So here we are. It’s late February. It’s snowing and cold as hell. And we are climbing into our first electric vehicle. Check that – our first ultra luxury EV, the 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S.
All I have been seeing, over the course of six months, has been news release after news release parading the newest in electric vehicles coming to market. I have said all along – the market is going to settle the debate about EV versus internal combustion engine, and how fast the old technologies fade into history, as the cost to buy one comes down. Not pontifications from sanctimonious climate doomsday pundits on CNN. Or lectures from a political relic whose family reportedly flies around in a fossil fuel-spewing Gulftream private jet while the rest of us are supposed to change our ways and drop and kiss the feet of the climate change truth-tellers.
Electric cars are still coming in waves. In the past few months alone in these pages, we have reviewed what’s new on the electric front from luxury car stalwarts like Cadillac, GMC (Hummer), Tesla, BMW, and Lucid. I’ll still go down swinging (ideally in one of these please) in an internal combustion engine (ICE).
But the EV beast wants to eat. It is gaining market share. This TD study explains that headwinds to slow growth in the EV market are starting to abate. Although that increase in popularity has been slower in Canada and the US compared to places like Europe. Still, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are expected to dramatically gain in market share over the next decade, in part as technological advancements start to bring down the cost to buy one.
Advancement in sustainable home construction techniques as well
I wrote for a Globe and Mail special section recently on the growing popularity of sustainable residential construction, as the appetite among home buyers for things like solar panels and better HVAC systems to optimize air quality in the home grows in popularity. Greenhouse gas emissions related to housing are one of the biggest sources of Canadians’ individual carbon footprints, a luxury developer said.
It was actually interesting to listen to developers, who are bringing in these techniques because luxury buyers want them now. They didn’t suddenly decide sustainable construction techniques were good for the planet so they needed to introduce it. These are business people. They are responding to what the market wants. Many luxury buyers are far more conscious about the existential threat posed by climate change. They are looking for real estate offerings where they can make a meaningful difference when it comes to day-to-day lifestyle habits.
However changing attitudes among the great silent majority hard-wired over decades of habit takes time. It will be glacial. But it’s coming. And in the car world, sooner than you think, that internal combustion engine vehicle will be among the ones you’ll be admiring at those vintage car shows.
And that brings us back to the Porsche Taycan 4S.
Elite driving machine
A premium package in frozen blue, total retail price of $165,000. That’s what I walked up to. Everything about the car was elite, fun to drive. I have driven many Porsches. But this one had speed and highway acceleration I have never experienced. Not that I would even attempt this on any average congested Canadian highway – but the car accelerates from zero to 100 km in 4.0 seconds.
The Porsche Taycan 4S can generate up to 520 HP of overboost power. The top speed of this all-wheel model is 250 km/h. That’s plenty fast to get you to the Home Depot and back in time for the game. Hit the pedal and you’ll see what I mean. And it’s totally silent, which is another level of unique experience. The sport steering wheel and deep seating makes you feel you’re still driving a Porsche. The curved display of the driver cockpit puts a full range of technological and entertainment options within close touch.
The exterior design is dynamic and sleek, but also purposeful. Vertical air intakes ahead of the front wheels improve aerodynamics. Door handles that automatically extend further accentuate the flat flyline. At the rear of the car, there’s a three-stage spoiler system, also for better aerodynamics. As per usual with media cars, mine came loaded with features: 21 inch Taycan exclusive design wheels, leather-free interior in graphite blue, seat heating, performance package (Porsche electric sport sound, Porsche dynamic chassis control sport, rear axle steering, sport chrono package) and the premium package (including a fixed panoramic roof and surround view camera system). A BOSE surround sound system is another great feature.
But herein lies the rub for people unsure about making the leap to EVs – expensive leap, in this case. The Porsche Taycan 4S has a system voltage of 800 volts instead of the usual 400 volts for electric cars. That translates to charge power up to 270 kW. The charging time from five to 80 per cent state of charge from a high-powered charging station is just under 22 minutes in ideal conditions. That’s what the news release says.
