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Blending part-time electric drive and posh performance, Porsche’s 2014 Panamera S E-Hybrid may be the greenest car yet offered by the automaker from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.
Last fall as the proud brand launched this, its first plug-in sedan, it had dug out the history book to remind all that its e-pedigree dates to Nikola Tesla’s day, when in 1898 Ferdinand Porsche developed an electric car, and in 1900 the first functional hybrid.
In September last year Porsche also launched an ultimate limited-edition plug-in hybrid for this era, the 918 Spyder, but for now its large, rear-wheel-drive plug-in Panamera luxury performance sedan is as close to mainstream as it gets.
Its distinguishing characteristic over 10 other Panamera variants sold stateside is it can travel 16 miles electrically which may be enough for some commuters who still want a spacious, potent car.
In regular hybrid mode, fuel economy is better than many other sedans in this class.
Its $99,000 entry point also happens to be on the low side of the Panamera family – and any one of them can easily accrue tens of thousands of dollars more in options, with a packed Panamera Turbo S Executive fetching somewhere over $250,000.
So, the E-Hybrid is a relative bargain. And whether you buy that, it is a frontrunner. As a member of the Volkswagen Group since 2012, last year Porsche said it aims to eventually have a hybrid-flavored example of every model it makes over the next several years.
Just this week, Porsche announced the next E-Hybrid, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Porsche said this $75,405 SUV will be available in November.
While not wooing too many customers from Tesla, sales of all Panamera versions are up. Of 3,125 sold in the U.S. from January 2014 through June, the E-Hybrid accounts for 481.
But exclusivity can be a good thing, so let’s look further.
One unique feature is the E-Hybrid utilizes an 8-speed transmission – during hybrid mode, or when only the electric motor is driving, and this differentiates it from simpler, and cheaper to build, single-speed EVs.
Main power is supplied by a 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged six used also by VW/Audi siblings. Paired with the engine to the transmission is an electric motor adding 95 horsepower and 229 pounds-feet torque from 0-1,700 rpm.
Combined gas-plus-electric output for the roughly is 416 horsepower and 435 pounds-feet torque which is good for 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds.
The electricity is stored in a 9.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, which is a little bigger than the 7.6-kwh pack in a Ford Fusion Energi, and smaller than the Cadillac ELR’s 16.5-kwh pack which will be upgraded to 17.1 later this year.
Despite giddy pre-production media drive reports last year from Europe, citing 31 all-electric miles, and over 50 mpg, the EPA rates it at 16 miles “electric plus gas” or 15 miles all-electrically. Its MPGe is 50, and in hybrid mode, it’s rated for 23 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined.
Porsche estimated last year it would beat the outgoing non plug-in, but that car was rated 22 city, 30 highway, 25 combined.
For a heavy German flagship this is efficient but not stellar next to the slightly heavier – and for now extinct – 2012 Fisker Karma rated at 54 MPGe, 33 miles electric range, and arguably the closest thing in concept to the E-Hybrid.
The big-on-the-outside, small-on-the-inside Karma series hybrid however was embarrassingly classified by the EPA as “subcompact.” It was also slower, had numerous build issues, and the Porsche, well, it lives up to the family reputation for design and engineering.
Three Operation Modes
Another thing unique about the plug-in Porsche is, unlike any other plug-in hybrid, it can use its engine to recharge the battery on the fly. If you want to burn extra fuel for this convenience, you need never plug it in if you time it right.
This proved useful as Porsche did not supply a charge cord perhaps because its included Universal AC charger is a multi-piece affair. By pressing the E-Charge button however, the E-Hybrid replenished its pack within 40 miles – downshifting and letting the revs rise helps the process.
The range meter for the U.S. spec car complying with EPA reality stops going higher after 15 miles, and the car says E-Charge is no longer possible.
Assuming usable charge, E-Power mode is default upon start up. This is how the car runs as a part-time EV and staying in this mode is a lot easier, than say, with a Toyota Prius PHEV.
Porsche created a plainly discernible detent feel in the accelerator pedal to let drivers know when they are about to call upon gasoline-fed horses. E-Power allows up to 30 percent power, as indicated on a meter and pressing harder instantly kicks the engine on.
When the battery is depleted, the car operates as a conventional parallel hybrid.
And that engine does come in handy in the third mode – Sport. This as well as a Sport Plus mode that tightens the suspension maximizes performance when, like Kermit the Frog, you decide “it ain’t easy being green.”
Actually, being arguably green is easy with the E-Hybrid, but you have a choice.
The E-Charge mode itself burns more fuel, and full boil utilizing gas-plus-electric power can see mpg momentarily plummet to less than half its EPA rating.
If anyone is wondering whether the car reduces system horsepower from full when the battery indicates zero miles range, it doesn’t. Even with “0” shown, full throttle digs into reserve juice for maximum-rated electric-plus-gas power.
