The Lucid Air won Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award for 2022, based on its sleek styling and impressively advanced technology, which we experienced in our brief preview drive.
Recently, Design News had the opportunity to spend a few days driving an Air, and this experience provides new context on the everyday useability of this technical tour de force. Unfortunately, much of this additional exposure produced frustration rather than exhilaration.
To recap, the Air Grand Touring that we drove is an 819-horsepower, $155,650 luxury sedan boasting an EPA-estimated driving range of 469 miles. Its 112-kilowatt-hour, 900-volt battery and silicon carbide inverter promise blazing-fast recharge times of just adding 200 miles of range in just 12 minutes.
However, we found that the range estimate proved wildly optimistic during our highway driving loop with the car consuming 215 miles of its forecast driving range in just 110 miles.
Compounding this problem, charging at the Electrify America 350-kilowatt charging station fell well short of the expected charging rate, which substantially increased our charging time. The ambient temperature at the time was in the 40s, and the car got warm enough while charging to activate noisy underhood fans. Nevertheless, the charging level fell from a peak of about 123 kW at first to only 73 kW. This stop added 62 kWh and a predicted 215 miles of range to the battery pack in 32 minutes.
Whether this slower-than-expected charging speed is Lucid’s fault or Electrify America’s fault, the fact is that Lucid drivers will depend on public charging networks like Electrify America rather than a walled-garden network like Tesla’s which is consistently excellent. This will therefore be a concern for people buying a Lucid, no matter where responsibility for the problem lies.
In comparison to our previous preview drive, Lucid has noticeably refined the software controlling the balance between regenerative braking when lifting off the accelerator pedal and the more aggressive deceleration of pressing the brake pedal.
Where the switch from one to the other was a little jerky before, now the changeover is invisible, which makes the car more fun to drive briskly. And the one-pedal drive regeneration makes it possible to drive normally in regular traffic without having to even use the brake pedal unless you’re cut off by an ill-mannered driver.
That covers the EV experience, but there is much more to driving a car. Approaching the Air, the car automatically unlocks and presents its door handles. This is handy because the car’s remote is a featureless black slab, inscrutable as 2001: A Space Odyssey’s monolith.
Open the door to slide behind the wheel and watch your head getting into the driver’s seat. That low roofline that contributes to the racy sports car looks doesn’t leave much space for a six-footer to get into the car, and I knocked my hat off a couple of times, though fortunately never actually whacked my head hard on the doorjamb. But it is very close.
There’s no power button, so you just slide the column shifter into Drive or Reverse to go. Unfortunately, as a so-called monostable shifter that springs back to a center position after a gear change is requested, the resulting gear position is not confirmed for drivers visually and by tactile feel as it is in polystable shifters that remain in a different position to indicate the gear selected.
Underway, the Air is commendably smooth, silent, and fast, as befits its price tag. The minimalist interior escapes the drab plainness of Tesla’s cabins despite its lack of ornamentation. However, it also lacks some functional controls that would be appreciated. Or, perhaps the problem is the design of the interface on the central touch screen.
But the seat heaters and steering wheel heat are a couple of layers into the menu, which is a tedious chore to go through every time you get into the car during cold weather. It is the same for the seat coolers in hot weather. Radio and HVAC controls take too long to find and use.
In general, too many functions are controlled by virtual buttons on the display that demands too much time and attention from the driver. This is confirmed by the car itself, which calls out “Keep your eyes on the road” with regularity while driving the Air. The safety monitor is not the problem here. The fact that you can’t control the infotainment, HVAC, or navigation systems without taking your eyes off the road for longer than is safe, and even the car knows it.
Lucid says that it has improved the startup time of the car, which is good. But the car's backup camera and surround view camera are still slow to activate, sometimes turning on only after the car is in Drive and moving forward down the street. A cool detail I've not seen anywhere else is that parking distances are shown in inches on the surround-view camera display, aiding with parking.
As smart as the driver monitor is, it was dazzled by my reflective polarized sunglasses. While driving toward the setting sun, with what was surely a blinding glare reflected off my glasses, the computer also regularly warned me to keep my eyes on the road while I was looking straight ahead. Later, driving away from the sun, there were no more of these false alarms.
Another software concern is the car’s SiriusXM service. There is no satellite receiver in the car. Instead, it streams the service using its wireless internet connection. Unfortunately, the test car had a beta version of this software, and it had beta software behavior to show for it, with the music frequently going silent and the message “Something went wrong” on the display.
While we can hope that the software will improve, what won’t change is that anyone driving where wireless internet service is unreliable will not have the SiriusXM service they would get from a satellite signal. So be aware, not all SiriusXM systems are created equal, and it is easy to imagine situations where Lucid’s solution will be unsatisfactory for the driver.
Come nighttime, the Air’s headlights cast a nice pattern down the road, and the automatic high beams work well to identify oncoming traffic. However, our test car’s driver’s side low beam projected a curious rectangular shadow onto the road about the size of the license plate on a car a half-dozen car lengths ahead. Having this shadow move with the car was a little distracting. Hopefully, this is only a quirk of this particular car’s lights.
Some good news: The Lucid’s Monroney window sticker shows that the car is built with 60 percent U.S./Canadian parts content and that the motor and gearbox are American-sourced for assembly at Lucid’s Casa Grande, Ariz. plant.
The car is gorgeous and comfortable. It projects glamor. And in the right circumstances, with a driver who has mastered the intricacies of maximizing range and minimizing charging times, some impressive electric driving feats are possible thanks to the Air’s impressive technology.
But our experience this time around is that this is a very nice car with obvious potential that isn’t delivering on that potential. Our experience was like when you’ve been called to the school principal’s office for some shortcoming in your behavior and informed that they’re not so much mad as disappointed.
Fortunately, just as during those school days, Lucid has so much promise we have no doubt of its ability to soon expunge this mark on its permanent record.