Every business starts as an act of faith. Not necessarily as a leap over logic, but not far from it. More of a transcendent belief that the risk is worthwhile, obstacles can be overcome, and hazy outlines of the future are visible from right here and now. That’s Lucid Motors. And its $250,500 2024 Air Sapphire is one helluva leap of faith.
This story originally appeared in Volume 21 of Road & Track.
The electric Air is a luxury sedan that doesn’t look like one. It has a low cowl, a blunt nose, and a roofline that sweeps provocatively to the tail. With broad shoulders in front and ripe hips over the rear wheels, it looks like nothing else. Okay, there’s some Eighties Renault Fuego at the fantail, but that’s about it. Next to the Air, every other four-door looks frumpy.
Over the three years the Air has been on sale, it has established itself as the elegant anti-Tesla electric. The Sapphire is the obvious next step. It’s the even-quicker version. It’s the Model S Plaid for drivers who prefer brilliant gemstones to patterned textiles.
The Sapphire packs three motors (one in the front and two in the back), slamming 1234 hp and 1430 lb-ft onto whatever surface you aim the sedan down. Even in Track mode, using the launch protocol, the rocketry is somehow less violent than in the Tesla. But it is still freakishly, astonishingly, absolutely, and ridiculously quick. And if quick isn’t enough, Lucid claims it’s also staggeringly fast. Like 205-mph-top-end speedy.
Yet the EPA estimates up to 427 miles of range for the Sapphire. That’s at steady-state cruising. Not at 205 mph. Not when sprinting from 0 to 60 in Lucid’s claim of under two seconds. Not while running the quarter-mile in an alleged nine seconds or less. Not when lapping a road course like the world’s quietest Cup car—that is, if NASCAR allowed a car to run all-wheel drive, include A/C and Apple CarPlay, and boast nearly double the power of any other car in the field.
“We still wanted to have a stunning design,” explains Jean-Charles Monnet, the head of aerodynamics at Lucid. To that end, much of the aero trickery that keeps this Sapphire meteor planted isn’t immediately noticeable. Of course, there’s a larger front splitter. The carbon-fiber ducktail rear spoiler is an obvious addition—it’s very 1970 Camaro Z/28. And the lack of the heavy wrap-over windshield that’s available on other Air models is an obvious omission. The Sapphire’s solid aluminum panel up there drops the center of gravity somewhat.
“One important part is the underbody,” Monnet says. “The diffuser plays a big part in reducing drag.”
Proper balance between low drag and high downforce is critical to any vehicle’s design. But it’s an especially acute challenge with electric cars, as long range is a marketing necessity. And because the Sapphire’s liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack has a capacity of 118 kWh—equivalent in energy to about 3.5 gallons of gasoline—aerodynamic efficiency became even more important.
Achieving impressive range meant high-drag wings weren’t an option.
“At the front of the car, you have stagnation on the front fascia,” Monnet explains. “And around the side of the car that I call the ‘cheeks’ and the leading edge of the hood, you can work these surfaces and accelerate the flow. And that can cancel out some of the stagnant air around the front.”
The openings beneath each headlight push air out into the wheel wells and reduce drag. They also promote directional stability and help cool the 10-piston, 16.5-inch carbon-ceramic front disc brakes. At a claimed 5336 pounds, this incredibly quick car needs those gargantuan binders.
On the road, the Sapphire is preternaturally composed. Running the thoroughfares that weave between the wineries of California’s Santa Ynez Valley in the easygoing, range-optimizing Smooth mode, the Sapphire ingests divots as if it were incorporating them into its structure. This thing feels planted and smothering, like kudzu.
Some of that settled demeanor must be due to the 265/35R-20 front and 295/30R-21 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. But the spot-on suspension tuning that Lucid has done at its California development center should get most of the credit. There’s a five-link system up front and a whole passel of links in the back, but no air springs.
The steering isn’t chatty, and it is never nervous. Short of running over a truckful of Chardonnay, the steering wheel isn’t kicking back.
