We’re all fairly aware by now that starting a new car company is not easy. That’s especially true when you’re targeting a pretty expensive, exclusive slice of the market. This is why I’ve been a little iffy on the Lucid Air since it made its debut approximately one geological age (or like 15 years) ago.
The specs for the Air Grand Touring Performance read – at first glance – like vaporware. It’s got 1,050 horsepower and can travel nearly 500 miles on a full charge. That’s all tough to swallow, but while the car is far from perfect, it meets all those claims without requiring the driver to wade through a bunch of gimmicks.
Full disclosure: Lucid wanted me to drive the Air Grand Touring so badly that it flew me up to Silicon Valley, put me up in a hotel next to Facebook and fed me. Then I got to drive the car home to L.A. which took up a whole Saturday.
The Air Grand Touring and Grand Touring Performance are the company’s first non-limited-production models after the Air Dream Edition, which commemorated the Air’s production debut. Functionally, they’re more or less the same as the Dream Edition, with just a teensy bit less power (the Dream had 1,111 hp) and they’re not available in that lovely coppery gold color.
The Air gets its motivation from a pair of in-house-designed, super-small drive units. The front and rear drive units are identical, and together they produce that headline 1,050 horsepower and 921 lb-ft of torque in the Performance version, or a still-respectable 819 hp and 885 lb-ft in the regular Grand Touring model.
Range has always been Lucid’s biggest claim to fame, and the Grand Touring models don’t disappoint. On 19-inch wheels, the Air will return an EPA-estimated 516 miles, while the GT Performance will net you 446 miles, still nothing to sneeze at. These ranges are possible thanks to either a 112 kilowatt-hour battery pack in the base GT or 118 kWh for the Performance. The EPA range estimates are super impressive, and even in 100-plus-degree heat with the A/C blasting, running speeds well over the 70 mph that Lucid uses in its range claims, I was able to comfortably get from the Bay Area to my home in L.A. with two short-ish charging stops. I could have likely done it with a single charging stop, if I was feeling spicy.
Charging is arguably the weakest point of the Lucid’s powertrain, though that’s not really Lucid’s fault. The Air is based on a 900-plus-volt architecture, which theoretically means that it can charge at around 300 kilowatts. That’s awesome, but because America’s non-Tesla charging infrastructure is a mish-mosh of companies with varying equipment and a track record of broken chargers, good luck plugging in at 300 kW. On my drive back to LA, I never got better than 220 kW from a “350-kW” charger.
Despite all the charging woes, one bright spot is Lucid’s decision to offer free charging with Electrify America. You just have to plug in your vehicle, and — if the charger is functioning — it should start on its own without requiring you to input payment. It’s a pretty slick system when it works, which it mostly did for me.
The Grand Touring Performance retails for a fairly eye-watering $179,000, which means that it has a lot to answer for, particularly when you compare it to the Tesla Model S Plaid. The top-dog Tesla offers a slightly better 0-60 time (1.99 seconds vs. the Lucid’s 2.6), plus the nation’s best charging network, for around $45,000 less. So do the Air’s driving dynamics live up to those expectations?
Hell yes they do. The Dream GT Performance offers astonishing levels of acceleration (even for an EV) paired with a genuinely surprising chassis that provide a big, soft luxury car when you want it and a sharp, excellent-handling sports sedan when you need it. Of course, the Air GT Performance tips the scales at a particularly porcine 5,236 pounds when equipped with 21-inch wheels. While there’s no way to totally make that weight disappear during a spirited drive, it manages the job relatively well, rarely feeling as big or heavy as it actually is.
The semi-active dampers and multi-link suspension do a great job of smoothing out super-broken pavement, and while the brakes are huge — six-piston units with 15-inch rotors in front, four-piston calipers and 14.8-inch rotors in the back, working beautifully under very hard deceleration — I rarely found myself needing them, thanks to the Air’s excellent regenerative braking characteristics. I’m a fan of high-regen and one-pedal driving, but if you’re not, you can adjust the regen all the way down to a super-low setting.
While the Air’s performance is epic, at the end of the day, it’s a big luxury car, and it’s got to do the luxury thing well if it’s going to be worthy of its lofty price tag.
First, the material quality of the interior is excellent and feels well-assembled. There are no cheap plastic touch-points anywhere, which is always nice. The air has a bunch of mixed materials in the interior — Alcantara, leather, Alpaca wool cloth and more. It’s enough different textures that it shouldn’t work, but it does. I love that the Air doesn’t borrow switchgear or parts from other manufacturers; it makes the experience feel special, in a way that a Tesla with its old-ass borrowed Mercedes stuff doesn’t.
