TG Awards '19: Porsche Taycan vs 911 RS

The Taycan is Porsche's great leap, but can its DNA be traced back to *the* 911?

The day arrives hot & oily, like a just-used frying pan. The smell of warm tarmac seeps into everything, pulled out of the road by greasy sunshine that oozes slowly into the valley like poured honey. There’s no one about, and I am having A Moment. The grammatically incorrect capitals are necessary. The road is fantasy: a bijou mountain pass designed by a drunkard, positively cambered corners that float and curl around the landscape, tossed around the place without rhyme or reason. Hairpins feel like quarter-mile, 180° walls of death lobbed at the scenery like the incomplete noose of a lazy hangman. Straights are short, punchy, and have consequences.

The Porsche 911 I’m driving also has consequences, seeing as it’s worth more than I am, even if I get broken for parts. An RS, lightly outlawed with an overbored semi-race engine on throttle bodies. A manual gearbox and… not much else. The engine lacks any real flywheel effect – making it a racestart must at any junction – but when it gets going, it floods everything with a tidal wave of experience. It has 350bhp, and you feel every breath and inhalation, vibrate in time with it, become a flesh cog in the machine. It smells of oil and brakes, of unburned hydrocarbons, of what I associate with joy. It ricochets a buzzsaw wall of noise off everything, zinging red-line gearchanges with the tinny treble of a two-stroke motorbike. I could go faster in pretty much any modern sports car. It wouldn’t come close. And this is from someone who has a healthy disregard of the cult of the 911. Respect, yes, but I’m about as far from a fanboy as it’s possible to get.

Words: Tom Ford / Photography: James Lipman/Rowan Horncastle

After a bit, I calm down, drink some water and take in the view of a scorched plain hemmed by mountains, a place defined by various shades of brown split by the black fault line of a road. There’s only one thought: if the 911 is the legend that subsequent Porsches have to live up to, then this car, on this bit of bitumen, at this precise point in time, is the tallest of tall orders. Legends, clichés, whatever you want to call them, they get those definitions for a reason. This is one of them. A satisfied sigh. A breath. There’s a Porsche Taycan Turbo S parked quietly next to the 911. It looks big. Good, but big. A downed flight experiment dropped into our own peculiar little Area 51. And then there’s another thought, pure judgement, pure reaction: an electric car hasn’t got a chance. Not against this.

It’s an opinion birthed by an early start running out of downtown Los Angeles in traffic. An ugly procession of commuter hell made easy by the Taycan. Silence and double-glazing. A ride that smothers the lunar-surface aspirations of the LA freeway, the grind numbed by autonomous features and a decent stereo. It even increases its own predicted range in town, like some sort of perpetual motion machine. It thrums at slow speeds, whines with a sci-fi edge if you accelerate hard up a slip road, a Blade Runner remix to go with the LA skyline. A bare few hours at the wheel are crushed with competency and convenience, and even when lobbed on a local public 50kW charger while injecting myself with half a gallon of coffee, the 30-minute top-up (and useful parking space) is stupidly easy. When it works, it really works.

That’s not the point here, though, is it? Pure EVs are pretty much universally acknowledged now to have the commuting thing nailed, so I’d be surprised if a £140k electric car (£83k if you stoop to the 523bhp Taycan 4S) didn’t. But there’s a refinement here, even at the meanest challenge. The steering is precise and tactile – something lacking in most EVs of any stripe – the car’s body control-versus-ride quality beautifully judged. It’s a bit of a geeky thing, but you come to appreciate the nuance of decent damping when you’re hauling a 2.3-tonne four-door about the place on bad roads. Similarly, the brakes and brake regeneration are equally seamless, and the interior operation of both are Porschily familiar and suitably spaceship.

There are two electric motors driving all four wheels, a two-speed gearbox on the back axle, albeit reserved for duty when in the sportier of the Taycan’s drive modes. And when you find a road with some space, corners and sightlines, you find that the Taycan is bipolar in the best of ways. Full-on scary face. Because the way this car deploys its full 750bhp when you really bear down on the throttle on a good road is new world order stuff. It puts you in an almost permanent state of flinch. The speed, of course, is nothing new to fast EVs. Head-snapping torque followed by the spin-fade of the push as the motor gains revs is a party trick that’s been well documented in pretty much all quick electrics, but the way the Taycan juices itself through bends is new. And the surprise is genuine.

No, you never quite get past the weight. Because while four-wheel steering livens the reactions, and the neatness of responses from steering and brakes mitigate the mass to an extent, it still feels pretty big. But there’s an absolute fluency to the way the Taycan carves the same corners as the old 911. A coherence and fitness of purpose that works on every level. Yes, you have to adjust how you drive – I still don’t quite gel all the time with the way the car moves with even the smallest lift mid-corner (you have to be throttle-positive all the time, or it can get slightly weird) – but this isn’t a car that comes with very many caveats. We’ve felt fast EV. We’ve seen the speed. But they’ve been operating slightly within their own bubble – the Taycan stands up across the genres.

Despite the rowdy tribalism of electric vehicles in general, the Taycan has defined character

No, there’s no wailing soundtrack punctuated by the joyous ker-thunk of a well-timed gearchange, the happy dance of the enthusiast’s manual gearbox, but there’s a strangely appealing whirr-whine to round out the sensory inputs. It’s fake – I know – but for someone brought up on Star Wars, it’s fabulous. And while the four-wheel-drive grip is of the sort that you’ll be unable to responsibly breach on a dry road – you can’t really operate on the limit of this thing on a public road without being an absolute reckless arse – that’s more a modern supercar issue than an EV problem. And, yes, it’s completely, utterly different from the 911. But, and here’s the startling thing, it’s not worse. Just divergent.

The exciting thing abut the Taycan – and this is subjective as much as anything else – is that it feels much purer of focus than other very fast BEVs. The stuff that matters more to people who engage with cars on a deeper level than transportation, the driving experience, is more front-and-centre than in anything else in this sector at this point. Paper stats can only give you so much ammunition… after that, you’re into the realms of feeling, and texture. And despite the rowdy tribalism of electric vehicles in general, the Taycan has defined character.

After all, the Taycan shares pretty much nothing with the silly, naughty, smelly, loud, utterly fabulous 911RS in these pictures. There’s a doffed cap of design elements in the rear haunch and windowline, vague elements of nuance and interior, but otherwise this is like comparing a Wright Brothers garagebuild with a Space Shuttle. But here’s the thing: any individual element of the Taycan is made absolutely foreign by virtue of time and tech, but any current or old-school Porsche owner will recognise the experience instantly.

Porsche has been a canny fast follower here, identifying what niche the company needs to occupy in the exploding matrix of pure battery electric vehicles, and exploiting it ruthlessly. The genius is not that it has created a very quick BEV, or even a startlingly capable one – more that it has managed to make a Porsche out of it. And that’s because Porsche knows, on a very basic level, what it means to be a Porsche. Stuttgart grammar does not feel stretched thin over the Taycan, even when the technology and delivery is almost entirely new to the company portfolio.

Truth? The Taycan cannot be considered an icon, simply because icons are forged with the passage of time and tempered with opinion. But if anything has a chance at long-term electric hero status, this thing has a shot. It’s the TG Game Changer of the Year, it’s the Porsche Taycan, and it is not an icon. Yet.

What do you think?

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