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It wasn’t long ago that the word ‘hybrid’ was synonymous with ‘boring’. But the game has changed, and cars like the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid are exponents of the shift to make hybrid a word that can be associated with high-performance.
The plug-in Panamera S E-Hybrid is the second iteration petrol-electric Panamera, but crucially is the first to offer the ability to be recharged by the powerpoint. Indeed, it's Porsche's first plug-in hybrid to be sold in Australia.
It's aimed both at giving the brand an eco-conscious performance warrior in the battle against company emissions, while also offering cashed-up tech-heads a performance sedan (or liftback) they can plug in to a power-point.
So how does it manage such trickery?
The Panamera S E-Hybrid is powered by a 3.0-litre supercharged petrol V6 producing 245kW and 440Nm, which is combined with a 70kW/310Nm electric motor. Total power output is 306kW at 5500rpm – 23kW more than the previous non-plug-in model – and maximum combined torque is rated at 590Nm between 1250-4000rpm.
The outcome of those outputs is a 0-100km/h claim of 5.5 seconds, and official fuel consumption figures of just 3.1 litres per 100 kilometres – that’s 4.0L per 100km less than the previous hybrid version.
Power is sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted button shifters.
The petrol-electric Porsche can reach 135km/h running on the electric motor only, on its way to a top speed of 270km/h.
The brand claims the car can be recharged from a regular 240-volt single-phase power point in 3.8 hours, and that there is as much as 36 kilometres of electric range.
Those are impressive claims. And while the time taken to charge was spot-on in our testing, we never saw near that claimed range, even on the car’s digital dashboard display (29km was the nearest).
While buyers may not necessarily be number crunchers when it comes to the range they expect, we were disappointed that on several occasions and multiple recharges across various disciplines, we couldn't manage to achieve a distance close to the claim, nor the displayed range.
Our best on electricity alone was 23km travelled, while the average was just 17km – less than half the claimed available range.
It’s a shame it didn’t last longer, because the EV mode is sweet in the Panamera. Power delivery is smooth through the eight-speed automatic transmission, though it holds gears longer than expected. Most EVs don't use a conventional torque-converter automatic, instead using a single ratio system - and it was surprising to see how well the auto shifted through the gears. And in EV mode there is oodles of torque available from a standstill, making it feel quicker than you’d expect of a 2100 kilogram, 5.0-metre long behemoth.
For sticklers, there’s an E-Charge mode that allows the car to use the petrol engine to power the wheels and act as a generator to fill the car’s battery pack, while kinetic energy lost through braking and descending hills is recuperated, too. The former does have a notable impact on fuel consumption, though, as does running the car in Sport mode.
We did exactly that as part of our testing, and noted the fuel consumption figure balloon, though only to an entirely acceptable 7.8 litres per 100km. With Sport disengaged, that figure came closer to 6.1L – great for a sports sedan such as this, but still almost double the claimed combined-cycle usage.
The supercharged petrol V6 sounds unlike any other Porsche engine, and not in a good way. It sounds grainy and buzzy, which is a bit hard to hear when you consider what you're paying for the car (more on that soon). However, the engine provides plenty of punch - even when not backed by the batteries.
The car’s propulsion systems work quite well in tandem, with only the huff of the engine re-firing giving away when EV mode is done with.
However, while the gearbox works well in EV mode, the same can't be said of its changes in hybrid mode. There is some stumbling and clunking between cogs at light- to mid-throttle, though the changes are crisp and clinical under a heavy right foot. This is especially true in Sport mode.
There’s no disguising the extra weight of the hybrid components in terms of the car’s dynamics. It feels heavy on the road, and that weight is noticeable in corners. It does offer excellent levels of cornering grip, despite the weight shift being evident even during low-speed corners, unlike in other, lighter Panamera models, which offer tremendous dynamic ability.
The steering, too, lacks the precise, sharp nature of other Panameras, with a certain dullness around town and no adjustability to the speed of the tiller. However, through tighter bends there’s enough reaction for the driver to know what’s about to happen next, and the rear can step out when accelerating out of a corner.
The car’s adjustable air suspension offers a ride worthy of applause given the heft of the car, ironing out road creases at in the urban environment and on the freeway. However, over consistent bumps the body can get wobbly in normal mode, rocking from side to side disconcertingly. Switching the dampers to Sport firmness helps keep it riding flat, and also offers immense improvements to its cornering ability.
The recognisable button-laden cockpit of the Panamera sees only a few minor changes in this version, with a couple of extra buttons for the hybrid system and modified screen layouts in the instrument cluster and media system with detailed consumption information.
Our test car was finished in a less-than-flattering brown finish inside the car, but functionally it ticks most of the boxes. The lack of a middle rear seat isn’t too much of an issue, and the four-seat layout allows plenty of comfort for those in the front and the back.
The car’s standard automated tailgate allows access to the boot, which is easily large enough to swallow a couple of suitcases in the normal Panamera. However, the S E-Hybrid’s cargo-hold plays host to a zip-up bag housing the charge cable for the car, which is quite bulky and eats into space.
Porsches generally aren’t cheap, but the Panamera S E-Hybrid is especially eye-wateringly expensive.
It’s priced from $285,300 – or roughly $90,000 more than the Panamera diesel that kicks off the range.
As is often the case with high-tech cars, the manufacturer passes on a lot of the development costs to the consumer.
To offset that price, for the most part, there’s a decent amount of standard equipment such as satellite navigation, a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with reverse-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors, an electric tailgate and 19-inch alloy wheels.
However, there are notable technological equipment omissions, such as radar cruise control, forward collision warning or automated braking, and blind-spot warning/lane-change assistance (a $1540 option on our test car). Other unexpected options include keyless entry ($2490) and seat heating ($1050).
Competition for the Panamera S E-Hybrid is slim. The BMW i8 is in the same league in terms of price ($299,000) and performance (266kW/570Nm), but with a coupe-style sports car body. If you’re talking specifically about the capability of plugging in, there are much cheaper cars available, such as the pure electric Nissan Leaf ($39,990) and the plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV ($47,490). Then there’s the soon-to-arrive Tesla Model S, a pure EV sedan similar in size to the Panamera that will start at $92,000 – or a third of the cost of the Porsche.
To label the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid a failure would be to miss the point that it is trying to make. It is clear that for Porsche, performance and plugs can mix, and they will continue to do so in the future.
However, at this point in time, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is simply too pricey, too heavy and ultimately a little underdone when it comes to level of precision engineering that has come to be expected of the German sports car specialist brand.