In the past, it wasn’t just powertrains that were hybridized in Porsche’s gasoline-electric vehicles—their mission, too, was split between upholding a dynamic pedigree and reducing fuel consumption. But the 918 Spyder hypercar marked a shift in philosophy: Porsche now says hybridization means making kick-ass cars kick more ass, treating the fuel-economy and emissions benefits of electrification as subordinate to boosting performance. (Those other things remain important for regulatory and marketing reasons, of course.)
The new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid certainly generates numbers that support the new focus. Compared with the previous Panamera hybrid, total system horsepower is up to 462 from 416, total torque has increased to 516 lb-ft from 435 lb-ft, and Porsche claims the new version is 0.8 second quicker to 60 mph (all the more impressive considering it weighs another 700 pounds more than the 330-hp nonhybrid Panamera 4).
Credit upgrades to the driveline and electric components of the powertrain. An eight-speed ZF-sourced dual-clutch transmission takes the place of an eight-speed torque-converter automatic, bringing with it whip-crack shift speeds. Per the 4 in its name, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid now has standard all-wheel drive, whereas the previous S E-Hybrid was rear-drive only. The new car also will be offered as a long-wheelbase Executive model. No matter the length, the E-Hybrid is equipped with a 14.1-kWh battery pack offering 50 percent more capacity than before, as well as a stronger electric motor/generator—still sandwiched between the engine and the transmission—making 136 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque against the old one’s 95 and 229. Charge time for the batteries can be as quick as two and a half hours using the optional 7.2-kW onboard charger and a 240-volt, 40-amp power source. The internal-combustion engine remains a V-6 of roughly identical output, but it’s a new, twin-turbo 2.9-liter design rather than the former supercharged 3.0-liter.
On the road, the Panamera’s powertrain systems are well integrated in the Hybrid Auto mode, with the transition from solely electric power to hybrid operation and back being practically invisible. The car can be cycled through additional modes: E-Power, E-Hold, E-Charge, Sport, and Sport Plus. In E-Power, the Panamera E-Hybrid is capable, Porsche says, of covering up to 31 miles on electricity alone, and it delivers a torquey and mostly serene driving experience, save for some electric-motor whine and an occasional and oddly robust vibration/thrum through the floor. (The source of this thrum remains unconfirmed even after discussions with multiple Porsche engineers, but we suspect some sort of cooling equipment, as it occurred most often after bouts of hard driving and/or acceleration.)
Sport and Sport Plus modes are intended to maximize combined hybrid performance; the former keeps battery charge at a steady level to ensure there’s electric thrust when you want it, while Sport Plus actively works to recharge the batteries using the engine to make sure there’s even more thrust when you want it. We can confirm that these modes execute these tasks as advertised, but they otherwise didn’t seem to significantly alter the character of the car beyond firming up the suspension to various degrees. Whatever the mode, the E-Hybrid offers what you’d expect from a large Porsche sedan: disciplined body control, the ability to soak up hundreds of high-speed miles, and a well-sorted ride from its standard air-spring suspension. It masks its weight well with no sense of lolling or listing in corners, but the E-Hybrid would feel more agile still if, well, it weren’t a hybrid.
But Weight, There’s More
It’s worth pointing out that those seeking the experience promised by modes labeled Sport and Sport Plus are probably better off with the nonhybrid 440-hp 4S. It costs only a few thousand dollars more than the E-Hybrid when comparably equipped and—despite its relative power deficiency—is quicker and more athletic because it weighs hundreds of pounds less. The 4S gives up some fuel efficiency, although we don’t yet know how much; testing of the 4 E-Hybrid on EPA cycles isn’t complete, but Porsche says the figures are coming soon. We’ll know more this summer when the E-Hybrid goes on sale as a 2018 model.
If you bought a 4S instead, you’d also get a predictable (conventional) braking system. The E-Hybrid’s regenerative braking system is actuated via a pedal that’s spongy in the first few millimeters of travel and occasionally pulses under even light pressure for no discernible reason. The system’s transition between regenerative and friction braking is quite noticeable, and the setup also returned varying braking force under constant pressure during single braking events. Owners will probably get used to it, but we doubt they’ll ever be able to consistently stop with grace. Indeed, for all their ample decelerative power, the brakes are a glaring shortcoming in a car that’s otherwise nicely executed.
The good stuff includes sultry sheetmetal that’s more refined and better resolved than before—we could do without the Acid Green hybrid-exclusive touches, though—as well as a swanky interior that centers around an attractive glossy stack lined with touchscreens, capacitive switches, and haptic controls. This new secondary-control setup is worlds easier to negotiate than the buttonpalooza that was the old car’s central tunnel. The overall interior design is simple and refined, and our test cars featured big slabs of dark wood and yards of buttery-soft leather on almost every surface. In typical Porsche fashion, however, there remain oddities. As we noted in our first drive of the Panamera lineup, the direction and strength of airflow from the central vent is controlled via touchscreen for no reason other than it seems someone neglected to say out loud, “That’s stupid.” There are various submenu interfaces, and it’s not always clear which of them houses a specific function; indeed, there’s little about the system that’s intuitive in the way of a great smartphone. The high-res graphics sure are pretty, though.
What Can It Hurt?
The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid sits in the thick of the lineup by price. For roughly $5500 more than the 330-hp Panamera 4 (taking into account the hybrid’s additional standard equipment, including the Sport Chrono package and adjustable air suspension), it’s quicker. But as mentioned earlier, the better-performing 4S commands just a bit more money than the hybrid. So why is Porsche building the E-Hybrid at all, when its main advantage involves as-yet-unannounced fuel-economy numbers that buyers in this price bracket probably don’t give two rips about?
It doesn’t hurt to have this car for Europe, where government emissions targets, infrastructure subsidies for public charging, and aggressive tax incentives for purchasers have fostered an aggressive rollout of plug-in hybrids across all market segments. In addition, performance-hybrid programs such as this one likely provide fertile educational ground for the development of an eventual plug-in-hybrid 911. That’s a pluggable Porsche we’re eager to hear more about, because while this Panamera is quick, capable, and comfortable, it doesn’t raise the pulse quite like we expect that 911 to.
>VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICE: Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, $100,650;
Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Executive, $105,150
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve 2.9-liter V-6, 330 hp, 331 lb-ft; permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motor, 136 hp, 295 lb-ft; combined output, 462 hp, 516 lb-ft; 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 116.1–122.0 in
Length: 198.8–204.7 in
Width: 76.3 in Height: 56.0 in
Cargo volume: 14 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 5100–5300 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 4.2–4.3 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 11.0–11.2 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 12.9–13.1 sec
Top speed: 172 mph
FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 27/24/31 mpg
EPA gasoline+electricity combined driving: 52 MPGe