Currently reading: Tackling the North East 250 in the five-star Porsche Taycan
The first battery-electric car to earn coveted full marks in the demanding Autocar road test verdict exudes driver appeal, refinement and raw pace
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11 mins read
12 June 2021

When I did a windswept, storm-wracked drive around Scotland’s rugged North Coast 500 in a Porsche Boxster T last January, I finished with the casual suggestion that the next time was likely to be in an EV. Which was the original plan here: to retrace steps in a Taycan 4S as an adventurous celebration of its five-star deification.

Then two things happened. The first was a realisation of just how busy the NC500 was likely to be a couple of weeks after Scotland’s stay-at-home restrictions eased, a point reinforced by a total lack of bookable accommodation when I investigated logistics. The second was the discovery of the North East 250, which takes in the eastern Grampians and much of rural Aberdeenshire. Yes, it’s a derivative idea – see also the South West Coastal 300 in Galloway – doubtless inspired in large part by the tourist-drawing success of the NC500. But the map confirmed it would offer both great roads and stunning scenery, plus the adventure-adding challenge of a limited charging infrastructure.

I reach the generally agreed NE250 start point, on the A93 at the Spittal of Glenshee, as a Taycan virgin: this is the first time I’ve experienced Porsche’s much-lauded EV. Photographer Max Edleston and I have a Taycan 4S, one up from the bottom of the range, but what must have been a wrist-spraining options workout has lifted its price from a basic £83,580 to a considerably more serious £97,908. In addition to some of the usual ‘Porsche tax’ jewellery – painting the badge to match the bodywork has cost £168 and the electrically deployed charger port adds £443 – this has brought various dynamic enhancements. The significant ones are the Performance Battery Plus for £3906, rear axle steering for £1650 and 20in Taycan Turbo Aero wheels for £1524.

First impressions are that the exterior looks stunning but that the cabin doesn’t feel up to the seriousness of its options-adjusted price. The line between minimalist and basic is a fine one, and the 4S’s combination of glassy touchscreens and gloomy plastics are lacking in warmth and tactile joy. But there’s no time to dwell on this before the more important, and much more visceral, second impression overwrites it: that even the second-from-bottom Taycan is ludicrously fast.

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It doesn’t take long for the realisation to arrive. There is little reason to stop at the Spittal of Glenshee itself. The blackened ruin of the village’s hotel, destroyed by fire in 2014, still sits behind security fencing and there is a distinct lack of other diversions at 8.30am on a Wednesday. Not that the A93 heading north needs any distractions, this being road-as-destination itself. It is one of Scotland’s finest bits of Tarmac: beautifully surfaced, well sighted and with corners that range from tight and technical to the type that old-school rally co-drivers would call from the pacenotes as ‘absolute’, many laid over significant crests and dips.

The Taycan takes to it like a salmon to a mountain river. Acceleration is instant, in a way that even the sharpest-reacting combustion engines can’t get close to. The 4S just goes. Even using no more than the top third of the throttle pedal’s travel, the longitudinal g-forces are close to uncomfortable.

But it’s the 4S’s ability to generate lateral g that impresses more. Plenty of EVs can deliver huge straight-line pace, but I can’t think of one that better controls its mass when changing direction. The combination of the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres’ huge grip, torque-juggling all-wheel drive and the active rear steering work invisibly together to make it feel much more wieldy than anything weighing 2295kg should. I’ll learn plenty more about the Taycan over the next two days and nearly 400 miles, but everything that matters is clear within the first 10 minutes.

The summit brings a sign welcoming us to Aberdeenshire with the simple promise “From mountain to sea, the very best of Scotland”. A mile or so beyond is the Glenshee Ski Centre, with silent chairlifts and ski tows on many of the neighbouring slopes waiting for next year’s snowfall, if it comes. The centre’s café stays open throughout the year, although it is predictably quiet on what looks set to be a wet day in May. Most of the nearby mountains have only Gaelic names and the centre also takes a bilingual approach. Ski hire translates as ‘mal sgithidh’, apparently. Keep that handy in case you ever need it.

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Rain has started to fall as we continue onwards, the Taycan’s all-wheel drive system unflustered by increasingly wet conditions. We don’t stop at Braemar because we’re planning a break here on the way back, so we follow the River Dee towards the vast royal estate at Balmoral before slotting off towards Tomintoul on the A939 and another long stretch of moors and peaks, passing the smaller ski centre at Lecht. The scenery is fractionally less spectacular than around Glenshee, but the road is quiet enough that we’ve pretty much got it to ourselves. Probably unsurprisingly, the Taycan’s range display is falling faster than its odometer is adding miles. The need for fresh electrons is not pressing, with 80 miles to empty, but it’s clear we’ll need to recharge some way short of our planned overnight stop in Banff. Beyond Tomintoul, the road becomes tighter and busier as we enter single malt country, where the passing villages become a roll call of famous distilleries, Glenlivet, Ballindalloch and Glenfarclas following in quick succession. We stop at Craigellachie, where the Dewar’s distillery is pretty much in sight of one of the few available DC chargers hereabouts.

