“The future is stupid,” my buddy Dan says, laughing from the passenger seat, as I desperately try to get the electric Lucid Air Grand Touring just to move from where it’s stuck: next to an unmanned toll booth on the Ohio Turnpike, traffic collecting behind it, other drivers probably wondering why this idiot in the spaceship car won’t just drive past the open gate. The car is asking me, the idiot, for a PIN. I don’t have a PIN. I just have a key. What the hell? But I come here to praise the Lucid, not to bury it, because I’m actually impressed by this flummoxing car.
Everyone likes to pretend that electric cars are just like regular cars, but they really aren’t. This isn’t the difference between gasoline and diesel, manual and automatic, or wagon and sedan. This is the difference between tennis and pickleball. An electric car drives differently. You have to use it differently, especially over long distances. In many ways, an electric car is better than an internal combustion-powered car, but it’s not the same thing.
Because electric cars are different and new, pure-EV carmakers tend to produce electric cars that are better at being electric cars than similar vehicles from a traditional automaker. At the same time, EV-only automakers are great at making electric cars that perform well as electric cars, but make strange choices that render them less useful as actual cars.
Here’s where it would be helpful to provide an example.
A Tesla Model 3 is a great electric vehicle. It packs a lot of range and a good number of features into an attractive and usable package connected to a large charging network. In my mind, the Tesla Model 3 (or the Model Y) is probably the best electric car in the world. It’s also a good car, capable of doing most car things pretty well, but it’s not a great car. Build quality is questionable, I don’t like the screen interface, it doesn’t come with Apple CarPlay, steering feel is good but not great, and I don’t love the interior. You may not agree, but that’s how I feel.
The Porsche Taycan is a great car. One of the best cars you can buy. The steering feel is typically Porsche, the design is exceptional, the fit-and-finish is extremely high. At the same time, it is in no way the best electric car you can buy. A Taycan Performance Plus gets about 242 miles of range, compared to 315 miles for the Tesla Model 3 Performance AWD, which is also about $40,000 cheaper. The Taycan is a great car and an average EV.
You can play this game all day, but it’s a subjective game. I think the Polestar 2, for instance, is a good EV and a good car. The Kia EV6 GT is a good EV and a great car. The Mazda MX-30 is a good car and a terrible EV. Most cars are good-to-average EVs and good-to-average cars.
This is what I thought about when I asked for a Lucid Air to drive back and forth from New York to Chicago for the NASCAR race. Could this be both a great EV and a great car? Absolutely on the former, but the latter is way more complicated.
What Makes The Lucid Air A Great EV
Lucid is a California-based electric carmaker that’s clearly trying to follow in the footsteps of Tesla by offering an attractive, high performance luxury car to kickstart a larger brand play. It was co-founded by an ex-Tesla Motors VP and its CEO was the former chief engineer of the Tesla Model S. It is technically a public company, but it’s mostly owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which may or may not mean anything to you.
I’ve driven a ton of electric cars and, in terms of range and charging performance, the Lucid Air is right at the top. I put nearly 2,000 miles on one and, while I never approached the 469 miles of promised range, I consistently got close to 380-390 miles of range and returned a miles/kwh in the 3.2-3.6 range. The Lucid is stuck using the CCS public charging network so charging speeds are more limited by the charger than the vehicle itself, but I was still amused to watch it add hundreds of miles of range in the time it took me to go to Sheetz and grab a sandwich (Car and Driver put it head-to-head with a Tesla Model S and found it to be the fastest charging EV they’d tested).
Is it fast? Yeah it’s fast. The version I had is the dual motor and it manages to put down 819 horsepower to all wheels, giving it a 0-60 mph time of 3.0 seconds. Because its weight is located low in the battery pack it feels flat and secure, even around turns, though I’m not sure I’d call it agile. It’s not as planted as a Taycan, but think of this more as an AMG S-Class.
All of this in a car that looks like the future, can outrun almost every other car on the road, is quiet, and weighs 5,216 pounds. The technology is there. The efficiency is there. This isn’t just a car with a big battery, this is a slippery dream of an EV that delivers performance difficult for any regular gas-powered car to match.
The Lucid Air Looks The Business
The Lucid Air I borrowed was a Grand Touring with the Quantum Grey exterior, 21-inch Aero Blade Wheels, and Santa Cruz interior. The base price is $139,000, but toss in the DreamDrive Pro highway assist package ($10,000), the wheels ($2,000), and the Surreal Sound Pro system ($4,000), this thing stickers for $156,650 delivered.
That’s a lot of money. It’s probably worth it. Park it anywhere, open the capacious frunk and the weird rear hatch and just stand there and wait for people to gather. Young people. Old people. People in that weird middle area. In cities. In suburbs. At a fancy summer camp or a NASCAR race. It’s a fantastic design.
