When you’re an automotive journalist, sometimes you spend a few hours testing a car and are left with such a negative impression that you wonder for days whether you were maybe just in a bad mood. Then, sometimes you drive a car and it leaves such an overwhelmingly positive impression that you can’t help thinking you must have been blissed out of your mind, that the car can’t have really been that good.
I was left with those sorts of doubts after getting some seat time in a Lucid Air sedan earlier this year. It was a short demo a few hours from my home, early spring on roads still torn up from the winter’s worst. I couldn’t believe how well that car handled all the frost heaves and potholes while still hustling and turning in ways that no 5,200-pound sedan should. Later, on the drive home in my humble Subaru, I was already questioning myself. It couldn’t have been that good.
It couldn’t have been that good
Fast-forward about nine months and I finally had a chance to take a Lucid home, a $139,000 Air Grand Touring to be specific. After a full week of putting this car through its paces on familiar roads, hauling everything from family to groceries and even testing it in cold weather, I’m glad to report that I was not deranged during that first drive. My initial impressions were on the mark. This thing is stellar.
A what now?
If you’re unfamiliar with Lucid, you’re forgiven because it’s hardly a household name. Founded way back in 2007 but only focusing on consumer products since 2016, the California-based company is led by Peter Rawlinson, who serves as both CEO and CTO. During his time at Tesla, Rawlinson was the genius mind behind the Tesla Model S — though Elon Musk is still loath to admit it. The Air is Lucid’s first product, built in Casa Grande, Arizona.
So, it’s American made and designed — albeit decidedly Saudi financed — but clearly, its domestic market awareness is low. During my week with the Air, I was asked many times what kind of car it was. Not a single person had ever heard of Lucid. Granted, I do live out in the wilds a bit and much of my test miles were clocked in Vermont, but still, if you’re the sort who likes driving a conversation starter, this is a good one.
If you’re the sort who likes driving a conversation starter, this is a good one
What is the Air, then? It’s a luxury sedan, which makes it a rare bird among American companies to start, but even then, it’s an unusual one. While the overall shape isn’t that different from the many “cab-forward” designs that Chrysler marketed in the mid-1990s, the long and low effect here is curious. The contrasting roof pillars, available on the GT and higher trims, make quite a striking effect, but I find everything else about the car to be weirdly anonymous, with no one bit of styling that really stands out to me.
While I can’t say I find the Air attractive, it does have a sort of sophistication about it, and that classy, scripted “Air” logo has such a strong mid-century modern vibe that I feel like this thing must have been sketched by Eero Saarinen during some flight of fancy. The contrasting brown and black interior definitely fits into that vibe, as does the open-pore wood and woven fabrics.
It’s a strange interior, door cards bending away from you, pull latches set low. The A-pillar, which runs in a continuous sweep to the rear, is huge and takes up a massive portion of your forward visibility, but that’s more than offset by the way the glass roof continues up and over your head, like on the Tesla Model X. The effect is marred only by the skinny sun visors, which I wish I could easily remove to enjoy the view a bit better.
The glass roof means plenty of headroom up front. Things are a little more limited vertically in the rear but still adequate, while the legroom in the rear is so generous, it’s borderline obscene. The Air would make for a great limousine if you didn’t have to fold yourself like a pretzel to get into the rear seat. That roofline swings mighty low.
Touchscreens abound here, and they’re beautifully positioned and laid out. The primary interface is a portrait-oriented display that sits low in the center stack, used for vehicle settings and HVAC. Interestingly, with a gentle sweep, this display swings up and tucks into the dashboard, revealing a semi-hidden cubby that’s perfect for stashing your phone and then forgetting about where you left it.
Immediately above that, four toggle switches allow easy access to cabin temperature and fan speed, while a chubby scroll wheel provides a surprisingly pleasant way of adjusting the volume.
Up above that is the real focal point of the interior: a giant beautifully curved 34-inch display that seems to hover just off of the Alcantara and leather dash. This is actually three sections of display. The right is almost a continuation of the lower display, used to toggle media, navigation, and make calls. The far left is another touchable section for controlling headlights, wipers, and toggling the defrosters (plus the ultracool deicing mode).
Finally, in the middle is the gauge cluster, which honestly looks a little pedestrian compared to everything else. You get speed here in the middle, information and warnings on the left, and navigation prompts on the right. It’s not customizable and it’s not visually engaging, but it is functional.
Overall, the software has progressed a lot since I was last in the car, but it still needs some work. A big complaint is that the large central display down between the seats feels like wasted space. You can bring the navigation or media down to that display, but once you tap away from that section on the top display, it disappears from the bottom. It’d be nice to be able to have media on the bottom and nav on the top or vice versa.
Far and away the biggest issue, though, is the lack of either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Lucid promises both are coming soon, but we’ve been hearing that for a while now.
To get the Air on the road, you simply press the right stalk down to engage drive, like on a Mercedes-Benz, and away you go. The Air GT’s default drive mode is called Smooth, and that is the right name for it. This car is incredibly calming to drive. The suspension is so perfect and the throttle curve so flat that you can gently inch this 819-horsepower rocket around parking lots, cruise through traffic, and glide over some truly awful roads in complete relaxation and comfort.
This car is incredibly calming to drive
Step up to Swift and that throttle gets more eager, while Sprint is where you need to go to really feel all of the power that the Air GT has to offer. Yes, again, 819 horsepower, more than a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. This is a remarkably quick car, zero to 60mph somewhere in the mid-two-second range. Weirdly, though, it doesn’t actually feel as neck-snapping as some similarly quick cars, like a Model S. The Air almost feels more like a high-performance luxury German sedan tuned for autobahn runs. The faster you go, the more the Air seems to want to accelerate, surging more and more until you run out of road or points on your license.
