An 800-mile round trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco reveals that range numbers aren't everything.
If you've been following the story of the 2020 Porsche Taycan EV, then you're no doubt familiar with its less-than-stellar EPA ratings. In its most efficient (for now) Taycan Turbo form, Porsche's electric sports car is estimated to go 201 miles on a charge. Porsche firmly believes its EV can do better, and independent tests have proven as much. So I figured I'd give it a go, too -- albeit with a twist.
I decided to take the $150,000 Taycan Turbo on a long route I know well: the dull-ass slog up California's I-5 freeway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's hardly an imaginative route, I admit. But while most range tests involve sticking to a strict speed limit or climate setting or drive mode, I wanted to see what kind of range I'd see if I didn't change my driving behavior whatsoever. If the EPA estimate is really that conservative, then I should be able to beat that 201 number without breaking a sweat, right?
Following an initial period of getting to know the Taycan and running errands before the trip, I broke the test route into four sections:
This route would ensure I'd be able to make the best use of Electrify America's growing fast-charging infrastructure, and that I'd be able to stop by Roadshow's San Francisco headquarters to razz reviews editor Emme Hall over how messy her desk is.
Since I didn't change my driving style, I only used Porsche's InnoDrive adaptive cruise control sparingly and only on the flat stretches of I-5 between Bakersfield and where it meets the 580 Freeway near Tracy. But even then, my set speed varied between 77 and 82 mph, and I occasionally put the hammer down to shoot the gap between a slow-moving semi-truck and a slightly less-slow left-lane Prius . The only drive mode I used was the default "Normal" setting, and I had the air conditioning on auto, set to a cool 70 degrees.
I was particularly interested to see how the Taycan would handle the infamous Grapevine, a stretch of I-5 that climbs to 4,100 feet through the Tehachapi Mountains, connecting southern California with the central valley. Anyone who's driven this knows the drill: It's super steep in places as it winds through the mountains, and is usually clogged with traffic, especially big trucks crawling along in the right lanes. On my return route, I saw the Taycan's indicated range drop by 30 miles on the initial 12-mile climb from the town of Grapevine to the Tejon Pass. But over the course of the next 34 miles, from the Tejon Pass back down to Magic Mountain, the range didn't change at all.
Which reminds me: I know several others have said this, but I wish the Taycan had a stronger default regenerative brake setting. I'm glad the EV was able to recapture some miles on the way back down the Grapevine, but I feel like I could've done better here, to say nothing of the rolling hills through the Castro Valley east of San Francisco.
Ironically, my first encounter with an Electrify America fast charger was at a Shell gas station. A group of four chargers were installed on the side of the lot, all were on and functional, and not a single one was in use either time I visited. Of course, when I wanted to use the windshield squeegee, I still had to drive over to the gas pumps.
After hooking the charging cord up to the Taycan, all it took was one swipe of a credit card and a few presses on the touchscreen to get the electricity flowing. On this 350-kilowatt cord, I could take the Taycan's battery from 25% to 90% in 30 minutes. But since I wanted to test the full range, every time I plugged in on this trip, I charged the battery to 100%, which takes a lot longer -- charging rates are reduced near the top end to improve battery health.
Let me be clear: Putting so much energy into a battery this size in just 30 minutes is an impressive feat. And it's not the huge time suck you might think. By the time I went into the Shell station, perused their fine selection of warm foodstuffs on the roller grills, read all the clever messages on the bathroom walls, scanned the miniature license plate tower for a "Bort" tag, bought a coffee and a water and got out of there, I only had to wait a few minutes -- enough time to eat a packet of breakfast-on-the-go Pop-Tarts -- before the Taycan was ready to roll again.
Electrify America also has a partnership with Walmart stores, which brought me to Patterson, for my next stop. The process was the same: Plug in, swipe card, boop boop boop, zap zap zap. But here, my time outside the car could be spent doing useful things like buying a few sundries, grabbing something healthier than more Pop-Tarts for lunch, checking a few emails and so on. You'd be surprised how easy it is to kill 30 minutes. A traditional gasoline fill-up is quicker, yes, but if you can make use of fast charging, and can plan ahead to tie it into grocery runs, the extra time isn't really wasted. Good luck convincing a $150,000 Porsche owner to spend their free time hanging out at a Walmart, though...
Here's where I need to point out a problem with my route: At no point was I able to drive the Taycan Turbo 201 miles between charges. Based on the availability of fast-charging stations between LA and SF, I had to cut the range short or exceed it far beyond what I would've been comfortable with (especially without knowing what kind of mileage I was actually going to see). If I had to choose between a 190-mile interval or a 230-mile interval, I picked the one I was guaranteed to hit. (Much as I love you guys, I'm not in the habit of flatlining test cars on the side of the freeway, even for science.)
On the way to San Francisco, my longest interval was 189 miles between the Bakersfield Shell and the Patterson Walmart. When I plugged into the Electrify America charger, it showed the battery at a 22% state of charge. Using reverse-percentage calculations, after 189 miles of driving, that extra 22% equated to 53 miles, or a total range of 242 miles. At that time, the Taycan showed a remaining range of 51 miles, which would've made for an even 240.
From Patterson to San Francisco, around downtown and back out to Patterson again, I covered 170 miles. Using the same Electrify America charger at the same Walmart, plugging in showed a 34% state of charge, or a theoretical 257 miles of range. The Taycan indicated 83 miles of range, which would've worked out to 253.
My longest stint between charging stations was 193 miles, from Patterson to Bakersfield, with a few miles tacked on so I could get a couple of photos of the Taycan at dusk. State of charge when I plugged in: 25%. Theoretical range after calculations: 257 miles. Indicated remaining range: 59 miles, or 252 total. Given the success I had with the other recorded runs, I could've pushed this one a bit more, but there's no way I felt confident going over The Grapevine without knowing where I'd be able to charge next.
My least-efficient run, the final leg from Bakersfield to my house, resulted in a theoretical 238-mile range. (119 miles traveled, 50% state of charge at end.)
All in, I spent $184.70 to charge the Taycan on the Electrify America network, with 50% battery left when I got back home. To put that in some kind of context, let's compare it with an equivalent gas-powered car -- say, a Porsche Panamera Turbo. The Panamera has a 23.7-gallon fuel tank and is rated at 21 miles per gallon combined. The average price of premium fuel in California is currently $3.73 per gallon, so to run the Panamera Turbo on this same 779-mile loop would have cost at least $137.90. Assuming you ran down one tank and just filled up again -- which is what I'd have done -- that'd be $176.80, with about half a tank to spare.
Based on my experience, the Porsche Taycan Turbo's EPA rating is conservative. But honestly, on the LA-to-SF drive, it wouldn't have mattered.
Think about it: Even if the Taycan had stopped dead after 201 miles, I couldn't have done the drive any quicker than I did, simply because the fast-charging network isn't there to support it. There are multiple gas stations off nearly every highway exit. But even between Los Angeles and San Francisco -- two of the biggest EV markets in the country -- there are still only a handful of charging options.
Companies like Electrify America are doing their part to help, and a quick trip in an EV from LA to SF like this wouldn't have been possible even a year or two ago. As the infrastructure improves, it'll be easier to go the distance. For now, just remember the Taycan will almost certainly go a lot farther than you -- or the EPA -- might think.