Low. Long. Wide. The greenhouse is tapered inward like Cinderella’s Castle, somehow making the Lucid Air look both larger and somehow sleeker than it is. The use of brightwork along the front lights, the pillars, mirrors, and lower trim somehow both screams future and 1930s Duisenberg luxury at the same time. Famed GM design boss Harley Earl would love the Lucid Air. There is no bad exterior angle of the car.
Inside, I’d argue it’s even better. The open pore wood, full grain Nappa leather, and discreet touches of bright metal combine to somehow capture the best elements of Swedish minimalism and midcentury modernism. With a giant glass opening covering the entire roof and plush, Rolls-Royce-like carpeting, it impresses everyone who sits inside of it. The whole car is a statement piece.
Most massage seats in cars are a joke, like sitting on Larry David’s lap and hoping to feel something as he flexes his muscles. The massage seats in the Lucid Air GT I had actually work, like sitting on Jean Claude Van Damme. You’re welcome for those very strange visuals.
I’m not a huge fan of screens in cars, but I appreciate the wide but narrow floating screen, which is great to look at. People complain that cars don’t often look as good as the concept but I’m not sure, even in concept form, what I’d do to improve the aesthetic. It may not be for everyone. It’s definitely for me. Or at least the idealized form of myself.
Actually Using The Car Is Slightly Frustrating
I’m not gonna lie. It took me a while to like this car. Many of the futuristic details made to make the Lucid feel worth the money also makes it, to my friend Dan’s point, kinda stupid.
The key is just one smooth, minimalistic piece with no hint as to how to use the buttons or even any kind of guide as to what actually button hidden underneath actually do. I eventually figured it out, but it never became natural. I’m sure at some point you get used it, but for $150,000 these details should just work.
Adjusting the mirrors? Congrats, you’re going to have to go into a sub menu on the center console panel. A panel that, while the car was in my possession, sometimes just stopped working. Do you want to turn on the windshield wipers? There’s a little stalk you can use to turn them off and on, but for real controls you have to use the little screen to the left of the steering wheel. This is a bad system and requires taking your eyes off the road. It looks nice, but it’s not great to use.
Cruise control involves using thumb controls along the centerline of the wheel. I actually like the texture of the thumb dials and they look cool, but they are, like much of the car, unintuitive. It has Apple CarPlay, via an over-the-air update, but it managed to wig out me more than once.
The PIN? This is my least favorite feature on almost any car.
So I’m on the Ohio Turnpike in the middle of who-knows-where and for some reason my EZpass isn’t working. No big deal, I’ll just lean out of the car and get a ticket. Because this is a very expensive car, I give myself a little extra room so I don’t thrash the wheels or fancy trim on the car. I’m too far away and lean out to grab the ticket.
I get back into my seat, buckle up, and the car just stops. It won’t move. Traffic begins to pile up behind me. My friend Dan, along for the ride, is also stuck, but after about 600 miles of all these little nuisances piling up he finds this deeply amusing. I’m not quite panicking, but I can see an employee of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission ready to call the cops out of the corner of my eye.
The car keeps asking for the PIN. “Just put in the PIN,” my friend Dan offers, pretty clearly aware that I do not, in fact, have a PIN. No one gave me a PIN.
Now the Turnpike employee is walk-running towards the car, across traffic. I’m embarrassed, for the car, for myself, for the future. I take a deep breath and look and realize the car no longer detected the key, which was in my pocket when I leaned out of the car. I quickly grab the little black suppository in my hand and wave it, frantically, like a mystical totem in the hope that something will happen.
Right before the authorities reach me the car decides it recognizes the key and we book it out of Ohio. Just to make sure I’m crazy, I checked the Lucid Owners Forum and found this is not an uncommon problem.
This was my greatest annoyance with the car, certainly, but it’s not my only gripe. When covering long miles in a car, on-center feel is important. The ability of a car to track straight and keep the wheels pointed forward is more than just a nice-to-have. The on-center feel of the Lucid Air was below average and the car required constant adjustments.
None Of These Are Deal Breakers
There’s a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome that sets in after you spend enough time with a car and, after nearly 2,000 miles, I did come around to the Lucid Air Grand Touring.
It’s a huge bummer that most of the car companies I like seem to only be able to produce, on their best days, good electric cars. It’s nice to drive a great electric car that isn’t a Tesla and, frankly, it’s a plus that the car is yet another example of stellar American engineering.
If you’re a rich person with taste and access to an EV charger, it’s a great alternative to something like a Mercedes AMG or a Tesla Model S. It’s new. It’s different. It’s unusual. It’s a way to one-up your friend in the EQS at the country club, or whatever.
I think it’s possible for Lucid to make a car that isn’t occasionally so clumsy and, hopefully, solve some of its interface problems. If that doesn’t work out, I was quite pleased to hear that Lucid was going to be providing some of its EV technology to Aston Martin. Aston Martin is very capable of making a great car (and of taking Saudi money).
Honestly, just take this whole thing, shove a Lagonda badge on it, and I think you’ve got a winner.
Update: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly said Lucid was going over to the NACS standard. As of now, they are not.
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