The front seats are extremely adjustable and very comfortable, though I did find myself wishing for more plush padding. This is an area where the Air lags behind something like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but overall it’s a minor gripe. I wasn’t exactly wrecked after six hours at the wheel, and that’s pretty good. The seats offer heating, cooling and massage functions, which is proper for a luxury car in this price range.
The second row is comfortable too, with heated (non adjustable) seats and power sunshades. One interesting thing: On Air models with the smaller battery pack, the floor is lowered in the rear, to take advantage of the space created by the missing battery modules. Lucid could have just left that space empty, but it didn’t, and I appreciate that kind of thought and attention to detail. Overall headroom and legroom for front and rear passengers is excellent. I managed to fit my 6-foot-4 self, my 6-foot-2 wife and my 6-foot-7 father-in-law in the car with nobody feeling cramped. That’s no mean feat.
The overall feel of the interior is one of space. The Air is a big car, but there’s a sense of the interior being bigger than you’d expect. This is partially accomplished by the way the door cards scoop outward, away from the passengers. The huge panoramic glass roof probably helps here too. The front portion, which curves unbroken over the front seats, is similar to the Tesla Model X, and it’s arguably my least favorite thing about the Lucid.
Specifically, the glass roof makes it a lot harder to keep the interior cool in the California summer sun. The tint over the rear occupants seems darker than the front, keeping the back cooler. The front portion lets in too much light and heat, and there is no way to block the sun, given the less-than-ideal position of the sun visor. If I owned an Air with a glass roof, I’d inevitably get a vinyl wrap or limo tint applied, or even one of those crappy suction-cup shades you can buy at a truck stop. Anything would be better than the way it is currently.
Being a brand new electric car from a new company based in Silicon Valley, you might expect the tech in the Air to be pretty good, and again, you’d be mostly right. The user interface is beautiful, and the way that information is displayed across the curved main screen is logical and generally well-considered. Even the choice of typeface is good. The system, unfortunately, doesn’t always feel the snappiest, and the placement of the portion of the screen that controls the navigation and music, for instance, feels a little far away even for me, a large man with a sizable reach. The lower screen (which is retractable, revealing a decently sized storage cubby) is generally better. It transitions between menus quickly with a logical layout. There are still physical buttons for things like climate and some seat adjustments, which I always applaud, but stuff like mirror controls or steering wheel adjustment are buried in menus, and that always sucks.
The Air’s stereo is unbranded but sounds pretty decent. It’s nowhere near as good as the Burmester system that you’d find in an S-Class, for example, but it is Dolby Atmos compatible and does a nice job of filling up the cabin with sound.
Safety tech is plentiful on the Air, as well. While Lucid’s DreamDrive ADAS suite seems like it’s got a way to go before it’s as competent as some legacy systems, the implementation of adaptive cruise control is excellent and works at all speeds. The lane-keep assistance system is a little herky-jerky in most situations, but I found it good enough to use on the dead-straight and hyper-boring stretch of I-5 from Los Banos back to the Grapevine.
The nice thing about a car like the Air is that it benefits from regular over-the-air updates, and many systems can be improved this way. Lucid’s engineers showed us, for example, a future software version that addresses the placement of buttons on the infotainment portion of the screen as well as the vehicle startup time. It stands to reason that many of these issues will be fixed as more people get more time behind the wheel of these cars.
So, at the beginning of this review, I mentioned that the Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance model retails for $179,000, which is a lot. In fact, that’s over $20,000 more than a Model S Plaid with every option thrown at the Tesla. At that price, I’m not comfortable calling the Lucid “good value for money,” but what car in this price range is? The real question, then, is whether or not it’s worth the asking price. And at $179,000, I have to say, it’s not.
Thankfully, a non-Performance of the Air Grand Touring exists, with most of the performance, better range and an asking price of $154,000. That’s the one I’d buy, if I were in the market for a six-figure luxury EV. Nobody will notice the difference between 1,050 hp and 819 on the street, no matter how finely calibrated you think your butt dyno is. But you will regularly appreciate the extra range, particularly if you get your Air on the 19-inch wheels.
At the end of the day, the Air has an uphill battle ahead. Being a new name in a very competitive market comes with a lot of uncertainty for potential buyers. That being said, for those who are a little more adventurous, the Lucid Air Grand Touring offers better performance, range and interior space than any of the competition and does so with a heaping helping of style.