pilots sit atop an enormous 94-kWh battery between the wheels.

Porsche has ridden to glory on low-center gravity Boxer engines for decades. Low-slung lithium-ion battery packs fit the formula perfectly. Indeed, Porsche says the Taycan’s center of gravity is three inches lower than a 911, already one of the best in the industry.

Despite weighing 5,100 pounds, the 750-horsepower Porsche Taycan Turbo S gobbled up twisty roads with its low center of gravity and instant torque.

The Taycan's purpose is reinforced by its tapered coupe roofline low nose and tear-drop headlights. Inside, there’s more rear-seat room in a Tesla Model 3 Performance than a Taycan, a reminder the Porsche is a compact sedan, not a mid-size grand tourer like Panamera.

Passengers will be treated to Porsche’s most advanced cockpit yet. Curved glass instrument panel, buttonless touchscreen and keyless entry are harbingers of Porsche interiors to come. But there is no big Tesla touchscreen here (a second dash screen is optional for the front passenger to fiddle with) that can plot the Porsche’s route to the company's own network of superchargers across the country.

Porsche’s dependence on a hodgepodge of charging networks — Chargepoint, dealer lots, EVGo, Electrify America — is a reminder of Tesla’s ace in the hole: its proprietary charging infrastructure.

Porsche boasts the industry’s only 800-kW charge system (good for 80% charge at 270-kW in just 22 minutes), assuming you can find an 270-kW-capable Electrify America charger in the Midwest.

The Porsche’s interior signature is its drive-mode selector in the middle of the steering wheel with settings for Range, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. This car wants to be driven fast.

Having fun on Angeles Crest Highway in LA. The electric Porsche Taycan Turbo S is heavy but nimble with 4-wheel-steer and the usual Porsche suspension magic.

I flogged the Turbo S unmercifully over Angeles Crest twisties and Los Angeles interstates. I arrived at my destination after 174 miles, having taken just 178 miles of the battery. That’s next-level thermal management.

Where the Taycan excels is in its purity, with exquisite craftsmanship and meticulous engineering.

If all that’s worth your paying $100,000 more for a Taycan than a Model 3 Performance, then you fit Porsche’s demographic. Steroids don’t come cheap.

2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S

Vehicle type: All-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: Starter 4S $105,150, including $1,350 destination charge (Turbo S starts at $186,350; about $198,000 as tested)

Powerplant: Lithium-ion battery pack mated to dual electric motors

Power: 750 horsepower, 774 pound-feet torque 

Transmission: Two-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.6 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 161 mph

Weight: 5,121 pounds 

Range: 246 miles on full charge

Report card

Highs: Sports car handling despite weight; distinctive looks

Lows: Gets pricey; tight back seat

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.