2020 Porsche Taycan Prototype first drive review: Driving the future
The Taycan won't hit the road for real until late 2019, but we've already had a go in its Cross Turismo counterpart. Join us for our early driving impressions of Porsche's electric future.
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
I've been more than a little eager get behind the wheel of
all-electric Taycan (neé Mission E) since I had my first sight of the thing. Immediately after it rolled out at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show I remember standing next to this low, sculpted vision for the future and being totally, utterly smitten. Porsche said they'd build it, and so I started counting the days to when I might get a go.
That counter has finally hit zero. I was recently lucky enough to drive a very early prototype of the Mission E Cross Turismo, and while that drive was limited in a few ways, I walked away feeling more convinced than ever that the future of electric motoring is looking very bright indeed.
Back in 2015, Mission E was Porsche's vision for what -- at the time -- felt like a distant, all-electric future. Now, that future is only about a year away. Taycan, the production name for the concept, will hit production before the end of 2019 and, when it does, it will be Porsche's first all-electric production car. (Though not, technically, Porsche's first electric car. That honor goes to the P1, which in 1898 was the first car Ferdinand Porsche ever built.)
In a layout that's now familiar to
fans, the Taycan will sport a battery pack of "around" 90 kilowatt-hours in the floor, with a pair of electric motors providing all-wheel drive. However, Porsche will use what's called "permanently excited synchronous" motors, which promise higher torque for a given size, weight and electricity consumption.
How much torque? Porsche isn't saying yet, but the company has promised 600 horsepower, enough to launch the four-door hatch from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. Yes, that's quite a bit slower than a Ludicrous Model S can manage, but for Porsche, outright performance will be measured in other ways.
The Porsche of EVs
While most Porsches will never get closer to the racetrack than some marque-specific, VIP parking area, the company still prides itself on making some of the most track-capable road-going cars on the planet. The Taycan will be no exception. When unveiled, Porsche said it'd lap the mighty Nurburgring in less than eight minutes. And, while that 3.5 second time to 62 may sound tame for a Tesla, the plan is for the Taycan to be able to do that time again and again without overheating.
Last year, I spoke with Detlev von Platen, Porsche board member and former CEO of Porsche Cars North America, about what will set the Taycan apart. I asked whether performance on the track was actually important in a car like this. "It's a Porsche," he told me, "so the answer is clearly yes... If you want to drive the track, you need more than one acceleration. That's why we're working on a technology that will differentiate from the others. Reproducible acceleration, better use of regeneration."
And charging, too. "If you're having some fun on the track," von Platen told me, "waiting 6 hours to recharge would bother you. That's why we are working so hard on a technology that would charge the battery in 15 minutes."
Not a full charge, mind you, but Porsche says you'll be able to add 250 miles of effective range in a 15-minute charge using one of the company's 800-volt fast chargers, at least one of which will be available at each of the company's 189 US dealerships. While total US range hasn't been determined yet, Porsche is promising 500 kilometers in Europe. Our EPA testing system is a little more stringent, so expect somewhere around 300 miles when it hits these shores.
A concept in the real
This car I was about to drive was the very car that gathered a lot of attention, and perhaps a few squawks of dismay, at Porsche's Geneva booth this year. Why dismay? Because the initial Mission E concept was long and low, lean and clean. This Cross Turismo version is taller and chunkier, a half-step towards an SUV of sorts. For Porsche purists, that's a step in the wrong direction.
But rest assured that while I drove the Cross Turismo, the first car to enter production will be that initial, lower Taycan. The Cross Turismo hasn't been confirmed for production yet, but I'd say it's a pretty safe bet we'll see those in due time.
I've been lucky enough to drive a few, early, hand-built prototypes and I was reassured to learn that the Mission E Cross Turismo prototype was finished enough to actually have things like working seatbelts. However, I was advised to shut the door gently, lest it not open again. So, I slotted into the rock-hard, concept-car seats, buckled myself in and lightly pulled the door shut before reaching to adjust the mirror -- only to be told to not touch it. It doesn't actually move.
