Range anxiety hits immediately the first time I check the Lucid Air’s svelte digital gauge cluster. Never mind that I’m sitting in the longest-range EV on the market today, which shows only 392 miles until empty if Lucid’s onboard estimate proves accurate. I have a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas planned tomorrow, a bold test of the Air’s capabilities but also a chance to check out the best overlanding builds at SEMA.
Lucid Air: Luxury, Performance, and Industry-Leading Range
Talk about contrasts. Lucid made waves last year by earning an EPA range estimate of 520 miles, the best of any production EV—ever. But I got my hands on an Air in Grand Touring Performance trim, which sacrificed a few miles of distance in favor of a stunning 1,050 horsepower, making it the most powerful EV on the market in addition to a Tesla-smashing 446 miles of range.
The Air GTP is the fastest car I’ve ever driven, bar none. With the traction control set turned down (or off completely), a sprint to 60 miles per hour flies by before my eyes can refocus after a gut-wrenching blast of instantaneously available torque. Throw in a unique “post-luxury” design ethos highlighted by premium materials at every touch point, and the Air is also quite possibly the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven: My Air arrived with a two-tone Tahoe interior color scheme complete with ventilated, massaging seats featuring electronically adjustable bolsters.
The ubiquitous skateboard battery layout employed by most EV manufacturers often supports a smooth, futuristic ride quality; keeps vibration to a minimum; and even produces moderately impressive handling thanks to a low center of gravity. But Lucid CTO Peter Rawlinson didn’t just serve as vehicle engineer for the Tesla Model S. Know-how from a stint as chief engineer at Lotus shines through while hauling the 5,236-pound Air GTP through canyons, too.
No full-size luxury sedan should corner so well, as I learn quickly on a quick blast up to Mulholland before departing for Las Vegas. With dimensions benchmarked against both the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Model S, the Lucid Air’s interior feels even more roomy (some might call it airy), thanks to the compact packaging of Lucid’s Formula E-derived battery and motor technology. And now, with a Stealth appearance package that tones down the exterior’s brushed metals, trim pieces, and wheels, the Air further approaches the kind of spaceship aesthetic that results in the world’s best drag coefficient of only 0.197.
But all the clever R&D in the world can’t fully quell my range anxiety. After plenty of previous EV loans, I received the Air GTP knowing that, for the first time, I needed to charge up before hitting the road. A quick perusal on Google led me to the PlugShare app, then down a rabbithole of different charge rates, plugs, and networks. Lucid delivers cars with three years of free charging at Electrify America stations and I expected my Santa Monica neighborhood to provide me with plenty of options. Guess again. But, using the Air’s onboard navigation, I soon found an EA location nearby in Culver City.
As a bonus, I first tried charging at a friend’s garage using a 240-volt outlet, but the prongs didn’t match Lucid’s adaptor. Living with an EV, you learn quickly to differentiate CCS chargers from CHAdeMO, J-1772, and Tesla. Not to mention NEMA 14-50 and TT-30 outlets, plus Tesla’s original Roadster plugs.
Another learning experience: The first time trying to fill the Air up to the 446-mile max, I learned just how quickly charge rates slow down as batteries fill up. After adding 52 miles of range in 27 minutes at the Culver City station, I sat at 444 miles total—and decided to leave, rather than wait another 20 minutes to add only two more. Based on my plans, that gave me exactly 100 miles of range to spare.
Lucid on the Road
The next morning, I headed up to Malibu, hammered the Air through some canyons, then hit the road to Vegas—driving absolutely normally, in the name of science, with air conditioning and music blasting, ventilated and massaging seats running full-time. And yet, I kept an eye on my range and distance remaining, just in case a stop became necessary.
Unlike internal-combustion cars, electric vehicles actually prefer stop-and-go city traffic to highway cruising, using regen to charge up batteries while avoiding the inefficiencies of wind resistance. Despite getting up to highway speeds faster than any other vehicle I’ve driven, the Air seemed to struggle a bit with cruise control activated, nudging up and down perceptibly on Interstate 15’s long, steady climbs and descents—sometimes the car attempted to activate regen, but often seemed to simply struggle modulating so much torque.
By the last hill past Baker, right in the heart of Bat Country before dropping down into Nevada, my excess range started dropping precipitously, finally reaching as low as 11 miles to spare. But then, rolling down towards Primm, the figure proceeded to climb back up and I eventually reached the first Electrify America charge station in Las Vegas with 36 miles remaining.
In total, I used 408 miles of estimated charge to drive 326 miles without attempting to maximize efficiency whatsoever. Not bad, I figured, while nervously eyeing the charge station. At the Culver City station’s charge rate, which maxed out at 38 kW the day before, could I quickly suck up enough electrons to at least get me through SEMA? A welcome surprise awaited me: Thanks to a combination of the battery’s low state and the Vegas EA station’s higher 250-kilowatt max rate, I proceeded to add 339 miles of range in only 42 minutes. Not bad at all.
At SEMA, amid all the muscle cars, chromed-out lowriders, and lifted pickup trucks, electric vehicles stood out as a big theme this year, too. And everyone I met wanted to know more about the Lucid. That’s because electric range is a big deal—or, more accurately, a BIG DEAL bolded, underlined, and italicized.
The future approaches, California’s aggressive 2035 time horizon looms larger every day, and other than Elon Musk, despite his obvious flaws, for many years nobody seemed intent on solving one of mankind’s most obvious challenges.
Have no doubt, Tesla changed the game when the Model S debuted a full decade ago offering 265 miles of range—even now, most legacy OEMs are struggling to crack 300 miles. But 10 years later, Tesla desperately needs a generational update and probably a less controversial boss, so the field seems ripe for Lucid to emerge as the first real competitor taking over the reins.
At well over six figures, the Air still prices out most buyers, though. Meanwhile, Rivian’s pickups look plenty clever but also weigh over 7,000 pounds, arrive with well-publicized build problems and recalls, typically require lead times measured in calendar years, and still can scrape up to nearly $100,000 anyhow.
After topping up quickly at the same station, I drive back to Los Angeles with 70 miles left on the clock. The fact the Air is Lucid’s first car still feels borderline unreal.
To be fair, little nits to pick included a balky Bluetooth connection warning, even as my phone played music perfectly the whole time, and a trunk that preferred opening only halfway without a bit of help. The DreamDrive suite of driver’s assistance tech also leaves a bit to be desired compared to other systems that more closely border on autonomy.
But the Air, despite being capable of walking just about every 1,000-horsepower build at SEMA in a quarter-mile, comes as close to eliminating range anxiety as possible today. I’m now an experienced road-tripper who knows how much time I could save on my next adventure by planning two separate charging sessions at lower battery levels to maximize charge rates, all while keeping track on the Lucid smartphone app.
In the meantime, Lucid’s announcement today of the Air’s Touring and Pure trims that still offer over 400 miles of range at much more competitive pricing marks another big step towards mainstream adoption. Sure, battery production and sustainability remain concerns for now, but as Moore’s Law continues to march along, soon enough, driving to Vegas won’t even require topping up the EV in advance.