Climb to the top of today’s mainstream EV ladder and you’ll come to the Porsche Taycan and the Tesla Model S, two high-profile sedans that make compelling cases for electric vehicles as grand, expensive things. Introduced in 2012, the Model S laid the groundwork for Tesla’s contemporary lineup, along the way proving that EVs can be both desirable and (almost) as practical as conventional, internal-combustion vehicles. In time, it also helped to show that cars can be designed to emit fart noises, but we digress. The newer Taycan, on the other hand, hails from the sprawling Volkswagen Group and is Porsche’s first push into the EV space. In many ways, it exists to steal some of the Model S’s action, yet with a greater focus on driver enjoyment. It’s impossible not to compare these two heavy-hitting four-doors, which we’ve already done with their priciest, most-powerful variants. While that matchup resulted in the Tesla coming out on top, it also left us curious as to how these two cars would stack up in more-affordable configurations.
Unfortunately, time limitations and vehicle availability prevented our two test cars from being as closely matched as we’d like, so we passed on our usual comparison-test procedure for a slightly less formal matchup. For one, our 2020 Model S Long Range Plus example no longer exists in Tesla’s lineup; it was introduced just last year and has since been replaced by an updated Long Range model that will launch shortly. That also means that it doesn’t feature the Model S’s latest interior treatment with its revised touchscreen interface and yoke-style steering wheel.
As configured, our test car’s dual-motor, all-wheel-drive setup houses a 103.9-kWh battery pack beneath its floor that earns it an EPA-estimated range of 402 miles. At $70,620 to start, the Long Range Plus amounts to a roughly $10,000 discount versus the new Long Range model and a $30K savings against the outgoing Performance variant in our previous comparison. This test car was not equipped with the $10,000 Full Self-Driving upgrade, a feature that has yet to live up to the full capability that Tesla continues to promise is coming.
Porsche’s closest analog to the Model S Long Range Plus is the $105,150 Taycan 4S, which debuted for 2020 as the entry-level model but has since been promoted to mid-grade status with the introduction of a $81,250 rear-wheel-drive variant. As with all Taycans, the 4S also can now be had in a Cross Turismo lifted wagon configuration with dual motors, all-wheel drive, and an optional 83.7-kWh battery—a $6580 upgrade over the standard 71.0-kWh pack. When the 4S and its 562 horsepower debuted, it earned an EPA-rated range of only 203 miles. Since then, Porsche has recrunched their math and bumped the figure to 227 miles.
Being a Porsche, our test car also came with a bevy of expensive options that increased its ask to an as-tested $143,690. Along with the larger battery, its major add-ons included $9080 for massive carbon-ceramic brakes, a $7170 Premium package (panoramic glass roof, LED matrix headlights, a surround-view camera system, etc.), a $6430 Performance package (active anti-roll bars, rear-axle steering, Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, the Sport Chrono package, and a sci-fi-worthy EV soundtrack), and $4680 21-inch wheels. The Satin Aurum (gold) finish on those wheels cost another $1290, and the car’s Mamba Green Metallic paint is $800, but the stunning color combo looks worth it to our eyes.
To get the full feel for both cars, we analyzed their results from the test track, maxed them out on our 75-mph highway range test, and drove them back to back on our favorite local two lanes and interstates. Despite their differences—the greatest arguably being that the Tesla rolled on all-season tires versus the Porsche’s sticky summer rubber—we were able to extract a number of meaningful impressions, as well as enough data to crown a winner.
Highs: Bold styling, sports-car-like handling, beautifully finished, neat EV sounds.
Lows: Porsche pricing, modest range, less accommodating for people and stuff.
The Taycan 4S may not be the straight-line performer that its more-powerful Turbo and Turbo S siblings are, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at its track sheet. Only when you account for the Turbo S’s blistering 2.4-second 60-mph run does the 4S’s 3.4-second time seem slow. With launch control engaged, the 4S shot through the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 120 mph, its unique (for an EV) two-speed transmission in the rear delivering a satisfying upshift into high gear as you keep the accelerator pinned to the floor. With its staggered 21-inch Pirelli PZ4 Elect rubber, it circled the skidpad at 1.03 g and stopped from 70 mph in 147 feet—awesome efforts for anything weighing 5128 pounds.
The Taycan 4S also excels at being a Porsche. It looks imposing and expensive. Drop into the low-slung driver’s seat and the front fenders jut up into view, just above the small and perfectly positioned steering wheel. Build quality is excellent, high-tech touches abound—and confound, in the case of the often-unintuitive infotainment system—and everything seems to wrap around you with purposefulness. On the road, our test car’s adaptive dampers returned impressive ride comfort considering the short, stiff sidewalls of its tires. Its finely honed, ultra-stable chassis responded to steering inputs with rich, fluid communication that few modern cars can match.
