2024 Lucid Air Sapphire: Warp … before you walk?
It’s been a rocky start for Lucid. One of several U.S.-based automakers chasing Tesla, Lucid currently assembles the Air, a very sleek and formidable electric luxury sedan. In a few months, at the 2023 L.A. auto show, Lucid will reveal the Gravity, an all-electric SUV. The latest Q2 results announced by Lucid in early August showed deliveries of 1404 cars in the quarter, about 600 short of expectations, and revenues that thoroughly disappointed Wall Street. The company’s stock, LCID, once valued at $55, has been spanked down to less than $7 as of this writing.
Well, if starting car companies was easy, everyone would be doing it. The feat is certainly easier if your friend is the Saudi government, which has invested $9 billion in Lucid so far, including a $3 billion bump this year, and which has committed to buying 50,000 cars. For its part, Lucid is sticking to its plan, which almost from the start included a high-performance sub-brand.
Behold, Sapphire, a lapidarian name that will henceforth affix itself to all top-spec Lucid models. In a brief run around suburban Los Angeles, the, er, ludicrous Lucid Air Sapphire proved that the fledgling automaker can build some pretty impressive machinery while continuing to confound with some eyebrow-raising choices. If Lucid ever manages to hack its way into the mainstream, it will not be for lack of trying to stay weird.
The Lucid Air Sapphire sits above—indeed, way above—the Lucid Air Pure, Touring, and Grand Touring already on the market. Those trim levels are priced from around $87,000 to $125,000, with varying degrees of luxury, power, and range. The Sapphire will have a base price of $250,650.
In answer to that gobsmacking figure, which seems to confirm that lofty prices are one of Lucid’s problems (another: the giant luxury sedan segment is not exactly red-hot), the Lucid people are quick to point out that more of the base, rear-drive Air Pures are coming for 2024. Those should help showroom traffic, along with that desperately needed SUV. In the meantime, Sapphire will arrive sometime before Christmas for those who want and can afford the ultimate electric airport limo.
Specs: 2024 Lucid Air Sapphire
Price: $250,650 (base)
Powertrain: three permanent-magnet electric motors
Horsepower: 1234 hp
Torque: 1430 lb-ft
Layout: all-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger sedan
EPA-rated fuel economy: TBC
Range: 427 miles (manufacturer claim)
0–60 mph: 1.9 seconds (manufacturer claim)
Competitors: Tesla Model S Plaid, Porsche Taycan Turbo S
Lucid’s tech and car-development chops have always been bonafide. No doubt, that’s why Aston Martin has committed to purchasing Lucid components for its own electric vehicles. Lucid’s proprietary electric-drive unit is extremely compact, which allowed engineers to graft a second donut-shaped motor onto the rear axle of the Sapphire, for a total of three: one in front, two in the back, producing a combined 1430 pound-feet of torque.
Lucid claims a zero-to-60-mph time of 1.89 seconds for the 5300-pound Sapphire. We can vouch the sprint is fast enough to puddle your brain against the back of your skull. Perhaps more significantly, Lucid claims a 3.61 kW/Hr efficiency for the Sapphire, which puts it near the top of the charts among modern electrics for electron consumption.
Superbike-like acceleration isn’t the only reason to go to three motors, says David Lickfold, Lucid’s senior director of chassis and vehicle dynamics, a veteran of both Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin. Torque vectoring is another: All-wheel-drive cars tend to understeer, one reason Petter Solberg was such an expert at the Scandinavian flick while driving for Subaru’s rally team in the early 2000s.
However, the Sapphire’s rear motors can flick for you—sort of. They alternately over- or under-speed as needed to help turn the big sedan in corners, thus giving the steering a much livelier and more connected feel than an AWD car this heavy has a right to have, all without the extra complexity of rear-wheel steering. We managed to provoke this rotational effect—barely—in a few runs between traffic clumps in L.A.’s twisty Sepulveda Pass. The rear end pushes outward almost subliminally while the front tucks into a tighter turn than should be possible for the speed.
Lickford calls the effect “virtual wheelbase,” meaning the Sapphire can feel like a long-wheelbase pullman or a shorter-wheelbase sports sedan depending on the situation and the driver’s mood. The car’s various personalities are selectable through the driving modes: Swift, Sapphire, and Track, the latter of which has three sub-modes—Dragstrip, Hot Lap, and Endurance. Lickford says the torque-vectoring and traction control tuning was pulled in-house for Sapphire, making for some very long days and nights for the Lucideers.
The prodigious grip is helped by the low center of gravity endemic to all-electric vehicles, plus the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires it comes with standard. The tires are marked “LM1,” meaning they are an exclusive design for Lucid. Lickfold explained that the inner belts are a durable touring compound while the outer shoulders and sidewall are basically made of Pilot Sport Cup2 super gum. Michelin’s performance tires are renowned for their ability to manage heat—a good thing, since nothing short of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant makes heat like the tires of a 5300-pound car when 1234 horsepower and 1430 pound-feet of torque are being used in anger. Ditto the brakes, where in the Sapphire are huge 16.5-inch carbon-composite disks in front clamped by 10-piston calipers, the 15.4-inch carbon rears gripped by four-piston calipers.
Lickford and his team also retuned the suspension with stiffer springs, thicker sway bars, sportier bushings, and a new front knuckle that increases negative camber in front, again for faster steering response. In back, a Sapphire-specific lower control arm increases negative camber there as well. The starchier ride is noticeable, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
Besides the revised suspension, the extra motor, and the standard 118 kW/Hr battery pack with its rated 427-mile range, the Sapphire comes with exclusive interior treatments and exterior aero bits. Lucid’s signature glass roof is not available, strangely: A more conventional aluminum roof painted black is the only choice, supposedly to reduce weight and lower the center of gravity.
A couple of other oddities: The only color available, at least initially, is Sapphire Blue. This in a segment where black, white, and grey seem to rule. The Sapphire’s unique 20-inch front and 21-inch rear snowflake-spoked wheels come with a set of aero covers in a handsome drawstring bag. Owners can install the covers themselves for hypermiling, but they’d do well to read the directions if they want to avoid freeway frisbees: The cover fasteners have a specific torque spec.
Aimed at folks who like stealthy performance of the type offered by an Audi RS6 or the like, the Sapphire is unquestionably an impressive technical statement and a glimpse of the vast potential for electrics. However, it’s a Hail Mary from a new company that is still struggling to sell cars and figure out how to be profitable. The latest Saudi investment is thought to give Lucid only another year or so of runway. Let’s hope the Sapphire name, like Lucid itself, will live on for many years.
2024 Lucid Air Sapphire
Highs: Outrageous acceleration, moves to match the power, lots of interior space, far nicer inside than a Tesla.
Lows: A lot of money for an unknown quantity, ride a bit crispy, you can have any color you want as long as it’s blue.
Takeaway: Lucid shows us what it’s got; now it’s got to show us the vehicle it needs—an affordable electric.