An unapologetic fan of the evolution of the combustion engine, Ian McLaren discovers that something appealing lies in the future of personal mobility – electric.
After 20-something years as an established automotive journalist, I’m most often greeted by new acquaintances with the observation that I must love cars. While I’m ever in awe of the pace with which car makers continue to evolve and improve on their offerings, it’s not the products themselves that I’m most fond of, but how each one drives. I love the experience of being behind the wheel.
Although impartiality is generally a key trait when it comes to reviewing any new motor vehicle, I wouldn’t be alone among my peers in proclaiming a Porsche 911 the pinnacle of modern performance-focused motoring when it comes to its all-round capabilities: fast when you need it to be, but effortlessly sophisticated and comfortable when the occasion dictates. From the entry-level Carrera to the breathtakingly fast Turbo S halo model, some of my fondest motoring memories have come courtesy of a 911.
The trouble is, with increased global pressure on the relative impact a motor vehicle’s internal combustion engine and its associated emissions have on the environment, where does this leave a brand with such a respected reputation for harnessing all that’s good about high-performance petrol power?
Unveiled at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, Porsche’s first all-electric offering, named Taycan, had a mandate to offer customers everything they’ve come to love and expect from the brand within a future-focused package that has negligible impact on the environment.
The obvious irony of the Taycan’s packaging is that, on paper, it offers a far superior overall distribution of weight than the rear-engine layout of its vaunted 911 sibling. By carrying the mass of its battery pack below the passenger compartment floor, between the car’s front and rear axles, the Taycan benefits from a lower centre of gravity (optimal for dynamic ability) than a car that has its drivetrain sited either up front or, in the case of the 911, aft of its rear axle.
More good news comes in the form of the instantaneous delivery of performance offered by an electrically powered vehicle compared to the associated mechanical intricacies of even the most advanced internal combustion engine as it engages with a traditional transmission.
Mimicking the evolution of a modern smartphone, the perceived downside to electric mobility is a combination of the weight of the battery and the length of time each charge might last before it’s depleted. In a South African context, considering the well-documented current strain on our national power supply grid and distances travelled in comparison with the likes of Europe, the migration towards electric mobility is as much about the preparedness of the consumer as it is about the capabilities of each new product scheduled to arrive in the coming months.
Boldly, or perhaps naively, I decided my first experience of an all-electric Porsche would be in the form of a 400km road trip to reacquaint myself with the splendour of the Garden Route. The second pair of eyes paying close attention to the range-to-empty gauge belonged to my wife.
Range anxiety, or the fear of running out of charge before you’ve reached your destination, is listed as the number one global reason for hesitancy about owning an all-electric vehicle. While planning for my adventure, I was surprised to learn there are currently more than 300 charging stations installed throughout South Africa. This includes facilities sited 200km apart on all three major highways: the N1, N2 and N3.
Although we left Cape Town with a fully charged Taycan – complete with an optional Performance Battery Plus upgrade – my experience with the erratic nature of battery power suggested that we would need to stop for a top-up charge in Caledon, Buffeljagsrivier outside Swellendam and again in Riversdale in order to reach our accommodation in George. With our destination dialled into the crisp display of the car’s onboard navigation system and a remaining range forecast proving unflappable despite cruising at the national speed limit, it soon became apparent we would only need to stop in Riversdale for as long as it takes to enjoy a coffee and pastry at the landmark Ou Meul Bakery to comfortably make the rest of our journey.
Plugged into the GridCars-installed charging facility alongside the Engen garage in Riversdale, the Porsche was feeding on uninterrupted DC current soon after a quick swipe of a pre-paid access card.
From within its impressively comfortable cabin, the Taycan is silent about town and copes with the road and wind noise associated with open-road cruising as well as any equivalent well-insulated premium sedan. But the real benefit of electric power is felt when it’s necessary to overtake. Even without dialling-in one of the more aggressive driving modes, a small flex of the right foot results in instant, seamless acceleration towards the horizon.
Later in the day, with my wife comfortably settled in our accommodation, the opportunity to engage Sport Plus mode while negotiating the switchbacks of the scenic Outeniqua Pass served as an impressive reminder that the Taycan remains undeniably the product of a brand with performance at its core.
One thing I’ve learnt is that no matter where the market shifts in terms of trends and wants, when Porsche makes the decision to get involved, it usually does so with aplomb. Even when critics were less than complimentary about the lines of the Cayenne SUV, for example, three generations later the very same lines are still proving those critics wrong. Similarly, the lines of the four-door Panamera, considered in some quarters to be relatively bulky, continue to offer more dynamic ability than most of the model’s rivals.
I have been spoilt with countless experiences behind the wheel of wonderfully crafted internal combustion-powered cars – many of these memorable for their associated exhaust notes – I would still like one of these destined-for-extinction machines in my driveway. That said, my opinion of all-electric mobility and its potential, both in terms of performance and fast-evolving battery technology, has shifted significantly after my time spent with the entry-level Taycan.
While the 4S, Turbo and Turbo S models offer even more in terms of dual electric motor performance prowess, the appeal of the Taycan range is now even greater, thanks to the recent introduction of the more versatile Cross Turismo derivative.
Unmistakably Porsche in terms of its exterior styling, the Taycan’s profile, in particular, looks suitably fluid in terms of allowing for the optimal flow of air around its shape.
While the design of each optional set of wheels has similarly been finalised with the use of a wind tunnel, the packaging of the car’s battery and – in the case of the entry-level model I drove – the single electric motor powering the rear wheels exclusively allow for a handy 366 litres’ worth of rear luggage space below a tall-opening tailgate.
An 81-litre storage space up front provides additional packing space, while also neatly housing the associated charging cables.
The Taycan’s rear seats comfortably accommodates two adults.