Has any company in history had a greater stroke of luck in its post-launch year than Lucid Motors?
The upstart maker of luxury electric cars, founded by Tesla Model S guru Peter Rawlinson, was in competition with his estranged former boss Elon Musk. Rawlinson’s flagship Lucid Air was released in limited edition Dream form in 2021 (here’s my Lucid Air Dream review). The first full-production model, the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring(Opens in a new tab), started shipping to customers in late fall 2022. In numerous(Opens in a new tab) head-to-head comparisons(Opens in a new tab), the Lucid Air was judged a better electric vehicle overall than Tesla’s equivalent, the Model S, and won multiple(Opens in a new tab) car of the year (Opens in a new tab)awards.
But the better car doesn’t always win in the marketplace; motor history is littered with burned-out husks of revenge-fueled better cars that smashed headlong into better-funded competitors. Lucid kept slashing its production(Opens in a new tab) last year, thanks to supply chain issues(Opens in a new tab) and price pressure from Tesla(Opens in a new tab); Lucid’s shareholders aren’t happy(Opens in a new tab) with all that red ink.
What Rawlinson needed was for Musk to get distracted and flame out in some massively public way, making the Tesla brand toxic for its planet-conscious customers … and that’s exactly what Musk has done with his tyrannical, Tesla stock-tanking reign at Twitter.
That’s a big stroke of luck! Still, I’ve got a better one. Because when Lucid Motors offered a test drive of the new $109,000 Lucid Air Touring edition (that’s a midrange Lucid, compared to the $155,000 Grand Touring; still to come is the $89,000 Lucid Pure), a test drive that would last for a week or so, I was hunkered down for the worst series of winter storms to hit California since I arrived decades ago.
What better time, I figured, to get out of town, to see if I could find the sun anywhere – and if I couldn’t, to put this fancy EV through its paces in the wettest and snowiest environments the Golden state has to offer?
I’ve long loved electric cars, and cheered their challenge to the destructive combustion engine. But if I’m being honest, I’ve also long harbored the background fears that can strike any potential EV purchaser. It isn’t just range anxiety (though I was curious if I’d feel such a thing in the Air Touring, which boasts it can get 425 miles on a single charge). It’s the nagging worry that electric cars are more fragile in extreme conditions. Cold weather can significantly sap batteries(Opens in a new tab). I’m still not over what happened to my first-generation Prius almost every winter when my wife and I took it to the snowy heights of Lake Tahoe. Invariably, its regenerative battery and its ignition battery would tap out. The mechanics of Tahoe City were kind and helpful, but it was this repeated experience that made us sell the car.
I was suspicious of the big fancy Lucid sedan for other reasons. Over the last 10 years, I’ve done most of my daily drives in a Fiat 500e, a zippy little EV with about 75 miles to a charge. It’s light, accelerates like crazy, is great at cornering, fits into parking spots others can’t reach, fills its battery overnight even from a regular outlet, still looks cute even with a few dents and scratches – in short, the perfect little around-town car. For longer trips, for hikes, for dog adventures, my wife and I leased a Toyota RAV4 hybrid.
How could the Lucid compete? It seemed too large for city EV needs, and not rugged enough for the country. I’m not a car nerd by any means, nor a speedhead. I’m excited by the concept of going zero to 60 in three seconds, sure, but more interested in how the day-to-day driving experience feels than in the 620 horsepower under the hood. What follows is essentially a ten-day date with a car that won my heart in the end, despite some surprising software glitches and flaws in a design that may not have had quite enough contact with reality.
Day 1: Lucid display software, a work in progress
January weather in California is often weird, but this takes the cake. I arrived at the pre-arranged pickup spot under warm blue skies, fresh from jogging, wearing running shorts. Then, just after I took possession of the Lucid’s rubbery key fob and came to grips with the car’s center tablet and wrap-around dashboard screen, right as I pulled away from the curb, clouds gathered and the heavens opened.
