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2020 Porsche Taycan 4S.

Tobias Kempe/Courtesy of manufacturer

Of all the knocks on electric cars, one of the most vexing is the fact that their batteries stand up to the January cold about as well as an orchid on a Sudbury Saturday night. Which is to say, you can almost watch them wilt before your eyes.

The limitations of frigid batteries have put the chill on would-be Canadian buyers. But Porsche’s “value-priced” version of the Taycan all-electric sports car – the 4S, priced at $119,400 – has battery-nursing technology well-suited to Canada’s most wicked weather whims.

“Cold climates are not good for batteries,” says Matthias Kirschgassner, director of the Taycan sales and marketing team, in what can only be described as a spectacular understatement. “People are afraid of using e-cars in this climate.”

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The Taycan's wraparound rear LED light is highly visible in any weather conditions.

Doug firby/The Globe and Mail

Porsche responded to the challenge by installing a computer-controlled temperature management system to warm up the battery when it’s cold and cool it down when drivers get too hot-footed. There’s even an optional system to capture excess battery heat for the cabin.

When your car is plugged in at home overnight, a timer switches on a battery heater to “condition” (i.e. warm up) the unit as you head indoors. If you’re on the road and planning to stop somewhere for a charge, you can tell the system to optimize the battery as you approach the charging station. Under ideal conditions with Porsche’s own 800-volt chargers, the company claims a car can go to an 80-per-cent charge from 5 per cent in 22.5 minutes.

The electrical charging port on the front fender is concealed by an electrically powered cover.

Doug firby/The Globe and Mail

Fortunately, you don’t have to find a Porsche charger – the Taycan’s portal works with the standard 480-volt DC fast chargers found in Ontario, Quebec and most other provinces. It just takes a little longer.

All this talk about battery, though, should not distract from the fact that this is, first and foremost, a Porsche, which means it is a sports car that also happens to be an EV. It is not a sporty EV sedan, like a Tesla Model S, but rather a highly refined, well-balanced, laugh-out-loud joy-of-driving machine.

Spend a day behind the wheel of the Taycan, as I did, and you can forget that it is an EV at all. There is a moment when that all comes together – when you feel the continuous surge of power from the two (front and rear) synchronous electric motors and you’re ready to ignore the mildly annoying artificially generated whine.

A low centre of gravity and low-mounted battery ensure the Taycan feels agile through the turns.

Tobias Kempe/Courtesy of manufacturer

It seems silly to state that the Taycan 4S is a compromise, yet it is. It follows two more powerful versions of the Taycan: the Turbo and Turbo S (ironic names, since there is no turbo-charger on these cars). Unveiled in November, they are priced at $173,900 and $213,900, respectively, in Canada.

With the 4S, there are a couple fewer niceties. The brake rotors are cast iron rather than ceramic, for example, and the batteries are lower capacity. You also surrender the right to brag about fastest acceleration times, although most drivers will find 100 km/h in just four seconds not too shabby.

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The digital dash is simple and clear. The left dial shows power distribution, the centre shows speed and range, and the right shows the battery's status.

Doug firby/The Globe and Mail

The 4S comes with a standard 79.2-kilowatt-hour, 554-kilogram lithium-ion Performance Battery, which delivers a maximum range of 407 km. For an extra $7,500, buyers can upgrade to a 92.3-kilowatt-hour, 630-kilogram Performance Battery Plus which stretches the range to 463 km. It’s a wise investment. The entry level battery delivers 429 horsepower and 472 lb-ft. of torque; the bigger battery raises those numbers to 482 hp and 479 lb-ft. There’s also a feature called launch control that delivers a brief burst of even more power. Top speed for both is rated at 250 km/h.

If you’re not headed to the racetrack, it’s hard to imagine you’ll miss the 626 horsepower of the Turbo S.

If there is to be a quibble, it is with the annoying windshield defroster – it is either idle, or on loud and hot. This EV would benefit from embedded electrical windshield defrosters, akin to certain Land Rover, VW and Volvo models.

The AWD system refuses to let the Taycan skid out of control unless you really force it to.

Doug firby/The Globe and Mail

The AWD system continuously adjusts the amount of power going to the front and rear wheels, based on such things as driver behaviour and road conditions. The result is a car that just refuses to skid out of control, unless you force it to. Of the four driving modes (range, normal, sport, sport plus), it is sport plus that puts the car at the mercy of the driver’s skills.

Early reviewers have compared the Taycan 4S to the Tesla Model S, because their acceleration numbers and price are similar. Yet, these are different vehicles serving different purposes. The Tesla puts the emphasis on range while the Porsche unabashedly puts performance above all.

This EV would benefit from embedded electrical windshield defrosters, akin to certain Land Rover, VW and Volvo models.

When a car’s price hits six figures, buyers’ expectations rightly grow with it. And there are cars that, once you look beyond the luxo bells and whistles, seem to show little evidence to justify the premium their makers charge. Not so with the Taycan 4S.

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Really, it’s that good. If you have the means, this car is worth every penny.

Deliveries to Canada are expected to begin late in the first quarter of 2020.

Tech specs

  • Base price: $119,400 (Not including $1,500 freight and PDI)
  • Engine: Two “permanently excited” synchronous electric motors
  • Transmission/drive: single-speed front, two-speed rear/AWD
  • Fuel economy – lowest and highest (kWh/100km): 21.1/25.7 (Porsche estimate)
  • Alternatives: Tesla Model S

Wide infotainment display requires user to navigate through layers. There’s a duplicate display for the passenger.

Doug firby/The Globe and Mail

Looks

The four-door Taycan 4S has an instantly recognizable side profile, in the spirit of the Panamera. Four LED daytime running lights are encased in short and wide rectangular headlamp units that subtly update the look, while continuous LED lights wrap around the rear fenders. It is a handsome car.

Interior

Quality is best witnessed as understatement. The Taycan 4S keeps the modern digital dash layout clean, simple and minimalist. The leather (synthetic is also available) seats are very firm, as befitting a car built to be driven hard. Front foot wells are brought to life with gently glowing red lights. The overall effect is clean and calm.

Performance

Although a notch down in power from the pricier Turbo and Turbo S models, the 4S can still reach 100 km/h in just 4.0 seconds. For most people, that’s more than enough. A low centre of gravity and low-mounted battery ensure the car feels agile through the turns. Continuously adjusted AWD makes it almost impossible to lose control.

Technology

Porsche uses the best of safety and control technology in a way that enhances, rather than replaces, the driving experience. Its adaptive air suspension includes an adaptive damper control, known as PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management). Another system, PSM (Porsche Stability Management) keeps the car on an even keel at any speed. Traction control is so seamless, you could convince yourself that you are doing all the work – until you switch it off.

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Although a notch down in power from the pricier Turbo and Turbo S models, the 4S can still reach 100 km/h in just 4.0 seconds.

Cargo

Like many true sports cars, cargo is a sacrificed on the altar of looks and aerodynamics. The front boot is just 81 litres, and the rear holds a barely adequate 407 litres. You can pack a weekend bag, but don’t plan on using this car for a family road trip.

The verdict

The Taycan 4S is a shining example of how technology can be used to make an all-electric sports car that’s better than internal-combustion. Its price, while less than the Turbo S, will be beyond the reach of many. But if you can afford a premium sports car, this one makes no compromises on the driving experience.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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