- 6 Min Read
- By: Christian Schaefer
Did Audi & Porsche Crack The EV Code To The Enthusiast's Heart?
In just two years, Porsche’s Taycan and its sister car, the Audi e-tron GT, have redefined the performance EV market. Their instant torque and ridiculous power figures have made them the quickest cars on the street, dethroning Dodge Hellcats and Porsche 911 Turbos everywhere while providing the first real challengers to the Tesla Model S. The performance EV future certainly looks bright in engineering terms, but the public’s perception and acceptance of these experiments as the new norm are real challenges for manufacturers.
We know that’s a fact because we’ve had our reservations and have also heard your comments. The hatred for the performance EV is understandable, but one that should disappear. Every day, the EV landscape improves; we have a bespoke Audi S1 Hoonitron EV built for Ken Block, Nitro RallyCross will soon have its first electric competitor, and Porsche is all-in on the next generation of hybrid and EV competition in the WEC and Formula E. All of that engineering trickles down into the road cars as it used to when carburetors were popular, making the EVs of today the best they've ever been. The automotive soul has always been linked to gasoline and oil, but is that about to change? Have Porsche and Audi finally cracked the code and built enthusiasts an EV worth loving?
To understand why the Taycan and e-tron GT deserve their respect, you have to start at their beginning. The core of the Taycan and e-tron GT is their shared J1 platform. After some completely honest emissions testing by Volkswagen, the German government forced the manufacturing group to begin a clean-energy program as part of their court settlement. With prototyping for an EV already underway, Porsche was given the keys to the project and told to come back with a car that would bare their name. Never backing down from a challenge, the Taycan hit showroom floors in mid-2019, just four years after the settlement. Less than a year later, the Audi e-tron GT made its first appearance with the same body and drivetrain construction, and since then, the two have put a sizeable dent in Tesla’s market share.
Bolting On The Basics
Building a 5000lb+ performance sedan was nothing new for Porsche engineers as they already had a platform capable of the J1’s stature. Their Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid was just about the same size and was around the same weight as the proposed EVs, so its underpinnings became the starting point for chassis development. Porsche took the front and rear suspension architecture and paired it with three-chambered air suspension to give the big sedan the agility and ride control that every Porsche is sold with. Of course, the J1’s suspension was reworked because, unlike the Panamera, the suspension would support a massive battery pack and some electric motors rather than a twin-turbo V8.
The 1400lb battery pack is the single heaviest component in the car, far heavier than the Panamera’s drivetrain. Now obviously, Porsche couldn’t just add some carbon fiber to the batteries to shed weight, so they did the next best thing. The entire battery structure of the J1 platform exists within various modules in the floor, and together the modules make up the core of the floor structure, including some pockets for the rear passenger’s feet. Doing so ensured the weight was kept as low to the ground as possible for handling performance.
Beyond the air suspension and low-slung battery pack, any potential handling improvement is an optional extra. Porsche’s Dynamic Chassis Control is exclusive to the Taycan, utilizing electromechanical sway bars to keep the car flatter through the corners and softer over bumps. However, the active rear-wheel steering and the torque vectoring via electromechanical limited-slip differential are available on both the Audi and Porsche. They’re relatively common options on their gas-powered equivalents like the RS7 and Panamera Turbo, so their inclusion on the EVs wasn’t much of a challenge for engineers.
Masking the roughly 5000lb curb weight through the bends isn’t easy, but the engineering performed on the suspension calibration is second to none. Neither J1 variant is as happy to turn as something like a Cayman, but their performance puts them right up against their more conventional siblings. As Car and Driver put it, “Between its talkative, perfectly weighted helm and the way its controls cocoon the excellent driving position, the Taycan’s essence revolves around its pilot, bringing a rich sense of over-the-road intimacy.” Even when you get a little cheeky and chuck them into a bend, the electrified all-wheel drive grips and pulls you around with enough stick to match a C8 Corvette in skidpad testing. Not too shabby for a sedan that weighs as much as a Range Rover.
But the J1 platform EVs aren’t at their best through the corners. The weight overpowers the tires and suspension at the limit, so it’ll never be a track-happy ride. Instead, its greatest strength comes out when the road gets much less twisty, and you can bury the go pedal.
