Drifting the 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S in Finland
In Finland, local Napue gin has been the go-to for a proper gin and tonic with some cranberries for color and a sprig of rosemary, kind of like Christmas in a glass. Then Finnish berry grower and winemaker Arctic Blue expanded into gin-making, giving Napue competition in a fledgling local industry that is taking off.
So it’s fitting that we head to Levi, Finland, 110 miles north of the arctic circle, to see how the new Porsche Taycan luxury electric sports car performs in the cold, ice, and snow. After all, this is the 2020 Taycan 4S with two synchronous electric motors, one on each axle, for all-wheel-drive capability. Porsche is a storied brand, but when it comes to electric sports cars, the Taycan is the new entry—like Arctic Blue gin—that wants to change the minds of those who previously would have ordered Napue or bought a Tesla Model S.
The Taycan Turbo and Turbo S are arriving at dealers now. These higher-end models will be followed by the Taycan 4S next spring. The base 4S starts at $106,410, but initially all the 4S models will be Performance Battery Plus, which starts at $114,430 and has the bigger 93.4-kW-hr battery, a $6,580 option. The base model will follow in June with the 79.2-kW-hr Performance Battery. The early builds also have a standard panoramic roof.
Range was expected to be about 270 miles with the Performance Battery Plus, and Porsche was expecting the actual EPA ratings to be much smaller numbers than what the car gets in real life. Although EPA ratings are still not in for the 4S, they were just released for the Taycan Turbo and are lower than expected, at 201 miles. In short, the Taycan’s range is substantially less than that of the aging Model S.
The Model S dates back to 2012, about the time that five Finnish men were sitting in a sauna, drinking American rye whiskey, and ruminating on why no one had made rye whiskey in Finland where rye bread is the national food, in part because rye is the No.1 crop. With zero experience, they founded the Kyrö distillery and tried to figure out how to make whiskey. To make money during the years whiskey needs to age, another sauna summit yielded the idea of making Finland’s first gin in the interim. Napue gin is made of rye, cranberries, and other botanicals that make it smell and taste like a spruce meadow or birch-lined forest. Finland’s first domestic gin hit the market in 2014, as the Model S was becoming the top-selling electric car in many countries. Both were on upward trajectories with no true competition.
But no one goes unopposed for long. Arctic Blue is a Finnish winery established in 1989 by a trio of Finns who were skilled berry growers and expanded into wine and then sparkling wine. In 2017, they introduced their first gin. It incorporates the bilberry, an arctic blueberry that grows wild in the forest. Napue had a viable competitor.
Porsche’s history is well known and synonymous with gorgeous driver’s cars, but always with a conventional combustion engine. Going electric takes Porsche onto a whole new track. Like Arctic Blue, which is new to gin but not the spirits industry, Porsche is taking its institutional knowledge and capability and taking a leap with a new architecture designed exclusively for electric vehicles; the family will expand with the Cross Turismo wagonlike crossover launching next year.
It was crucial that the Taycan be worthy of the brand in terms of both looks and performance. We think the designers nailed it with lines reminiscent of the 911 in this true four-seater. Inside is an impressive array of screens and a mix of luxury and sportiness throughout.
In terms of performance, Angus MacKenzie, MotorTrend’s international bureau chief, spent time with the prototype and then the finished car, on good old-fashioned pavement. In his First Drive review he confirms the Taycan joins the rest of the lineup as a fun-to-drive performance sedan that oozes Porsche DNA from every pore.
My job was to see how it holds up under adverse conditions. Does it fulfill its implied promise, the ability to flick the back end and drift? Hence, a day in Lapland, a frozen swamp lined with snowbanks, and a Taycan charged and ready to go.
The day started with a 90-mile drive from our hotel overlooking Finland’s largest ski hill in Kittilä to the Porsche Performance Center. Most of it was in the dark. At this time of year in the land of the midnight sun, the sun rises at 11:05 a.m. and retires again two hours later. The light may have been dim, but the world was white, the roads, snowbanks, trees, and sky all sharing the same pale palette.
The car handled the rough road with aplomb. Ice and packed snow had created a foundation, akin to a rumble strip with layers of softer snow on top. It was the perfect surface to show off the three-chamber air suspension. There was the occasional full-body shimmy on slick surfaces, but the stability inspired confidence. It was easy to speed down roads with precious few tire tracks for guidance. The pitfalls are real, as evidenced by a couple other vehicles (no Taycans) that slid off the road or sunk into the soft shoulders.
The quiet is eerie. In an electric car on remote roads in the land of a thousand lakes, all you hear is the thwack of icy pellets beneath the 20-inch Goodyear non-studded winter tires. Porsche enhances the sound. It put the motor on a dyno, recorded it, and highlighted certain frequencies. The soundtrack didn’t disturb the serenity of the postcard scene, though, with trees groaning under the weight of the snow. That is, until you change drive mode to Sport Plus and the augmented artificial whirr sounds like a spaceship about to land. It spoiled the mood for me, but it’s a matter of personal taste.
There are two times when braking is no fun: on ice and snow, and in some electric vehicles where the regenerative capability makes the brakes grab and grip abruptly. Not so with the Taycan. Most of the speed is scrubbed with regeneration rather than the brake system, but braking was smooth and effective, even down a long and snowy hill.
Once we arrived at the Porsche Experience Centre in Levi, it was time to play on test tracks of ice and snow. I was given keys to a new Porsche and told to drift it under a number of scenarios. When in doubt, accelerate. Don’t look at the snowbanks, and you won’t end up in them. It was the definition of a winter wonderland.
We started with a slalom course and made out first run in Sport Plus with Porsche Stability Management (PSM) on. Instructive. When the back end starts to swing out, the traction control rights it time after time. PSM effectively acts as the fun police, but it’s exactly what you want on the road, especially if there’s oncoming traffic or the roadsides slope down to a ditch.
But the point of the day was to turn PSM off and find the car’s happy place: sideways with wheels spinning. The rear-wheel steering is incredibly precise. The anti-roll system kept the car planted on slick turns and kept the shiny side up even on pure ice and in flat light that made the narrow sides of our next exercise, the figure eight, hard to discern. The Porsche was undaunted even when the driver was not.
The slightest throttle starts the slide, and fast hands can keep it going. Too much, and it’s donut time, kind of glorious in a safe environment like this. No snowbanks were harmed.
The final exercise was just drifting around a pair of circles, big and small. There was lots of room to play with the throttle as the last vestiges of snow are rubbed off, leaving nothing but ice. Hoot and holler.
Range was not an issue. The cars drove all morning and were quickly recharged during lunch. An 800-volt fast charging station can take the battery from 5 percent to 80 percent charge in less than 23 minutes under normal conditions. Cold wasn’t an issue because the batteries can be pre-conditioned (heated or cooled) on the way to the charging station to make them receptive to a quick charge. Waste heat from the motors and batteries is used to heat the interior. Even in reindeer country, I had to take my jacket off inside the car.
The fact that Porsche was not afraid to let us—even encouraged us—to test the car’s limits in a harsh environment telegraphs the confidence engineers have in the new Taycan. The automaker originally planned to make 20,000 Taycans annually but has already decided to double capacity at the plant in Zuffenhausen and is training workers now. The U.S. will get as large an allotment as needed to meet demand, we are told.
Much like Arctic Blue is challenging Napue for the hearts of the Finnish gin drinkers, Porsche is using the Taycan as a throwdown in the electric luxury sedan market. It’s betting beauty, quality, engineering, repeatable performance, and the Porsche name will convince buyers to consider a new brand.