A week with a Lucid Air: Better than a Tesla?

Tom
By Tom Suddard
Mar 27, 2024 | ev, Lucid, Lucid Air | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography by Tom Suddard

More than $80,000. More than 5000 pounds.

Longer than a new BMW M5.

Wider than a new Camaro. The Lucid Air is a big car, but it’s an even bigger moment in automotive history.

We spent a week and 600 miles in one to answer a simple question: Does Lucid’s Air represent the future of performance cars? Or is it cursed to be an evolutionary dead end? Read below to find our answers.

Building a whole car is hard–really, really hard, as I learned firsthand back when we built the first production Factory Five 818 and ended up with something that was fast but not exactly ready for a dealer’s showroom. Ever since, I’ve always been fascinated by first attempts.

And that’s why I was so excited to try a Lucid Air. These aren’t exactly new–production started in 2022–but they are exceedingly rare in the real world, with far fewer than 10,000 cars delivered to the public so far.

Lucid was kind enough to loan me one for a road trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., and back. Along the way I’d attempt to answer two key questions: Does the age of electrification mean the death of the true driver’s car?

And if not, is it possible to build a car so good that it outshines the current state of America’s charging network? Let’s find out.

I’ll start with the numbers: Rather than explore these questions in the higher-spec Grand Touring or Sapphire trims (with 819 or 1234 horsepower, respectively), I’d be driving Lucid’s entry-level model, the 480-horsepower Air Pure.

With a starting price of $77,400, my test car also carried all-wheel drive (a $5000 upcharge), as well as the company’s $10,000 DreamDrive Pro, which is a driver assist system that promises “Future-Ready Hardware for Semi-Autonomous Driving Functionality.” Add $4000 for a nice stereo, $2000 for fancy wheels, and $1000 for Blue Metallic paint.

Total price? $99,400, which makes this an honest six-figure car with the $1650 destination charge.

That’s more than $10,000 lower than the car’s original window sticker, though: Thanks to dropping demand and Tesla’s price war, Lucid has recently slashed prices to stay somewhat competitive.

But still: This is a very expensive car, and there’s no way around that. Tesla’s Model S, for comparison, starts at $74,990, and that price includes all-wheel-drive standard.

But it’s not my job to critique the Lucid’s price–it’s my job to critique the car, and that started when I packed four people and their luggage into it.

In short, the Lucid Air is a masterpiece of clever packaging. Every single square inch of the car seems to be devoted to storage for people or their stuff, until you look closer and realize that there’s usually even more storage underneath a clever hatch or trap-door underneath.

Lucid has finally built a real-life Tardis, and it left me wondering where exactly the infrastructure to support the car lives. Electrification means it’s possible to significantly rethink how much space the drivetrain of a car needs to take up, and it’s neat to see that pushed to the extreme underneath the Lucid.

The interior, too, was clearly designed by people who’d never heard the phrase “well that’s how we’ve always done it.” It’s a spacious, beautiful, comfortable place to spend your day, with materials that help the Air stand out from its competition.

And I’m not just talking about Tesla: The Air’s interior would honestly give the Germans’ finest a run for their money, albeit with a younger, fresher twist vs. the acres of leather that’s normally found in luxury cars.

[2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE 500 4MATIC SUV new car review]

There is one caveat, of course: I felt the acres of screens were somewhat underutilized vs. the software Swiss Army knife in a Tesla, though Lucid was kind enough to include CarPlay.

In theory, more features could be added later via an over-the-air software update. And in practice, I’d take CarPlay any day of the week vs. the collection of stuff built into a Tesla.

So it’s packaged well and has a nice interior–this probably means the Lucid drives like a soulless people mover, right?

Welcome to the most surprising part of my time with this car–dynamically, it feels absolutely fantastic. In fact, I compared it to an E39-chassis BMW M5, one of the greatest sport sedans of all time, and walked away liking the Lucid BETTER.

Sure, it’s fast–all electric cars are–but it’s also remarkably neutral, fun to rotate with a touch of trail braking, and extremely communicative at the limit.

Somehow this car seemed to get 2000 pounds lighter and 12 inches narrower as soon as I began attacking a twisty mountain road. It was right about the time I left a corner, crested a hill with foot to the floor, felt the chassis unload and all four wheels spin at once, giggling like an idiot the whole time, that I realized electric cars didn’t have to be numb, understeering penalty boxes that happened to be incredibly fast.

They can be fun, and the Lucid Air most definitely is. And remember, this is the “inexpensive” one, with “only” 480 horsepower and 686 lb.-ft. of torque.

Forget Mazda’s attempts to make its cars enjoyable: I’ll honestly say that the Lucid is one of the finest-driving new cars I’ve driven this side of a Porsche badge. This thing is just begging for a gutted interior, a roll cage, and some slicks.

Of course, you don’t have to drive unless you want to–the Air featured Lucid’s DreamDrive Pro, a $10,000 package clearly aimed at those who’d buy Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving Capability” for $12,000. Spoiler alert: I’ve tried Tesla’s FSD multiple times, and every time it’s failed to deliver on its promise.

At least the Lucid doesn’t claim to have everything handled as it drives you into stuff. It’s actually a fairly straightforward, fairly competent cruise control system that will follow traffic at a set distance, center you in your lane, and occasionally help you change lanes on the highway.

I found myself frequently disabling the lane-centering functionality, as it liked to jerk the wheel away from me through construction zones and such, but otherwise this system was fine.

Was it worth $10,000? That depends on if you believe in the “Future-Ready Hardware…” line.

Oh, right, range: Lucid rates this trim at 384 miles, down from 410 thanks to the big wheels and all-wheel drive.