Before starting the trip, I was warned by a previous Highland EV-er about the need to get an RFID card from ChargePlace Scotland to unlock local chargers. This turned out to be a close-run thing. Despite ordering the card a full two weeks before starting the trip, it reached me on the day of my departure. But without it, we would have been in a serious jam, given the near-total lack of alternatives and the fact that ChargePlace Scotland doesn’t have an app capable of unlocking its chargers. (The company says it is possible for an account holder to access a charger by phoning its call centre. Or, if that fails, presumably sending a telegram or carrier pigeon.)

Craigellachie’s 50kW charger adds range at a less than searing pace, but after spinning out a fuel station sandwich and coffee for 50 minutes, it has given 38kWh and cost £11.03, the cheapest half tank I’ve ever paid for in a Porsche.

The A95 that carries us north for the next stretch along the Spey valley is busier and slower, giving the chance to experience the other side of the Taycan’s character. Cruising refinement is nearly as impressive as the brutality of its short-notice performance, the cabin quiet and the air-sprung ride pliant for a car capable of such athleticism. With the optional adaptive cruise managing distances, it’s a struggle to nominate any other car that would make low-intensity use feel so effortless.

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Following the river to the coast brings us to Spey Bay, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. Rain has stopped by this point and the view over the North Sea is clear and distant, the car park filled with people who have come here to look at both birds and seals. But from a car photography point of view, there is one obvious challenge: the impossibility of framing a shot containing both the Taycan and the water. That holds true as we follow the coast eastwards and through a succession of fishing and ex-fishing towns and villages: Buckie, Findochty, Portknockie and Cullen. Eventually, we brave a rocky car park to prove we did reach the coast.

The day ends at Banff, a handsome town that faces the similar-sized fishing port of Macduff over the estuary of the river Deveron. We’ve chosen to stop here for no greater reason than the presence of another of ChargePlace Scotland’s 50kW DC chargers, which the Taycan is left tethered to for a full charge. We seem to have arrived some way ahead of the tourist season and the Taycan is unusual enough to draw a small crowd of spectators.

The next morning, we start early under grey skies and with the Taycan reckoning it has 200 miles of range. We’ve got 148 miles to cover. The B9031 carries us east through huge fields of oilseed and grain – the latter probably destined to end up as whisky. It’s not a particularly adventurous road, but it’s well suited to the Taycan’s ability to go from gentle cruise to face-bending acceleration. I soon learn to pass slower-moving traffic using no more than about half throttle so as not to create too startling a speed differential. The thought that there are two quicker versions above this in the heirarchy is shocking.

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Having failed to see any reason to stop as we pass through Fraserburgh, we make a point of pausing in Peterhead, the biggest town we’ve visited so far. This is the UK’s busiest fishing port and seems to be working almost flat out as Edleston tries to set up a shot on a quayside crowded with huge trawlers. A few miles to the south is one of the must-sees of an NE250 trip: the spectacular ruin of Slains Castle near Cruden Bay.

Until fairly recently, it was possible to drive a car up to what is left of the front of the castle, but the track is now blocked by a substantial concrete block and I have to promise Edleston it will be worth a half-mile walk into a stiff headwind. It is. The castle is some way removed from modern health and safety standards, being unguarded and having been left open to the elements for nearly 100 years. When standing, one of its most famous visitors was author Bram Stoker, who used it as the inspiration for the castle in Dracula, both featuring vast octagonal halls. Even at 9.30am, it’s genuinely spooky.

Beyond Cruden Bay, there’s a chance for the Taycan to stretch its legs on the A975, another road of sweeping corners and distant horizons. Next comes the far less interesting A90, for a dull schlep towards Aberdeen, pausing only to have a quick look at one of the vast offshore wind farms that line the coast. The official NE250 route suggests sticking to the main road and missing Aberdeen entirely, but we opt to take the diversion through it for a chance to snap the Porsche in conjunction with some of its famous granite architecture. Despite its connection with the oil industry, the city is the first place where we start to see significant numbers of EVs, almost all of them Teslas.

