Unlike misbegotten comparos between barely similar plug-in cars pitted together mainly because they run on grid power, a Porsche vs. Tesla shootout is almost valid.
The rear-wheel-driven standard 85-kwh Tesla Model S and Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid both target similar demographics with comparable curb weight, dimensions, 0-60 time, and glamor. Given one’s an EV, however, and the other a PHEV, they’re otherwise worlds apart.
Therefore this is yet another apple-to-orange matchup. With nary a compromise as endured by lesser EVs, the Model S remains in a category of one and people have noticed.
This year Tesla sold an estimated 9,400 through June in the U.S. versus 544 S E-Hybrids. But not to single out Porsche, the Model S is handily walking all over other German, U.S., and Asian upscale luxury performance sedans in that most important arena: the sales race.
Considering this plus the Model S is a nearly pure expression of a maverick vision, Tesla clearly wins. Or does it? Obviously some disagree and a prominent UK publication this year did name the Porsche the winner.
To each his own. What one prefers could reveal good taste and clear judgment – or biases and misinformation. We’ll not speculate who exhibits what, but will venture to compare as long as it’s understood these cars are as dissimilar as much as they are similar.
Proud German Heritage
Porsche’s S E-Hybrid was the biggest news during last fall’s otherwise subtle mid-cycle refresh for its Panamera line now boasting 10 variants, with the most-dear fetching maybe $300,000 if you go crazy with options.
The $99,000-plus four-seater replaced the Panamera S Hybrid after only two years on the market and got a 9.4-kwh battery, charge port, and doubly sized 95 horsepower, 229-pound-feet electric motor for part-time EV capability.
Blurring the green vision however is a gas engine. In this case, a 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6 adds to a total system power of 416 horsepower, 435 pounds-feet torque.
Now that dust has settled from press releases touting the Porsche-with-a-plug’s up to “22 miles” electric range and fuel efficiency up to 84 mpg during a European Porsche-staged mileage contest, federally enforced reality has set in.
The Porsche is EPA rated at 50 MPGe – well below 89 MPGe for Tesla’s 85-kwh Model S, and the 60-kwh version’s 98 MPGe. It’s also less than the 37-mile-range Cadillac ELR’s 82 MPGe. Porsche’s EPA-estimated electric range is 15 miles, or 16 “Elec+Gas.”
In regular hybrid mode, once battery capacity one-ninth that of the Tesla 85’s runs out, the S E-Hybrid is rated at 25 mpg combined – respectable for a 4,600-4,900 pound car, but not astonishing.
Proud American Mold Breaker
The Model S we review here with thanks to its owner is not the quickest P85+, but rather the regular 85 kwh.
The approximately 4,800-pound car is rated at 362 horsepower (270 kwh) from 6,000-9,500 rpm. Torque is 325 pounds-feet (440 Nm) – less than the Porsche, but full torque is from 0-5,800 rpm.
Its floor-mounted battery centers the weight low, and can take advantage of a growing free-access Supercharger network to complement its 265-mile-range.
Outside and in the Model S is simplicity exemplified. It seats five adults and optionally two more kids in rear-facing jump seats. The clean-sheet design is a thesis statement in space utilization.
And so far the formula is working for the gas-free gambit from a company with a point to prove. Not hurting things is the cult of personality surrounding the every day hip billionaire Elon Musk who’s crusading to benefit the world – if not also to make his life story required reading for future history classes into perpetuity.
Tesla’s Model S is actually a range of configurations based on the 60-kwh or 85-kwh battery and costs from $72,000 to low 130s for a packed P85+.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid starts at $99,000, and per Porsche practice, the bottom line engorges at an alarming rate with options.
Cars we sampled were just shy of $90,000 for the Tesla, with base price of $81,070, and the Porsche as equipped was $131,000.
Design-wise, Porsche’s family sedan has upset purists with the elongated profile that borrows the 911’s front end, and like many Americans, has grown to bulbous proportions it attempts to hide. Aesthetically, it does have some nice angles, but Porsche fans have said cars like the Panamera and Cayenne SUV help pay for the truly focused drivers’ cars from Stuttgart.
The Model S appropriated design elements from other vehicles to conglomerate a high-end sedan for a start-up with finite funds. Its rear clip is borrowed from a Jaguar XF, but its closed-grille sleekness cuts a 0.24 coefficient of drag and most consider it more attractive, if not a bit generic.
Power-wise, the Model S flicks to 60 in an estimated 5.4 seconds, though some have seen it match the Porsche’s estimated 5.2. Top speed is a different matter. The single-speed Model S is limited to 125 mph for this configuration. The 8-speed Porsche is limited to 167 mph. Tesla likes to tout its simplicity, but it also saved engineering and production costs.
Efficiency wise, Tesla wins 10 out of 10 green car points – and a chocolate macadamia nut cookie from mom, a gold star from the teacher, and a pat on the back from Barack Obama.
On the flip side, some have postulated Porsche – and now Mercedes – has it backwards. As GM has shown with the Volt and ELR, and BMW with the i8, more power could come from the electric motor(s), and the gas engine could be smaller.
Frankly, the powertrain formula Porsche and other plug-in hybrids use do create ostensible bragging rights, but a jaundiced eye could see greenwashed ringers fabricated to ace a test – the EPA’s.
It’s all well and good when the battery is charged, and a zero-emission, zero-mpg electric motor does the heavy lifting. But the finite energy ends too soon, and what you’re left with is a hybrid that gets 25 mpg if used like a Camry, but if used like the Porsche it is, mileage sinks to the low 20s to low teens.
But the Tesla doesn’t run for free either – unless you plug into a Supercharger or solar. And in any case, it can sap efficiency and range if driven like you stole it.
