you don't need gas to go fast

What’s It Like to Ride in Porsche’s All-Electric Tesla Fighter on a Race Track?

July 27, 2019 Cars By
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“Fast,” comes the reply from the driver’s seat. I can’t see Neel Jani’s face, but it sounds like the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans winner is smiling when he says it.

The prompt for that laconic-yet-telling retort, for the record: “What do you think of the car?” We are getting settled in the backseat an all-electric 2020 Porsche Taycan prototype, parked up on the curbing of a racetrack constructed by Formula E in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Jani’s hand disappears under a sea of black. He’s fiddling with controls for either the air conditioning or the drivetrain; I can’t tell which, because the entire interior of this four-seater electric rocket is covered by felt to literally keep everything under wraps until its official unveiling in a few months.

Next year, Porsche will toss its crest into Formula E for the first time. And while the Taycan — roughly translated as “soul of a spirited young horse” in a Turkic tongue — is nearing the finish line of development, Porsche’s Formula E chassis is only three-quarters of the way there, and Porsche is using this test sled to help figure out the last bits.

We finally locate seat belt receivers under felt folds, click in, and Jani gives us a thumbs up before screeching off. That verb is apt, since there’s no engine noise — just a shriek of taxed tires struggling to find grip, given the power surging through them. Jani is tightlipped about which powertrain this particular Taycan is fitted with — per Car Magazine, the base will receive an 80-kWh battery and either 322- or 376-horsepower worth of electric motors, while the next model up will get a 96-kWh pack and 429 or 483 hp; then there’s a rumored “Turbo S” version with 724 hp on deck — but whatever’s under our feet, it’s lightning. We surge around the 1.6-mile track with purpose. Under Jani’s steady inputs, the Taycan feels sturdy for a spirited young beast.

“It’s really solid. No problems bashing the curbs a little,” Jani says as he jostles us over a chicane. “I’m surprised that it’s as agile as it is, given how heavy it is.” The Taycan hasn’t had a final weigh-in, but batteries are heavy, so expect it to be somewhere north of two tons. Packed with three large adults (and a lithe Jani), though, the Taycan doesn’t flinch; the speeds are staggering. Crazier yet, Jani confesses he’s only using half-throttle to fling us around — and that we’re still pinging triple-digit speeds on the straight.

With a heavy battery pack mounted low inside the chassis, handling feels neutral and poised until we get to hard braking and turning. Hammering into a notorious hairpin home to a number of crashes and crunches during the Formula E races, Jani goes deeper into the braking zone to demonstrate the understeer, which is palpable (and shuddery) but manageable for someone with Jani’s finesse. He claims the undesirable dynamics in a racing turn are mitigated by scrubbing extra speed before the turn and popping out faster, and a demonstration of this on the following lap is like night and day; his preferred technique is clean and fast.

Because the Taycan came to Brooklyn from hot weather testing in Death Valley and is immediately returning there, it still wears some camouflage elements, though they’re mostly around the head- and taillights. It’s like looking at a bank robber who didn’t choose a fine-enough mesh stocking; you can make out enough of the car to tell what it’ll look like unmasked; in-person, it has plenty of presence. Couple that with the eye-watering performance — Porsche claims it’ll be able to complete 10 full-throttle 0-60-mph launches without a drop in performance, unlike Teslas — and you’ve got a helluva Stuttgart stallion coming our way.

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Sean Evans

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