Deal with it—it's going to happen. Electrification of our cars, that is. All the automakers are at it, and hybrids are the bridge to a fully plugged-in, battery-powered, electric-motor-driven future. So if there's no escaping it, then we might as well embrace it. Porsche is; its Mission E plans are apace, with an all-electric vehicle expected to be in production by 2020. That pure electric car will be a four-door with 600 hp, a 0-62-mph time of 3.5 seconds, and a range of around 330 miles. We interviewed boss of Porsche, Oliver Blume, recently, but he wouldn't be pushed on the idea of an electric 911, saying instead that the company's focus is entirely on Mission E, while he sees a future of "co-existence" between combustion and electric cars, while retaining the "classic 911."
That's then, but Porsche's electric reality now is the new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, a car that Blume describes as a sports car. Porsche's new hybrid super-sedan promises the best of both worlds, with sports car performance mated to fuel consumption, which, on paper at least, allows you to enjoy a green conscience from your luxury, high-performance purchase.
That gasoline-electric cocktail sees Porsche apply technology from its 919 Hybrid endurance racer and 918 Spyder hypercar to the Panamera. Mating an electric hybrid module to a 2.9L twin-turbo V-6 gasoline engine, the second-generation Panamera was designed from the offset to accommodate a battery and electric motor. That's in contrast to its predecessor, which had to be adapted. The electric motor itself is housed within the PDK eight-speed twin-clutch transmission (the old Panamera hybrid had a conventional torque converter automatic), and it contributes 134 hp to the overall system output of 456 hp. Unlike that old Panamera hybrid, the electric motor's full 296 lb-ft of torque is available instantaneously, rather than requiring an 80 percent push of the accelerator. That allows the system's 516 lb-ft to be generated from standstill, contributing to the 0-62 mph time of 4.4 seconds.
It's a true Porsche then, at least according to Blume's dictate that the Panamera is a sports car. Certainly the numbers are impressive, as the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is only 88 hp shy of the mighty Panamera Turbo. Naturally, managing all that isn't as simple as a conventional drivetrain, so the 4 E-Hybrid driver is more involved in the decision-making process regarding how fast or how economically it's driven. Allowing that is a development of Porsche's mode switch, the now familiar steering-wheel-mounted dial that is a standard feature of Porsche's Sport Chrono package that offers the choice of E-Power and Hybrid Auto for the first two settings, followed by the more familiar Sport and Sport Plus options. Defaulting to E-Power when starting, the Panamera can be driven exclusively via its batteries and electric motors for about 30 miles, at speeds up to 86 mph. Do that speed and the range will take a dive off a cliff, though it's decidedly brisk when it's driven on battery power alone, impressively so given the bulk it's shifting.
The complexity of that drive system does mean that the individual setting is relegated to the center console, among the Panamera's haptic surface switches, allowing configurability of the settings to the driver's preferred choices. There's the ability to select two additional hybrid-specific drive modes within the touch-screen car options, with the opportunity to hold the battery's existing charge via E-Hold to use when you reach your eventual low-emissions demanding destination, or E-Charge, which pushes power from the gasoline engine to charge the batteries if you need charge and don't want to stop and plug the car in. Do that and the fuel consumption is punitive, as it's asking a lot from the engine to not only haul the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid along, but generate electricity, simultaneously.
A clever hybrid then, but one that with six driving modes available to you, needs some real management and input from the driver to get the very best from it, whether your focus is maximum mileage or performance. If it's the former, then the 4 E-hybrid works best when operating within the limitations of its 31-mile EV range. It'll cruise serenely on electric power alone and is brisk and effortless when doing so, though the accelerator pedal feels very unusual in E-Power with a shorter travel—pushing through it brings the V-6 and its turbos into play regardless of the setting.
The brakes, too, an area where all Porsches typically shine in feel and response, just don't inspire any confidence underfoot; the initial travel is seemingly all taken up with regeneration rather than retardation, meaning the feel from the pedal itself is as unnatural a pedal as you're ever likely to experience. It doesn't need to be, as exhibited by the brake pedal on the 918 Spyder, which manages to juggle the conflicting demands of stopping and regenerative power without feeling totally alien. Porsche's talk of applying lessons learned from its hypercar evidently has not reached as far as the braking system. The duality of the drivetrain is, by and large, convincingly integrated, though the occasional knock and judder through the transmission underline that it's not all as successful as it might be. It's rare, admittedly, and only really apparent at lower speeds, but noticeable in a car that counts luxury as part of its draw.
The performance aspect of its make-up impresses initially, the electric assistance giving an instant torque spike, bringing response that's both impressive and entertaining, though up to a point. Push the drivetrain like you might a conventionally powered Panamera and the limit of the battery's charge quickly reveals itself. The bulk that comes with them also manifests with a reluctance to deliver the otherworldly agility that its internal-combustion relations can muster so effortlessly. That's despite the standard fitment of Porsche's impressive three-chamber air suspension system that offers the fine juggling of both body and wheel control mixed with fine comfort. It's the responses, the finer nuances that define its relations that are lacking: The steering is not quite as alert thanks to the additional weight, while the feel from the brake and accelerator pedals is so detached from normality to be a distraction. Porsche says the hybrid system will hold enough in the battery to enable all the combined gasoline-electric's maximum output, but there's no denying that, with the battery in its depleted state, it feels like the twin-turbo V-6 engine is working pretty hard to deliver what it promises.
Whether any buyer will really expect their Panamera 4 E-Hybrid to deliver the sort of sustained, hard-pressed performance we asked of it is open to debate. There are other choices in the Panamera lineup that do that better, after all, and it is probable that the 4 E-Hybrid owner will be looking for a different skill set. If that includes a Panamera that'll do the daily hack well, efficiently, yet still entertain, albeit for a limited time, the E 4-Hybrid's breadth of talent is expansive and enticing. For the early-adopting, tech-savvy audience it'll appeal and as a glimpse as to what's possible currently, it's undeniably impressive, even if, right now, it's not quite perfect.
Porsche's drive to the future looks like it's heading in the right direction then, as the same plug-in drivetrain is certain to feature in the next-generation Cayenne, the conventionally powered versions of which will be revealed later this year, with the hybrid to follow. It might be a case of "watch this space" for proper hybrid or pure electric sports cars from Porsche, but if the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is anything to go by, with a few provisos that'll be ironed out in time, the future's a bright one, even if it's powered by a plug and not poured from a pump.