The core of the 2023 Lucid Air sedan, at any trim level, is that it gets the basics right. Even the base Pure trim that I drove had over 400 miles of range and charged as fast as 250 kW, which assuming the infrastructure is there, makes it comparable to owning a gasoline-powered car.
Those basics come at a cost, though, and the Air Pure isn't perfect. It makes up for this in several interesting ways, but does it all add up? In the broader scope of EVs, yes it does.
|2023 Lucid Air Pure AWD Specs
|Base Price (as tested)
|92-kWh battery | dual permanent-magnet electric motors | 1-speed transmission | all-wheel drive
|22.1 cubic feet (trunk) | 10 cubic feet (frunk)
|410 miles (19-inch wheels) | 384 miles (20-inch wheels)
|The Air Pure needs more refinement, but all the fundamentals are there.
The Air sedan is the Lucid brand's first car. If I didn't know that going in, I may have assumed it anyway. One morning a headlight was out, which later decided to work again with zero intervention. Another time the frunk thought it was open even though it was closed, which would've been a big problem if a hard press on the hood hadn't resolved that issue. The highway driving assist features were also mediocre with the car ping-ponging around in its lane, and if I stood around it with the key fob in my pocket—I was doing work near the driveway—it would think I was constantly about to get in and out of it, locking and unlocking itself, mirrors folding in and out. If these weren't blatant faults, they're signs that the car is at least a little unrefined.
The Pure costs $82,400 to start, and my particular tester was $98,300. That's a lot of money for a car that could use no small amount of fine-tuning. Despite these faults though, it's appealing enough to justify the price. Like other EVs, the interesting drivetrain technology was not evident in terms of driver engagement, but unlike other EVs, it was extremely obvious in terms of comfort and usability. The Air is huge inside and a very pleasant place to be as a result. The ride is also impeccable, 480 horsepower is more than enough, and the huge amount of range even in this base trim means "How far can I go?" is less of a consideration than with other EVs, even in adverse weather conditions.
All of this is a result of Lucid having what is probably the best electric drivetrain hardware in the business. Its drive units are almost comically compact and powerful, and other important components like power electronics and battery modules are designed and packaged in truly unique ways. The company's so-called "space" concept may be one of its less technically interesting achievements, but it's the most obvious result of its efforts. Rear legroom is truly incredible for the car's size, and headroom is plentiful even without a glass roof, which is available on higher trims.
This interior space is one of the key basics the car gets right. Other electric vehicles, thanks to their thick floor-mounted battery packs, can have a tough time managing interior volume effectively. That's just not the case here. The result is that even if charging takes longer than anticipated—which it almost always does in an EV—the Air is an extremely comfortable place to be. The base Pure trim gets standard heated seats for the driver and all four passengers—yes, even that rear middle seat is heated—as well as a heated steering wheel. Back-seaters also get control of their own HVAC, and there are nice vents in the B-pillars for them. Fancy stuff.
In the front, a tweed-upholstered dash is both an unusual choice for a car and one I really liked. It's a more homely material than the usual black plastic and it provides a warmth that's not typically found inside a car. Overall, the interior of the Air with its tasteful use of touchscreens and physical controls for things like volume and climate is one of its biggest strengths. I did not experience any software bugs with the infotainment at all, but they have been reported by owners.
Unfortunately, the driving experience wasn't something that had me grinning ear-to-ear, although this is mostly an endemic issue to do with electric vehicles, not just the Lucid Air. The steering was clearly tuned to mimic good feedback from the road but said feedback isn't actually present. It has a classic electric-assisted steering feel: heavily dampened, not very elastic, precise, but ultimately unsatisfying. The inability to turn off regenerative braking completely also meant that trying to glide through a good set of corners on a backroad was more or less impossible without constant surgical adjustments to the throttle pedal, which got old pretty quickly. The amount of regen can be reduced by selecting the "Swift" drive mode, but it doesn't really help that much.
One part that's easy to separate from a less-than-satisfying backroad driving experience is the ride. It's excellent. My Air Pure was optioned with a $2,000 set of optional 20-inch wheels, but it still traversed a rutted gravel road almost like it was riding on relatively smooth asphalt.
This car's strengths and weaknesses simultaneously made me want to like and discount it. It had a fair amount of bugs. A headlight out randomly at five in the morning on a car that costs over $70,000 is hardly acceptable. Likewise, if that frunk didn't realize it was closed, I would've been limited to 36 mph. That's just sort of embarrassing.
I didn't know what to think. But then my mind was cast back to a very similar car I drove and was not so broken up about liking or disliking: the Mercedes EQS450+.
Similar to the Lucid, it's a big comfortable electric sedan with around 400 miles of range. Unlike the Lucid, it did not get the basics right. It handled poorly, its braking performance was borderline alarming, and the ride was so nautical it made me and my passengers consistently carsick. Sure, the Air had a few bugs, but it was a good car underneath all its flaws. The EQS had a lot of tinsel on top of what didn't feel like a great vehicle fundamentally. I also didn't want to be seen in it, unlike the striking Air sedan.
The Lucid Air was designed as a ground-up EV, but even if it had a combustion engine, it would be an appealing car. The Mercedes? Not so much. That, and considering that the Lucid is about $25,000 cheaper than the Merc despite having more power and range makes it clear to me that this thing is a winner. Bugs or not, the Air is a good car, not just a good EV. It's light on gimmicks and huge on substance, something that's becoming less common as the auto industry electrifies.
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