Back in 2017, I got my first face-to-face encounter with a Lucid Air, when the startup electric vehicle-maker brought one of its early prototypes to Washington, DC. Its EV combined distinctive styling with some innovative packaging, with the technical team being led by a CTO who can count being the Tesla Model S’ chief engineer among his CV highlights.
Lucid’s timeline might have slipped a little from the original plan—investors are much less reticent about putting their money into EV startups than they were in 2017, and then the pandemic happened—but it’s on track to begin deliveries of the Air later this year. And on Sunday, I was fortunate enough to go for a ride in one of the company’s current prototypes to see how things have changed.
From the outside, the Air looks like little else on the market. It’s a smooth shape, with a relatively long hood and a short trunk, accented by the polished aluminum pillars that frame the glasshouse. Superficially it looks much the same as when I first saw it, but many of the details have changed along the way to what may well be a class-leading drag coefficient of just 0.21.
“It’s an interesting package, because the car is actually physically smaller than a Porsche Taycan in length, and smaller than Tesla Model S, believe it or not. And yet, we managed to get [Mercedes-Benz] S Class legroom in the rear. And that’s really our strategy: more compact, agile, a more youthful car on the outside. But still, who doesn’t want tons of space? But I think that’s a pretty universally appealing trade,” Derek Jenkins, Lucid’s SVP of Design and Brand, told me.
Glass Cockpit and the Pilot Panel
The changes to the interior are much more obvious, starting with the curved display (called the Glass Cockpit) in front of the driver that replaces three separate screens that were arrayed in the same space. “As we move towards production, the technology evolved so fast, we had the opportunity to go with a curvature,” Jenkins told me. “And the benefit of that is, it contours the screen. So if you were to use a sweep of your eye, it’s equidistant all the way [from one corner of the display to the other], and really good for reach and just gets a very seamless look,” he said.
The Air’s Glass Cockpit is free of a binnacle or hood, something we’ve also seen on the Taycan; improvements in anti-glare coatings as well as increased brightness make that possible, according to Jenkins.
The Human-Machine Interface is crisp and readable without being needlessly flashy—a bit like the rest of the Air. On the left of the Glass Cockpit display are vehicle controls, like the lights, windshield wipers, and defrosters. The center of the 34-inch screen is a minimalist main instrument display where you’ll see your speed and range. Infotainment functions live on the right of the Glass Cockpit.
There’s also a second screen on the center console, called the Pilot Panel. You can swipe menus from the Glass Cockpit to the Pilot Panel, at which point they expand, and it’s also here where you interact with things like the seat settings. In a clever touch, the iPad-like Pilot Panel can retract into the console, providing access to a storage cubby behind it.
Another immediately obvious change is the back bench seat, which replaces the pair of reclining seats we saw in the early prototype. While they were undoubtedly flashy, US customers mostly want a rear bench, and so those recliners are still a work in progress as Jenkins’ team refines the packaging.
Gosh, it’s fast
Lucid isn’t quite ready to let me behind the wheel of an Air—expect that later this summer—but I did get to experience it from the front passenger seat as Jenkins drove us around Amelia Island for about 30 minutes.
The prototype was configured as the Grand Touring version of the Air; this has a pair of electric motors with a combined 800 hp (597 kW) and a range of 517 miles (813 km). And yes, it feels like each and every one of those horses (or watts) was present and correct. This is a seriously fast EV, with a 0-60 mph time of 3 seconds (although Jenkins says he’s much more proud of how quickly it can accelerate from 40 mph compared to the competition). And it’s not even the fastest version—that honor goes to the 1,080 hp (805 kW) Dream Edition.
Ride comfort was good, and while the Air makes the low-speed pedestrian noises all EVs are required to make, none is piped into the cabin. That means riding in an Air is a mostly calm and serene experience, at least until the driver floors the throttle, that is.
After my first encounter back in 2017, I was impressed with how well-resolved the Air was. Despite being an alpha prototype, everything I poked or prodded worked, including the three screens and their UI. But the car I rode in this past weekend felt like a huge step beyond that in every regard. Right now Lucid is building a batch of 70 preproduction cars, with another run of 100 that, among other things, will be used for PR and marketing. And I can’t tell you how curious I am to drive one of those.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin