2020 Porsche Taycan 4S Review: Electric Ice Drifting at the Top of the World

Fun and games in a frozen world with Porsche's electric sled.

taycan winter drift
Porsche

It’s as cold as promised atop the frozen swamp that serves as Porsche’s Ice Experience playground outside Levi, Finland. We’re well into the Arctic Circle here, where temperatures routinely hang in the single digits and the ice is thick enough to have you seriously considering climate change denial as a stance. But it’s a dead still day, with neither wind nor snow driving home the reality of the latitude. Across the horizon the perpetually low-hung sun paints the fjäll landscape an impossibly neon orange, tattooing the illusion of warmth onto the utter whitewash that is the rest of the Arctic scene. In a way, it’s pleasant up here.

Rising from and perhaps adding to the bizarre tranquility of it all is the occasional whoooosh each time a Porsche Taycan 4S drifts by on its way around a huge skidpad on the ice directly ahead. Plumes of spun snow fly five feet in the air with absolutely none of the aural drama internal combustion would be delivering. It's like watching a familiar scene with the engine noise on mute. Strain and you can hear the low hum of the fake motor sound, but only just.

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One of the on-site engineers breaks the silence. “We’ve had to replace a door already. It would be bad to lose a car,” he says. He’s more concerned than Jerry Heinonen, our host and Finnish rally driver, who nods casually inside his insulated jacket hood. Thus far Jerry’s singular focus has been on showing us how good a time can be had with Porsche's all-wheel-drive electric sedan, and he's not breaking.

The 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, By the Numbers

  • Base Price: $105,150
  • Powertrain: Two permanent-magnet synchronous motors | 79.2 kWh lithium-ion battery | single-speed transmission up front, two-speed in the rear | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 522 hp
  • Torque: 472 lb-ft
  • 0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
  • Top Speed: 155 mph
  • Range: 288 miles with the Performance Plus battery (WLTP cycle)
  • Quick Take: Fear not, winter drifters—the Taycan is a blast in the snow.

Dashing Through the Finnish Snow

Making efficient use of the two hours of light available on this December day, the young Finn has been escorting us around Porsche's seasonal facility as we drift the Taycan 4S through slalom courses and non-crossing figure-eights (picture a peanut shell). You too can hop a flight or five to northern Finland and book yourself a $5,000 weekend here to learn what you already know: driving Porsches on ice is a damn blast. We’re culminating the day’s testing here at the traction circle. The point, we’ve been told, is to experience how deftly the 4S's all-wheel drive system is able to manage the car’s 479 pound-feet of torque in these extremely low-traction situations.

Whether you’re talking the Taycan Turbo or Taycan 4S, high-performance electric cars are a whole new bag for Porsche. And just like a 911 4S in Porsche’s fossil-fueled lineup, the Taycan 4S might end up being the sweet spot of the BEV line. Even at its temporary starting price of $114,340 (it's a Porsche, so you can option it into the stratosphere), the Taycan 4S with its optional bigger battery is more than 40 grand cheaper than a Turbo.

With 482 horsepower (make it 563 using the standard launch control), it’s not slow. Mash the gas on a snowy road and there’s some initial slippage from all of the torque being available immediately, but soon the 4S hooks up and slingshots away with little hint of its 4,954-pound curb weight. You don’t feel that weight on the various ice courses, at least not when you don't want to. Perhaps this is a testament to how diligently the car’s systems are working to shuffle torque around and end up with any traction at all.

Porsche's Ice Capades

Porsche

We’re encouraged to try each course with the stability control on, in Sport mode, and off. The electronics are effective in reining the Taycan in when the ESP is switched on—too much so. The system allows for little in the way of danger, fun, or dangerous fun. Sport mode is pretty useless for ice drifting too, because you're always going to be outside the permitted (albeit increased) yaw threshold, which causes the Taycan to get frustrated with your antics and cut power eventually. No, the stability control needs to be completely off to have fun and to get around the courses with any sort of speed.

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By contrast, Heinonen confirms our suspicion that other settings are best left as soft as possible; the suspension, so that you can feel the body roll and react quickly, and the accelerator, because all that monstrous torque is available at tip in. You can’t temper the fury with fewer revs like you would in a gas-powered car. The sensitivity of the pedal is your only adjustment here, so the more granular and gradual the programming, the better.

Throw it at a corner, turn in, throttle down, and the Taycan kicks out and powers through a controlled slide. Sorry to sound like we’re copping out, but here too it’s tough to understand how its sideways behavior comes down to the Taycan’s big PDCC brain shuffling torque around versus changing traction conditions. Depending on where you have a wheel, there’s either a fair amount of snow (and thus traction), or absurdly well-polished ice (and no traction), and every corner is an unpredictable checkerboard of both. We’ve drifted many a Porsche in the snow and ice, and it’s been easier to hold a slide in any of them. But again, this is a completely unscientific comparison because there are just too many other variables; and besides, the Taycan 4S is no less fun, which is what really counts.