So that sounds good, right? The reality is this: I subscribed to a company called Flo to charge the car while driving it in downtown Toronto at the end of February. Flo has charging stations around the downtown core, including some along side streets in the city. Just download their app, pull your car up to one of the plug-in stations, and wait nine hours to charge your car up. There were only two plug-in stations where I was. So you better hope there aren’t any other cars waiting for a charge.
The other Flo charge station I came across was in an underground parking spot in an office building one street west of where I live, in Liberty Village. The good news – they were several plug-in stations, located over several levels of parking. Nobody was around. Not even a parking attendant. I plugged in the car and walked back to my place in a snow storm to work, while keeping track of the car’s charging status via the phone app. Four hours went by. Then six. Just 35.1 kWh in energy transferred. I went back over but because I was over the 6 p.m. paid parking deadline I was re-charged for another 12 hours – $28 overall, on top of the $9.10 Flo charge. Not efficient. Not convenient.
During the entire week I drove the car I couldn’t keep my eyes off the battery read out. The range for the car in the Porsche Taycan 4S off a full battery is around 325 kilometres. So you better be strategic where you are driving it (the car comes equipped with a mobile charger so you can plug it in somewhere if need be).
Tesla scores much higher – 500+ kilometres. A friend owns a Tesla Model X. He’ll charge it at home then make the 220+ kilometre drive to the Muskoka cottage worry-free, charge it at the cottage, then drive back to Toronto. A beautiful piece of luxury machinery to get him around and zero gas charges.
Done with the Flo charging experience, we found a super charge station at the downtown Toronto Porsche dealership. A friendly guy took the call and invited us to bring the car over. When we arrived, with the battery around 20 per cent, the car was taken to an elevator, then up to the roof where the super charge station was located. It would take 20 minutes or so to charge the Taycan back to 88-90 per cent we were told.
But the charging station was outdoors. And it was minus-15 that day. Cold slows the charging process. So another nice guy told us 20 minutes would now be 45. Then it was over an hour. Then two hours. We had nowhere to go, since all the area businesses were closed due to the pandemic. After two hours the guy offered it to me at 65% charged, which I gladly took and left.
High capacity charger at your home is a must
Again, I am not complaining. The Porsche Taycan 4S is a wonderful luxury car, a mammoth technological achievement from one of the world’s top brands. But there are dreams and beauty and a brave new world and then there are real-world realities. One super charge plug-in that I could find in the downtown core won’t cut it. I was lucky I had my laptop to do some work or else it would have been two unexpected hours feeling my brains leak out my ears watching day time television in the dealership lounge area (which was plush and nice, by the way).
So here is the lesson, if you are thinking about buying this car. People who can afford a Porsche Taycan 4S can also afford to set up your own power charge station at home. So do it. Spend the money. My Tesla-owning friend has a high capacity charger installed in his condo parking space. You can buy something for about $400 that will charge your car at about 50 kilometres per hour. Look into it. Don’t wait for charging infrastructure outside your walls to catch up.
Plugging the car into an AC unit on the wall won’t cut it. I tried that with a hybrid car once and got complaints because other residents in my condo didn’t like the long cord I had running from the AC outlet to the car. I am not kidding. Park your electric vehicle with your own high capacity charger in the evening and charge it back to full overnight. There is a sense of freedom not having to gas it up, yes.
Despite corporate media spin doctoring and poor journalism, this is the future. How fast the future comes to all us, who knows. But the prices of electric cars are coming down and the charging infrastructure will catch up more, compared to the poor experience I had. Still, take a hard look at both sides. Don’t be swayed by HBO documentaries or hot air from political leaders. ICE cars are far cleaner now than when we were kids. Price considerations, doing what’s best for you and your family, are even more of a priority in these uncertain times.