Squeeze too hard, exiting a bend, and you’re rapidly doubling the speed limit thanks to two electric motors at the center of each axle. They’re of the PSM type, standing for permanent synchronous motor. PSMs are the latest and greatest production motors thanks to their relative simplicity, compact sizing, and lightweight. Combined with the 93.4kWh battery pack in the Taycan Turbo S, the electric motors produce 750 horsepower and 774 lb-ft of torque during overboost, good enough for a 2.4s sprint to 60mph. The top-spec RS e-tron GT is the next most powerful with 690 during over boost, and all other J1 variants fall below that figure.
I could list the other variants on the platform, but this isn’t a novel. Instead, know that the Taycan comes in six different trims with a long-roof variant available for all. The e-tron GT is strictly a sedan and comes as the RS or non-RS. Either way, they’re practical, with ample trunk space and enough range to support your daily commute and some short weekend trips.
On paper, the overall range between the most basic J1 variant to the most powerful sits at an average of 210 miles using the EPA estimates. However, Porsche went through the trouble of hiring an independent firm, and their results showed that the actual range across the J1 lineup was a skosh over 265 miles per charge. In other words, perfect for a mid-length weekend trip. Anything longer than that requires a recharge which doesn’t sound ideal, I know, but the J1’s charging abilities are an advantage over other EVs.
Developed from the Porsche 919 LeMans prototype racer, the e-tron GTs, and Taycans have an 800-volt charging system. With double the capacity of the more traditional 400-volt system, the J1 variants carry superior speed and efficiency over just about everyone else. Porsche and Audi claim that a 270kW charger can bring a J1 variant from 5% to 80% in just 25-minutes. That’s at the apex of the current road-going tech and only matched by Tesla’s Model S Plaid, but that likely won’t last too long. Major component manufacturer ZF has already begun production on 800-volt components for other manufacturers looking to catch up and is scheduled to deliver finished products within the next few months.
In this case, the competition from other 800-volt systems also benefits Audi and Porsche. The 200kW+ charging capabilities needed to provide rapid charging aren’t the easiest to come by for many, but growth in its necessity should drive a supporting wave of infrastructure. At least, that’s what we can hope for, anyway.
If you’re lucky enough to have that infrastructure near you and can afford to jump into one of these EVs, you’ll have some decisions before purchasing. Audi offers the e-tron GT with a handful of packages that combine some of the more popular safety, technological, and performance options into specific bundles. Very little else is offered, though. On the other hand, the Porsche features several options for every single piece in and on the car. Do you want your air vent slats trimmed in contrasting leather? Sure, why not. Maybe wood steering wheel trim, carbon shifter trim, and brushed aluminum door sills? It’s possible…but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Perhaps best of all is the Paint-To-Sample program available for the Taycan. Splurging for the $11000 option gives you a choice of 60 colors from Porsche's vast color palette spanning back to the 356 of the early fifties. Audi exclusive has a similar program but trades an extensive list of colors for a smaller yearly shade group available with four different paint finishes.
I understand paint choice isn't the most crucial aspect of our favorite enthusiast cars deliver. But, our cars wearing something other than black, silver, or white is critical to the overall experience. The bright and distinctive shades remind us that what we drive is unique for reasons other than performance. Imagine our favorite performance cars missing their signature colors; no Laguna Seca Blue E46, Imola Yellow B5 S4, or Flash Green V70R. Sure, they'd be the same driving experience, but would they stir the soul in the same manner? I'd argue not.
Performance facts and figures are well and good, but we don't necessarily love performance cars strictly for how they look on paper. It's the feelings they give when we get in and drive them, when we look back at them after parking, and even as we're rolling through the drive-thru, looking at our reflection in the window. If a set of wheels with carbon fiber aero blades and blue-painted calipers is going to do it for you, then yeah, how don't the options add to the experience? Add on the already bonkers performance that makes even the most basic Taycan a quick car by today's standards, and you should have a recipe for success amongst performance enthusiasts. At least, in theory.
Shaking 100 years of hot-rodding ideology isn’t going to happen overnight, and we’re still early on in the adoption process, but the future these EVs offer is far better than the one where we stay the course. Hopping into an EV for the daily commute will become a norm for many, so why not make it one that performs better than any vehicle in the segment? Or, if you can’t conceivably do that, at least respect them and cheer for their success. Automakers can only produce future gasoline-powered cars if we can seriously reduce our current carbon output. Cars like the Taycan and e-tron GT are Europe’s attempt at aiding that future while providing a little bit of the fun and engagement we’ll lose forever if they don’t succeed.
Owner of a flat-six swapped 1998 Impreza 2.5RS and a 1973 Porsche 914. Horizontally opposed views, only.