Which is why this may be the first luxury EV review ever to focus more on windshield buttons than on the car’s horsepower: I had to figure them out in a hurry.
What I discovered was an odd fact about the button-filled part of the touchscreen that falls to the left of the steering wheel, one that irked me for the rest of the long week. It seemed indicative of the teething troubles Lucid is having with data arrangement on this display.
The screen real estate here on the left of the wheel is so limited that there’s only room for a button that opens the frunk, not one that opens the trunk. For that, annoyingly, you have to use the center display.
But there are four wiper options on it (not counting the wipe button on the turn signal handle that’s right there). Two options that promised to auto-detect rain did not seem to work in this sudden storm.
Luckily, button layout is the kind of feature that could easily be changed in a future update. Lucid seems particularly keen to upgrade its software, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto set to come online shortly. (And not a moment too soon, especially on the Google Maps front; as we’ll see, Lucid’s own navigation system left something to be desired.)
Day 2: Lucid brakes and one-pedal driving
Living at the top of a steep road makes you used to riding the brakes when heading for the flatlands. My Fiat 500e gets a ton of regenerative energy this way, usually a couple of extra percent on the battery from one ride down the hill. But the Lucid Air loves regenerative braking so much, you don’t even have to pump the brake. In fact, it’s braking for you so hard by default at all times that you actually have to keep your foot on the accelerator when going down hill just as much as you need to do on the flat – which can be a profoundly out-of-control feeling, at first.
This was a taste of the single-pedal driving Lucid Air wants to encourage you to do as much as possible. Single-pedal driving was weird in my Dream test drives, and it was weird in the first few days of this experience too. I’m happy to report I got used to it fast, once I figured out the delicate touch the pedal needs, and even started to prefer it – but only after a range anxiety experience that made me welcome every single time this car tries to claw energy back from the road.
Day 3: Lucid Air EV charge range, in theory and practice
Credit: Chris Taylor / Mashable
I didn’t make a note of the exact range the Lucid Air promised when I set out to drive from Berkeley to Nevada City (which, confusingly, is in California, in the foothills of the Sierra mountains). All I know is that range was at least double the 140-mile distance between the two towns. I could, in theory, have made it all the way to Lake Tahoe on one charge.
Such a large range, however, compared to what the Fiat can handle, may have made me a little cocky. Highway driving in the Lucid Air really is its sweet spot: the car just annihilates distance. It’s like you pick a spot on the road ahead, you think “I’d like to go there,” and you practically teleport. The suspension is so smooth, the car’s shape so aerodynamic, the acceleration so effortless and quiet, that you might not trust the 90 mph reading suddenly and improbably appearing in the middle of the dashboard screen. Whoops!
This is even true when accelerating up hills. The Lucid Air loves to accelerate up them even more than it loves to accelerate down them. It can’t get enough! “Call that a hill?” the EV seemed to ask, early and often, even on the steepest road in the Bay Area(Opens in a new tab). “Barely felt it! Come on, give me a real challenge!”
Trouble was, this ride involved a lot of hill. It’s a 2,300-ft elevation gain to Nevada City. Was my fearless hill driving the reason for the precipitous drop in estimated range, or did that day’s 35-degree temperature up there cut into the battery?
All I know is that when I got to Nevada City, I was shocked to discover the Lucid Air had a mere 10 miles of range left. And even more shocked to discover that Nevada City has zero public charging stations.
If I’d tried to make it all the way to Tahoe, the holy sainted Lucid Air would have been as dead as that first-generation Prius.
Day 4: Lucid Air EV charge times, cost
Credit: Chris Taylor / Mashable
Luckily, I was able to borrow a cup of electricity from friends who live in the former Gold Rush town. And a cup feels like the right measurement to use here. When I plugged the regular mains charger into their garage, the car told me it would take 177 hours to refill the whole battery that way. No worries, Lucid, just drink what you can.
