Porsche had chosen not to compromise but to engineer
It was like an endurance test, and one I very nearly failed. I can’t remember what time the flight out to Germany was, but it was so early that breakfast – when we finally got to it – felt like a late lunch and all day, when I blinked, my eyelids didn’t so much glide over lubricated eyeballs as score their way across their rapidly reddening surface, claws out, like a cat sliding helplessly down a windscreen.
From the airport we were whisked, The Apprentice-style, by minibus to a building in which all the oxygen had been replaced with heat and the only things flowing were facts. You couldn’t lay your hands on a glass of water for love nor money, but for hours a great geyser of information raged out of control, just as a cooling jet of water leaps from every New York fire hydrant in high summer.
But I don’t need your sympathy: don’t want; don’t deserve it. For this was summer 2019 and we were learning the tech secrets of Porsche’s electric car, the Taycan. It’d been knocking around as the Mission E concept for a while but this was the good stuff: the chance to find out if Porsche was looking to engineer its EVs with anything like the obsessive flair with which it engineers its piston-engined performance cars. And by day’s end, as I finally got my hands on a bottle of water and crawled into my hotel bed like a broken wrestler sliding under the ropes and out of the ring, we had our answer: yes.
The evidence was all over the thing, from the bespoke, hairpin-style windings of its twin e-motors to its unique two-speed rear gearbox. Many, many slides and an animation were dedicated to the workings of the latter but still even a basic understanding of its operation evaded most of us. So what? The point was that Porsche had been presented with a conundrum and it had chosen not to compromise but to engineer. ‘If you want to improve torque and launch acceleration, one answer is ever-higher current,’ director of platform Bernd Propfe told me. ‘But with this comes more heat and a limit to the car’s ability to repeat the acceleration. The other answer is a two-speed transmission, with a shorter ratio for acceleration and a taller one for efficient running. Our two-speed gearbox weighs just 70kg but it can handle 450lb ft of load…’ Music to my ears, Bernd.
And just as everything was starting to feel a little woozy and abstract, I was hurried out of the airless building and into a Taycan Turbo S prototype. It promptly pulverised what was left of my composure with a flurry of standing starts and, in expert hands, did what a Porsche should, which is to smear sideways on the power with such grace you could set the motion to music and people would call it art.
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying the Taycan is a proper Porsche, and a proper car in the ways that matter to people like you and me. And it is not alone. Similarly, the i4 is a proper BMW and the 2 a proper, erm, Polestar (whatever that is). So, don’t give up. Expensive, heavy and difficult to charge on the fly they may be, but the best of today’s EVs are, like the best piston-engined cars, much more than mere transport. They’re machines to be enjoyed, not just endured. And our test of the very best of them starts on page 62.
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