While not every pilot will enjoy the added theater of the Porsche Electric Sport Sound option, many drivers grew to like the excitement it brought to the typically quiet operation of an electric vehicle. Some thought it made the car sound like a landspeeder from Star Wars, but it’s actually a recording of the Taycan’s motors on a dyno played through the stereo’s speakers. (It can be turned off, too.) Also, not everyone will prefer Porsche’s take on regenerative braking, which differs from virtually every other EV in that it’s activated via the brake pedal rather than by simply letting off the accelerator. (There’s also a button to engage the slightest amount of regen while coasting.) That said, the Taycan’s regen is the more efficient setup at higher speeds, and not having to adjust for a typical regen system’s braking effect when entering corners makes it easier to slip into the flow of driving hard.
But the Porsche lands in second place because it simply cannot overcome two major shortcomings, at least compared to the Tesla. Even as the Taycan’s midrange model, the 4S is a pricey proposition, though it feels worth it most of the time. We haven’t tested a base Taycan yet, but given its still-significant starting price and reduced power—402 or 469 horses, depending on the configuration—stepping down a notch in the lineup likely wouldn’t have altered the finishing order of this test.
More significant is that the Taycan 4S has nowhere near the range of the Model S Long Range Plus. The Porsche’s 220-mile return on our highway test pales in comparison to the Tesla’s 320 miles—the best figure that we’ve recorded by far for an EV. While the Taycan’s 800-volt electrical architecture does help it replenish its battery at a faster rate, finding one of the powerful 270-kW DC fast-charging stations needed to realize its maximum charge rate is not nearly as easy as rolling up to one of Tesla’s many almost-as-powerful (albeit often busier) Superchargers.
True, 220 miles is more than enough range for most commutes, and we imagine many Taycan owners will have the added convenience of an at-home charging setup. The Taycan 4S is a viable—and spirted—sports sedan, infused with the refinement, engineering, and connection to the road that we expect from a Porsche. For a specific set of affluent buyers, those qualities will justify the Taycan’s lofty price and modest range. But if you demand more value and practicality for your EV dollar, read on.
Highs: Big-time range, plenty quick, attractively priced, practical packaging.
Lows: Poor fit and finish, dated interior, bland steering and chassis feel.
The Tesla Model S manages the neat trick of looking both substantial and upscale but also minimalist and stealthy. Its sleek design helps it blend in with traffic, yet it exudes enough presence to impress valets, which is saying something for a car that’s been on sale for nearly a decade with only modest, if continual, updates. The upcoming revisions for the latest models surely will bolster its wow factor. But even without those tweaks, the current car excels in a number of ways.
Though not as racy as its sportier kin nor the Taycan 4S, the 304-pound-lighter Long Range Plus did click off a solid 3.5-second 60-mph time—a mere tenth of a second behind the Porsche—and an 11.9-second quarter-mile at 116 mph. In fact, the Tesla is the quicker of the two cars on the move, pipping the 4S by 0.3-second in all of our rolling acceleration tests. Given its efficiency-oriented 19-inch Goodyear Eagle Touring all-season tires, our test car’s 0.86 g of skidpad grip and 179-foot stop from 70 mph are underwhelming. But as we learned in our previous comparison, Tesla’s big sedan can hang with the Porsche pretty well when fitted with grippier tires and a sportier suspension tune. Still, its chassis doesn’t feel as rock solid as the Taycan’s, its big chunky steering wheel has zero feel around corners, and its wheels seem to bounce across sharp bumps as if they were basketballs. A quick and competent cruiser, this car, but not a very engaging one.
More impressive is its range. At 320 miles, the Long Range Plus is the first EV to break the 300-mile barrier in our 75-mph highway test. We’ll have to see if that figure improves with the latest Long Range model, which bumps the car’s EPA estimate from 402 to 412 miles, but range anxiety is generally a nonissue here. The Model S also does well to recuperate a fair amount of energy in around-town driving, its excellently tuned regenerative braking making it easy to adapt to a one-pedal driving style, if that’s what you prefer.
There are drawbacks, though. Poor fit and finish remain a Tesla trait, evidenced by the many uneven panel gaps on our test car and its less-than-impressive interior quality for a $70,000 vehicle. The generations-old Mercedes switchgear and steering-column stalks recall Tesla’s startup origins. And not everyone will be a fan of the huge 17.0-inch center touchscreen interface, although at least the Model S features a separate digital instrument cluster for the driver, unlike the smaller Model 3 and Model Y. Neither of our test cars offer S-class levels of rear-seat space, but the Model S does seat three in back versus the Taycan’s two outboard chairs. The Tesla’s aft quarters also are slightly larger and bring more headroom for taller passengers, and its hatch and front trunk combined 28-cubic-foot cargo area dwarfs the Porsche’s 16-cube capacity.
More than anything, this test reinforces that these two cars come from very different lines of thinking. While the Porsche is the one we’d want to drive if money were no object, the Model S’s continuing relevance is a testament to both its core goodness as an EV and Tesla’s unconventional approach to making cars. Considering that an updated Model S is imminent, this certainly won’t be the last time these two sedans square off. But given the impressive range of the Long Range Plus and the tens of thousands of dollars separating it from the pricier 4S, there’s no question which is the sounder investment.