Notes from the Road, A Personal Automotive History – Issue 29: Model S vs Taycan Turbo

As someone who has been in the incredibly privileged position to have owned both of these cars, I thought I’d take the opportunity to put together some thoughts on the topic. There is a lot of discussion out there on this, but the loudest voices tend to have absolutely no actual experience with either car (welcome to the internet), or come at it with way too much bias (ditto)

I’m going to start off with the “TL;DR”, and then maybe expand this over time, so here goes! The Taycan looks like a Porsche, drives like a Porsche, is built like a Porsche and, surprise surprise, is priced like one. The Tesla Model S Plaid is the undisputed champion of EVs, both in terms of absolute straight line performance, and in terms of the underlying EV platform. In some ways, comparing the Taycan to an American built rocket nipping at its heels feels oddly familiar from 50 years of ICE wars, so is this Mustang/Corvette/Viper all over again? Well, the answer is “it’s complicated”.

In some respects, it absolutely is. After all, the Tesla has most of the hallmarks of an American pretender to the European throne. It goes like stink (quicker in a straight line than basically anything), is questionable in terms of build and materials quality and, and while competent enough generally (exception – Plaid brakes), lacks something in terms of qualitative driver engagement. It is also a significantly better value proposition if you’re focused on pure cost.

OK, so why is this not like Corvette vs 911 or Mustang vs 911, where the Porsche enthusiast leaves it at “if you don’t get it, you don’t get it”, and the “domestic iron” fanatic rages on about “media bias”? Well, the answer is this is no longer ICE, and things have changed.

When it comes to EVs, Tesla is clearly the leader and brings with it genuine advantages that just haven’t really been a thing in ICE for a long time. Their vertical integration is phenomenal, and leads to measurable benefits in energy consumption and storage efficiency. Compare this to ICE, where the equivalent would be something like comparing fuel pump, fuel line and variable valve timing efficiency. The time when these things were real differentiators was long ago; it’s all pretty well settled. Compounding that is with EVs, efficiency matters a lot. With ICE people happily just keep burning gas and buying gas and pumping gas and burning gas. Until gas prices reach some individual pain threshold (from which, in the US, they inevitably retreat), people are happy to just fill up as much as they need to (once a week, once a day, once an hour, whatever). With EVs, efficiency is always top of mind, even if the thing runs a 9s 1/4 mile like that Plaid. It’s a bit psychological, and not always rational, but EVs inevitably get people to focus on energy consumption.

So that’s efficiency. And it’s not to say Porsche is bad in this respect, to the contrary they did a phenomenal job considering the Taycan is their first go at this off the racetrack, but Tesla is king and, yes, even buyers of “hyper EVs” do care. A close companion to efficiency is the charging network. Again, there is no equivalent of ICE here. The Taycan charging system is first class, and in some ways much superior to Tesla (it can charge at a much higher rate, far deeper into the charging curve, than any Tesla thanks to superior temperature management), but to get that charge it must depend on third parties. Tesla’s use the Tesla network, flawlessly integrated, nearly ubiquitous, and first class all the way. This is a real advantage that should not be downplayed.

Next up is technology, but very specifically the cars tech stack. Tesla “infotainment” is best in class, in my opinion, but then they have neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay, and statistics show that many people prefer those. For them, the Taycan immediately wins despite how great the Tesla system is. More import, though, is that advantage of vertical integration again. The Tesla truly is as close to a software platform as a car can get. All updates are Over the Air, installed with no dealer intervention, regardless of how significant. Again, this is a non-trivial advantage for an EV. And along with this come advantages in that efficiency area again, in the form of route planning. The Taycan actually has an excellent route planner, that will build a route for you that includes any needed charging stops along the way, ensuring that your time is optimized, but nothing can match Teslas control of the EV hardware, the EV software and the charging network. It’s a near Apple level “total ecosystem” advantage.

Last Tesla advantage is ADAS. Tesla takes a ton of heat for this, much of it due to Elon’s showman like hyperbole, but the fact is they’re really not even playing the same game as legacy auto. What they’re attempting to do with “FSD” is incredibly ambitious. The results are occasionally terrifying, but often borderline magic. Even the baseline “Enhanced Autopilot” gives you features that other manufacturers aren’t even trying, like the car literally driving itself to a destination, via highway, following the GPS route and making all required lane changes and transitions autonomously. Does it require constant supervision? Yes. Does it occasionally screw up and scare you? Yes. But the other systems aren’t attempting most of this at all (ze Germans), or are even worst (Ford, GM)

So what is the tale of the tape? Despite improvements, the Model S still isn’t meeting the expectations for what a $100k car should be in terms of the quality of the materials you see and touch every day, and the way it’s put together. Porsche is among the best there is, even at $200k. Similarly, Tesla has no options, which is great, but pushes very hard to be a pure commodity. That means there is very little differentiation between the $100k+ S/X tier, and the $40k+ 3/Y tier. Want massaging seats? Too bad. Ambient lighting? Too bad. Any level of interior customization for your $100k+? Too bad. Heads up display? Too bad. Yes the Porsche “options book” is ridiculous, but if you don’t care about money, basically anything you could want is in there. For all the excuses that Tesla gives you “everything you need”, there is a ton missing (including something simple like rain sensing wipers that work reliably)

When it comes to driving experience, the Taycan drives like a Porsche, which means in this category, it’s the one playing a different game. Just like the way no one is trying to do what Tesla is doing with autonomy, it really feels like no one even attempts to do what Porsche does with driver engagement. The four-wheel steering (which Tesla doesn’t even offer) genuinely shrinks the car (something cars this big need), the torque vectoring is full time (vs only available in a dedicated “track mode” like Tesla) and far superior; the chassis control feels magical at times. Steering feel is not only there (something it seems no one is capable of anymore), it’s 99% of what you’d expect from Porsche (which means better than anyone south of true super cars). Most importantly of all, the car can stop consistently well. The Taycan is over braked, as always with Porsche, the Plaid is arguably under braked. And while Tesla claims carbon ceramics are available (they’ve never been actually in stock), carbon ceramics are standard on the Turbo S and a common site on the Turbo (I have them).

Here is where things get different in the “Porsche vs Domestic” debate though. All of those critical EV advantages mentioned above matter to many buyers. For anyone who has the budget to consider either car, they have to decide are they “EV first, driver second” or the reverse. This is more of a “heart” than “head” decision. The Plaid is a rocket ship for EV enthusiasts and, unlike the deeply flawed domestic competition of the past, has its own merits where it is truly king. The Taycan is a Porsche that is an EV. For fans of Porsche, or those looking for a true drivers EV, or those who don’t want “commodification”, and are willing to trade some modern convenience (car as iPhone) in order to get good old fashioned quality, design, and customization, the Taycan is king.