The adage goes “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and while that’s generally accurate, I managed to get two first impressions of Lucid’s big luxury sedan in two weeks. My week-long loan of the 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring was actually prefaced with a first drive in another 2023 Lucid Air at Pride at the Dragon. I drove that Air on some intense, fast back roads, then came home for a week of more casual real-world driving in the second Air.
Make no mistake, I like the Air. But it’s really, really hard to start a new car company from thin air (hah) and then make your first car.
What Is It?
The 2023 Lucid Air is a six-figure electric luxury sedan made by automotive startup Lucid Motors. While the company’s been around since 2007, they first made batteries for others before pivoting to vehicle development in 2014. The Air is built in Arizona and early customer deliveries began in late 2021. The company was focused more on getting cars to customers, which is why you’re only now seeing a greater number of reviews by the media.
Coming in at 195.9 inches overall with a 116.5 inch wheelbase, the 2023 Lucid Air is roughly Mercedes-Benz E-Class-sized. Step inside, though, and you’ll notice it feels larger than a comparable E-Class. Lucid’s electric motor “drive units” are remarkably small – the company’s true magic touch, to me – and that allows for clever interior packaging to provide S-Class-level space in a smaller vehicle.
My Air was a Grand Touring model without the optional Peformance package, which meant I had to deal with “just” 819 horsepower and 885 lb-ft of torque. Poor me. Those numbers come from two motors – one per axle – and a 112 kWh battery pack.
Maximum range from that big battery is a stunning 469 miles given my test car’s optional 21-inch wheels. Avoiding those for the standard 19s increases your per-charge range to 516 miles. Nice. Maximum charging speed is quoted at 350 kW, per Lucid.
Every Grand Touring features the lovely, airy glass roof, though lower-trim Airs will be available with a painted metal roof instead. Inside, I was greeted with a two-tone black and cream “Santa Cruz” colorway, one of several on offer. Each colorway features contrasting front seats, which I find to be a fun touch.
Screens, of course, cover the interior per usual these days. Lucid uses a large curved panel to show key controls (wipers, lights, locks), your “gauge cluster” information, and infotainment. Further down, a huge iPad-style vertical tablet lets you control the rest of the car. Physical buttons thankfully punctuate the interior for easy eyes-off control of volume, basic climate control, and adaptive cruise.
Lucid made the deliberate choice to pursue the luxury market first, a bold choice for a new automaker. The Grand Touring is the highest-end Air for now, unless you want the Grand Touring Performance and its four-figure horsepower bragging rights. A 1,200 horsepower “Sapphire” model is on the way. MSRP of my 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring with $10,000 DreamDrive Pro driver assistance and $4,000 Surreal Sound Pro audio came to $154,000.
2023 Lucid Air in Sane, Normal Driving
Lucid offers three drive modes on the Air – Smooth, Swift, and Sprint. While I hate the use of the word “smooth” in automotive journalism, it’s properly used here, especially related to the excellent ride. Merriam-Webster defines “smooth” as “serene, equitable,” and that is indeed how the Air rides in its softest drive mode. Every irregularity, bump, or crater in the road is simply absorbed and dealt with. The Air’s suspension might be the most supple I’ve experienced in recent memory; it’s fantastic.
Moving “up” in drive mode increases steering heft, ride stiffness, and not just throttle response but horsepower availability itself. Want to use all 819 horsepower? Gotta be in Sprint and agree to the lawyer-required message asking you to have proper tires and driver training before you go Real Fast. The Air is plenty quick in the “lesser” modes, so I didn’t find myself engaging Sprint unless I was showing off the gut-wrenching Launch Control to friends or playing on a back road.
As with every EV, the Air offers regenerative braking. Two levels are available regardless of drive mode, and while I generally prefer regen on its highest setting, I found the transition from regen to regular brakes a bit harsh if and when I needed them. Dropping down to “normal” here evened things out.
Visibility in the Air is generally fine, though I wanted the driver’s seat to drop about an inch lower than it does. The thick A-pillar ended up right next to my head and both pillars blocked the view of pedestrians and cyclists in city driving. One (very) nice touch – front and rear cameras show your distance to any object in your path in inches, not just green-yellow-red lines. Smart.
