With over 2,200 combined horsepower and space for the whole family, these two sedans bring hypercar performance to family sedans.
Christian von Koenigsegg isn't known for backing down from a challenge, but even he admitted that electric hypercars have a problem: electric sedans. He was referring to the likes of the Lucid Air Sapphire and Tesla Model S Plaid that have eliminated the once canyon-sized performance gap between hot sedans and hypercars. With over 2,200 combined horsepower, both of these five-seater sedans will nearly match a Rimac Nevera to 60 mph for a fraction of the price - it's mind-boggling stuff.
The Air Sapphire is the newer arrival, and like the record-breaking Model S Plaid, comes with three electric motors and a set of performance statistics that will make your head spin. With a much higher price tag, can the Sapphire overcome the mighty Plaid? Let's find out.
The Model S launched a decade ago, which, from a design perspective, immediately puts it on the back foot alongside the far fresher Air.
But Tesla has made several tweaks through the years to a sedan that has aged remarkably well. The lines are clean and recent updates like more pronounced haunches and sleeker headlights have improved things. The Plaid comes with slightly bland 19-inch wheels as standard, but more stylish 21-inch wheels are available, although the bigger wheels do reduce the range. A subtle spoiler on the trunk lid adds a hint of sportiness, but the Plaid could otherwise be described as a sleeper.
Despite the Plaid being handsome, the new Lucid Air Sapphire is now the more interesting, emotive car to look at. Like the Tesla, the lines are clean, and flush-fitting door handles don't interrupt the side profile, but the Sapphire has a more imposing front fascia with a lighting element stretching across the full width of the body. The signature Sapphire Blue paint also differs from Tesla's rather bland color palette. The 20-/21-inch Aero Sapphire wheels look great - preferably without their carbon fiber aero disc wheel covers.
Both cars have blacked-out exterior trim, but the Sapphire's Stealth Package goes a bit further as even the upper body is finished in black. A larger rear spoiler in carbon fiber and more expressive rear lighting are found on the Lucid, while subtle fender flares make it a little more distinct as a performance derivative. Overall, the Sapphire looks like the newer car that it is.
Both vehicles have high-tech interiors that rely on expansive digital interfaces instead of physical controls. Again, one forgets that the Model S has been around for so long as the Plaid's interior still feels thoroughly modern with its 17-inch cinematic touchscreen interface and controversial yoke-style steering wheel.
Tesla has improved the quality of the Plaid's interior compared to older Model S variants. It's not spectacular for a six-figure car, but the upholstery and trim elements are better than before. The standard black interior is rather stark, though, so we'd suggest going for the optional Black/White or Cream interiors. There is no shortage of features such as a glass roof, power-adjustable front seats, blind-spot monitoring, and tri-zone climate control - all of which are standard.
In the Lucid, there is a more traditional flat-bottom steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara and a stunning 34-inch Glass Cockpit. The quality on early Air sedans has been a bit of a mixed bag; lovely upholstery is undone by some cheaper-feeling controls on the steering wheel. And, while packed with features, Lucid's infotainment system has been prone to lagging. We hope both of these shortcomings have been improved in the Sapphire.
The top Air sedan comes with leather/Alcantara seats, special performance menus for the displays, and several driver-assist features including adaptive cruise control.
In both cars, interior space is exceptional. Rear legroom is a particular highlight, and the glass roofs make the cabins feel even airier. At 25 cubic feet, the Plaid's rear trunk is larger than the normal Air sedan's 16.1 cubes. However, the Lucid's trump card is its enormous frunk that measures up to 9.9 cubes in the standard Air - hopefully, the Air Sapphire has as much space in front. By comparison, the Plaid's frunk is tiny at just 3.1 cubes.
Only brave or ignorant souls would dare to take on one of these sedans at the traffic lights. They are both quick enough to make passengers feel sick after one or two 0-60 mph blasts.
We'll start with the Model S Plaid, the car that annihilated every production sedan record that came before. With three electric motors - one in front and two at the back - it produces 1,020 hp. Tesla claims a 0-60 mph time of 1.99 seconds, but you'll need a specific set of conditions to achieve that, such as a prepared surface and a period where the drivetrain preconditions itself. That's not terribly convenient, but it doesn't make the all-wheel-drive Plaid's achievement less astounding. A quarter-mile time of 9.23 seconds and a 200-mph top speed are also claimed.
Lucid has been vague about the Air Sapphire's outputs and acceleration times. It claims over 1,200 hp from its three electric motors - the first Air to come with three motors - and a 0-60 time of under two seconds. A top speed of "over 200 mph" and a standing quarter-mile of under nine seconds suggest that the Sapphire is the faster car overall. We can't wait to see these numbers verified in the real world, though.
Importantly, Lucid says that the Air Sapphire can achieve peak performance with no modifications and without lengthy preconditioning routines. This is another factor that gives it the edge over the Plaid.
Although these are large luxury sedans and unsuited for hard track use, Lucid has altered the Sapphire's springs, bushings, and damper settings to improve handling. It also comes with carbon ceramic brakes - gratis. Tesla has promised a much-needed carbon ceramic brake upgrade for the Model S Plaid sometime this year which will add $20,000 to the price.
The Tesla Model S Plaid's combination of shattering acceleration and practical range is virtually unmatched. According to the EPA, it will return 119/112/116 MPGe city/highway/combined and has a range of 396 miles with 19-inch wheels. With the 21s, the range drops to 348 miles, and its efficiency works out to 102/99/101 MPGe.
Range and efficiency ratings have yet to be published for the Lucid Air Sapphire. It probably won't match the regular Air's range of up to 520 miles, but it could still surpass the Plaid. After all, the 1,050-hp Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance has 446 miles of range.
One advantage in the Air's favor is that it can charge at speeds of up to 350 kW, whereas the Model S is limited to 250 kW. With access to a compatible fast charger, the Air can add around 300 miles of range in 20 minutes, whereas the Model S can add about 200 miles in 15 minutes.
Both of these cars have over 1,000 hp, similar acceleration, vast interiors, and access to some of the best driver-assist technologies in the industry. Before considering the prices, it's obvious that the Lucid Air Sapphire is, at the very least, the Plaid's equal. But no comparison would be complete without looking at what these EVs cost, and this is where the Sapphire begins to lose its way.
The Lucid Air Sapphire starts at an eye-watering $249,000 in the USA. Forget the Plaid - that makes it pricier than a Bentley Flying Spur. As for the Model S Plaid, it starts at $135,990. Even once you've added the nicer wheels, special paint, the more attractive Black/White interior, the Full Self-Driving suite, and the carbon ceramic brakes, it still comes in below $180,000.
In that context, it's clear that Tesla continues to deliver unbeatable performance for the price.
But the Lucid Air has proven itself more luxurious, and anyone who drives it is massively impressed with its chassis, luxury, and space. It's more expensive than the Plaid because it's vastly more luxurious, and if it can deliver the claimed performance, in reality, it'll nearly match the Rimac Nevera.
Bang for buck, or complete dominance with no cost spared? You choose your own EV super sedan poison. For us, the Lucid might just be the new king.