Porsche's Panamera is back with a second crack at the hybrid market. The S E-Hybrid is clever - if you like that sort of thing. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Panamera might not be everybody's cup of tea, but the idea of a four-seat 168mph Porsche that returns over 41mpg and emits just 159g/km of carbon dioxide just has to put a smile on your face. If you thought hybrid cars represented faddish posturing, here's the proof that the technology works and works well.
Porsche is not a company known for launching cars that flop. In recent history, it's been a manufacturer that enjoys healthy order books and almost universal critical acclaim. Try to think of a weak car it's launched in the last ten years. I might point the finger at the Cayenne 3.2 as being comparatively unlovely but the overwhelming majority of Weissach's output has been solid gold. But let's qualify that a little. The Panamera took a little time to worm its way into the affections of supersaloon buyers and the Hybrid model just looked an elaborate tax dodge for senior executives who wanted to apply a little greenwash. It sold in tiny numbers and always looked a triumph of engineering over marketing. We tend to get rather sniffy when cars are launched where the reverse is true, but the Panamera Hybrid seemed a very intriguing technological solution to a question very few would bother to ask. So Porsche has gone back to the drawing board and come up with a different take on the alternatively-powered Panamera, this time presenting a plug-in parallel hybrid. More of the same, or something worth serious consideration?
More power is always a good start if we're talking Porsche and the Panamera S E-Hybrid certainly delivers on that count. Where the old Panamera Hybrid could manage a combined 380bhp, this latest model cranks that up to a heady 412bhp. The electric drive produces 95hp (70 kW), which is more than double the power of the previous model's 47hp (34 kW) electric motor. It draws energy from a lithium-ion battery, which at 9.4 kWh has over five times the 1.7 kWh energy capacity of the previous (nickel metal hydride) battery. The Panamera S E-Hybrid can reach speeds of up to 84mph in all-electric operation, and the acceleration time from 0-62 mph has been shortened by half a second to 5.5 seconds. You'll have no worries about being beaten up on the autobahns either as the top speed is pegged at 168mph. The electric boost function helps in hard acceleration, where the torque of the electric motor assists the combustion engine. Boosting can also be activated by kick-down - such as when overtaking. The parallel full hybrid concept also offers 'coasting' at higher speeds, which generates electricity by energy recovery with the internal combustion engine switched off. There's adaptive air suspension as standard and power is deployed by the familiar eight-speed Tiptronic S gearbox. Rear visibility is tricky due to the high back end and sloping rear window, so you'll value reverse parking sensors.
Design and Build
The styling of the Panamera didn't initially meet with universal approval and the latest facelift has done much to reduce the bloat that seemed to afflict earlier cars, especially when they were specified in pale colours. The evolutionary exterior design of the latest Panamera is apparent in the tighter and more prominent line-work on the nose, particularly the larger air intakes and the distinctive transition to the headlights. In side profile, the new, more swept-back rear window creates an extended silhouette, reducing the bulbous look of the rear end. When viewed from the back, you'll spot a revised tailgate, a wider rear window and spoiler, and a more elegant rear light treatment. The E-Hybrid gets its own unique badges on the wings and across the boot, plus a striking 'acid' green finish for the calipers, but otherwise it's a discreet introduction. Drop inside and you'll find plenty of space for four. The centre console is festooned with buttons, arranged around the gear selector in the style of a Vertu cellphone. It looks great but the minor controls take a bit of figuring out. Nevertheless, the build quality appears excellent, with some top-drawer materials used throughout. You'll have to manage with just 335-litres of boot space due to the battery packs though, down on the 445-litre capacity of the standard Panamera.
Market and Model
Let's put this into perspective. A Panamera diesel will cost you around £63,000 but you'll be spending around £90,000 on a Panamera S E-Hybrid. If you're a likely buyer, then the chances are you're not overly concerned with the minutiae of miles per gallon and emissions. In fact, you could probably be running a Panamera Turbo and not notice too much difference to the weekly budget. In fact, this is a genuinely tough car to assess its value proposition. To most people, buying a Panamera S or a diesel would seem a vastly more logical choice. Yet there's something really quite wonderful about running a 416bhp Porsche that emits less carbon dioxide than a Toyota Prius. It's a thoroughly modern car the like of which can't really be squared up to by any of its key rivals. Does that justify its existence? I'm still not sure. Does that make it good value? I'm still even more stumped by that question. It's hard to argue with the amount of kit the car gets as standard. There's a full leather interior, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), Bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear ParkAssist, tyre pressure monitoring, 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic dimming rear view mirrors, Porsche Communication Management with touch-screen satellite navigation and audio controls, cruise control and a three year warranty. That's on top of adaptive air suspension, an innovative display panel that provides the driver with all the relevant information about the vehicle's specific hybrid driving status and a Porsche Vehicle Tracking System (VTS).
Cost of Ownership
We need to talk at this juncture about something called 'cycle beating'. All car manufacturers do it and it pulls the wool over the eyes of the buyer. In short, it's finding a way to game the system, to understand every last nuance of how the NEDC fuel economy and emissions tests are run and tune the vehicle to generate the best numbers, virtually regardless of real world performance. It's why Fiat can claim 70mpg for their TwinAir when in real life, customers average around 47mpg. It's the same with this Panamera S E-Hybrid. The claimed fuel economy figure is a faintly ridiculous-looking 91mpg. Forget about that. When a group of journalists were invited to drive the cars on mixed routes, they achieved a still very creditable 64mpg, including 22.5 miles on pure battery power alone in the centre of Hockenheim. When connected to an industrial outlet, the batteries can be charged within around two and a half hours via the integrated on-board charger and the standard Porsche Universal Charger (AC). Plus it can be charged in less than four hours when connected to a conventional household electrical outlet. Still, you won't ever need to worry about the sort of range anxiety that afflicts 'pure' electric car users and if you have a commute of less than 11 miles each way, you'd probably be able to cover it purely on electric power every day. Porsche quotes an emissions figure of 71g/km, which is a huge improvement on the previous model's 159g/km showing. If you want some perspective, the Panamera diesel manages 44.8mpg on the combined cycle and 166g/km. Depreciation? That's a tough one. The pool of likely purchasers of this car is small and a gulf exists between those business users wealthy enough to realise the tax advantages of a new example and the sort of used private buyer for whom the fuel consumption benefits start to look attractive. That spells big depreciation for early adopters.
That the Panamera S E-Hybrid is a quite stunning showcase of what Porsche's engineering is capable of is largely beyond doubt. You want a huge four-seat car that can get to 168mph, sprint to 62mph in 5.5 seconds and yet still better 60mpg in real world conditions? You're looking at the only one right here. Emissions of just 71g/km also makes a Prius appear somewhat indulgent. The trouble is, you're paying upwards of £90,000 for this ability and to most customers with this sort of spending power, miles per gallon and grammes per kilometre don't actually mean that much. These customers can buy a faster, better-sounding, better handling Panamera for less and will happily pay for that privilege through increased fuel bills and car tax. So here we have a fiendishly clever car that might just be a bit too clever for its own good. Sales in this country, where we're rather wedded to diesel fuel, will be predictably minuscule, but there might well be a niche for this car in markets such as the US and China. It's tough to tell. Maybe the technological know how will filter down and result in Boxsters and Caymans that cost less to run than a goldfish. Until that time, this Panamera remains an intriguing oddity.