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Which brings us to the final leg, cutting westward to Peterculter and then joining up with the River Dee again, before following this all the way back to Braemar. The Taycan defaults to coasting rather than deploying regenerative braking when the throttle is lifted, regen being selected by a steering wheel button. On the steeper downhill stretches, that has proved insufficiently strong to hold the Taycan at a fixed speed, so I’ve ended up setting the adaptive cruise control to stop having to ride the brake. But after two days of mild frustration, I finally learn that a longer press on the regen button engages an adaptive mode that increases the force in response to a falling gradient or slower traffic ahead.

That removes a niggle from my short list of complaints, leaving only one of significant note: do I like the Taycan’s steering? After more than 300 miles, I still can’t decide. The helm’s directness and precision can’t be faulted. Like the accelerator, the steering delivers slack-free front-end response pretty much as quickly as you can turn the wheel. But although weighting is good and feedback is present, the lag-free immediacy also denies it some of the connection that Porsche’s sports cars do so well, one that is definitely helped by the fractionally bigger window between input and effect. Even under the hardest road-viable cornering loads, the Taycan barely seems to roll – this without the optional electromechanical PDCC anti-roll – and the adhesion limits are high enough to give little encouragement to explore beyond them. I don’t.

Braemar brings a final stop, and a final visit to a DC charger, in this case an eVolt one that happily also works with the ChargePlace Scotland card. Even without this top-up, the Porsche has more than enough range to get back to Glenshee, but I want to give it a head start on its long journey south once handed back to Porsche. Braemar is a thoroughly nice place to spend an hour while the battery level creeps up, with many of the Teslas we spotted in Aberdeen – or possibly from further afield – seeming to have come here for lunch. We’ve still got the only Taycan, though – although that seems likely to change rapidly over the next few years.

It’s nice to write a drive story about an EV without it turning into an extended complaint about the inadequacies of the charging network. The Highlands are still some way from the infrastructure seen in more populous parts of the country, but there’s more than enough to support a modest adventure like this one. We never needed to wait for a charger and each charger we used worked first time.

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Eradicate such concerns and the Taycan moves beyond pretty much all criticism. Yes, it is expensive, but it is also as well engineered as any other Porsche and – even in 4S guise – quicker in the real world than any except its most exotic siblings. The cabin could be more exciting, the steering richer in low-intensity feel – and the £354 option of fake in-car engine noise triggered a gale of laughter before being turned off forever. But beyond the need to actually pay for it, this is the closest thing yet to an excuse-free EV.

North East 250: What you need to know

There are several slightly different routes published online, an inexactitude that suits the more laid-back nature of the North East 250. We went Spittal of Glenshee, Braemar, Balmoral, Cock Bridge, Tomintoul, Ballindalloch, Craigellachie, Fochabers, Spey Bay, Buckie, Cullen, Banff, Rosehearty, Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Cruden Bay, Newburgh, Aberdeen, Peterculter, Milton of Campfield, Ballater, Balmoral, Braemar and Spittal of Glenshee.

That should have totalled 259 miles, but with toing and froing for photos and investigating both sides of the River Dee on the way back, we ended up doing 389 miles, with the Taycan consuming 41.2kWh per 100 miles, according to its trip computer.

If we were doing it again, we’d probably cut out the northern coast from Spey Bay to Banff and take what’s probably a more interesting cross-country route. While the NE250 lacks the variety of scenery of the North Coast 500, it has a higher percentage of grade A driving roads and is likely to be far quieter.

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NavalReserve 13 June 2021
So, the car does just under two and a half miles on a kilowatt.

A 50 minute refill gives you 90 more miles of driving.

Choose a route where there probably won't be a queue for the charger.

You get the equivalent of about 45mpg in an ICE car. This with "fuel" taxed at 5%, when diesel is taxed at 200%.

Parts of your car were mined, creating spoil heaps.

You get a feeling of what life on the road must have been like before the red flag act

scotty5 12 June 2021

Since the sun decided to make an appearance I can tell you our roads around that area are much busier so it'd be interesting to see the same route taken when it's not quiet. I suspect it would be more like stopping for tea, cake then pitching the tent if the Tesla mob decided to charge as well.

Edit - I've just checked the EV map - both Braemar chargers are out of service.  Oh dear.

si73 12 June 2021
I enjoyed the read but am baffled by the description of the Taycan as being the closest thing yet to an excuse free EV, what is an excuse free EV? Ignoring the Tesla's performance and range capabilities and looking more mainstream, is a Kia niro with its 7.2 0-60 time, 280 mile range, family friendly size and space not excuse free? It's surely close to being as capable of living with as any ice equivalent, even if it's costs a bit more. But surely it too can be classed as excuse free, and that's before even considering the model3.