Some have observed the point of having a high-performance sedan is so that it may … highly perform.
Bottom line: either car may be nursed to maximum mileage but hard use wastes energy in the name of fun.
That the Tesla emits nothing and is thriftier with the kilowatts is a huge plus. Additionally, electricity when it is paid for is generally cheaper. The EPA pegs Model S cost per mile at 4.5 cents versus 10.8 cents for the Panamera S E-Hybrid assuming charged battery and averaged fuel pricing, or 15.5 cents if it isn’t charged. Estimated energy costs for 15,000 miles per year are $700 for the Tesla, or $1,900 for the Porsche.
But the Porsche does still costs less to fuel than average internal combustion cars. Considering the demographic these vehicles cater to, the not-insubstantial $100 Teslas save per month might be valued as much for its satisfaction on principle, and buyers of neither car need fear suffering want for all the expense.
Further, aside from the tranny delete, Tesla saves itself money in ways that are not necessarily better. Its simple interior does display what others might call de-contenting, whereas the Porsche packs accoutrements, nice little touches, and does it up right, German style. The Model S doesn’t even so much as come with door pockets or center console, but this is part of Tesla’s contrarian stance. And, Tesla does offer an industry best 17-inch touch screen that controls most functions. Plus, Tesla can download software updates from time to time, so the car can evolve to a point. Pretty clever.
In the final analysis however, the Porsche comes across a step above on the luxury scale, though some may disagree. Undeniable is Porsche builds on a legacy of a company that is tops in its game and no one can accuse it of trying to bluff its way into the big leagues.
If Tesla did not exist, the Panamera S E-Hybrid would be more clearly seen as a pinnacle among alternative tech. Its appeal is primarily a multi-legged stool held up by 1) Porsche’s reputation, 2) much higher performance than a Prius plug-in or Chevy Volt, 4) ability to run over a dozen miles with zero gas, 4) styling and techno-gee-whiz factor, 5) extremely nice build quality, attention to detail (see number 1).
The fact that it sells like a Cadillac ELR has rarely been noticed because, well, it is a Porsche, not a perceived wanna-be as critics say when mercilessly pouncing on the Volt-based ELR – and as some have even said of self-promoting Tesla.
Tesla and others call the whole ownership enchilada the “experience.” This cliché du jour already sounds tired to our ears, but characteristic of trite over-used expressions, it does summarize truth.
In this case, both cars are a pleasure to drive, but in different ways. Both make you feel special; both have a presence to them; both are smooth, comfortable, fast when desired.
The intangible extra Tesla abundantly delivers is the knowledge that it is uses no gasoline, emits no hydrocarbons. It represents a societal movement in the face of the entrenched establishment as much as it is a means of transportation.
When owners feel their purchase is actually symbiotic support of the greater good, their zeal can become passionate among the more noble – or rabid among some.
With empathy for the cause, we’ll observe the Tesla does out-do the Porsche in sustainability, environmental friendliness, energy security, and it paves the way for more-affordable cars as soon as feasible. Further, any luxury carmaker would envy Tesla’s quiet ride interrupted only by wide grippy tires making themselves heard on the tarmac.
What the Porsche offers is zero range anxiety, high performance, comfort, style, part-time EV capability that may be enough for some. And, it barters the fact that this is an established brand that sends cars to Le Mans and many other racing events. Porsche’s heritage is competition, and for decades it’s been in the business of making testicular road dominators with few if any perceived compromises.
That said, ride quality coupled with handling manners are superb for both – considering their heft. Remember. These are family sedans we’re talking about. Yes they preen with sporty intentions, and can back a lot of that posturing up, but race cars they are not.
Our Porsche did come with extra sticky wide upgraded 911-spec tires and wheels. The Model S has a super low center of gravity, and while the battery in the floor is advantageous, it can only work with the laws of physics, not defy them.
From a pure performance car standpoint, both are portly at around 4,800 pounds. They manage their bulk well but probably would make Lotus’ Colin Chapman cringe for the extra 1,500 pounds they carry compared to a real sports car like a Corvette Stingray (or possibly the 3,300-3,400-pound BMW i8).
Further, Teslas pushed on tracks have overheated their batteries, sending them into a sort of limp-home mode. Here, at least the Porsche could at up to 42 mph faster, which may partly explain why Porsche didn’t overly depart from the engine/transmission formula.
In sum, both cars have an element of lifestyle accessory to them. Priced as they are, they’re not bought only to save fuel or the environment. Where they couldn’t be any less alike is Porche represents the old guard. While maybe not an “amphibian,” as Elon Musk calls hybrids, in the eyes of some plug-in enthusiasts it looks like a dinosaur trying not to go extinct.
The Model S by contrast is an all-or-nothing experiment daring the world. No one, however, has ever seen a decade-old Model S. Will it age like Paul Newman – or a classic air-cooled Porsche 911 – or will more issues than have already been discovered here and there begin to crop up?
If you like the Porsche, like who makes it, can live with its finite energy storage, and like that it can run without needing a recharge, it’s not a bad choice. Helping things along is – compared to a Volt or Prius – it’s is a more effective road weapon and a snazzier commuter.
If however you’re attune to what’s trending, and also love what Tesla is all about, clearly it is the winner.
But again, this is apple versus and orange. When someone other than Tesla produces a large all-electric sedan with similar range and performance, that will be the day a truly even comparison to the Model S can be drawn.
In the meantime, the upstart is crushing it in the sales wars and plowing the way for others to follow. This it’s doing while established players regroup, react, and make forward-looking statements to grapple with Tesla’s effrontery, not to mention government mandates that will make everyone clean up sooner or later.