Lucid Air sci-fi delivers European-style Tesla performance
Woodside, California – In 2017, I drove through Skyline Boulevard here in an American-made 680hp electric Tesla Model S P100D. The car was mesmerizing – a new standard of luxury that blew away rivals like the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series in acceleration (2.3 seconds zero-60) and technology. My goosebumps told me that luxury has a new boss.
Four years later, I followed Tesla’s tire tracks in the 2022 Lucid Air. The goosebumps were back.
The creation of original Model S engineering genius Peter Rawlinson, Lucid Air followed Tesla’s playbook – leading the European competition with sci-fi performance, instant torque and jaw-dropping beauty. With clean-lined designs powered by cutting-edge electric motor technology, sister Silicon Valley startups sit at the top of the luxury class for most electrifying vehicles (pun intended).
At a red light in Woodside, I triggered the launch control by pressing both pedals. Then release the brake. I was halfway to the moon before my vision cleared. With 1,111 horsepower (er, about the same as Penske’s famous 1973 Porsche 917-30 Can Am for racing fans), the 5,200-pound rocket launches at 60 mph in 2.5 seconds. Almost as fast as the P100D.
Having reached these heights, the Lucid steps back to wonder if the world is big enough for another Tesla. Pushing the limits of autonomous driving? Government regulations? On-screen controls? Fork flywheel?
Let Tesla be Tesla. Lucid tries a third way. With one foot in New World power and the other in European Old World luxury, Lucid aims to be the Mercedes of the electronic age.
Take this mind-blowing acceleration, for example.
Unlike Tesla, Lucid didn’t borrow his business model from “Spaceballs,” the movie. My rocket-pad launch was not performed using Ludicrous or Plaid mode. Lucid sports a more conventional Smooth, Swift, and (the ultimate launch control) Sprint workout suite. It dovetails with a product that wants to bring classic elegance to electric vehicles, while Tesla explores the cutting edge of four-wheel smartphone technology.
My $ 170,500 Air Dream tester is already a collector’s item. Only 520 will be built to launch the model line that starts at $ 78,900 with the Lucid Air Pure. Slip inside the sedan and it recognized my key as the Model S Plaid I tested earlier this month. No start button. No brake release. The hand meets the glove.
But the interior trim is more European-style luxurious than an Apple smartphone. Lush materials. Porsche Taycan-style 34 inch curved screen. A traditional solid wheel (with a flat bottom for easier entry) compared to the Model S fork flywheel.
A second console screen follows Tesla’s lead – containing drive modes, the steering wheel, air conditioning, and even mirror controls. Hermetically sealed with sound deadening materials, the 2 1/2 ton spacecraft is a dream to drive. Like the Model S, it feels organic – no fake engine sounds like Taycan. Silent and relentless couple.
At Alice’s busy restaurant on Route 35, I stepped out of the cabin and Air pulled in the onlookers like a magnet. They’re used to exotic vehicles in the affluent Bay Area where startups Rivian and Tesla have redefined luxury sedans and pickup trucks (not to mention the hefty image of electric vehicles).
I remember the first time I saw the Air Prototype at the 2017 New York Auto Show. Thin chrome hood over thinner headlights. High thresholds. Bubble greenhouse. It looked like a car from a sci-fi movie.
Take Air to the local country club and your guests will step out of a back seat as large as your living room. Unlike the prototype, however, the rear compartment is aftermarket, devoid of reclining seats and passenger shelves like European rivals. The driving controls are familiar, although you may need to explain regenerative driving with one foot to the valet.
The expected EV details are here. Up front there’s a bigger frunk than the Tesla – so big it has a sub-frunk. The new Mercedes EQS and BMW iX do not have frunks. Eh?
Blame the bad packaging, something Lucid and Tesla are cold about. The Air has the interior space of an S-Class Merc, the wheelbase of an E-Class. Credit Lucid’s compact engines – more space-efficient than even Tesla’s hallowed technology. Sitting on an industry-leading 900-volt architecture (compared to the Model S’s 400-volt), Lucid benefits from battery technology developed for Formula E racing by battery partner Atieva.
Plug the Air into a 350 kWh charging station and it claims 300 miles of added range in 22 minutes. That’s a high for electric vehicles, although it’s still far below the capacity of a gasoline engine.
Air’s enormous 118 kWh battery was mounted low in a skateboard frame, and I tackled the turns of Route 35 with confidence. Reduce throttle and peek the redwood canopy above through a Tesla Model X-style panoramic roof.
The standard Lucid Pure has a full steel roof. This front trunk is wrapped in a spectacular shell hood, as is the rear trunk.
Luxury shoppers want white glove dealer service, and here Lucid is a work in progress. Following the pioneering path of Tesla (and state house lobbyists), it wants to build its brand with unique “studio” showrooms and adjacent service centers. The mobile units will provide in-home service for small repairs – a convenience I appreciate with my own Model 3.
But my Tesla showroom / service center is an hour away, and mobile units can take days for an appointment. Lucid will face similar challenges. Speaking of infrastructure, Tesla’s secret sauce is a supercharging network built into the vehicle’s software, relieving owners’ anxiety on long journeys. Lucid trusts a promised network of third-party chargers, in particular its partner Electrify America.
In the Golden State, Lucid made a fake trip to Santa Barbara. The system dutifully found an EA compressor on the way. Good start. But, in the Tesla era, buyers will also want to know how long they’ll stay at the charger, where to eat nearby, and more. Lucid hopes its sexy looks, 520-mile range, and powerful engines will keep owners satisfied until the charging network catches up.
It also promises autonomous driving technology. Avoiding Tesla’s daring off-road autopilot, Lucid talks about a “DreamDrive” hands-free system like Cadillac SuperCruise and Ford BlueCruise. Lucids will receive a live update to wake up 32 on-board sensors, including LIDAR for inclement weather in all seasons.
In just a decade, American brands have revolutionized the luxury vehicle landscape. They are not called Cadillac or Lincoln. They are fresh-faced kids named Tesla and Lucid. And they go up quickly, silently in your rearview mirror.
2022 Lucid Air
Vehicle Type: Five-Passenger, Battery-Powered All-Wheel-Drive Luxury Sedan
Price: $ 78,900 including destination fee of $ 1,500 ($ 170,500 Dream Air Performance based on testing)
Powertrain: 118 kWh lithium-ion battery with dual electric motor drive
Horsepower: 480 hp, 443 lb-ft of torque (1,111 hp, 1,025 lb-ft of Dream Air torque as tested)
Transmission: single speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.5 seconds (mfr); top speed, 168 mph
Weight: 5,200 pounds (as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA, 114 MPGe (FWD), 98 MPGe (AWD); range, 406 miles (Pure), 520 miles (Dream Air)
Highlights: gorgeous figure; the best range of electric vehicles in its category
Weak points: Slim dealer network; becomes expensive
Overall: 4 stars
Henry Payne is an auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.