Running in Smooth mode, the Sapphire has only 767 hp at its disposal. That’s more than enough to make it feel entertaining to navigate down country lanes, which abut ranches, farms, and vineyards filled with horses, trucks, and cows, and along back roads, where the occasional middle-aged dentist parodying Lance Armstrong on a Trek Madone SLR 9 road bike may be spotted. Enter a corner at a modest gait (say, 40 mph where a sign cautions 30), brake into the apex (with some regen), and set the front wheels in the right direction. The nose pulls hard before the tail can be felt pushing even harder. This thing is satisfying to drive at reasonable speeds if even a micromoment is taken to feel what’s going on.
Swift mode maintains available thrust at 767 hp and tautens the steering and suspension tuning barely perceptibly. It may make a difference on an open road with big sweepers and a driver immune from prosecution, but it’s not like there’s an exhaust note that changes, so the sensation of additional speed relies on eyeballs drying out and butt clenches.
Beyond that is the new Sapphire mode, which provides access to 1121 horses, and that means literally breathtaking acceleration. The marquee number will be the 1.9-second 0-to-60 performance claim, but the drag strip isn’t where most Sapphire owners will show off their machine’s prowess. That comes on a freeway or another open stretch of highway, when the car is cruising at 60 or so and the driver stomps on the not-loud pedal. Three-digit speed is achieved so quickly that it makes the Lamborghini Aventador feel like a 1975 Mercedes 240D. The Corvette Z06 generates a great sound, but its acceleration is slug city compared with the Sapphire. As beloved as the Ferrari 296 GTB is around here, when it comes to acceleration, the Sapphire kicks its ass.
And yes, the Tesla Model S Plaid isn’t as quick either. It’s close, but the Plaid feels like a mere prototype by comparison. It gets spanked.
But quick is, well, a party trick. What makes the Air Sapphire a great sedan—electric or otherwise—is how well it does everything. It stretches out over a 116.5-inch wheelbase, so the cabin is generously proportioned with plenty of room to cross your legs over the rear-seat area’s flat floor. The instrumentation is digital without being zany. And while the interior decoration is a bit scattered in tone, it’s restrained compared with the wackadoodle light show that Mercedes installs in its big four-doors.
All that in mind, there are two sedans that have an edge on the Air Sapphire. Those would be the two Porsches, both the conventional Panamera and the all-electric Taycan. Even in their most extreme configurations, they can’t touch the Sapphire in acceleration, but both are more sensitive to driver inputs, better mannered in cornering, and simply more engaging. They don’t have an edge on the Lucid in comfort or silent operation, but the seven-decade head start Porsche has in product development is apparent. That Lucid’s Air Sapphire is the only sedan worth mentioning alongside those two is massively complimentary to this American upstart, which assembles its vehicles in Arizona.
At a press event last October, Lucid let loose a bunch of us journalists in Sapphires at the fabled Sonoma Raceway. It was a show-off session for the Track mode that battens down the Sapphire for competition (as if there’s a series it’s eligible in). There’s a 767-hp Endurance submode so the Sapphire can turn several hard laps before draining its battery, a 1003-hp Hot Lap submode for setting a low time on a circuit, and the full 1234-hp Drag Strip submode for embarrassing basically anything that shows up at Grudge Night that isn’t another Sapphire.
But as spectacular as the Sapphire is on track, most owners will never put theirs to such use. What’s most impressive about this car is that it doesn’t need a track to manifest its virtues.
Despite media mania, the future doesn’t belong to Elon Musk. Yes, the Teslas up to the Cybertruck will make their contributions. But so will Lucid’s Air and new Gravity SUV. And a bunch of Toyotas and Hondas and Porsches. And Chevys and Fords and Dodges. Electrics, hybrids, internal-combustion engines, and... who knows?
The future is up for grabs. Every automaker is in for a brutal knock-down fight. It’ll be fun. For now, Lucid’s good faith is paying off.
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