2021 Lucid Air First Ride Review: 450 Miles on One Charge!
It’s 8:09 a.m., and we’re doing 66 mph on the 580 in the Bay Area, heading east from Hayward, California, when the odometer of the Lucid Air we’re riding in shows we’ve gone 100 miles since leaving the company’s headquarters at daybreak. The PR guy driving calls out, “We’re at 83 percent of the battery now,” and I jot this all down while in the back seat of a beta prototype of the aero-wheeled Air.
Tapping out numbers on my phone’s calculator app predicts a wild 588 miles of range, so I’d better calculate it again—but it really says 588 miles.
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Lucid Air: Range for Days
It’s unwise to project an EV’s range using the imprecise numbers from early in a trip, something Tesla’s engineers have stressed to us. So the plan is to keep going all day, threading along with real-world traffic, usually at 65 mph and with the car ballasted to a normal load as the range prediction slowly comes into focus. Specifically, we want to know whether we’ll see anything like the 517 miles the Ann Arbor, Michigan, arm of German engineering services company FEV (Forschungsgesellschaft für Energietechnik und Verbrennungsmotoren—with a name like that, who’s going to argue with them?) recently measured for the Air during an unofficial but EPA-identical two-cycle range test.
That test provided a preview of what the EPA will later supervise and possibly certify. Like showing your work in school, Lucid even gave us a copy of FEV’s results summary, which shows a raw, uncorrected range of 738 miles that gets sliced to 517 after being multiplied by the standard real-world correction factor of 0.7—the same math that famously triggered a Porsche meltdown when it caused the Taycan Turbo to drop from an estimated 287 miles to an EPA-certified 201.
If it holds up, the 517-mile figure from this big-battery version of the Air will catapult the model into the stratosphere of electric car ranges. And for the first time in Tesla’s 12 years of selling cars—kicked off by the original Roadster’s 220-mile rating—Musk & Co. won’t be out in front on the central metric for electric cars: how far they can travel.
The Lucid Air Would Beat the Tesla Model S
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And it wouldn’t be by a little: The gap would be 115 miles, 29 percent higher than the 402 miles recently certified for the Model S Long Range Plus. The clobbering comes at the hands of a 1,200-person team based 7 crow-flown miles from where the Model S is built, a group headed by ex-Jaguar and ex-Lotus engineering guru and original Model S chief engineer Peter Rawlinson. A pinch of extra salt in the wound? Lucid figures even its standard battery version of the Air (coming later) will cover 400 miles.
My plan going into this was to write what you’re reading now during my several-hour back-seat ride (fully masked, of course). Lucid asked that I not plug in my computer and divert precious electrons, so I brought along three (!) charged laptops so I could move the unfolding story from one to the next as their own onboard batteries expired.
As in most plans, none of the expected happened. Instead, I stare out the window and chat cars with Lucid’s driver (certainly more lucid than me). I also notice I still have a comfortable leg position despite the rear passenger “foot garage,”—essentially a cutout intended to increase foot room, as in the Taycan—of the standard-battery model being mostly filled here. And, of course, periodically recalculate the range.
8:49 a.m.: At 131 miles, we pause at a hot Central Valley rest stop with the battery showing 77 percent. Estimated range: 569 miles.
9:31 a.m.: At 160 miles, we are heading south in Interstate 5 traffic while showing 70 percent. 533 miles.
10:09 a.m.: We pass 200 miles at 62 percent while descending the Highway 152 grade toward the 101 freeway. New prediction: 526 miles.
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Hitting the Track in the Lucid Air
Our lunch stop is a familiar MotorTrend venue: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, where the car is parked in plain view and beyond the reach of any cheating charging plugs. Notably, a Model S being used as a chase vehicle was plugged in nearby.
We’re here because Lucid is doing performance testing on Air prototypes. The series of roll-up garage doors along the track’s pits frames groups of people, cars on jacks, red tire warmers keeping treads toasty, tables rowed with monitors, thick cables snaking the floor—everything from a typical test day except the sharp revving and deep burbling of combustion engines. Rawlinson takes me for a careful lap in a different, production-representative Air (the interior is beautiful) before I pull on a helmet and strap into a track-prepped version.
Each of its motors—there are two, one up front and one at the rear, both the size of a squashed volleyball—is capable of 600 horsepower, but the combination peaks at 1,000 horsepower, limited by the battery’s amperage. Accelerating onto the track, the car’s weight is evident by the driver’s early braking for corners, but in those bends, it’s stable with a touch of understeer and accelerates out with a caliber of electric cannon blast I’ve never felt before. After we pull in and I clamber out, I’m repeatedly leaning forward and backward until it wears off. Now, I move to ride in the next car.
