2018 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Review: The Smart Choice in Plug-in Porsches
Forget the headline-making, 680-hp Turbo S E-Hybrid; the lesser model is the better buy.
The 680-horsepower Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is the sort of super-powerful, technically-advanced automobile that wows car enthusiasts and sucks early adopters into showrooms. But ultimately, its $195,000 price tag makes it a showpiece—a halo vehicle, much like the 911 GT2 RS with which it will soon share dealerships floor space. Its powertrain may be the closest thing to the 918 Spyder’s in the lineup these days, but it’s hard to justify spending all that cash on a car seemingly concerned with environmentally-conscious commuting—especially when the regular Panamera Turbo costs $45,000 less and runs just a tenth of a second slower in the 0-60 mph dash.
If you want to look to the real-world future of Porsche’s hybrid plans, cast your eyes down the company’s lineup to the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, which strikes a far better balance between value, efficiency, practicality, and performance than its Turbo S sibling.
The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid makes a total output of 462 horsepower thanks to the joint efforts of a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 with 330 horses and an electric motor making another 136 ponies. (The intricacies of hybrid powertrains mean the total output doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.) That puts it roughly in line with the Panamera 4S, which uses the same six-pot in a higher state of tune to whip up 440 hp.
Porsche quotes a 0-60 sprint of 4.4 seconds for the E-Hybrid, which feels plenty accurate after testing the car’s launch control on a deserted two-lane straightaway north of Stuttgart. What that figure doesn’t prepare you for, though, is the shotgun kick from the off-the-line acceleration that comes with having all 516 pound-feet of torque available at idle, thanks to the combined efforts of the two powerplants. The standard all-wheel-drive means there’s no wheel spin when you fire off a hole shot—just instant grip and g-forces that feel downright Tesla-esque.
At least for the first second or so, that is. By the time the dual-clutch transmission kicks into second gear, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid feels just like a regular gas-powered car—one with a potent powerplant battling against a 4,787-pound curb weight. The 14 kilowatt-hour battery mounted in the stern may be good for weight distribution (the hybrid’s mass is distributed 49 percent front/51 percent rear), but that and the rest of the hybrid gear combined adds just shy of 600 pounds to the Panamera.
Luckily, this sedan’s purpose in life isn’t to turn hot laps—it’s to help well-to-do people feel like they’re saving the world every time they drive to Urth Caffe, without sacrificing the fun implied by the Porsche name.
To that end, every Panamera 4 E-Hybrid equipped with the Sport Chrono pack—like our test cars had—benefits from a quartet of driving modes designed to help the car’s pilot extract the most from the vehicle. Like every Porsche equipped with Sport Chrono, Sport and Sport Plus modes are there for those times when you want to drive this responsible family car like the 911 your id wishes you'd bought instead. It’s the other modes, available with a click of the small control dial mounted at the steering wheel’s 5 o’clock position, that set the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid apart from most Porsches.
E-Power mode, which the car defaults to upon startup, locks the car into electric-only propulsion, using the battery’s charge to push the car around at speeds of up to 86 mph. Drive like a stoned grandma, and you’ll be able to extract 31 miles of range from the 14 kWh lithium-ion pack. Odds are good you’ll probably see less distance in your daily drive, but it should still be enough to scoot you to the office—or across London’s congestion pricing zone, where the E-Hybrid is efficient enough to score an exemption from the approximately $15 daily tax.
But hybrid mode is where drivers will likely spend most of their time—and where they ought to, too. That mode lets the car lean on its 14-kWh battery pack as much as possible during the boring parts of the drive, cutting the engine early and often under light load and using the electric motor to ease the V6’s burden as much as it can. But it still puts all the car's power right at hand for those highway on-ramps and sudden passing maneuvers. Plus, you can use it to boost up the battery's charge for times when you might need to drive silently.
Besides, there's always the Sport Response button if you really need to haul ass on short notice. It's Porsche's version of the "Go Baby Go" button in Nicholas Cage's Eleanor, a virtual NoS setup with a cheat code for infinite use. Tap the round button in the center of the drive mode selector and the car goes to maximum attack for up to 20 seconds; to get there, the transmission kicks down to the most responsive gear, the turbos spool for max power, and the EV system floods the drivetrain with battery power. It makes passing on a whim as easy as saying "Too soon, Junior."