That’s a huge contrast from average EVs, which tend to run out of steam just as they get up to highway speed.
The Air’s smoothness means deceptive velocities. You’ll need to keep an eye on that speedometer, so it’s a shame that it’s so hard to see. The weirdly chubby steering wheel completely blocked my view of the gauge cluster. I thought it was just me, so I had my (much shorter) wife position the seat and wheel to her preference. She couldn’t see it, either. That wheel is also uncomfortable to hold. If you’re in the 10-and-2 camp, you’ll be fine, but if you prefer 9-and-3 like me, there’s just nowhere to comfortably fit your fingers.
Another issue is the driver-assist systems. The Air is theoretically comprehensive in this regard, with everything from adaptive cruise, active lane-keep on the highway, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking... basically all the goods. They don’t all work perfectly, though. The lane-keep assist, for example, nudged the steering wheel every so often, as if I were edging too close to the side of the road even though I wasn’t. Likewise, the Highway Assist mode had a tendency to disable itself only to prompt me to immediately reenable it. Once reenabled, it would often disable itself again.
Most annoying, though, was the driver monitoring. The Air has an infrared camera hiding just below the gauge cluster, watching you to make sure you’re watching the road. If your eyes wander for more than three seconds, you get a chime. Eyes lingering on the nav to spot the next turn? Chime. Trying to make up your mind about which of the (wonderful) seat massages you want to sample next? Chime. You get the picture.
But I actually didn’t mind that since it’s this kind of system that might actually get people to put down their phones and drive. The part I did mind was the car simultaneously warning me that my hand wasn’t on the steering wheel even when it very definitely was. I had to give the wheel the ol’ Autopilot Adjustment every minute or so, a little wiggle to let it know I was still holding on. That the car can track the exact direction of pupils but not the sheer presence of my hands is perplexing.
Other than that (admittedly minor) annoyance, and an almost complete absence of steering feel, the Lucid Air GT is a real joy to drive. Despite lacking rear steering and having a generous 116-inch wheelbase, it handles and corners remarkably well. It doesn’t feel as engaging as a Porsche Taycan — you need to really push the Air for it to react — but when you do, it does not disappoint. Grip, handling, and poise are superb.
That said, I was happiest in the Air when I put it back to Smooth mode and just sort of wafted along. I love that this car can do both, but for me, de-stressing was its preferred means of transport.
Music is a key stress reliever for me, and the Air is a great platform for that. It’s whisper-quiet, of course, and my test car was configured with the 21-speaker “Surreal Sound” system with Dolby Atmos. I would argue that it is not factually surreal, but I did find it to be very good. With the in-dash equalizer balanced, it delivers sharp and accurate sound, vocals coming strong and true out of the center of the dashboard, warm and rich bass flowing from all around. But those who want a more lively experience will not be disappointed when they put the bass dial up to its +6dB maximum.
Perhaps the biggest stress reliever, though, was the range. The Lucid Air GT is EPA rated for an amazing 469 miles on a charge from its 112kWh battery pack. Go with the smaller 19-inch wheels, and you can bring that up to 516. That’s astonishing. In my winter testing, I netted 3.2 miles per kWh, netting a theoretical 358 miles of maximum range, but that included plenty of hard accelerating and other hijinks.
By way of context, I put about 50 miles of testing on the car before going on a two-hour road trip out to Vermont. It was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit out when I left, which is murder on most EVs batteries. After getting back from this 200-mile jaunt, the Air was still showing 163 miles of remaining range. That’s more than a Nissan Leaf has when fully charged.
Few people on the planet need to go that far on a charge on a routine basis. But you know what? This is a luxury car, and in the EV era, big range will be a luxury.
It is a shame that it’s priced like a luxury car. The car you see here is stickered at $139,000 plus a whopping $1,500 delivery. But as is the way of things, that’s gone up. Right now on Lucid’s site, the cheapest Grand Touring spec starts at $154,000.
That’s a huge amount of money, but if you like what you see, you can get into a Lucid Air for as little as $87,400. No, it won’t be this posh or this quick with a mere 480hp, but it should drive damn near as well and will still do 410 miles on a charge — five more than the cheapest Model S, which starts at $104,990 and isn’t anywhere near this nice.
I could go on and on about how good this car is, but there’s one roadblock to adoption, and that’s how extremely fresh Lucid is to the market. Though the company has been around for 15 years and has even been publicly traded (via special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC) since last year, I can understand why folks would be nervous to fork over that amount of cash to an unknown quantity. Reliability is, of course, a huge factor for cars, and I didn’t have nearly enough time with this one to comment on that. Likewise, while Lucid’s dealer and service network is expanding by leaps and bounds, you’re unlikely to have a shop just around the corner.
And then, there’s the software. While the Highway Assist weirdness was the only real glitch encountered during my week with the Air GT you see pictured here, you don’t have to dig far into Reddit or user groups to find complaints about miscreant door handles, glitchy infotainment, and clumsy software deployments. And then there’s the recent gauge cluster wiring recall, too. For someone who covered the launch of the Model S a decade ago, it all sounds a bit familiar.
But if ever there was a car worth stomaching a little risk for, it’s this one. I’m not a fortune teller, and it’s impossible to know whether Lucid will be the next Tesla or the next Faraday Future. All I know is that while this car is not perfect, it is stunningly good and well worth whatever time it takes to explain to your friends and neighbors and many, many strangers just what the heck a Lucid is.
Photography by Tim Stevens for The Verge