A FROSTY RECEPTION

WILL THE TAYCAN EV HAVE PORSCHE PURISTS FOAMING THE WAY THEY DID OVER THE CAYENNE? OUR WINTER EXPERIENCE SUGGESTS THE BRANDíS VALUES REMAIN UNMOLESTED...

WORDS ANDREW FRANKEL

"SO WHAT DO you want to do now? We could go and do some doughnuts,Ē said the chassis engineer with ill-disguised hope in his voice. Out here, in the frozen wastes of northern Sweden, it seemed almost obligatory to go and scribe some circles in the snow. Which is how I found myself rotating at impressive speed in a Porsche Taycan, at least until it rumbled what we were up to and started flashing rude messages at its driver. ďItís the same in all our four-wheel-drive cars,Ē sighed Christian Wolfried, Porscheís handiest hand on the Taycan program. If I understand correctly, the front and rear axles have a bit of a pow-wow, figure out theyíre being asked to do dramatically different things, rapidly conclude the driverís a lunatic and shut the show down.

I mention this now because it seems that Porscheís intention in inviting me to Lapland was to reiterate the fact that despite the Taycan being powered by electricity alone, it remains above all a Porsche.

This is the stage in the proceedings at which I become sufficiently uncomfortable to feel the need to issue a disclaimer. I have not driven the Taycan, I have merely sat next to someone driving the Taycan. Can I tell you that what I felt that day had everything to do with the deftness of its chassis and nothing whatever to do with the evident skills of its driver? Of course not. And even if I could, would I be able to accurately estimate how behaviour on a frozen lake and roads covered with snow translated to what most of you recognise as more conventional conditions? Not with any confidence.

The good news is that you will now be spared reading an entire story of impressions, only to realise at the end that the author has not driven the car only by an absence of reference to steering feel. Besides, there is still plenty to be learned and plenty to be said, not least because by Porscheís own estimation, the Taycan is its most important new car since the Cayenne transformed the business beyond all recognition in 2002, and quite possibly the 1963 launch of the car that became known only sometime thereafter as the 911.

THE TAYCAN IS PORSCHEíS MOST IMPORTANT NEW CAR SINCE THE CAYENNE TRANSFORMED THE BUSINESS IN 2002

The first surprise is how small the Taycan feels. Because itís a four-door car and because you know thereís a more offroad-oriented Cross Turismo version coming, you mentally file it somewhere between a Panamera and a Macan. Or at least I did. But thatís not how it feels. No official dimensions have yet been issued, but based on what is known of the Mission E concept from which it is derived, the car is around 4850mm long, compared to 5049mm for the Panamera. Its wheelbase is far shorter too Ė not short like the 911, of course, which only needs occasional rear seats and positions its engine outside the wheelbase, but short enough that with four-wheel steering it changes direction with startling alacrity.

Behind the wheel it feels far closer to a 911 than a Panamera. The driving position is low, the centre console rising up commandingly beside you. As a result it is very much a car you sit in like a sports car rather than a family car. And that is entirely deliberate: Porsche knows it has a job on its hands convincing the world that electric cars and sporting cars are not diametrically opposed objectives, and if it can create the ambience of a 911 it will have gone some distance towards nailing that challenge. And even in the disguised prototypes in which I travelled, I can say with certainty that this at least has been achieved.

So Christian and I head out into a blizzard. So far as I can see, itís a complete white-out, as disorienting as flying a light aircraft through cloud, but he pretty much lives up here over the winter and does not let such trivialities bother him. A barely discernible track has been cut into the snow so he goes to work, apparently guided by bat-like sonar.

3 things you should know

...ABOUT PORSCHEíS FIRST-EVER EV

one

MODELS & POWER

The car will be launched at Frankfurt show in September two power outputs: the rangetopper with around 470kW; the less powerful model with 395kW. A third model, circa 345kW, will follow later. A fourth model has been engineered with a single electric motor with 225kW and rear-drive. Ití lighter, but not yet confirmed for production.

two

KEGS & KM/H

Weight should be around 2250kg, making Taycan a touch heavier than a Jaguar I-Pace and on a par with a Tesla Model S. Acceleration to 100km/h for the top model is now informally referred to as ďway belowĒ 3.5sec. Top speed? At least 250km/h, thanks in part to the two-speed gearbox that allows prolonged use of full electric power.

three

RANGE & CHARGING

Real-world range is expected to be around 435km. As for charging times, Porsche engineers talk about an ability to go from 10 to 80 percent in less than 20 minutes. Key to this is the Taycanís 800-volt charging apparatus. Frustratingly, however, the 350kW charging infrastructure that facilitates such rapid charging is very much in its infancy.

Volting horse

FLAT OUT AND UNFLUSTERED

Taycaní winter testing also focused on improving the repeatability of the carí performance. It can now do more than a dozen 0-100km/h standing starts with no fall-off in power (earlier talk was around 10) and at least four 0-200km/h runs without degradation. It will maintain its top speed ďfor longer than you could drive at that speed on any public road,Ē says the company.

