A Porsche hybrid? Does that even make sense? Here is a company with a well-deserved and hard-earned reputation for performance. So why a hybrid?
I suspect the answer is two-fold: a) because it can and b) because it allows the little company to prove it is at the leading edge of automotive technology. There is, of course, also the matter of image in a mass market and political environment obsessed with fuel-efficiency.
Porsche is an integral part of the Volkswagen-Audi-Bentley-Bugatt-Seat-Skoda and, most recently, Ducati empire. The components most likely to be shared among these divisions are those most expensive and difficult to develop – drivetrains.
While Porsche’s water-cooled flat-six engines remain unique to that brand, there are various V-6 and V-8 engines from Audi beneath the hood of the Porsche Cayenne SUV and Panamera luxury sedan. Now the Panamera gets a hybrid system developed in conjunction with Volkswagen.
That fact may cause hardened Porsche fans to shudder in disbelief, but they had better get over it. These same people raised cane when Porsche announced it was going to build an SUV. The Cayenne went on to become wildly successful and a major source of profits, money used to develop “fun” Porsches.
The next radical departure and source of complaint by hardened Porschephiles was a big four-door luxury car. But a significant chunk of Panamera owners have another Porsche in their garage.
So now we have a Porsche hybrid. And as we have come to expect – it is a winner!
First things first – this is a big car that draws attention wherever it appears. That could be because of the design. The front end is strongly evocative of Porsche sports cars – Caymans and 911s.
The rear end on the other hand is more akin to a whale than anything on wheels. The second most frequent comment about this car is related to that rear end, and rarely positive.
The first though follows a look of stunned disbelief. "Is that a hybrid?”
My Crystal Green Metallic ($3,590 extra) test vehicle was a looker, but more importantly it impressed for its driving dynamics and technology. The right foot can be used to sample typical Porsche performance, or if one can control it, to play with the eco-friendly parts.
What must be said, however, is that while it may be a hybrid, it surely is the fastest one on the road. It is amazing how this big, heavy four-door luxury liner can get down and dirty whether tackling the turns or simulating a dragster. And it does this with very little sense of having given something up in return for the ability to boast that you drive a hybrid.
Stretching almost five metres from bumper to bumper and two from mirror to mirror, the Panamera S Hybrid tips the scales on the wrong side of two tonnes. That’s nasty territory for anything purporting to be a sports anything. This is a big car, bigger than an Audi A6, BMW 5-Series of Mercedes E-Class. It’s as long as a Range Rover and as wide as a Jeep Grand Cherokee! Yet it seats only four and offers performance rarely available from anything with more than two doors or seats.
The interior is handsome and worthy of the big price tag. There are four beautifully-upholstered bucket seats, each well-bolstered, adjustable in a myriad of ways and supremely comfortable for very long drives.
The front seats flank a wide console with no less than 28 buttons or knobs. The driver faces an instrument panel that is readily recognizable as Porsche. Five analog gauges inform with crisp, clear faces. Everything you touch is covered in high quality materials including leather and dark wood. And fit and finish are superlative.
When the price tag has three numbers to the left of the decimal you expect a fair amount of “stuff”. The Panamera S Hybrid does not disappoint. Standard equipment includes: bi-xenon headlights with automatic levelling, tilt & telescope wheel, power seats, wireless connectivity, electric moon roof, power tailgate, windows and locks, navigation system etc.
My test vehicle also boasted metallic paint ($3590), full leather interior ($4170), 20-in alloy wheels ($3860), park assist and rear view camera ($1440), Sport Chrono Package ($1100), Bose audio system ($1650) and Birch Anthracite wood trim ($1140).
Porsche upholds the German practice of charging extra, often a great deal extra for items that are standard equipment elsewhere on vehicles costing half as much. For example, $5,610 for leather seats and a back-up camera on a $108,700 car? I also noticed a $530 charge for “spacers” for the rear wheels! Really?
Pricing polices aside, the inside of a Panamera is a pretty darn nice way to while away the time and kilometers.
The trunk has a useful amount of space, but 110-litres less than other Panamera models because of the 70-kg, 1.7- kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and its cooling system. Speaking of the latter, rear seat occupants commented on the sound made by the battery cooling system when braking from highway speeds, saying it sounds like a plane landing.
The Panamera is available with a variety of engines including both normally aspirated and supercharged V-6s and normally aspirated and turbocharged V-8s ranging in output from 300 to 550 horsepower.
The S Hybrid gets a supercharged 3.0-litre Audi V-6 with direct injection, producing 333-horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, mated with a 47-horsepower electric motor that puts out 221 lb-ft of torque.
Because the engine and motor develop peak power at different points you can’t simply add those numbers together. The official stats are a combined 380-horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque.
The hybrid system is of the parallel variety with the electric motor positioned between the engine and transmission. The electric motor can power the car on its own at slow speeds for more than a kilometre on a level surface. The gasoline engine shuts down when coasting to a rest or downhill. The big electric motor adds its punch during acceleration and the gasoline engine helps recharge the battery pack on occasion.
No wimpy CVT here. All that power goes to the rear wheels via a traditional eight-speed automatic transmission.
The result is the performance usually associated with a high-output V-8. The big boat can accelerate from rest to 100 km/h in 6 seconds flat! That’s impressive for anything this size and weight, moreso for a hybrid.
I wasn’t able to come anywhere close to the 6.8 litres/100 km highway rating, probably because I was driving it like a Porsche. I did accomplish 8.1 though which is still pretty impressive, considering.
Being a Porsche you expect the Panamera to have exemplary braking performance, and it delivers with big 14-in vented rotors up front clamped by six-piston calipers. Four-pistons suffice for the 13-in vented rears. While braking is powerful and fade-free it does feel weird as you attempt to come to a full and smooth stop.
You can feel the system switching between braking and recharging the battery pack through regenerative braking, not at all unusual in a hybrid, but when you come to what would normally be a stop, the car moves forward slightly requiring additional brake pressure.
You also expect a Porsche to handle – and this one does, thanks to air springs and the ability to select from a variety of settings ranging from Comfort to Sport Plus. Put simply, from behind the wheel there is no sense of the exterior dimensions and weight.
The Panamera comes in eight trim levels with a $75,000 spread between least and most expensive models.
If you want to boast about your environmental awareness and at the same time mention the word Porsche – this is a rare combination