– Encino, California
Thanks to electrification, we are in a new era of automotive records. Every day, powerful and torquey EVs redefine what it means to be fast, offering such blistering acceleration that it would break the rules of any NHRA-sanctioned event. But even with that in mind, there was no way I was ready for the outrageous thrust offered up by the electric world’s newest record-breaker.
The 2024 Lucid Air Sapphire has a three-motor powertrain doling out up to 1,234 horsepower and 1,430 pound-feet, making it the world’s most powerful production four-door sedan in history. Upgraded from the already-quick Air, it vaults to 60 miles per hour in 1.89 seconds, a tenth quicker than the Tesla Model S Plaid, and will reach a manufacturer-claimed top speed of 205 mph. There was no way to test that last number in my 25-minute first drive of the flagship Air, but rest assured, we launched the thing again and again. And then once more for good measure.
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|2024 Lucid Air Sapphire
|Three Permanent-Magnet Synchronous
|1,234 Horsepower / 1,430 Pound-Feet
|205 Miles Per Hour
|Price As Tested
Gallery: 2024 Lucid Air Sapphire First Drive
Like Strapping Into A Rocket
With Lucid Director of Vehicle Dynamics David Lickfold sitting in the passenger seat providing me with driving prompts, I assumed the brief spin in the Sapphire would be relatively sedate. After all, this is one of the company’s few production-intent examples, and we’d be motoring around in some unusually heavy mid-afternoon traffic for suburban LA.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. With the car set in its least aggressive “Smooth” drive mode, there’s still 767 hp on tap to give the Lucid plenty of shove when you dig into it – which David asked me to do in the middle of a sweeping corner on a six-lane road.
Ignoring every instinct, I followed his orders and was met with a butterfly-inducing shove to the lower back. But surprisingly, the car demonstrated impressive stability thanks to the tri-motor layout with a single motor on the front axle and a pair of motors for the rear, each one controlling a wheel. This gives the Lucid genuine torque vectoring, and in Smooth, the car will underdrive the outside wheel. This counter-intuitive behavior actually prevents the Air from feeling twitchy, unsettled, or tail-happy, even when giving it the boot through a corner. Driven thus, the Sapphire feels much like any other Air.
For our next exercise, we toggled the drive mode into the middle-ground “Swift,” enabling more dynamic torque vectoring from the rear motors. As we approached a freeway on-ramp with a tight, 160-degree turnaround, David told me to pin the accelerator just past the apex. As promised in our engineering discussion, the Sapphire applied more power to the outside rear wheel, tightening up the cornering line brilliantly before the ramp straightened out and we rocketed toward triple-digit speeds. I won’t cop to anything specific, but the experience was gut-wrenching and addictive.
After a couple of exits – just enough time on the freeway to notice a hint of tire roar but impressive straight-line stability – we headed toward the winding sweepers of Sepulveda Boulevard. Here, David switched the car from Smooth to Swift, then up to the most aggressive Sapphire mode, with each successive changeup bringing palpable changes to the power delivery, torque vectoring, and adaptive damper tuning. Yet even in the hardest-core mode and its attendant, constant 1,121 hp (or the headline-grabbing 1,234 hp when launching from a stop), the Lucid remains reasonably genteel, with an avowedly firm ride but otherwise smooth behavior.
The true test of its control came as we conveniently approached a red light, first in line. Still in Sapphire, David had me hold the brake, then pin the throttle to engage launch control, an apt descriptor when the light turned green. Without a hint of wheelspin, the Lucid fired off the line like a 5,336-pound Olympic sprinter, yet the most awesome part of the experience was the relentless shove as the digital speedometer twinkled into ever-higher numbers. Even at freeway speeds, the Sapphire is able to deliver longitudinal G-forces that would rival some sports cars from a standstill, with little of the tapering that’s become emblematic of EVs.
The experience proved to be too addictive to resist, and with the engineer’s permission, I launched the car from a stop sign once more, hitting an easy 60 mph within a few hundred feet. And the stopping power, formerly a blind spot in the Lucid performance portfolio, is outrageous. Not only is there sophisticated regeneration with one-pedal driving, but the upsized carbon-ceramic brake rotors also get pinched by 10-piston front calipers and four-piston rears. More of this, I say.
Underneath the Sapphire’s superlative power and acceleration lies the same graceful luxury sedan we first experienced last year. Somehow, adding an entire Nissan Z’s worth of horsepower hasn’t upset the Lucid’s smooth around-town manners, with an acceptably firm, well-damped ride courtesy of the stiffer coil springs, adaptive dampers, and thicker front and rear anti-roll bars.
The revised performance credentials don’t come at the expense of style, either. Every flagship Air comes with an eponymous coat of Sapphire Metallic paint, with a black-painted roof that ditches the overhead glass to save weight. Wheels measure 20 inches up front and 21 inches in the rear for more brake cooling, and bolt-on aero discs will come with each car for when range is a higher priority. A deeper chin spoiler and carbon-fiber rear ducktail add downforce, with smoother underbody elements to reduce lift. Best of all, the Sapphire comes with several little California bears on the exterior, a Lucid calling card that I adore.
The faultlessly finished cabin comes exclusively in a grayish-black colorway that Lucid calls Mojave, with dark blue stitching and light gray piping to add just a little color pop. Designers made liberal use of Alcantara upholstery, appearing on the steering wheel rim, seat centers, headliner, and inserts on the dash and door panels. Genuine leather likewise makes an appearance on the seat bolsters and main dash – Lucid may someday offer a vegan interior, but it considers its sustainably tanned and processed hide to be about as environmentally friendly as petroleum-based alternatives.
Like the Grand Touring, the Lucid Air Sapphire gets a sweeping, 34.0-inch screen that incorporates driver controls on the left, a digital instrument cluster in the center, and a touchscreen media display on the right. The high-performance trim boasts a dark blue screen theme that matches its name, but otherwise, the interface is about the same as any other Lucid. Quick touch response and appealing graphics are nice, although the display’s nested menus can be a bit confusing at times. An over-the-air update in March made Apple CarPlay standard, curing the system of its biggest oversight.
Go Fast, Go Far
While some performance EVs sacrifice lots of range to meet their lofty speed goals, the Lucid Air Sapphire can go 427 miles on a single charge. That’s down a bit on the 469 miles on offer from the Grand Touring trim, but the Sapphire can still cover the distance from the Golden Gate Bridge to Los Angeles City Hall in a single charge. And like the rest of the Air lineup, it has a maximum DC fast charge rate of 300 kilowatts, replenishing its 118.0-kilowatt-hour battery from 20 to 80 percent in just 15 minutes.
Its closest competitor is the Tesla Model S Plaid, which has marginally slower acceleration and a top speed of “just” 200 mph. The Model S doesn’t go quite as far in a charge, with an EPA-rated range of 396 miles with 19-inch wheels or 348 with 21s. But then again, it is a full hundred grand cheaper than the Lucid, starting at $108,490 and rising to $132,990 fully equipped.
In spite of its hometown competition from Tesla, the Lucid Air Sapphire feels like a much more fleshed-out idea. The cabin is richer, the suspension and braking upgrades are more comprehensive, and the driving experience feels more polished than any newcomer automaker has a right to. With poise and grace around town giving way to addictive thrust at the stoplight, my short time behind the wheel of the Lucid Air Sapphire was the best kind of tease.
2024 Lucid Air Sapphire