I made do with the extra 40 miles this setup gave me overnight: more than enough to get me to a charging station in Grass Valley, conveniently next to a supermarket and a hiking trail where I could easily kill a couple of hours. Total fill-up cost: $38.40.
Forty miles was not enough, unfortunately, to get me to the nearest Electrify America(Opens in a new tab) charging station, in Auburn. Lucid has a sweet deal with EA where you get free fast charging for three years with your Air purchase. No card required, no tapping the app: plug it in and the Lucid Air is automatically recognized.
Later, on my way home from the Sierras, I would hit up the Auburn EA station (weirdly located in a Motel 6 parking lot), and the Starbucks across the street where I took meetings for an hour while the Lucid guzzled electrons at a “hyper-fast” 350 kilowatts. That’s 100 kW more than the top rate of Tesla Supercharger stations.
The upshot being that the EA station added roughly 20 miles of range every minute. And unlike Tesla in the U.S., it wasn’t being selfish with a proprietary connector. Even though Lucid owners are favored customers, the station was open to pretty much anyone with an EV.
Day 5: How the Lucid Air Touring handles snow
If there was one point on my trip that had the Lucid Motors team concerned, it was Donner Pass. The steepest and snowiest area on California’s Interstate 80 – indeed, one of the snowiest points in the lower 48, with an average 411 inches of snow per year — Donner demands a toll of respect from all who traverse it.
It isn’t just the chilly memory of the Donner Party, that infamous group of westward settlers who got stuck here in 1846, lost half their crew, and had to resort to cannibalism. These winters you’re more likely to get stuck in an hours-long line waiting for the California Highway Patrol to check whether you need snow chains on your tires.
The Lucid Air is all-wheel drive and thus exempt from that requirement, though I wasn’t looking forward to convincing CHP that this unusual low-riding luxury sedan was more hardy than it may appear. The Lucid team, meanwhile, suggested I might want to swap out the regular tires for something grippier — which I could theoretically do via the company’s mobile service van program, Lucid Care(Opens in a new tab).
As it turned out, Donner Pass was bright and clear, if below freezing, when I traversed it. CHP was nowhere to be found. There was still plenty of snow and ice on the road, and deep drifts around it, but the regular tires never felt anything less than incredibly stable. The Lucid Air kept the road in a bear hug around all manner of curves. Only once did it skid, for a few seconds. (Remember kids, never break during a skid(Opens in a new tab).)
As I drove down winding roads to Truckee and Lake Tahoe, the biggest danger had nothing to do with the car’s handling or keeping its charge in the freezing cold. (I’d gotten used to the regenerative braking by now, and had great fun seeing if I could keep the car’s charge level just above 50 percent via the downhill.) It was the Lucid Air’s vast windshield, which wraps up and around and makes you feel like you’re in a Jetsons bubble car.
Normally there’s not a lot to look at up there, but here I was passing through a forest of tall pines dusted with what looked like cake frosting. Who would not be distracted from the road by that amazing sight? I was reminded that the Touring’s standard option(Opens in a new tab) gives it a regular aluminum roof (the glass canopy is $4,500 extra). Not only would that be less distracting, it would also — given how cold the glass bubble was to the touch — probably be a lot easier to heat.
Speaking of warmth, the Lucid’s sectionally heated seats and heated steering wheel (both accessible via the center tablet) were a cozy delight. They put as many smiles on my face as the hot sweet rum drink I had by the shores of Tahoe, and helped banish the bad memory of older electric car systems failing in this winter wonderland.
Day 6: The eye-catching Lucid Air exterior — and nervous, glitchy Lucid Air interior
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The Tahoe trip had one other advantage when I returned to Nevada City: a layer of snow dirt gave the car some camouflage. It was slightly unnerving how many pedestrians stop and stare when the Lucid rolls by, especially when the “Intelligent Micro Lens Array” LED strip on the front — no mere headlights for the Lucid Air! – is on. The “Quantum Gray” color model I was testing looks pretty incognito when parked, at least; I got more comments on its Florida license plate, which is something Californians can’t help but notice, than the design itself.
