Defying the odds in the world of car startups, where new companies can be valued in the billions but never actually put a vehicle on the road, California-based Lucid Motors celebrated the delivery of its first road-going cars – the Lucid Air – in late 2021.

The Air, a spacious highly-powered electric saloon, aims squarely at the established German competition, like the Mercedes S-Class (or EQS, its electric cousin), the hybrid Audi A8 and the BMW 7 Series – plus, of course, the Californian Tesla Model S.

“When we started the design of the project in 2015, there was Tesla, and Tesla,” says Derek Jenkins, senior vice president of design and brand at Lucid, speaking on the Concept Lawn of Monterey’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance car show. “So, it was about how we separate ourselves from the traditionalists. At the time, it was all about big grills and air vents, so we knew we wanted to take a more reserved approach and we knew it had to be very aerodynamic.”

Lucid Air Grand Touring, from $154,000
Lucid Air Grand Touring, from $154,000

With its simple and solid design, the Air brings a fresh perspective on the traditional family saloon without looking too out of place on California’s roads. Jenkins took inspiration from the aviation industry and aircraft design to come up with an aesthetic that was efficient but not alienating.

“We minimised all the air openings for aerodynamics, and then just kept the graphic elements in the face of the car very linear and long. It has a sleek roof and a much longer cabin than most cars – certainly, the glass canopy and wraparound rear glass are a nod to aircraft design,” says Jenkins.

Not one to miss out on the automotive arms race, the Air can pack up anywhere between 480bhp on the entry-level Pure to 1,200bhp in its newly revealed, all-sporting Sapphire edition. While that’s a bewildering amount of power for any family saloon – the Sapphire promises to do the 0-60 dash in less than two seconds – even the more sensible Grand Touring model that I drove is still good for a three second 0-60. In practice, the Air feels supercar-fast in a straight line despite its 2.5-tonne weight. With Sprint mode engaged, the pick-up in pace is startling and the temptation to try out launch mode more than once is tempered only by its sheer physical impact.

The Air’s aesthetics take subtle inspiration from the aviation industry
The Air’s aesthetics take subtle inspiration from the aviation industry

For everyday driving, the Air handles its weight well around California’s twisty coastal roads, with its precise steering and smooth handling making for a surprisingly supple drive. Switching between Smooth, Swift and Sprint modes through the central info touchscreen, the car can shift from a comfortable luxury cruiser to an engaging driver’s saloon, thanks in part to the team of European engineers behind it – notably Lucid’s very own CEO Peter Rawlinson, whose CV includes chief engineer at Lotus as well as chief engineer for the Tesla Model S.

With big, headline performance figures, it’s unsurprising that the Air can do big miles too, providing it’s driven half sensibly. The entry-level Pure claims to do 406 miles on a single charge while the current Air Dream Edition range-topper will do 520 miles – the Grand Touring Performance model sits in between at 446 miles. In the real world, expect fewer than that, but given the car’s 100KWh+ battery and dual motor set-up, it will manage to cover most commutes comfortably. Just plan well for the really long journeys.

Despite its flat face and squared rear, the Air has a drag coefficient of 0.21, similar to the slippery Mercedes EQS – a car, alongside the S-Class, that the company doesn’t shy away from marking as its main competitor. At each end, Jenkins’ clamshell bonnet and even more extreme C-130-inspired cargo plane rear opens up to swallow luggage in its 627-litre boot. With no combustion engine to get in the way up front, the Air adds another 283 litres of space in the “frunk”, giving it a combined carrying capacity of 910 litres.

“The car can shift from a comfortable luxury cruiser to an engaging driver’s saloon”
“The car can shift from a comfortable luxury cruiser to an engaging driver’s saloon”
The floating dashboard and wraparound windscreen inside the Air
The floating dashboard and wraparound windscreen inside the Air

On the inside, it’s a similar story. The Air is a pleasant, roomy and, above all, quiet place to be. As a nod to the maker’s eco-conscience, Lucid offers animal-free PurLuxe interior trim as an alternative to the full leather that’s also on offer, while its launch Dream Edition R has its doors and dash trimmed in alpaca wool-blend. While some of the materials don’t match up to those of its European rivals, the novel floating dashboard and the wraparound windscreen that flows into a vast glass canopy make up for it.

Available in the US for just short of a year, Lucid has already made in-roads into Europe via a dealership in Munich and more coming in Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. With prices starting from approximately €100,000, €218,000 is the current ceiling for its Dream Edition P and R, the brand’s range-topping, limited numbers launch models. Despite not confirming a specific date for the arrival of a right-hand-drive model, the maker confirmed the car is destined for UK shores in the future. Ahead of that, Lucid is already taking £200 refundable reservations from UK early adopters, or pointing those who can’t wait until then to its European dealerships for a chance to get a left-hand-drive model sooner.

What started life in 2007 as a company building batteries and powertrains for other electric vehicles is, against the odds, living the American dream as a fully-fledged car company. Lucid has its sights set on delivering the Sapphire and other variants of the Air before unveiling its next project – Gravity – the marque’s follow-up SUV. “All my work is going into our SUV programme, Gravity,” says Jenkins. “That’ll be a three-row SUV with incredible space and performance. And then there’s a future beyond that, where we’ll start to look at some more mainstream vehicles. We’re super excited about that.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
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