Tested: 2022 Lucid Air Dream Edition Performance Is an Amazing First Effort
From the April 2022 issue of Car and Driver.When the numbers get too large, our little brains struggle to contextualize. We realize that vehicle development and manufacturing, along with building out a nationwide distribution and dealer network, burns money at a rate that makes trust-fund millionaires look like they’re living paycheck to paycheck. But what does it actually take to start with nothing and end up with a 1111-hp electric luxury sedan?Let’s put it this way: If you stuffed $100 bills into 55-gallon oil barrels, you’d need nearly 300 barrels to contain the $5 billion that Lucid Motors has spent thus far. The cliché that a venture like this is a moonshot is fitting. Actually, it could be many moonshots, as this sum would more than pay for both Bezos’s and Branson’s rockets combined. The fact that billionaires generally choose space programs over high-volume production cars as pet projects should tell you something. Founded in 2007 as Atieva, a battery-pack maker, Lucid is now beginning the tough task of making good on its vehicle investment. Adding to the monumental cost of the Air sedan is that the company chose to develop everything from the battery pack and electric motors to the headlights and power electronics. Of course, much of the effort also applies to other models in the works, such as the Air-based Gravity, an SUV coming in a year or so, and about a billion of the investment is sunk into a greenfield plant in southern Arizona. If EV buyers are seeking engineering excellence, demand should be high, as the Air shoots to the front of the pack in terms of power, range, and charging speed. The company started putting Air sedans into driveways in late 2021. Initial models range from the $140,500 Grand Touring to the top-of-the-line $170,500 Dream, with horsepower figures from 800 to 1111 and EPA range from 451 to 520 miles. But the lineup will soon expand downward. All the vehicles will be propelled by one or two of Lucid’s amazingly compact electric-motor assemblies. They’re powered via battery modules in 300-cell groupings at a heady 900 volts. The Air Dream Performance pack holds 118.0 kilowatt-hours. We tested Lucid’s range superiority by pointing the raked windshield of the Air Dream Performance south on a 372-mile route from the company’s Bay Area headquarters to the seaside town of Torrance in California’s Southland. Counterintuitively, perhaps, we chose the model with the lowest EPA range (451 miles), wooed instead by its four-digit horsepower.The long drive gave us time to take in the Air’s interior. In front of the driver is a large, curved screen reminiscent of the Porsche Taycan’s. The cabin is adorned with top-notch materials even past where people usually look—fabric extends all the way under the steering column. Curved door panels heighten the perception of spaciousness. The back seat has plenty of legroom and is set low to allow sufficient headroom under the squished roofline. Running at 75 mph down I-5, through the flatness of the Central Valley, we were feeling good about our range, although a “Next gas on freeway 35 miles” sign made us wonder how far the nearest EV fast-charging station might be. All was going swimmingly until we hit the Tejon Pass, a climb into the mountains known to locals as the Grapevine. With about 90 miles to go to our destination, the battery lost 8 per-cent of its charge in the 12-mile climb from 1200 to 4100 feet. Luckily, we made up for it on the descent. In the downhill section, we went nine miles for each 1 percent of the battery’s charge—about three times our overall average. After 369 miles, the battery went to an indicated zero per-cent, leaving three high-stress miles to go. Each mile felt like a hundred, with sweating induced not only by mounting anxiety, but also by the climate control shutting down when the charge got too low. But we made it, using 82 percent of the Air’s EPA range running mostly at highway speeds—a solid showing. During our test to fast-charge the battery from 10 to 90 percent, we saw a peak rate of 297 kilowatts. In that test, the Lucid took but three minutes to get to 20 percent state of charge, an extremely impressive initial leap. With an overall average rate of 137 kilowatts, the Air beats the Tesla Model S Plaid, the next best that we’ve tested, by more than 10 kilowatts.With the cruising behind us, we increasingly dipped into the spectacular shove provided by the Air Dream Performance’s 1111 horsepower. Its 10.1-second quarter-mile betters the Taycan Turbo S and every other electric four-door short of the Model S Plaid. Lucid representatives are, of course, quick to say that the Air isn’t really the brand’s answer to the Plaid; the engineers have designed the rear subframe to accommodate two motors in back, creating a three-motor configuration that would provide a theoretical horsepower number nearing 2000, should a battery be able to output the juice. While we’re talking Plaid, it’s notable that the Air has none of the Tesla’s nerve-racking high-speed wandering and is unerringly stable all the way to its 173-mph top speed, a figure that also beats any other EV we’ve maxed out. Its stability is not surprising given that Lucid’s head aerodynamicist is Jean-Charles Monnet, who previously optimized the winglets on Sebastian Vettel’s championship Red Bull Formula 1 car and worked to make the body slippery and the rear diffuser functional.But we did experience one aero dynamic hiccup: Up near the Air’s top speed, the wheels flung a half-dozen glossy plastic aerodynamic inserts high into the air like an exploding pinwheel. Were they not seated properly? Possibly, but what are the odds that three of four wheels were misassembled? Autobahn drivers, beware. Even better than the straight-line juice is the Air’s lithe and organic moves when wending a winding road. When you start pushing hard, it seemingly sheds half a ton of its 5282 pounds. But the fun terminates in steady-state understeer. We do appreciate the ability to dial back the stability control, creating the possibility of big, lurid tailslides. Maximum cornering of 0.92 g and stopping from 70 mph in 163 feet are behind the best, likely a trade-off for efficiency. While the Air doesn’t drive with the verve of a Porsche Taycan Turbo S, its combined efficiency rating is a whopping 59 percent better. Ride quality is luxury-sedan good, but the bobbing of the 21-inch wheels resonates through the structure. We found the adaptive dampers a touch too floaty in the default setting and a bit overdamped in more aggressive modes.There are a few rough edges. The transition from regen to power when easing into the go pedal is abrupt, and the brake pedal takes a long push to get to the disc brakes. At this price, the exterior panel fits are not as tight as they should be. We also experienced small electronic glitches—sluggish screen-response time, pop-out door handles that sometimes resisted our advances—that are a software update away from resolution, according to Lucid.It’s nevertheless remarkable that Lucid could pull off such a compelling car in its first go—no matter how many barrels of cash it burned to get there. Slip Sliding Away To get the most out of every kilowatt-hour of energy in the battery, Lucid’s designers and engineers employed a few clever tricks. A low roof height (0.6 inch lower than the Model S Plaid) decreases the Air’s frontal area. Twin passages on the outside edge of the hood channel air up and over the car. The underside of the battery pack rises roughly a half-inch from its midpoint to the back and, with the help of small end plates on the sides, directs air just so to the rear diffuser. When maximum cooling is required, air accelerates through patented front air inlets into twin vortexes to be evenly distributed over the radiator. It all combines for a claimed 0.20 coefficient of drag (on 19-inch wheels) and zero lift at top speed. The Air requires 12 to 25 percent less power to maintain highway speeds than the Tesla Model S. The efficiency gains and a 19 percent larger battery add up to more range. On 19-inch wheels the Air Dream Performance enjoys a 471-mile EPA-estimated range, while a Model S Plaid on 19s does 396 miles. The 520-mile EPA range of the Air Dream Range is 28 percent more than the Model S’s 405 miles.
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