Give me a Porsche with 849Nm of torque and 671bhp driving through all four wheels, modify it for a bit of off-road action – with raised ground clearances, underbody protection and fat guard extensions Dakar-style – and point me towards an empty desert.
In a corner of Liwa, I thrashed through the sand in the final test mule of Porsche’s new Taycan Cross Turismo, but with one glaring difference compared to the V8 American pick-ups and turbocharged Japanese SUVs that normally dotted the stretch. Being a Taycan, means this Porsche is an EV and it’s made for serious performance off-roading of the electric variety.
A test of extremes: from the Arctic to the desert
The National is the first media outlet in the Mena region to get behind the wheel of the all-new Cross Turismo, as part of a global test programme pitting the prototype Taycan against the most extreme conditions, from the cold in the Arctic Circle the heat of the UAE desert.
Two test tracks were constructed, one in the dunes of Liwa and the other on a frozen lake north of the Arctic Circle. The same Cross Turismo was tested on an identical layout in -32°C in Levi, Finland, before being flown to Abu Dhabi where it was put to the same test in 45°C just days later.
Battery technology continues to evolve, but exposure to extreme temperatures can expose vulnerabilities, as batteries can lose up to two-thirds of their life in extreme heat or sub-zero climes.
As temperatures nudged past 40°C, my brief with the Cross Turismo was to push it hard, get the car moving and sliding and tackle the sand “with enthusiasm”. The battery temp remained stable all day and while the range depleted faster compared to driving responsibly on a sealed road, the consumption variation was on par to a regular combustion engine when treated the same way.
Plenty of power inside the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo
Based on the 2018 Mission E-Cross Turismo concept, it uses the same 800-volt architecture from the Taycan saloon with power coming via an electric motor mounted in each axle to make it an all-wheel drive.
Porsche says its range of up to 456km and the Turbo’s 250kph top speed is the same as the saloon when used under the same highway conditions despite carrying an extra 105 kilograms and wearing more durable tyres better suited to off-roading in place of the slimline fuel-savers normally reserved for EVs.
The Cross Turismo offers 30 millimetres more ground clearance and rather than being a heavy-duty off-roader, it’s pitched as a more appropriate alternative for accessing remote beach tracks, farm driveways and slippery mountain passes than the regular model.
It also debuts Taycan’s wagon body with a longer roof that’s similar in style to the Porsche Panamera Grand Turismo, incorporating a massive panoramic glass roof that extends behind the rear seats. It offers 47mm more rear headroom and three times more stowage when the rear seats are folded flat. All up, there’s 1,255 litres of stowage when you combine the 1,171 litres in the rear with the 84 litres hiding under its nose.
Tailor-made for drifting action
Despite the raised height, the Taycan’s centre of gravity remains lower than a conventional car, so add endless torque to the mix and the Cross Turismo is tailor-made for some wildly addictive sandy drift action.
There’s no aggression needed to initiate a slide. Gently squeezing the throttle is enough to quickly induce wheelspin from its rear-drive bias without needing to tug at the wheel to shift its balance. Once it’s dancing, it’s a simple matter of holding a slide with your fingertips, using the torque rather than its weight to change direction, tickling the throttle instead of wheel work to move it around as the car remains flat the entire time.
EVs require a different method to hustle, but ultimately it’s easier and with less drama as the car doesn’t pitch, so therefore doesn’t dig in when it finds a rut, rather it ploughs through it like it wasn’t there.
Added to Porsche’s familiar drive modes of Normal, Sport and Sport Plus is a Gravel mode that does all the behind-the-scenes work with the torque delivery to the various wheels. It winds back the Taycan's stability control systems and equalises the speed of each wheel in the same way a diff lock would on a regular SUV.
It also lifts the suspension by 10mm as an added precaution, although that extra height also comes with the optional off-road design package fitted to our test car, which comprises off-road design flaps on the lower valance, side skirts and a rear diffuser.
Taycan received more than 50 international awards last year, so while purists still lust for performance coupes such as the 911 and Cayman, which thankfully are not disappearing anytime soon, a third of all Porsches sold in Europe last year were powered by an electric or hybrid drivetrain.
Porsche says this will increase to half of all cars sold by 2025, pointing to the Taycan and other variants such as the Cross Turismo quickly becoming the company's mainstream models.