Yes, then, still a prototype.
The various gauges and displays in the Mission E are functional in that they display something, but what they display is totally disconnected from reality. You can twist the little knob on the steering wheel, for example, and the digital gauge cluster will show a display indicating the various drive modes available. However, doing so doesn't actually change anything, though I was pleased to note that the knob feel here is actually considerably nicer than the unfortunately cheap feeling knob in the latest 911.
What's truly new is a pair of thumb-friendly interfaces built into the spokes of the wheel. Each thumb has a floating, rotary dial that can be easily spun up or down, and by pressing with your thumb you can "click" the assembly forward to select something. When you do so the entire section of the spoke moves forward, which creating a novel and rewarding feel, not unlike the haptic feedback in the latest Panamera.
Speaking of the Panamera, the Mission E has an evolution of that car's clean, minimalist waterfall infotainment interface, now further bereft of buttons and switches. I'm hopeful that this extreme touch-reliance is just for the concept and that Porsche will still put a few traditional knobs and dials on there for old times' sake, but that remains to be seen.
Most impressive, though, is the sweeping, wide-screen display that stretches across the entire dashboard. Crucial controls, like climate and navigation, are within easy reach in the center. Other things, like media, can be sent out to the far reaches, where the passenger can do their own thing without compromising the driver. Nice.
I'll get this out of the way first: given the prototype nature of the car, my top speed was limited, as was the maximum distance I could cover in the car and indeed the roads I could cross, all with a police escort. The car also rolled on some impressively chunky tires, rubber that looked menacing enough sitting on the Geneva stand but wasn't really meant for these paved Malibu hills. My impressions of the handling dynamics of the car were thus limited, and so I won't waste your time with the sorts of endless, aspirational (and largely invented) impressions I often see in these sorts of pieces.
I will share what I was able to glean, which is again that this is a very early car. When I approached my designated maximum speed on a slightly undulating road, the car let me know by bottoming out a few times. The heavy steering had about as much feel and finesse as twisting a manhole cover and the untinted glass roof and non-functional HVAC system meant that, on our very sunny test day, the interior quickly approached the sorts of temperatures where my deodorant and indeed the laws of physics began to break down.
But none of that detracted from the sheer joy of getting to drive such an early version of such an important car, especially given the time Porsche's engineers still have to fiddle. Yes, the roof made it hot, but a simple layer of UV protection as found on the Model X will solve that, and the abundance of light and excess of glass all around made for a clear view of the beautiful surroundings while also delivering a wonderful sensation of speed. Yes, the steering was numb, but I'm sure it'll feel as sweet as the Panamera's when the car releases, and even so that did nothing to hide the eagerness of the platform and the beginnings of some great balance. And, while I was told repeatedly that the production car will be far quicker, the prototype surged forward with more than enough gusto to put a big, dumb grin on my face.
What about the noise? There wasn't much, and what there was I'm guessing will be largely dialed out through further noise, vibration and harshness testing. I'm perfectly okay with that. Yes, I very thoroughly enjoyed the booming roar of the 4.0-liter V8 in the Panamera Sport Turismo E-Hybrid I recently reviewed, but with ever-tightening noise regulations stifling nearly every track in the country, the future of performance is increasingly silent. 600 horsepower with no worries about oil changes sounds pretty nice, too.
The Mission E Cross Turismo delivered the sort of unfinished feel that you'd expect from a car that's more still concept than production, but despite that its potential still easily shone through, and I have no doubt Porsche's engineers will clean up all those foibles between now and release. Beyond the driving dynamic, that preview of a next-gen infotainment experience has me eager to see how many screens Porsche slots in the production car, and just how much of the dash they'll cover.
We still have a fair few days left to count before the Taycan hits production for real in late 2019 and indeed no shortage of questions left to answer. The biggest question is the price, and for the answer to that we're going to have to stay patient a little bit longer.
Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.
The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.