Automotive progress usually happens in baby steps. Slowly, like a white oak sapling growing in a forest. But every now and then a new car jumps off the automotive forest floor like a rainbow eucalyptus, advancing like crazy while making a colorful splash. The Air sedan from startup EV-maker Lucid is just such a car, and its level of innovation and sophistication are as fresh and unexpected as multicolored tree bark.
A year or two ago, most of you and many of us might have said, “Lucid? Are they still going? I thought they were foundering like Byton, Faraday Future, Dyson, Nio…” Lucid is very much still going. It’s helmed by experts cherry-picked from various successful automakers and it’s funded sufficiently to launch this Air sedan while developing its next model, the Gravity SUV.
Were we wowed by the whopping numbers Lucid has been touting recently—up to 1,111 horsepower and 1,390 lb-ft of torque in the Air Dream P edition and up to 520 miles of EPA-official range in the Dream R edition? No. Anyone can buy big numbers by installing giant motors and batteries. Rather, it’s the sophisticated way Lucid achieves them in a package that ranks highly in each of our six key criteria that captured our attention and our calipers.
The tiny, power-dense motor that generates those headline-grabbing specs does so with an innovative new stator winding consisting of 24 square copper wires “woven” into a convenient assembly requiring minimal bonding. To better manage the intense heat these wires generate under full power, Lucid moved the cooling passages down to the narrow spaces between winding channels, utilizing magnetic-field “dead zones” in the stator body. The rotor squeezes more reluctance torque out of the same amount of rare-earth magnets by optimizing their positioning.
Then, instead of multiplying the motor’s torque and then sending it through beefy differential gears, Lucid packages a small, light diff inside the rotor. Yes, this design requires two reduction gears, but placing a compact planetary unit on each side of the motor keeps things light and results in a complete drive unit with triple the power density of the leading competitors.
While the chemistry of the cylindrical batteries is conventional, the pack is designed to simplify automated assembly in a patented and award-winning injection-molded case that incorporates all the power-conducting bus bars. The cells connect to these bars via new lower-resistance ribbon connectors instead of wires, and heat gets conducted away from the ends of the cells instead of from the sides. Lucid says this results in more efficient cooling and easier installation, and it eliminates heavy, costly adhesive in the pack.
The entire electric powertrain was designed and developed in-house, including the “wunderbox” electronic controller that manages the Air’s 900-volt electrical system. It’s bi-directional, so it can provide “jump charging” to other EVs. It can manage 19.2 kW of level-2 home charging, it upconverts DC fast-charging power from 400 volts in older stations, and it can accept 300kW (or more) of the latest 800-volt “juice.” That makes the Lucid Air today’s fastest charging EV, capable of adding 300 miles in 20 minutes.
The initial Lucid Air Dream and Grand Touring models will deliver 451-520 miles of range from just 118 and 112 kWh of battery capacity, respectively. Later, a 92-kWh pack will provide 400-ish miles of range (and several more inches of foot and legroom in the back seat). Lucid is squeezing a remarkable number of miles from each kilowatt-hour in this S-Class-competitive luxury sedan, thanks in part to Formula 1 racing-derived aerodynamic tricks that contribute to a drag coefficient of just 0.200.
These include leveraging the low-pressure properties of vortex airflow to help suck extra air into the front cooling ducts and to keep air attached to the smooth underbody’s diffuser fences. The wing shape of its fascia air curtain ducts actually produces negative drag, and its hood ducts exhaust high-pressure air from the front. Narrow tires and a low roofline minimize frontal area to lower overall drag enough to allow most models to achieve higher efficiency on the highway than in the city—that’s rare for EVs and plug-ins.
With EPA combined ratings that range from 111-131 mpg-e the Lucid Air is America’s most efficient large electric sedan, ranking just ahead of the Tesla Model S (96-120 mpg-e), and well in front of the Audi E-tron GT and Porsche Taycan (70-79 mpg-e). The Mercedes EQS is rated for 97 mpg-e.
Advancement in Design
Lucid CEO/CTO Peter Rawlinson joined Tesla as chief vehicle engineer too late to influence the Model S’ exterior design, so he was determined to let his Lucid Air capitalize on its compact powertrain. The result is a sedan that delivers a Mercedes S-Class interior envelope within an E-Class’ overall length and wheelbase.
Design and engineering consultant Chris Theodore found “the profile of this cab-forward, low-cowl design to be sleek, with a long-wheelbase, short-overhang inverted-jellybean shape that is quite attractive.” Features editor Seabaugh praised its “gorgeous-looking, purposeful, clean, classic lines that remind me of classic French cars from the ’60s.”
Lucid further advances design with its ultra-slim micro-lens array LED headlamps. They produce a light pattern that’s as bright, white, and uniform as the benchmark S-Class headlamp, but the overall package is just 40 percent as big, and they don’t require motors to provide cornering illumination. Even the broad cross-car taillamp delivers the look of an OLED light, but in a simpler, more robust package that avoids the laser-etched metal competing designs employ.
The interior design blazes its own trail, eschewing both the wall-to-wall screen concept of the Mercedes EQS and Tesla’s fanatical minimalism. The Air mixes colors and materials in fresh ways, blending cloth, Alcântara, and perforated leather, with contrast stitching. Making the front and rear seats different colors lends an avantgarde feel.
Form necessarily followed function in lowering the roofline to minimize drag, and this forces taller drivers like 6-foot-4 buyers-guide editor Zach Gale to look out the windshield through the blue tinted portion at the top. Low rear door openings caused even our shortest judges to bonk their heads on the roof while climbing in back, but everyone appreciated the 90-degree rear door opening angle.