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Just Wait Until the Mega Air Arrives
Next car? Yep—and, wow, do I wish I could give more details about this one. But let’s just call it Lucid’s “track-development” car and let your imagination chew on that for a few weeks. Here, again, we experience the same premature braking, earlier than I’m accustomed to in lighter, piston-powered cars, followed by the same mild understeer. But if I called the acceleration of the normal Air a cannon blast, this one’s on afterburner; on the second lap, I expect to see the tarmac after apexes bunched up like a throw carpet after your greyhound sees a rabbit through the window. Getting out, I’m staggering a step forward and then a step backward, tipsy on longitudinal g’s. I am told the car’s impressive lap time but am sworn to secrecy.
Over lunch, Rawlinson expounds. What people don’t understand, he says, is how critical creating your own technology is, as well as maximizing the system’s efficiency—not just for this car, but the cheaper ones to follow. Tesla operates this way, but most other EV makers don’t. Many of them (including those wearing the badges of prestigious European marques) create their electric cars from commodity supplier components and catalog drivetrains, meaning they’re neither as advanced nor as well integrated as the Air. It’s why we see so many other EVs with ranges in the 200s and 300s and hear the sound of crickets in their showrooms.
In contrast, Lucid’s very-high-voltage 900-volt architecture allows the miniaturization of the drivetrain, minimizes losses, and increases the maximum charging rate past everybody else and into the 300-kW realm. That, combined with what is slated to be a production car-best 0.21 claimed coefficient of drag and modest frontal area, means Lucid was able to trim its battery pack from its original 130-kWh size. If you’re wondering what its capacity is now, though, so are we; Lucid isn’t providing an exact number yet.
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Either way, the aforementioned aerodynamics are as penciled-through as the drivetrain, including a smaller grille opening than originally conceived, feeding the radiators via a novel vortex system. The car’s slipperiness is further helped by its large-inside/small-outside packaging (aided by shrinking the drivetrain componentry) and a rear underfloor diffuser that begins to rise toward the rear bumper about 2 feet before the battery box ends. And yes, the battery is physically shaped to accommodate this. Rawlinson says the car is approaching 4 miles per kWh. Very, very efficient.
Lucid Air Range Test: Continued
Back on the road and heading north, we pass a milestone: 402 miles, or the highest rated range for which a Tesla model is certified. At this point, the Air’s battery reads 16 percent remaining, and the range prediction has now dipped to 478 miles. An hour and a half later, we roll into Lucid HQ for a coffee, a stretch, and a shake of our foggy heads, then crawl back in and head out again. We cut west across the Dumbarton Bridge to lap up and down the 101 as it arteries along San Francisco Bay’s east side, increasingly reddening on the traffic map. The day is starting its reverse transition to twilight, and we’re experiencing range anxiety of the opposite type: Instead of worrying about running out of juice, we’re getting anxious that we’ll never stop driving.
At 6:20 p.m., 450 miles and almost 12 hours after we started, we pull back up to HQ. A stubborn 7 percent of energy is displayed on the screen, predicting a range of 484 miles—that’s now probably very close to reality for this trip—and we sit silently for several seconds before I concede the battery has beaten us. That’s enough; we’re calling it a day. I slowly climb out of the car and straighten up. Later that evening, a fresh Lucid driver took out the car again, finally ending the experiment at 490 miles. Not the FEV laboratory’s 517, but 95 percent of it, every mile demonstrated in the hills and heat of the real world.
Later, in my hotel room, I poke at my takeout pad thai with a plastic fork and sip a Coke as a movie plays on the TV—but I wasn’t watching because I was feeling a little deflated. I’d given up. How come?
Since the electric car’s revival, low range has been rationalized by a series of excuses. Remember the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (62 miles) and the original Nissan Leaf (73 miles)? Excuse: “The average driver only travels 30 miles per day.” If so, why aren’t gasoline cars fitted with 7-gallon tanks, just enough for a week’s worth of driving?
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When I used to take our long-term Model S (then rated for 265 miles of range) on road trips, I made a habit of stopping to Supercharge in Atascadero because I had to. I got an ice cream while I waited. As range increased, the original justification morphed to, “That’s as far as you’d want to go anyway before stopping for a stretch, a bathroom break, or a snack.” I enjoyed the ice cream and the break, but what if I was truly in a hurry? Last year, when I drove a newer, much longer-range, and Raven-powertrain-equipped Model S from the Fremont factory to the Tesla design studio next to SpaceX in Hawthorne, I didn’t stop and covered a huge 359 miles. But I personally had the energy to keep going much farther.
At the Lucid Air’s demonstrated 490 miles of range, though, we have explored the limit of a human’s endurance for a day’s driving, our sorties and time at Laguna Seca notwithstanding. I remember sitting in the audience in 1990 when former GM chairman Roger Smith announced the EV1, and during the Q&A afterward, somebody asked, “Could it make it over the Grapevine?”—the imposing mountain pass just north of L.A. on the way to San Francisco. The engineers shuffled their feet and gave each other side glances. Thirty years later, we finally have the no-excuse electric car that likely can go farther than you can. We now need to turn our collective attention to charging speeds. The race for range is over.
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