Electric Sleigh

You might imagine its performance on ice as the product of a supercomputer making decisions, but the staggering acceleration itself is at least partially due to the rear motor having the same two-speed transmission as the Taycan Turbo, with the lower gear dedicated to getting to speed in a hurry. Up front, the pulse-controlled inverter can send a maximum of 300 amps of juice to the permanently excited synchronous motor, while the larger rear setup can receive up to 600 amps. Interesting tidbit: The motors appear identical to those of the quicker Turbo and Turbo S Taycans from the outside. The difference is internal; the rear motor of the 4S has fewer coils (less copper, less power. Remember that for future EV hot rodding). You’d need part numbers to tell the difference, though.

The battery packs are the same, too. You’ll eventually be able to opt for the smaller, 177-pound lighter, 79.2 kWh “Performance” battery on the 4S, but only the large “Performance Plus” unit with 93.4 kWh of juice will be offered at launch. The big battery brings more power: 482 horsepower, with 563 hp available for launch control versus the 429/522 rating of the smaller pack. There’s barely any difference in acceleration, though; both cars burst to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, and the Performance Plus battery only saves 0.1 second in the quarter mile (12.2 sec versus 12.3).

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The big battery does get you another 35 miles in range (288 miles versus 253 on Europe's WLTP standard, though we'll see what the EPA says), and it can be charged at the rare High-Performance station at 270kW, while the smaller battery’s max charge rate is 225kW. In either case, Porsche claims the 4S can go from five percent to 80 percent charge in 22.5 minutes, provided you’ve told the car what your plans are via the navigation system so it can preheat the pack in advance and allow it to take maximum charge. The battery heat trick also works to preserve range in subzero temps.

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Related to the topic of range, the Taycan 4S manages an astonishing 0.22 Cd in the wind tunnel, making it the slipperiest car that Porsche currently produces. Credit is due to the completely flat-paneled underbody, which is made possible by the distinct lack of an exhaust system. There are also active aerodynamics, and you can even include the standard air suspension as a collaborator, as it lowers the car by about an inch and a quarter at speed.

4S Is the Stocking Stuffer Taycan

As slick as the Taycan is, it still manages to be a good-looking thing. As with the Taycan Turbo, the only questionable aesthetic is the polarizing nose. The 4S differentiates itself from that car with two new wheel designs in 19” or 20” (you’ll want the 20’s; the 19’s look like e-Golf wheels), a lower valance and louvered rear diffuser in black, exterior mirror trim pieces and sideskirts in black, and red-painted brake calipers. Love or hate the effect outside, there’s just no debating the build quality inside. Flush with screens (especially if you opt for the passenger black mirror), and wrapped in leather, this is a six-figure electric car intent on displaying its worth.

Porsche
Porsche

The 4S can be had with three brake options; the standard six-piston calipers grasp cast steel 360/358mm discs, the upgraded 10-piston setup pairs with tungsten-carbide coated 415/365mm discs, and finally Porsche’s PCCB system brings 420/410mm ceramic rotors to the party. We should mention right off the bat that if you’re doing it for looks, there’s no point; the aero wheels cover up the binders in all cases.

And it’s hard to discuss the braking performance of any of the available three systems because we only drove the six-piston system, and only on snow and ice. A surprising amount of pedal pressure is required to bring the car to a full stop in these conditions; we suspect it might have something to do with the fact that the Taycan 4S manages an astonishing 90 percent of “everyday” braking with just the energy-regeneration system. The pad wear is so low that Porsche specifies change intervals by time (six years). Some fine tuning is needed with the software. Our car was also fitted with N-Spec Goodyear Ultra Grip winter tires, which are available from Porsche and were a revelation in the snow.

Porsche

Eventually, you’ll be able to order a Taycan 4S for as little as $105,150, but citing production bottlenecks, Porsche is starting out by only offering what it believes will be the volume spec in Q2 of 2020. At the time of writing, the company’s build page says: “The standard Aluminum Roof, Porsche Mobile Charger Plus and Performance Battery (79.2kWh) are not available on vehicles that are currently in production and are estimated to be available on vehicles that begin production in June 2020. All initial production Taycan orders will be equipped with the optional Fixed Panoramic Roof in Glass, Porsche Mobile Charger Connect and Performance Battery Plus (93.4kWh).” So you’ll need to fork out another nine grand, but chances are you were going to anyway.