For decades, whipping someone in a Porsche was all about speed.
But on this day, after 33 miles through the Bavarian Alps in the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, I’m claiming a strange new victory: Crushing, in-your-face fuel economy.
Those 33 miles, you see, were accomplished entirely on electricity, beating my more lead-footed journalist colleagues. Not once did the Porsche’s supercharged V-6 fire up over those 33 mountain miles — though when it did, this Panamera still shot from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds, amassing a combined 416 hp from its gasoline engine and robust 95-horse electric motor.
The first plug-in hybrid in Porsche history is everything the flawed (and now defunct) Fisker Karma was supposed to be: Genuinely luxurious, roomy, quiet and fast. The Porsche is also more satisfying than any plug-in hybrid before it, as it should be for a car that starts at $99,975, nearly triple the post-rebate price of a Chevy Volt.
Unlike any previous plug-in hybrid, including the Fisker, Volt or Toyota Prius, the Porsche can quickly and fully recharge its lithium-ion battery while driving on gasoline – not simply recycle scraps of energy from braking. It's a breakthrough the industry has been waiting for.
The Porsche is tailor made for a coming world in which cities may bar gasoline cars from entering city gates – or charge hefty fees to do so, as London is already doing with a roughly $15 to $17 congestion charge. The Porsche allows an owner to start the day clocking 22 miles or more on electricity, and then to restore that battery power while driving. So when the Porsche hybrid pulls into London, even after hundreds of miles of driving, it can have a topped-off battery ready to go, making it essentially an electric car for urban use.
Compared with last year’s conventional Panamera Hybrid, the plug-in model’s battery is five times as powerful – with 9.4 kilowatt hours of lithium-ion juice – but fits into the same amount of space. The entire hybrid system, including that 95-hp electric motor that doubles the previous output, weighs just 120 pounds more than before.
Despite weighing nearly 5,000 pounds — about 400 more than the 4S model — the E-Hybrid’s 4.9-second scamper to 60 mph trails the 4S by just 0.3 seconds.
Drivers can operate the Porsche in full-electric mode at the touch of a button, at speeds up to 83 mph. Want more power? Push the gas pedal past a certain point, and a piston in the throttle assembly fires the engine for impressive acceleration. Or drive in hybrid mode, and the Porsche’s parallel hybrid system mixes and matches gas and electric power as the situation demands – picture a Toyota Prius, only one that tops out at 167 mph.
Press the E-Charge button – that call is always up to you -- and the supercharged V-6 both propels the car and juices up the battery: For every 1.5 miles I drove, the Porsche returned about 1 mile of driving range to the battery; in other words, you can fully recharge the battery over 35 or 40 miles of driving. You do burn a bit more fuel to recharge in motion, so it’s more efficient and cost-effective to plug in whenever possible. But even as some power is diverted to refill the battery, the Porsche’s supercharged V-6 has power aplenty for passing, merging, or just plain fun.
Officially, Porsche says the Hybrid can cover 22 miles on battery power alone. But my admittedly gentle driving produced 33 miles, 50 percent better than the estimate, proving that 22 miles will be a breeze in real-world operation.
The S E-Hybrid includes a free 240-volt home charger that recharges the battery in less than 2.5 hours, and recharging on a standard household plug takes about five hours. A smartphone app lets users remotely pre-heat or cool the Porsche using wall current instead of wasting battery juice, or remotely schedule and monitor charging.
The EPA hasn’t assigned the Porsche an official economy rating, under its newfangled mpg-e system, or the electric equivalent to a gallon of gasoline. But last year’s conventional hybrid was rated at 22/30 mpg in city and highway driving, and 25 mpg combined. Porsche estimates that the new model burns up to 50 percent less fuel, and we figure a driver can easily keep the S E-Hybrid above 30 mpg in real-world use. And remember, every electric mile traveled, when that juice comes from plug-in current, will cost roughly one-third the price of premium unleaded.
At the Schloss Elmau – the same Alpine castle where Porsche hosted the first Panamera drives four years ago – Porsche also showed the full battalion of 2014 Panamera models. Modestly reworked for 2014, this four-seat GT had skeptics howling at its debut, but despite its Quasimodo profile, the Panamera’s blend of performance and practicality has made it another worldwide hit much like the Cayenne SUV.
The big change for all 2014 Panameras: Porsche’s new, 3.0-liter bi-turbo V-6 produces an estimable 420 hp. That V-6 may not growl as seductively as the 4.8-liter V-8 it replaces. But the turbo-boosted V-6 delivers 20 more horses and a broader torque curve than the V-8, and drinks far less fuel.
Porsche designers strived to gussy up the 2014 Panamera, but all the styling changes in the world won’t make the Panamera a beautiful car; it still looks best in black and other dark colors that play up its technical, all-business demeanor. It may look like a mutt, but the Panamera slaps the pretty purebreds – the Audi A7, Mercedes CLS or BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe – silly when it comes to handling and driving fun. And that form was always about pure function, allowing a back seat that comfortably fits even six-foot, four-inch adults.
The “budget” choice remains the standard Panamera, starting at $79,075 with its 310-hp V-6, or $83,775 for the all-wheel-drive Panamera S. Upped to 520 hp, the $142,275 Panamera Turbo remains the Autobahn ruler, while the 550-hp Turbo S model takes a hiatus. But it’s expected back for 2015, with a boost to perhaps 570 horses.
Nearly as long as a Mercedes S-Class, the Executive model seems an odd duck in the American lineup; especially priced from $126,575 for the 4S Executive, and $162,075 for the Turbo Executive. It’s hard to see many American Porsche fans – who sit in the driver’s seat, not the back – paying an eye-popping $20,000 to $28,000 extra for a stretched version.
Last but certainly not least, the Panamera GTS gets a 10-horsepower bump to 430 hp from its naturally aspirated 4.8-liter V-8. But while it’s not as brutally fast as the Turbo – the GTS runs a “mere” 4.2 seconds to 60 mph, with a 179-mph top speed – the GTS remains the connoisseur’s choice, with a firmer suspension than even the Turbo, a lowered body, and a “sound symposer” that pipes glorious exhaust music into the cabin.
All models save the S E-Hybrid feature Porsche’s brilliant, seven-speed PDK automatic transmission, one of the smoothest, fastest dual-clutch gearboxes on the planet. (The Hybrid gets an eight-speed, paddle-shifted Tiptronic automatic) The PDK also fully decouples the engine from the transmission when you let off the gas. That clever coasting mode lets the engine idle or even shut off to save fuel.
But the Panamera S E-Hybrid stands as this year's engineering feat. Think about it: A four-passenger, 416 hp Porsche that can cover a reasonable daily commute without drinking a drop of gasoline. Let the naysayers sneer, but you’re looking at the future.