First Drive: 2022 Lucid Air Dream Edition R

10 min read

First Drive: 2022 Lucid Air Dream Edition R

10 min read

Originally founded under the name Atieva back in 2007, the company that would eventually become Lucid Motors wasn’t looking to build a car. Initially the intent was to be a supplier to other automakers, developing and producing powertrain technology for those who were looking to put an EV of their own out on the market.

Things changed over the next few years. After rebranding itself as Lucid Motors in 2016, the company unveiled an ambitious plan to its own develop an all-electric, high-performance luxury vehicle and produce it in a then-unbuilt factory in Casa Grande, Arizona. Many similar stories have cropped up out of every corner of the industry over the past two decades, and the vast majority of them fade soon back into the ether without a product coming to fruition. Building cars isn’t easy or cheap, and creating them from scratch only amplifies the difficulty.

But the fledgling automaker wouldn’t be deterred. Amassing an executive team that includes CEO Peter Rawlinson (a former Tesla engineer who had previously served as the principal engineer at Jaguar and Lotus’s chief engineer before that), as well as Mazda alum Derek Jenkins as Lucid’s vice president of design, the company pressed forward with the construction of their AMP-1 manufacturing facility. At the same time, the company also began developing and supplying power modules for Formula E teams. They also had to weather through this pesky pandemic we’ve been hearing so much about.

But half a decade later, Lucid Motors’ car is real, and more importantly, it delivers on its promises. To mark the occasion, Lucid invited us out to their Casa Grande factory to not only see what kind of operation they’re running over there, but also witness the official start of production and get a bit of seat time for ourselves.

It might be easy to look at the Air Dream Edition R and assume that Lucid has Tesla squarely in its sights. After all, the this four-door EV boasts some very Plaid-like figures – 933 horsepower and 737 pound-feet of torque in this configuration, for instance. However, in this case R stands for Range, not Race. There’s an Air Dream Edition P as well, and with 1111 horsepower on tap, it’ll hit 60 mph in about two and a half seconds on its way to a nine second quarter mile.

Those number are certainly impressive, but big straight-line performance in high-end electric vehicles is not as novel today as it once was. Lucid has another trick up its sleeve, though: Outfitted with 19-inch wheels, the Air Dream Edition R delivers an EPA-rated 520 miles of range on a single charge. It’s a world-beating figure – more than anything Tesla, Porsche, GM, or Ford have been able to manage by a wide margin.

The secret, as Lucid’s senior vice president and chief engineer Eric Bach explains it, stems from Lucid’s past as a powertrain supplier. While other automakers looked at what was already available on the market to put into their EVs, Lucid was busy designing their own powertrain, and the result is a dual motor system that the company claims is nearly three times as power-dense as their closest competitor’s. “It’s not a matter of cost, it’s a matter of ability,” he told us. “This is sheerly an engineering challenge. Everyone lives off of benchmarks, so they incrementally spec up their systems. Other OEMs look at what’s available and say, ‘Oh – there’s a 250 kilowatt drive unit available from Bosch. For our next generation car, let’s put ten percent on top of that and ask for a 275 kilowatt unit.’ Bosch can’t suddenly just triple what they’re currently doing.”

There’s more to the Air than sheer metrics, though, and build quality is somewhere that Lucid appears to have Tesla handedly beat. Panel gaps are tight, the bodywork is aligned properly, and from our initial inspection, we couldn’t detect any glaring issues with the paintwork. Still, that’s par for the course in the luxury car world, and long-established automakers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz appear to have a slight edge when it comes to overall fit and finish.

2022 Lucid Air front fender

The light blade up front is one of the Air’s most distinguishing features. The vehicle’s cameras and lidar system are installed inside this housing to keep the front end looking sleek.

But while legacy car companies have corporate design language to adhere to when launching their EV entries, Lucid had the freedom to make the Air look like however they wanted it to. The resulting exterior design isn’t exceedingly bold, but it is distinctive: Elements like the light blade up front the polished metal trim that runs from the A pillar back to the C pillar give the Air a decidedly European aesthetic that’s futuristic, but not gaudy. It’s a similar story inside as well, where high quality materials and impressive tech take center stage but do not overwhelm.

The centerpiece is the 34-inch curved touchscreen display on the dash that’s divided into three segments. The left side offers quick access to vehicle functions like defrost, exterior lighting, and door locks, the center section is the digital gauge cluster, and the right side is the primary infotainment screen. A second, portrait-oriented touchscreen is installed on the center console and provides access to climate control, the DreamDrive advanced driver-assistance system, and other vehicle settings, but redundant physical controls for HVAC, audio, and other commonly used functions are at arm’s reach as well. It’s an effective blend of new-school thinking and traditional design that feels intuitive rather than gimmicky.

Although the seat time Lucid provided was brief, and the roads in the middle of the Arizona desert aren’t especially informative when it comes to evaluating handling capability, these flat, arrow-straight expanses of tarmac did provide us with plenty of opportunities to see what the powertrain can do.

The Air offers three different drive modes: Smooth, Swift, and Sprint. Those basically translate to Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, respectively, and moving up the ranks stiffens the adaptive dampers, heightens throttle response, adds weight to the steering, and cranks up the overall power output. In both Smooth and Swift modes the powertrain offers up 670 horsepower, but the latter gets a bit more torque. To unleash all of the Air’s 933 horsepower you need to switch over to Sprint mode. Unfortunately it also requires a time-consuming, Plaid-like battery conditioning routine, and with the clock ticking, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting around for the power unit to do its song and dance.

It’s a good thing, then, that the other two modes offer up plenty of grunt on their own. Even in its most leisurely drive mode, dropping the hammer at forty miles per hour will pin your skull to the headrest in much the same way a Porsche Taycan Turbo S will. The Air is just disarmingly quick – acceleration is smooth, silent, and seemingly effortless well into triple-digit speeds.

Switching over to Swift gives the car a more athletic feel at the helm, but aside from the occasional undulation or gentle, banked off-ramp, the desert didn’t provide a ton of opportunities to see what the suspension is capable of. To their credit, Lucid says they did extensive testing at race tracks like Thunderhill and Laguna Seca, and that bodes well for more substantial drives in the months ahead.

For now, this quick stint was enough to prove that a new challenger has indeed entered the ring. And that’s good news for everyone.

2022 Lucid Air rear quarter


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