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You’d be entitled to question the relevance of the 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid – and yes that name and model designation is a mouthful. Isn’t the whole point of hybrids to achieve maximum efficiency in as boring a manner as possible? Porsche has tossed that theory well and truly out the window with its hybrid platform and delivered a technological tour de force that is equal parts impressive, efficient, brutally fast and brilliant.
It’s the forward-thinking nature of the hybrid drivetrain technology that makes the S E-Hybrid so impressive. While there’s a lot to be said for the soundtrack delivered by a high-revving, naturally aspirated engine of any number and configuration of cylinders, there’s also something to be made of a sports car company that can deliver both power and efficiency. The ADR fuel-usage claim is incredibly low, and slightly unrealistic electric-only bluster aside, this Panamera is actually genuinely efficient. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The numbers alone make for impressive reading – starting first with the price. This is the Panamera you’ll want (if you have deep-enough pockets), and the starting price is an eye-watering $460,100 before on-road costs. So much for the 911 (in all its thousand forms) naturally being the most expensive Porsche then. Add on-road costs and a few options and you’re going to be into the half-million-dollar zone without even trying – similar to a 911 Turbo S then.
Power? Well, combined there is a stratospheric 500kW on offer, and a not to be outdone 850Nm as well. The 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol engine (404kW and 550Nm) would be impressive enough on its own, but the electric motor adds 100kW and up to 400Nm in addition to the power and torque generated by the internal-combustion engine. Sure, the hybrid system adds nearly 300kg of heft to the equation, so there is definitely a trade-off. In this guise, the Panamera tips the scales just shy of 2300kg – so it’s no lightweight super saloon by any means. Is any Panamera ‘light’ though? No, not really.
0–100km/h? 3.4 seconds. Yep that’s supercar-hunting territory. 0–200km/h? 8.3 seconds. I remember supercar manufacturers crowing when their latest missiles cracked the double-ton in less than 10 seconds. This Panamera is stupidly fast, no matter how you slice it, and probably way too fast for this class, but that’s not the point. The point is that Porsche has shown what is achievable in an otherwise conservative package.
Now, the fuel usage. See, Porsche will quote the ADR figure of just 2.9L/100km, and that is theoretically achievable, should you travel only 100km under the right conditions. That figure would require full charge and defaulting to EV mode at all times too obviously. The 50km EV range means that, in perfect conditions, you’d use 2.9L to travel the next 50km, thus getting to your total for 100km.
Could you live with the S E-Hybrid in EV mode only if your commute was less than 25km each way? Absolutely, and in fact we did on a few occasions, and while there’s no drama or soundtrack to excite the senses, you can travel to and from work for five days without using any petrol at all, so long as you can charge the Panamera at home overnight.
What was most interesting for us was the real-world consumption. Over two separate (200km+) drive loops that took in traffic, city, highway, and normal stop/start running around, the S E-Hybrid averaged 8.7L/100km and 8.9L/100km. Neither loop was conducted with any attempt to be as frugal as possible, so you could reasonably expect to achieve those same numbers – or better. While they are nowhere near the ADR claim, they are staggeringly efficient for a 2300kg sedan capable of such ballistic performance.
Porsche has an inconceivable way of making too many buttons, switches and controls look elegant. Inside the Panamera’s cabin, it has once again achieved the impossible. The dash and console are overloaded with gadgetry, the steering wheel too is laden with controls, and yet none of them look overdone or out of place.
Apple CarPlay worked faultlessly for us over the week of testing, as did the Porsche proprietary satellite navigation and infotainment in general. Such is the technicality and depth of the controls, the S E-Hybrid is a car that will reward the inquisitive owner, who takes the time to work through the controls, understand them all and get used to them. It’s not overly complex, but there is depth to it.
The seats, whether you opt for optional massaging front and rear, are beautifully sculpted and comfortable as well. They are electrically adjustable, and provide enough movement for drivers of all heights. Back seat passengers get their own touchscreen, and as you’d expect, the second row of the S E-Hybrid is a luxurious place to be – a huge factor in this segment. It’s not all sweetness and light, though. Half a million big ones buys you just one USB port up front, which is strange for a vehicle of such technical prowess.
If you value your licence, you’d do well to be very careful with your right foot. Depress it heavily and the Panamera not only launches with the stomach-churning violence of an amusement park ride, it keeps on accelerating relentlessly, piling on speed at an alarming rate. The competence of the AWD system means launch is immediate, and there’s no loss of progress once you’re out of the hole either. The words severe and savage come to mind, it’s just that fast.
Such is the hammer blow of the torque delivery from just off idle, the way it gathers speed seems almost endless. And that’s before you slip it into its most maniacal Sport Plus mode, where the savagery is amplified even further.
The optional ($7000) sports exhaust is a must, such is the shrieking beauty of the note at full noise. In fact, it might even be the pièce de résistance in this experience. The fact that you can crawl around in silence or shatter shopfront windows at the flick of a switch – bloody fantastic.
The eight-speed PDK furthers the argument that Porsche automatics are the best in the world in any type of vehicle. Almost imperceptible at trundling speeds, razor sharp at redline, they really do deliver the best of both worlds. There’s a satisfying mechanical feel to the gear shift at the limit too, almost as if Porsche has engineered it in to give the driver a sense of being connected to the drivetrain. Whatever the case, PDK is as good as it gets.
Despite its heft it will go around corners too, as you’d no doubt expect a Porsche to do. It will hook in hard, feels more balanced than it has any right to, and is beautifully precise when speed increases. Porsche steering is as beautifully weighted and connected as it has ever been, whether it's a 911 or Cayenne, and such is the case here with the Panamera.
Fat rubber wrapped around 21-inch wheels assists in the planted nature of the S E-Hybrid experience. Michelin Pilot Sport tyres measure in at 275/35 up front and 325/30 out back – just enough not to be unhinged by the brutal power on offer.
You might not expect the ride to be as luxurious as it is in the real world either – this is a liveable sports sedan by any measure. You’ll only need to take care over the sharpest of speed humps, with the S E-Hybrid ironing out average city fare with ease. There’s a beautiful solidity to the ride that adds to the premium feel you get everywhere else, and it's thanks in large part to the chassis black magic that is standard on this model grade: adaptive dampers, adaptive anti-roll bars and an electronic limited-slip diff – all standard for the S E-Hybrid. Standard carbon-ceramic brakes make for relentless (and repeated) braking ability too.
I’ve never truly understood the point of the Panamera. It always seemed like another strangely morphed 911 derivative designed for 911 owners who were so arrogant, they couldn’t bear to buy a product built by any other manufacturer, even though they needed a four-door.
However, this hybrid version is perhaps the easiest to understand of all of them. Porsche has taken the kind of drivetrain we’d usually test in something mind-numbing like a Prius, and worked it into a sedan that is a window into a high-performance future.
It’s not cheap, but what price is sheer brilliance? I don’t love the styling of the Panamera – never have, never will – but the engineering quality, the real-world efficiency, and the effortless way the S E-Hybrid shreds bitumen is undeniably cool. And isn’t that what owning a Porsche is all about?