One thing the Germans have pretty well dialed is how to deliver a superbly comfortable, sporty experience.
Inside the richly appointed Panamera are safety technologies, infotainment, high-tech cruise control, 360-degree camera viewing, capability to control some e-functions by remote smart phone app, and in short, all the panache most people would want.
Our $131,000 as equipped model had optional flow-through A/C ventilation to all four seats through the high-quality perforated leather, as well as heat.
All four occupants seats had individual climate controls, and other features including ambient LED lighting, ashtrays, center fold-down armrest, and more to provide a first class flight.
If anti-establishment Tesla prides itself on elemental simplicity, the Porsche is a pinnacle of tradition, ensconcing you like you’re in the cockpit of a private jet on wheels with myriad buttons up and down the center console.
It’s not much different than previous Panameras – inside or outside – but attention to detail and thoughtful touches abound – like map pockets that extend out, and ingenious flip-out dual cup holders on the passenger’s side for driver and co-rider.
Front and rear leg room is so plentiful, we’re convinced the new “Executive” class Turbo and 4S siblings with 5.9 inches of extra rear leg room are essentially limousines, while the E-Hybrid is merely large and comfortable.
On the instruments, the “acid green” needles match the massive same-color brake calipers and exterior badge accents.
If a 20-something had bought day-glo spray paint and done up his slammed Civic like this, you might think it was a bit much, but the unsubtle gesture by a six-figure status symbol suggests over-the-top is just enough for those with a license to be audacious.
Superlatives aside, the E-Hybrid is a study in contrasts. Yes, it’s quick, but its curb weight ranging from 4,613 to 4,950 pounds makes it the pudgy kid in the family, especially next to the snarly Panamera GTS and Turbo bruisers.
But really, it’s the health nut in the family, and can run a little farther without gas than a Prius plug-in hybrid. When using gas, it makes a Maserati Quattroporte or some thirstier Mercedes S-Class sedans seem wasteful, and an Aston Martin Rapide’s rear seats appear crunched.
In a parking lot its weight is felt under sub-5-mph turning, and you’ll want to take care navigating the wide, long car into sometimes narrow or squeezed parking spots.
We did verify 15.1 miles e-range sedately driving between 25-45 mph, and while encountering some stop-and-go, and a hill or two, and EPA ratings are fairly realistic if you take it easy.
Speed up, and the car will show its underlying fun potential Porsche is loathe to engineer out of anything with its name on it. Despite weighing 629 pounds more than a non-hybrid Panamera S, Porsche has proven again it knows how to tune a suspension.
Paddle shifters let you optionally take a measure of control, and reversing thrust is easy and controlled with 360 mm front / 330 mm rear diameter brakes and powerful monobloc 6- and 4-piston binders.
Not hurting these performance parameters was our car had upgraded 20-inch wheels, and fat Pirelli P-Zero summer tires – two inches larger, and wider than base. Low rolling resistance rubber need not apply for this hybrid.
Also in the for-what-it’s-worth boasting rights category, the E-Hybrid is the fastest regular production plug-in car sold in America. Its 167 mph top speed exceeds even Teslas, though the quickest 130-mph Model S P85+ will out-sprint it to 60.
The S-E-Hybrid is trying to offer everything from zero-emissions frugality to gas-swilling, tire straining indulgence in one package, but the question is: is this indeed a good thing, or not so much?
As one of only seven plug-in hybrids sold in the U.S., it for now gives a certain “other” status buyers will either take a shining to, or they’ll still pass on it.
Like any luxury purchase, it’s the sum of so many tangibles that add up to an intangible subjective impression. Porsche knows its reputation is sterling, and its pedigree lets it produce a car that if GM were to try the same, it would be publicly tarred and feathered.
The notion of a “performance hybrid” or “luxury hybrid” is catching on, but to both sides of the aisle – the purely eco conscious, or the pure performance car aficionado – the mixed messages do make some take pause.
But the car could be great for some. If the other more focused Panameras weren’t there to compare, it would be a performance benchmark.
As for the electric range, if you have charging at your destination, you could get it to 30 miles round trip, and at the end of the day, you’re driving a Porsche.
Further, the Panamera is competitive against diesels and regular hybrids from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes.
Bottom line is if you can be happy with a 90th percentile member of a line of sedans that are themselves among the sportiest in their class, you might like the E-Hybrid.
If however you want maximum performance, the economy next to a 21-mpg combined 4S is only a little better, and it’s the E-Power you’ll need to decide whether you can live without in exchange for a sharper AWD car costing $700 less.
At this level, does 3-4 mpg even matter, or is it about the experience? Right, it is about the experience, and which experience you value more – techno cool, cutting edge, or all the speed you can get – is what you will need to decide.
Price quote for Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Base MSRP: $99,000