As a grand tourer it excels but it’s definitely no sports car.
2011 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid; 3.0-litre, supercharged V6 hybrid, eight-speed automatic transmission
I used to be a Porsche owner. Mine was a 1985 model 928 S2 and I absolutely adored it. It looked like nothing else, it had masses of grunt from its thumping great 4.7-litre V8 and it was built like a Swiss bank vault. I dearly wish it was still mine. And when it was in my possession, Porsche was still building just two model lines: the Porsche 911 and the Porsche Boxster. Onlookers were often confused by my 928. It didn’t look like a proper Porsche.
911 obsessives would sometimes sneer at it, muttering that it wasn’t, on any level, a proper Porsche, because it didn’t have a flat-six engine slung out over the rear axle. Idiots. Now, though, Porsche produces not two, but five model lines and there will soon be a sixth with the introduction of the Cajun SUV. It also (gasp, horror) builds cars with diesel engines – something I heard a Porsche spokesperson state would never, ever happen. And that was just four years ago. But Porsche is a business that exists to make money and times are changing fast. And to keep up with its competitors, Porsche has had to embrace hybrid technology. Did you ever think you’d see the day? Surely there’s no such thing as a ‘proper’ Porsche anymore.
When the Porsche Panamera was first mooted, I had high hopes for it. A 928 for the 21st Century? Bring it on. It was initially a disappointment to me, however, on more than one count. First, there are those looks – looks not even a mother could love. It was as though Porsche’s designers had thrown every styling cue from the then current range into a food blender and this was the result. There’s no excuse for it. And then there was the nonsense spouted from Porsche’s top brass about the 911’s sporting DNA permeating every part of the Panamera. Absolute hogwash – as a grand tourer it excels but it’s definitely no sports car. An Aston Rapide is a sports car with four doors; the big Porsche should know its limitations.
But as a luxurious GT car the Panamera excels like few others. Inside, the cabin is quite lovely and it’s mighty quick, particularly when there’s a blown V8 under the bonnet. Initially available were the Turbo, the 4S and the S – all with V8 power. V6 petrol models soon followed, and now this: the S Hybrid.
As in the Cayenne Hybrid, the new Panamera combines supercharged V6 (petrol) power with an electric motor that operates like a dynamo to charge a nickel-metal battery pack mounted within the floor of the boot. The engine packs a 244Kw punch while the electric motor adds a further 35Kw, just like the Cayenne. But here the power is diverted to only the rear wheels. And I must admit, at first acquaintance, I’m wondering what the point is.
Surely if you have enough money to buy a car like this you also have enough to fuel it and pay whatever punitive tax is imposed by your relevant government. And Porsche’s carbon emissions could surely be offset by the VW group as a whole. But I’m missing the point. There’s a demand for luxury hybrid vehicles and everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. And I suppose even those sufficiently well heeled to drop so much money on a car like this would still like to keep down the running costs. Like I said, times are changing fast.
Keeping down the running costs is this car’s trump card. Porsche claims it can achieve fuel economy of a miserly 6.8l/100km. That’s extraordinary for a car like this. However, that’s only achievable if you specify the special ‘low rolling resistance’ tyres, with 7.1l/100km the official figure if you don’t. Still, that’s quite an achievement and Porsche isn’t afraid to put its money where its mouth is, challenging drivers to test this claim. Some have managed to better Porsche’s figures in doing so.
The car automatically opts for electric power alone when starting off, which means utterly silent forward motion. As speed increases, the petrol engine comes on tap but the transition is so utterly seamless that, at low speeds anyway, your only indication is the rev counter and the hybrid drivetrain digital display showing you what’s going on. As you pile on more power, the Panamera moves with gusto. The electric motor on its own delivers a huge 300Nm of twist from 0-1150rpm, helping the Porsche to a combined 580Nm from as low as 1000rpm when the engine kicks in. 0-100km/h happens in just six seconds and it actually feels faster than that.
Of course, all that hybrid tech piles on the weight and here it helps bulk up the Panamera to a rather portly1980kg. But there’s an advantage in that, because of the heavy battery in the boot, weight distribution is the best in the range with a 51/49 split front and rear. The extra weight is apparent thanks to increased levels of body roll when pressing on along twisting country roads but the air suspension is sublimely comfortable and gives the Porsche extremely high levels of composure. Get it on a long stretch of highway and it gives surprisingly little away to the V8-engined S by way of performance. In the right environment it’s a very enjoyable thing to drive.
Unlike other Panameras, the transmission here is neither manual nor dual-clutch SMG. Rather it’s only available an eight-speed full automatic with Porsche’s infuriatingly fiddly steering wheel buttons for manual shifting. The drivetrain cleverly disengages the engine from the wheels when you’re coasting on a trailing throttle, helping with the overall economy and there’s the increasingly common stop/start (even Ferrari has started with this) and brake energy recuperation systems. So it’s obvious what the agenda was when this was on the drawing board.
Porsche admits that North America is where the company sees the lion’s share of these cars ending up. And I’m certain those customers will be very happy with it because of its natural aversion to fuel pumps. There will soon be a Panamera S Diesel, though, which perhaps will make more sense for other markets but for now, if you want the most environmentally sound Porsche there is, look no further. It’s beautifully engineered, brilliantly efficient, exquisite to drive and, while you might not seek out your reflection while driving past shop windows, it’s a proper Porsche because it’s built to the same exacting standards as the rest of them. Which means it comes highly recommended.