A Breed Apart
By George Woodward 14/05/2018
Plugging in to the race-honed technology that’s put Porsche’s new Panamera on top.
Plugging in to the race-honed technology that’s put Porsche’s new Panamera on top
Words: Matt Master
Photos: Jayson Fong
Most sports car manufacturers are experiencing varying degrees of tumult as the transition from internal combustion to all-electric powertrains asks difficult questions of an industry inherently at odds with its inevitable endgame. Adapting at an appropriate pace, defining one’s particular goals and remaining true to an existing identity are all mission critical.
Porsche has taken a lead on all of these elements. It’s gigantic investment in the 919 Hybrid LMP1 programme, alongside the 918 Spyder, has accelerated its understanding of complex dual drivetrain technology, paving the way for greater efficiency and preternatural performance gains.
The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is a milestone for Zuffenhausen, a hybrid saloon with significantly more power and torque than its traditional Turbo stablemate. It’s a statement that says much about the marque’s current and future intent; namely that electric drive is advantageous and needs now to be aspirational.
This car straddles the gap between fossil fuel and battery, championing both and extolling the particular virtues of the overlap. Why have 542bhp from your twin-turbo charged V8 when you can bolt on another 134bhp from an electric motor? Or 770NM of torque when, with hybrid assistance, it’s a full 850NM? There are battle tanks that make do with less than that.
What the S E-Hybrid aims to offer you is, in a word, everything. Petrol and electric. Performance and economy. A near 200mph top speed and theoretical 97.4mpg. The best of both worlds then, and in achieving this, a different automotive universe for your four-door family car.
At the kerbside, the Panamera juggles imposing proportions with relative understatement, a deft design that manages to mitigate considerable bulk with clean lines and a scarcely credible dynamic promise.
The cabin is from another time and place, bedecked in bewitching technology and multiple layers of user interface once the realm of motor show concepts. Yet here it is, an exquisite, complex cockpit combining knurled metal toggles with touch-sensitive glass, huge digital displays operating in easy harmony with analogue instruments.
For a car with a combined 671bhp available from its twin-turbo charged V8, the fact that it starts completely silently is telling in itself. This is a very different experience from the one you are expecting when you fire up a Porsche; unapologetically, brilliantly different. Choose from four different driving modes: ‘E’ for full and exclusive electric driving. This offers you a possible range of up to 31 miles, viable for an emission-free urban commute. Swivel the wheel-mounted mode switch to ‘H’ for Hybrid Auto, and you have the optimal efficiency of both electric, combustion or hybrid drives to suit the conditions.
Turn again to Sport, which keeps the V8 on duty while turning the mind-set of the electrical system from economy to performance. Into ‘Sport Plus’ and suspension settings are at maximum stiffness, energy focussed on maximum performance boost and recovery. Here, a sub-3.4 second 0-60mph time is possible with launch control, a figure itself overshadowed by the more relevant in-gear grunt that enables the Turbo S to explode from 49mph to 74mph in just 2.2 seconds. There is also a top speed of 192mph to consider. Supercar territory in a 2.3 tonne four door, four-seat saloon.
On the move, the full, brutal brilliance of that powertrain unveils itself. That a car of this size, of this standard of comfort, can dispatch the tarmac beneath it with such ready contempt is hard to comprehend. Hedgerows blur, perspective alters, the world shrinks under a right foot barely passed half throttle.
The addition of the vastly complicated electrical system in the S E Hybrid, and its 14kw lithium-ion battery pack, brings with it a weight penalty exceeding 300kg and this translates into a smaller performance gain over the ‘standard’ Turbo than those headline output figures would suggest. But in real world driving this remains a staggeringly fast car and still comfortably the Panamera benchmark.
That extra weight also means it feels less immediate and precise than the lighter Turbo. But while that car demands to be driven, the Turbo S comes close to driving itself. Such is the extent of low down torque, ably administered through the seamless 8-speed PDK gearbox, that phenomenal in-gear acceleration is available at inconsequential engine revs. Overtakes can be executed with a clinical ease, the only challenge then being keeping an eye on the speedo.
Rather than retaining that essential Porsche DNA, the Turbo S E-Hybrid has created a new mission statement, a unique brief that it answers imperfectly, yet brilliantly still. This new flagship model is a tour de force of technology, an aspirational lodestar, luxurious, remarkable, desirable. Not the performance default. Not the driver’s choice – that is still the cheaper, lighter, more communicative Turbo. But the Turbo S E-Hybrid is not in competition with its simpler sibling, nor indeed with anything much. This car is a solitary monument to progress and possibility, an exciting glimpse into a near future, softening up the sceptics for an unstoppable revolution. The relatively small number of people you’ll ever meet with the means and the will to buy Porsche’s current Panamera kingpin are unlikely to regret it. Progress is forward facing.
Engine V8, 3996cc, twin-turbocharged petrol
Electric motor: 136bhp
Combined power 671bhp at 5750-6000rpm
Torque 850NM at 1400-5500rpm
Gearbox 8-spd twin clutch automatic
Kerb weight 2310kg
Top speed 194mph
CO2/tax band 66g/km