Would you be surprised if I told you the Taycan sounded like it had a cross-plane V8 under the bonnet? Me too. It hasnít and it doesnít. Porsche is big on authenticity and it sounds like an electric car because thatís what it is. The strategy will be to engineer out as many of the whines and whirrs of these very early prototypes so there is as little noise as possible. Itís ďthe luxury of silenceĒ, as one Porsche person put it to me. I expect weíll hear rather a lot of that particular sound bite in the near future. Oddly enough, there will be an additional and optional Ďsound packí customers can choose.

ON LOW-GRIP SURFACES, THE TAYCAN IS BOTH AGILE AND TOLERANT OF THE MOST PREPOSTEROUS OF PROVOCATIONS

The car Iím in is the top-of-the-range model, but the truth is that it has snowed for much of the night and a Fiat Panda 4x4 would probably be able to spin all four wheels on the surface itís left, so at least half of the more than 447kW at Christianís disposal is superfluous to requirements.

No matter. The car feels spectacularly composed with all its electronic safety equipment turned on. I get Christian to do a full-bore standing start and the car just accelerates away as if on tarmac, and not at all slowly. Put it this way: an original Boxster on dry tarmac would have no chance against this thing on snow. In Sport Plus mode the car maintains the same direction but sashays somewhat as it does. Turn it all off and, were Christian not there to correct it, it would describe a semi-circle very quickly indeed. Itís good to know that even in these risk-averse, increasingly electrified times, at Porsche off still means off.

Then the track starts to wind. Porsche deliberately keeps it as narrow as possible because the engineers donít want discrepancies caused by drivers taking different lines. The engineers all keep note of who has to call how often for the Cayenne tow truck to dig them out of the drifts. Christianís only binned it once all winter; some of his colleagues are in double figures. As speeds rise, the Taycan becomes ever more balletic as my driver delights in showing me the angles it can not only reach, but be easily recovered from. He says because of the way the motors mete out their power and the fact the Taycan has the lowest centre of gravity of any Porsche, it is the easiest to drift of the entire bunch. And just to make the point, when we reach an enormous circle cut into the ice, he does a few laps at high speed with the nose pointing directly and unwaveringly at the circleís centre, chatting away as he does.

Even so, if the business of getting any kind of impression from a passenger seat is hard, itís harder still on a frozen and featureless lake where the ice is three feet thick. So after lunch I head out onto the roads with Bernd Propfe, who is project manager for the whole Taycan platform which, while it will be adapted and adopted by Audi for its e-tron GT (and possibly Bentley for a production version of the EXP12 Speed 6e concept car), is an entirely Porsche-led project.

Out here nothing is simulated; the Taycan remains unprovoked by its driver. All the systems stay on: it is entirely possible an elk might wander out into the road, and they tend not to give way. The surface is compacted snow and ice. It is not a place to mess about.

And yet we go fast. Thereís a Taycan ahead and another behind and our convoy is somehow proceeding across this pretty hostile terrain at a pace that is not so much impressive as borderline befuddling. Weíre on winter tyres of course, but nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not studded. Itís not just a comfortable way to get about, out here itís comforting too, because the composure of the car is totally reassuring.

If Iíd not already done all the work on the lake, Iíd have presumed Propfe and his mates had gone mad. In the event I just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Ironically, the only drama comes when we reach a bridge offering the only stretch of dry tarmac for miles around. Propfe knows itís coming so slows to a crawl before pinning his foot to the floor. And even though thereís well over two tonnes of Taycan to accelerate, it gathers momentum at a rate that suggests the 3.5sec 0-100km/h sprint claimed for the Mission E concept that spawned the Taycan is now looking very conservative indeed.

Sadly, however, there is not much more I can tell you other than that it will seat four average-sized adults in reasonable comfort but if thereís a tall one in the back, he or she will likely feel a little short of room. A Panamera is substantially more spacious.

The remaining pieces of the puzzle wonít now be slotted into place until September when the car is formally unveiled and drives begin ahead of cars being delivered to owners outside Australia before the end of the year. It is due in Australia in the first half of 2020. What can I say with certainty now? That if a huge diesel-powered SUV can credibly call itself a Porsche, so can a compact electric four-door coupe like this. Itís smaller than you think, and feels smaller even than it is, and, so far as I could tell, lighter too. On low-grip surfaces, the Taycan is both agile and tolerant of the most preposterous of provocations.

But it felt also like a car with a proper story to tell, one Iíve only been able to provide in patchy outline here. If it can find that sweet spot where it combines some of the practicality of a Panamera with the ambience of a 911 and a relevance to the world as it is today, I think Porsche could really be onto something here. Itís a big ask, and I donít yet know the answer. But the indications seen so far Ė and they can be no more than that Ė are good.