Performance of Intended Function
Rawlinson established a daunting list of “intended functions” for the Air to fulfill: S-Class levels of ride comfort and luxury, a chassis with the nimbleness and control responsiveness of the Lotus cars he chief-engineered, and 500 miles of electric driving range. Yikes.
As for matching an S-Class, that low frontal-area requirement means Lucid trails in head- and shoulder-room, with rear legroom trailing by a significant 8 inches in the models with the biggest battery. The Air slays in trunk space, however, offering 3.4 cubic feet more of it in the conventional trunk, plus a bonus 10.0-cubic-foot frunk, for 32.1 cubic feet total.
The Lucid pairs Bilstein Damptronic Sky adjustable shocks like those Mercedes uses, but pairs them with coil springs (the S-Class and EQS use air springs). Most judges found the ride quality to be amply luxurious in the most comfortable “Smooth” drive mode.
“In Smooth, the Air is comfortable and quiet, if slightly floaty; in Swift it feels like a great all-rounder,” said features editor Seabaugh, adding, “in Sprint it may not shrink on you like the Taycan, but this big sedan is genuinely enjoyable to work around the track.” Guest judge Theodore concurred “Amazing in its ability to hustle around corners. In Sprint mode, electric nannies are minimized and when they intrude, they do so subtly. Brakes are powerful but feel a bit artificial.” Speaking of brakes, several judges begged for the option of little or no regenerative braking, while others felt the higher “max regen” setting could be even stronger.
It’s in Swift and Sprint modes that the Lucid Air really distinguishes itself from the Mercedes competition. This mere 800-hp version whooshes through the quarter at 130.1 mph. That’s faster than every EV except the Tesla Model S Plaid and Porsche Taycan Turbo S, and the 1,111-hp Dream P is sure to give them a run for their money.
In terms of features and amenities, the Lucid pretty well matches Mercedes, gizmo for gizmo, though the execution—at least on our pre-production Air model—doesn’t always compare favorably. The Lucid’s seat-massage programs—several of which offer both vibration and kneading—drew praise. So did its in-house designed Dolby Atmos Surreal Sound system, which Theodore declared to be “by far the best I’ve ever listened to, in competitive products or audiophile home systems.” Sadly, not every judge got to experience it, due to system glitches. Pre-prod gremlins also afflicted the Highway Assist system (which will eventually be upgradable to various levels of autonomy), the door handles, the power closing frunk, and more.
The heavily screen-centric user interface drew some criticism. Many judges complained about features buried three menus deep, and Stoklosa questioned the wisdom of drawing the driver’s attention to the screen when adjusting the mirrors or steering position. “Some things didn’t need disrupting.” But most grudgingly agreed with senior online editor Golden’s assessment: “With some practice, it’s somewhat easy to use.”
Objective data is frequently lacking on brand-new vehicles, especially from startup manufacturers, particularly when they’re lower-volume luxury brands. But the Lucid Air features all the expected active and passive safety systems, and its full driver-assist system appears state-of-the-art, boasting 32 sensors:14 cameras, 12 ultrasonic and five radar sensors, and one high-resolution lidar unit. And prep for future autonomy includes a completely redundant backup controller for the electric power steering, which features a motor with 12 addressable power phases (only three of which are required to steer the car). Granted, our test vehicle couldn’t center itself in the lane as reliably as a Honda Civic, but we’re assured it’s just a software, firmware, and/or hardware update away from class competitiveness.
Here again, as when we evaluated that original Tesla Model S, we have no objective data on which to base any assessment of long-term resale value or ownership costs, except to note that EVs generally enjoy lower maintenance and higher depreciation costs than their combustion counterparts. We only evaluated a Grand Touring model, but we also sat in a Touring variant with the smaller battery pack and roomier rear footwells, and judges considered the entire lineup, which will add an entry-level Air Pure model with 480 hp and a 406-mile range in mid-2022. That car is expected to retail for $77,400 (shinnying under $70K after the tax credit and becoming price competitive with upper Mercedes E-Class models). That strikes us as a lot of car for the money, while at the top of the price range the $169,000 Dream P will deliver 2.3-times the power for “just” 2.2-times the money.
The Lucid Air did not instantly win all of our hearts. Many judges expressed dire concern that if Lucid fails to rectify the many wonky quirks our prototype suffered, the brand and car could go down in history as a 21st century Tucker or Chevy Vega. Some older judges assuaged these fears by highlighting the many similarities between this car and company and the Tesla we awarded in 2013. In the long run, we believe electric vehicles are the way forward for cars and mobility, and the way forward for electric vehicles is continuous improvement of electric batteries, motors, and charging. That’s why the great looking, strong performing, tech-leapfrogging Lucid Air is MotorTrend’s 2022 Car of the Year.
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2022 Lucid Air Grand Touring SPECIFICATIONS|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front and rear-motor, AWD|
|MOTOR TYPE||Permanent-magnet electric|
|POWER (SAE NET)||800 hp|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||885 lb-ft|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||6.6 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||14.9-in vented disc; 14.7-in vented disc|
|WHEELS||8.5 x 21-in; 9.5 x 21-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||245/35R21 99Y; 265/35R21 103Y Pirelli P Zero LM1 Elect|
|TRACK, F/R||65.7/65.5 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||195.8 x 76.2 x 55.6 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.3 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT (DIST F/R)||5,266 lb (50/50%)|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.5/38.3 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||45.4/35.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||58.2/54.5 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||10.0 (frunk); 22.1 (trunk) cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.2|
|QUARTER MILE||10.8 sec @ 130.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||115 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.91 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.6 sec @ 0.83 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||Not applicable|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$139,000|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||8 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|BATTERY CAPACITY||112 kWh li-ion|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||121/122/121 mpg-e|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||240-volt electricity, 480-volt electricity|