My fear of the car being a target for thieves may have been unfounded, but that didn’t stop the car itself from sounding like it had a bad case of anxiety. The Lucid Air will beep at you the second you get in the driver’s seat because you haven’t put your seatbelt on yet: I took to responding “OK, mom, I’m doing it!” The house where I was staying had a fairly steep driveway, which the Lucid’s low-slung cameras read as a road obstruction when driving down it. I also encountered a glitch described by other drivers: the Lucid Air occasionally sees lane dividers as an obstruction too.
Speaking of software glitches, this was the day I encountered the Lucid Air at its worst. Normally when reversing, the rear view shows up on the dashboard screen, and the center tablet fills with “surround view” – a clever computer construction that shows what the car looks like from above, and lets you zoom around it in 3D. Now, both screens were blank with a spinning wheel — the Lucid equivalent of the blue screen of death.
It’s hardly the worst glitch in the world; I could still look over my shoulder, after all. And I didn’t encounter it again after an over-the-air software update downloaded that evening.
Still, the occasional feeling that you’re driving a $109,000 beta product isn’t exactly encouraging.
Day 7: The aerodynamic Lucid bubble and mediocre mapping
Credit: Chris Taylor / Mashable
Back in the Bay Area, the worst of the winter storms had passed, but the wind was still off-the-charts insane. I did not realize this, however, until I was waiting at an intersection and saw trees bending and leaves scurrying horizontally across my field of vision. I’m used to cars that will rock at least a tiny bit in strong winds, so it was a little unnerving that the Lucid Air didn’t budge in the slightest. Its supremely aerodynamic design doesn’t just let air flow from the front to the back to give you a smoother ride, it works side to side too. The feeling of being in a bubble, untouched by the outside world, was complete.
Unfortunately, the real world will not always conform to the Lucid Air’s inferior navigation system. The company uses Here Maps rather than Google Maps(Opens in a new tab) data, a fact that infuriates drivers on Lucid forums(Opens in a new tab). It’s not just that the traffic data loads so slowly that you’re usually committed to a route before you know all the options. It’s that Here maps often seem woefully out of date and confused about road access.
I counted three times when the Lucid tried to send me the wrong way down a one-way street, and once — heading to a trailhead just outside of Berkeley — where it tried to divert me through a series of private roads, one of which was chained off. The car’s sense of privilege ran headlong into reality. Google Maps, via CarPlay and Android Auto, can’t come soon enough.
Day 8: The Low Ride Air
Credit: Lucid Motors
“It’s an asshole car,” a friend laughed as I drove her around San Francisco. She had a point. Earlier that day I was parked in a slim EV spot at Whole Foods, next to an accessible spot where a woman was getting something out of her car. When I approached with the key fob in my pocket, the car did what it always does, automatically unfolding the side mirrors.
In this case, however, that unfolding blocked the woman’s path to the sidewalk, forcing her to walk around the car. I apologized profusely and began wondering whether Rawlinson’s engineers had considered an everyday city situation like this.
But that wasn’t the only reason my friend lobbed her loving insult. The top-down surround view encourages you to look at the car and the few inches around it when pulling out of a parking lot; pedestrians don’t appear unless they’re right next to it. (Annoyingly, surround view also replaces the navigation screen at speeds below 15 mph, often preventing me from seeing where my next turn was.)
Also, the annihilation-of-distance thing had by now encouraged me to do all the things you associate with performance car drivers, including weaving impatiently around other traffic. There wasn’t an orange light where I didn’t think I could make it across the intersection in time, apparently.
And then there’s how low the car rides. This helps with its aerodynamics but also makes it hard to get out. I assumed my legs would adjust – heck, I’m a runner, with thighs to match – and it would feel less awkward after a week. It did not.
