I’ve never driven anything quite like the Lucid Air. It is exceptional: exceptionally styled, exceptionally fast and exceptionally expensive.
It’s easy to stand out when money’s no object, as any number of million-dollar supercars can prove. The Lucid Air electric car isn’t in that silly bracket, though: It starts at $121,500 for the “Pure” trim and goes up to almost triple that for the about-to-be-introduced Air Sapphire, at $327,500.
“We absolutely have expansion and growth plans [to move] farther down-market,” said Rob Whitley, the maker’s vehicle product line manager. “The intent of Lucid Air was to launch with our flagship, so we have the best electric range of any production car in the world.”
Does that sound familiar?
The range, which is claimed at up to 830 kilometres, is helped by the aerodynamic design of a slippery sedan compared with the air-thudding shape of a more popular SUV. Lucid says its car has a drag co-efficient of 0.197, which is a remarkably low measure of wind resistance. A new Honda Civic, for example, has a drag co-efficient of 0.265, while a Cadillac Escalade is about 0.35.
More important, the published drag co-efficient of a Mercedes-Benz EQS is 0.2 and a Tesla Model S is 0.208. Last year, Lucid said its drag co-efficient was 2.1, but its website now includes the new, lower number without explanation for the improvement.
Lucid very much wants to prove itself against both Mercedes and Tesla for a stake in the electric vehicle fight. “We saw a niche that wasn’t filled,” said Whitley, pointing to the rarefied air just above the tier now occupied by the Mercedes EQS and Tesla Model S luxury sedans.
The company started in 2007 making battery packs under the name Atieva, but began hiring engineers from Tesla and other high-tech companies. Its current chief executive officer, Peter Rawlinson, was chief engineer for the Tesla Model S before he left 10 years ago to join the company that would become Lucid Motors in 2016. That’s when it announced it was moving into the car-building business. A billion-dollar investment from the Saudi Arabian government helped establish an assembly plant in Arizona and get everything up and running.
This is not a small company: Lucid says it built 7,180 vehicles last year, and almost half of them in just the final three months. There’s an SUV coming, of course – the Gravity – but it won’t be in production until next year.
The Lucid Air sedan has many remarkable features. One of the most obvious is the glass canopy roof, which is standard on the Grand Touring version I drove in California and is a $5,500 option to add to the $148,500 Touring trim level. (At least, that’s what a marketer will tell you. The “optional” canopy roof is currently the only roof you can buy when you purchase a Lucid Air Touring on the internet, just as you can’t yet avoid the “optional” $13,500 for enhanced semi-autonomous driving, and the “optional” $5,000 for an enhanced sound system. There are similar markups for the Pure. There’s always a price for being an early adopter.)
The canopy roof is well worth its cost, however, if only for the wow factor. It’s a curved sheet of glass that extends long past the A-pillars and above the front seats, so you feel like the Jetsons driving in their futuristic bubble. (Less charitable critics might mention Homer Simpson in The Homer.) It’s quite wonderful, with the sun visors attached to the clear glass, and especially with the solid rear sunroof over the spacious rear seats. The only other production vehicle that offers anything like it is the Tesla Model X.
There’s a lot of room inside the cabin, with rear seats that recline and stretch out. Like Tesla or Genesis, you can buy directly from the company, online.
In the front, the airiness continues with a giant glass dash for instrumentation and an additional tablet-like control panel that retracts into the dash when not in use. This car doesn’t let you forget you’re driving something quite different.
That’s especially so when you step on the throttle. The Lucid Air Grand Touring uses 924-volt architecture to power a 112-kilowatt-hour battery, which produces 819 horsepower and 885 lb-ft of torque in its two motors. That’s astonishing, but if you don’t think it’s overkill, Lucid will offer you the Grand Touring Performance, which steps up to 1,050 horsepower, or even the Sapphire, which has three motors and claims more than 1,200 horsepower. (For comparison, the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 produces 670 horsepower.)
As for charging, the Grand Touring will take up to 300 kilowatts at a DC fast charger, and 19.2 kilowatts at an AC charger. The lesser trims of Pure and Touring produce less power and charge less quickly, though they’re not exactly slow.
Honestly, I’m guessing somebody at Lucid – probably Rawlinson – said, “What does Tesla offer? We must have more, and damn the expense!”
So how is it to drive? Short answer: It’s mind-blowing.
The Grand Touring rides on electronic adaptive suspension that is as smooth as any German car I’ve experienced. You can drive it as a luxurious limousine if you like, and when the drive mode is set to either “Smooth” or “Swift,” it creates a hefty 600-or-so horsepower that, like any EV, is instantly available.
Press the button again to switch the drive mode to “Sprint” and everything changes. A screen comes up that questions your choice and requires you to push a Confirm button. “Sprint Mode enables maximum power and torque,” it warns. “It is recommended to be used only by skilled, advanced drivers under suitable driving conditions with Lucid-specification summer tires installed.” Like any red-blooded driver is not going to confirm this.
It’s a fair warning, though. The Lucid will then kick you forward like a monstrous mule, and will keep on doing so. Zero to 96 kilometres an hour in three seconds. Ninety-six to 209 kilometres an hour in 7.4 seconds, covering a quarter-mile from standstill in 10.7 seconds. And that’s just the Grand Touring. The Performance edition steps it all up to 2.6 seconds, five seconds, and 10.1 seconds.
And then, because the Tesla Model S Plaid started this game in the first place, the new Sapphire goes up yet another notch: 1.89 seconds for the zero-to-96 slice and 3.87 seconds to hit 160 kilometres an hour, which really means, “as quick as the Plaid.” Plus, all these vehicles have massive brakes that stop the 2,375-kilogram car quickly and reliably.
I’d like to say the vehicle handles like a sports car, but I only drove on public roads. It was certainly capable of carrying far more speed through the California canyons than I would dare to try, or the highway patrol would accept. Frankly, the Sprint drive mode is just an over-the-top party trick for bragging rights.
Is it better than the Tesla? It’s more luxurious, more spacious and more expensive. It doesn’t have the extensive Tesla supercharging network, but that’s a little less important when it has such a far-reaching range. And every time you drive it, you’ll know you’re driving something very different. Just try not to get a stone chip in the windshield.
Lucid Motors is a relative newcomer to the EV market and offers several versions of its sedan with up to 1,111 horsepower on tap. James Engelsman and Thomas Holland from Throttle House test an Air Dream Edition Performance and find an EV with the speed, handling, range and design to battle other electrics, with a hefty price tag to match.
The Globe and Mail
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