Today, I’m imagining putting Tesla fans on a psychiatrist’s couch, flipping open a notepad, and analyzing them like Freud: “For you, I may first recommend shock therapy. Ha, that eez an EV joke! But really: You seem obsessed with zis one word, ‘performance.’ But when you say it, what exactly do you mean?”
I’m asking because many Tesla (and electric car) fans, whatever the psychological explanation, seem fuzzy on what automotive “performance” actually describes. Weaned on a diet of YouTube drag-race videos, Tesla folks reliably insist their cars “outperform” the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, or Lamborghini. It’s not true, of course. Raw, straight-line acceleration aside, a Model S has more in common with a Lexus GS than a Lambo. Unfortunately, the same lazy shorthand has been aided and abetted by the media: Zero to 60 mph times are treated as a suitable stand-in for overall performance. I’ve lost count of how many stories use it to make a blanket statement: Electric cars are more fun than internal combustion cars.
Is that so? A Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt is more fun-to-drive than a Honda Civic Type-R or Volkswagen GTI? Not even close. And a Tesla Model S or Model 3 is more capable and entertaining on a back road than an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio or Mercedes E63 AMG? Spare me. Granted, the Tesla Model S Plaid prototype that’s been battling the Porsche Taycan at the Nurburgring this fall is extremely fast ’round the famous track. But we don’t have any numbers beyond lap times to go by, and no one outside the company has driven it.
This was supposed to be settled science, but apparently not. We’re back in the old muscle-car fallacy, only with Tesla owners cast as the street-racing greasers—focused only on the lowest-common-denominator of “performance” and willfully blind to its more-sophisticated forms that reward real drivers with real driving skills.
One diagnosis might posit a form of, well, performance anxiety: The inability of many Tesla owners to acknowledge that another company might know a thing or two about building cars. That includes Porsche, whose Taycan is, by objective and subjective measures, a markedly better electric performance car than a Tesla Model S. As I felt when I drove the Taycan Turbo S through Germany earlier this fall, including repeated runs to its 167-mph top speed on the autobahn, the Porsche damn well should be better than the Model S. It’s a much-newer design, and at roughly double the Tesla’s price in the case of the Turbo S.
But as thrilling as it is to bend time-and-space in the Taycan, or any of the revolutionary Teslas that helped redefine the world’s view of acceleration, straight-line speed is just one part of the equation. To many car enthusiasts, it’s not even the most important aspect of performance, as anyone who’s driven a sprightly Lotus, Mazda Miata or Porsche Cayman will tell you. The trick is to build a car whose steering, chassis, agility, and braking—and yes, acceleration—ends up being more than the sum of its parts.
Some of those metrics, like lateral grip and braking distances, can be objectively measured. The Porsche demonstrably beats the Model S in all of those, from superior roadholding and body control to decisively stronger, longer-lasting brakes, including optional carbon-ceramic rotors. Other dynamic factors are subjective, such as ever-elusive “steering feel” whose relative goodness can be hard to quantify. But you know it when you experience it. It’s that fun-to-drive connection instantly shining through in the Taycan and mostly lacking in the Model S. The Tesla is secure and competent on a curvy road, but it’s never been especially agile or engaging. And the harder you drive it, the more it falls apart, the back-end bobbling, the steering going slack.
Now, a good portion of Tesla owners are tech people, not car people. Remember: A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. And instead of crediting Porsche for a job well done in the electric space, many of these self-convinced experts are refusing to give an inch.
Instead, you see Tesla stans and even tech pundits dismissing the Taycan’s superlative performance numbers, including the acceleration with which they’ve spent years taunting ICE troglodytes. The Porsche easily out-accelerates the Model S from 0-150 mph. It can also repeat those runs all day, another massive edge over the Model S whose fragility under pressure is well known.
Lacking any snappy retorts to those facts, bad-faith critics have settled on a talking point to tar the Taycan: The Porsche’s athletic advantage only matters at the track. And since most drivers never visit one, it’s really no advantage at all. That argument, of course, instantly betrays its proponent as a performance neophtye, someone who just doesn’t understand why a person would buy a Porsche, or any other enthusiast car for that matter. It’s as ridiculous as saying Aaron Judge might crush home runs at Yankee Stadium, but put him in a beer league softball game, and he’s an easy out. Just as a baseball diamond is always a baseball diamond, the physical differences between a fun road and a racetrack are few. The laws aren’t the same, but the very things that make a Porsche brilliant at ten-tenths on a road course make it shine just as bright at five-tenths on a winding two-lane.
Track testing, of course, is also an unmatched way of shaking down a car and revealing its mechanical fragilities or engineering flaws, in everything from component durability and thermal management to brakes and tires. If a Tesla can’t manage even a few track laps without going into limp mode, then it’s almost certain to fail during a long, perspiring workout on mountain roads, or during repeated high-velocity assaults. It’s another reason why enthusiast magazines have spent the past several decades testing cars on road courses, not just roads.
So I’d urge any Tesla lover to at least drive the Porsche Taycan before they bless us with their hot takes. They’d be surprised with a richer perspective on what performance is really all about.