In the real world, driving down the highway at 80 mph from north of NYC to south of D.C.(about 280 miles), I stopped for one 5-minute charge just to be safe and to have some buffer when I arrived.

And if you’re wondering how I could be unscientific about my range numbers, here’s a question for you: Exactly how far will your gas car go on a tank? You don’t know down to the exact mile? Exactly–the Lucid’s range is “plenty,” or at least plenty good enough that I didn’t really think about it. If you really want to nerd out about it, Car and Driver ran this same trim all the way to empty and observed 310 miles at 75 mph.

But while the Lucid’s range is plenty, it reminds me to talk about charging: This is the Lucid’s Achilles' heel, and something no non-Tesla EV review can fail to mention at this point in American history. I’m actually more optimistic about our charging network than most–I daily drive an electric Ford F-150 Lightning, and I’ve road-tripped it more than 11,000 miles over the past four months, many of those towing a car trailer.

Over all those miles, I’ve encountered my share of broken chargers and miserable charging experiences, but I’ve never been seriously delayed. Why? Because I’m a nerd, and I use multiple apps to plan trips, track charger availability, avoid subpar experiences and charge as cheaply as possible.

And that’s fine–I enjoy the challenge, and I enjoy being on the leading edge of technology (and I usually charge at home). Plus, Tesla never built my Cybertruck, and there’s no way I can carry a greasy engine home from the junkyard in a Model 3.

But here’s my thought: Is the customer buying a $100,000 luxury sedan willing to jump through these hoops? Will they wait in a line of rented Chevy Bolts to charge their car? Will they download a dozen apps to have a successful road trip?

And will they do all of this while literally staring at an empty bank of Tesla Superchargers across the parking lot, as I did, watching every Tesla get a quick and easy charge with no hoops?

It pains me to say this, because the Lucid Air is an objectively great car, but I’m just not sure its target audience is going to trade in Tesla’s charging network for better driving dynamics.

Across a few attempts at DC Fast Charging at different locations that could theoretically charge the Lucid at its fastest rate (250kW), I was never able to hit it.

This isn’t Lucid’s fault–they don’t build the chargers, after all–but it is Tesla’s competitive advantage, as they built their own network and now reap the benefits.

Sure, most EVs are charged mostly at home. Most of my charges, in fact, were done on a simple 120V wall plug in my friend’s garage. But people aren’t always rational when making decisions, and it’s hard to believe they’ll ignore the difference in fast charging networks when comparing the Lucid against the Model S.

Of course, there is a way to fix this: Tesla seems eager to ink deals for other automakers to use its network, and most major manufacturers have announced an upcoming switch to Tesla’s network (and Tesla’s plug, dubbed NACS). Back when I was driving this car, Lucid was one of the few holdouts.

But that's now changed—the company just announced it, too, would be supporting Tesla's network via adapters on current cars and native ports starting in 2025. So theoretically, this car's Achilles' heel will be resolved.

[Seven automakers unite to accelerate growth of North America’s EV charging network]

So what’s the verdict? The Lucid is a frankly amazing piece of design, packaging, driving dynamics, style–everything.

It’s almost impossible to believe it’s the brand’s first production car, as it feels like something Mercedes-Benz engineers would boast was the result of “decades of improvement and refinement.”

And it’s good enough that, yes, I think it’s worth the slight price premium versus an equivalent Tesla.

I only have two hopes for the future: That its charging network drastically improves, and that luxury sedan depreciation hits the Air as hard as it hits the competition from Germany. I have high hopes for the network—Tesla's Superchargers are seriously good. Depreciation, though? Who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing track days in a 5-year-old Air in a few years.  

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Comments
Duke
Duke MegaDork
11/8/23 9:47 a.m.

>5,000 lbs?

Yikes, though.

 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
11/8/23 10:16 a.m.

To be fair, I didn't weigh this particular car since I was 1000 miles away from my scales. Car and Driver weighed theirs at just under 5000 lbs, while I've seen around 5200 quoted elsewhere. Lucid doesn't publish a weight on their site.

I will say that this car honestly doesn't feel that heavy, instead choosing to simply violate the laws of physics.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/8/23 10:37 a.m.

Definitely seems like a "if you have the means, why not?" sort of car.

TR7
TR7 Reader
11/8/23 11:00 a.m.

Love these things. A neighbor has one and its awesome, far and above any Tesla I have been in. 

Duke
Duke MegaDork
11/8/23 11:05 a.m.

In reply to TR7 :

I have seen 2 in the metal.  It is a fairly handsome animal.

If I had the money, I'd buy one.

 

NorseDave
NorseDave HalfDork
11/8/23 9:05 p.m.

They do look nice.  Seems likely to go the way of Fisker (ie, out of business).  They lost $516k per car they delivered this quarter.  Seems fairly unsustainable, given they haven't been improving that, and the production is going down.

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/9/23 6:31 a.m.

I like the Polestar 2 dual motor more than any Tesla, even though the acceleration isn't even remotely close to that of the plaid. 

 

The Lucid Air is a Mercedes compared to Telsa's fast Buick.

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/9/23 6:38 a.m.

In reply to NorseDave :

So come Barrett Jackson 2068 one will fetch 7 figures? 

iansane
iansane GRM+ Memberand Dork
11/9/23 10:07 a.m.

There's a Lucid dealer right near my work and I see them prowling around lower Seattle regularly. It genuinely looks like a background car from RoboCop in that setting. It's such a massive presence that seems to float down the street. Beautiful cars. Not for me though.

Mndsm
Mndsm MegaDork
11/9/23 10:09 a.m.

I like how nearest I can tell the CEO isn't a supervillain. 

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