Interacting with the Air is mostly an easy affair. Lucid’s in-car operating system is easy to use with minimal menu-digging required. Most key features are accessible as “first layer” options, meaning no menu operation is required.
While the latest over-the-air update added wireless CarPlay, I deliberately avoided using it as the Lucid software is far better integrated to the car. Navigation was generally a non-event to use, though I question Lucid’s decision to show maps in three places at the same time while hiding the current song and artist information entirely.
2023 Lucid Air on Twisty Back Roads
Lucid reps wouldn’t let me use four-figures of horsepower on rainy back roads as we left Fontana Village in an Air Grand Touring Performance. I don’t blame them. We instead kept the car in Swift, which restricted power a tad but made the suspension and steering a bit more taut over Smooth.
Route 28 from Fontana Village to the Killboy store is a fantastic driving road, with broader curves than the Tail itself. A car as large as the Air feels more at home here than in the super-tight stuff. Of course, “at home” is relative given the Air isn’t meant to be a sports car. Despite being pressed into service this way, the Air remained generally composed. Handling was good given the luxury-first focus and general size and weight of the big sedan. Pushing hard resulted in predictable understeer – mostly. I did manage to get a few small slides out of the car as I figured out the brakes.
Braking, as mentioned above, can feel a bit odd as the Air transitions from regen to clamping down on calipers. We started our spirited jaunt with the regen set to High, but I found the transition to upset the car a bit as I entered corners and needed to go for the actual pedal. Dialing regen down to Normal kept the balance where I wanted it and, to the Lucid rep’s relief, meant I stopped accidentally drifting through turns. But relying more on the brake pads themselves revealed the Air is a bit under-braked for this kind of driving.
I felt similarly driving a Tesla Model S on the same road last year. It’s an interesting conundrum that I think many EVs will face: strong regenerative capabilities and the desire for seamless transition to caliper-based stopping mean an aggressive brake pad isn’t generally required. But in a performance scenario, regen isn’t enough, and the driver is now faced with a pad that is fine at best and cannot easily handle the extra weight that comes with an EV over a similarly-sized ICE vehicle.
This is a lot of words to talk about something most Lucid Air owners will never experience, but it bears mentioning as the brand readies a quarter-million-dollar, twelve-hundred horsepower Air Sapphire model for sale.
The Key Fob Situation
Most Lucid Air owners will set up their phone as a key, and never use the key fob or credit-card-style key provided with the car. In my case, Lucid didn’t enable phone-as-a-key for my loan, and the fleet company showed up with both key fob and credit card for me to use. The delivery driver got out of the car, left both keys in the cupholder as he does with every car, every week, and shut the door to have a brief conversation with me.
I stood on the sidewalk and watched as the mirrors folded in and the door handles retracted. The Air had locked itself with not one, but two keys inside. Some phone calls ended in a call to Lucid’s PR team – or someone – to remotely unlock the doors. I later told the Lucid PR team about this misadventure and was told “well, that can happen with any proximity key.” While they’re technically not wrong, it’s not something that has happened with any other vehicle I’ve tested.
On the flip side, the Lucid Air will automatically lock when you walk away from the car with the key in your pocket. That feature worked, but if I walked away and then stopped to chat with someone, check my phone, or ponder the meaning of life, the car would enter this unlock-lock-unlock-lock sort of cycle, flapping the mirrors to say hello.
I’m not the only one who’s faced challenges with the keys on the Air. Other reviews mention issues, as do posts on the owners’ forums. Hopefully the key behavior can be refined with an OTA software update in the future.
I ran in to a fellow Lucid Air owner while charging my test car before turning it in. We chatted while he plugged in his BMW iX and ultimately, his feelings were similar to mine. Despite the quirks, though, the man’s final comment as he turned to walk toward Wegman’s was “and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned.”
Making cars is hard. Lucid has generally done a great job with the 2023 Lucid Air, especially considering their choice (gamble?) to focus on a lower-volume, expensive segment of the automotive market. The Air rides supremely well, goes plenty far on a charge, has copious amounts of interior space, and looks like nothing else on the road.
The quirks – hiding navigation to see what song is playing, the braking calibration, reenacting the entirety of Charli XCX’s Unlock It if the key fob is nearby – aren’t that egregious. They’re fixable in software and hopefully can be modified as Lucid continues to solicit feedback from us media folks and actual customers taking delivery.