No matter the mode, the hybrid powertrain is effectively seamless. You'll see the tach needle drop to zero far more than in an internal combustion-engine car, but the driving experience is otherwise damn similar. Credit the electric motor's placement: it's upstream of the transmission, mounted between the gearbox and the V6, which means even in EV mode the car still shuffles up and down through the gears. It’s a bit of a surreal feeling; without the vibration of all those controlled explosions rumbling through the car, you can feel the transmission shift in a way you've never felt before.
And unlike most cars saddled with a joint gas/electric powertrain, the E-Hybrid sounds damn good. The 2.9-liter six-pot is related to the one found in the Audi RS5, and while it may have been detuned, it still packs some of the acoustic fire you'd expect from an engine found in the spiritual successor to the Audi Quattro—especially if the E-Hybrid's been equipped with the sport exhaust option.
Other than the engine, the e-hybrid is pretty similar to any other second-gen Panamera—which is to say, it’s one hell of a sedan. It can book along in the left lane of the Autobahn at speeds fast enough to send a Boeing 757 airborne; stay in the throttle, and the E-Hybrid tops out at 172 mph. (Don’t expect to rack up superlative fuel economy numbers while doing so, though.)
Likewise, it’ll slice up a corner with the panache of a sports car, the three-mode air suspension holding it flat through the tightest of turns as the steering wheel dances in your hands with feeling generally not found in large luxury sedans, or with electric power steering. Every Panamera 4 E-Hybrid comes standard with said air suspension and accompanying adjustable dampers; the usual litany of Porsche's performance-boosting technologies, from active roll stabilization and torque vectoring to rear-axle steering and ceramic composite brakes, are also up for grabs on the options list.
The interior is a masterpiece of modern-day interior design, with logical touchscreen controls packing haptic feedback that makes them feel real the same way the home button on an iPhone 7 does. The 12.3-inch touchscreen serving as the face of the infotainment system is an attractive, widescreen affair; its array of menus and submenus can be a little daunting at first blush, but starts to seem logical after just a few minutes of fiddling. (It's a little low-res, but that'll likely change next year: the all-new 2019 Cayenne coming in mid-2018 uses a high-definition version of the same screen, so it seems logical that the Panamera would also receive the new panel.)
Inside, there's room for four average adults or two giants up front and two small kids in back, as pushing the front thrones rearward effectively removes the back footwells from play. The Panamera has always been a little smaller than the other German super-sedans in its price range, sitting closer in size to the E-Class/5 Series segment than the S-Class/7 Series it compares against on price. Still, that makes Porsche's four-door better suited for B-road joyrides than the giants; unless you're regularly lugging picky passengers around in back, the reduced room shouldn't be an issue.
Just be mindful when you're packing up for a long trip. The hybrid gives up a bit of cargo space versus conventionally-powered Panameras, dropping 3.3 cubic feet to 14.3 thanks to the electron-filled box mounted below the trunk’s floor. Blame the subwoofer and the regular ol’ 12-volt battery, which had to be relocated to make way for the lithium-ion power pack.
And the new body finally makes the Panamera look like the four-door 911 it was always supposed to resemble, not the bloated reboot of a 968 the first car wound up looking like. (If you’re still not a fan of the car’s looks, though, don’t fret: the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid also comes in Sport Turismo station wagon form.) Distinguishing the gas/electric version from conventionally-powered Panameras takes a keen eye; the acid green accents on the brake calipers and name badge are one tip-off, while the particularly observant will also notice two fuel-filler doors on the aft flanks—one for fossil fuel, one for electricity.
Usually, adding an entire second powertrain to a car is liable to push the price up, but this plug-in Panamera is a pleasant exception. The hybrid is a bit cheaper than the 4S it stacks most directly against—about $3,400 cheaper, in fact, which works out to less than a three percent savings over the gas-only version. But considering drivers are likely to keep on saving from there thanks to the superior fuel economy, this $100,000-plus Porsche almost seems like a sensible buy.
Base Price (as tested): $100,650 (approx. $130,000)
Powertrain: 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 and 100-kw electric motor with 462 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque combined; eight-speed dual clutch transmission; all-wheel-drive
0-60 mph: 4.6 seconds (4.4 seconds with Sport Chrono package)
Top Speed: 172 mph
Electric Range: 31 miles
Fuel Economy: The EPA hasn't rated it yet, but those optimistic Europeans say it gets the equivalent of 94 mpg-e—three times better than they rate the Panamera 4S.