At least I didn’t do what my friend did getting out of the passenger side one last time, banging her head on the top of the door, sending her sunglasses flying. Nevertheless, she couldn’t stop laughing. The car could be a privileged asshole sometimes, but it was also undeniably fun.
Day 9: Lucid’s leading indicators
Another friend in the tech world had taken a ride in one of the earliest Lucid Air prototypes years ago, but hadn’t seen the final product. So I drove us down Highway 1 to Pacifica – a beautiful, windy stretch of road you may recognize from multiple car commercials – and he drove us back.
His verdict? Overall, “it was a joy to drive,” he said. Suspension and traction exceeded his expectations, especially on the curves. The acceleration, zero to 60 in as little as 3.4 seconds, is most noticeable when you’re merging onto the freeway and never fails to delight.
But there were negative points I hadn’t considered. My friend noted that the roll cage – those bars to the left and right of the large glass canopy – were larger and more vision-obstructing than he’d expected. “Not sure I’d make that trade off” in day-to-day driving, he added. He wasn’t a fan of the non-intuitive navigation system, or the way that key information like the car’s current range seemed to blend into the display.
He did at least master the turn signal, the extreme sensitivity of which had annoyed me since my first Lucid test drive. The Lucid’s left and right blinkers stop automatically after making a turn, but not when changing lanes – unless you give the turn indicator a non-intuitive longer press down, apparently. The blinker noise is so quiet I failed to notice it under music, and the blinker light blends into the display too easily. I’d never quite felt like an older driver with his signal stuck on before now.
Day 10: Reluctant return
Credit: Lucid Motors
I didn’t quite realize how much I’d fallen in love with the Lucid Air Touring until it was time to give it back. If I was the kind of person who could drop a thousand Benjamins on a new EV, I’d give this one some serious thought.
Though the hefty 4,850-lb vehicle never quite worked as a city car – the turning circle is too small, the parking awkward even with the autopark setting (which seemed a little too eager to swing out into the oncoming lane) – the Lucid did give me an incredible sense of easy access to everywhere. Random unplanned long-ish drives that might have otherwise seemed like a chore, like meeting my friend at a conference the next day to return the sunglasses that the low door had knocked off her head, became a joy.
The Lucid is also a great car to just sit in, something I would find myself doing more and more at the end of a drive. It’s not just that the car doesn’t have an off button, which never stopped feeling weird (you’re supposed to set it in park with a click of the right gear stick and just walk away while it locks itself).
It’s also the Dolby Atmos speakers, providing the clearest, crispest sound I’ve ever enjoyed in any vehicle. Even if the software does require you to turn the sound up from its midpoint every time you get in the car – another weird choice – it’s easy to control via the steering wheel. You have to manually stop a song if you don’t want it blaring when you exit the EV (a very asshole car move), but who wants to stop a song when it sounds this good?
After handing over the weird rubber key fob thing, I returned to my old cars with new eyes. The In my Toyota RAV4, oddly, I found myself driving more slowly. The Lucid Air hadn’t led me to be interested in speed per se, but in electric speed, preferably generated by as equal an amount of braking as possible. The Toyota has a dial that shows you when your braking is charging the vehicle; I pay a lot more attention to that dial now.
The Fiat 500e, however, I found myself driving faster around town. Because why not use the incredible torque that you’ve got in such a light EV? No point in sipping mileage when it can just be plugged in every night; where charging on a basic level 1 charger and filling it up isn’t a pipe dream. Lacking the Lucid Air’s heft, I still felt somewhat like I was driving one (the city version, at least).
And that, ultimately, is why it’s worth at least taking a test drive in a Lucid Air if you have the opportunity, even if you’d never consider buying one. Its hyper-engineered features may not fully account for the real world yet; its software is a work in progress; but fundamentally, this is how all electric cars should feel, and hopefully all will soon enough. Even if Peter Rawlinson loses the long term war with Elon Musk for the luxury end of the market, the Lucid legacy will live on in other designs — and in all drivers who got to experience it.