First Drive: 2014 Porsche Plug-In S E-Hybrid

Porsche’s plug-in Panamera S E-Hybrid zips to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, adroitly carves corners like the four-door 911 it essentially is – and it can travel sans gasoline for around 22 miles or return Prius-surpassing mpg on average-distance commutes.

U.S. EPA numbers are still pending, but expect it to beat the outgoing non-plug-in S Hybrid’s 22 city/30 highway/25 combined – and then there’s that all-electric capacity.

Scheduled for U.S. launch some time between now and early November, the E-Hybrid is the biggest news coming out of the mid-cycle refresh for the iconoclastic Panamera line introduced in 2009, and now comprised of nine U.S. models – with the diesel notably excluded.

294 mpg

To experience the E-Hybrid first hand, last week we traveled to Newberg, Ore. outside of Portland. There we got as much of a feel as possible in a full day’s worth of twisty roads, highways, city streets, and more squared-off routes on the map to sample mileage and all-electric motoring.

We also gauged the wunderhybrid against more fire-breathing Panameras including the fringe-obnoxious, snarling and crackling V8-powered GTS and twin-turbocharged V8-powered Panamera Turbo which blazes from 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.

The good news for Porsche fans is the 167-mph E-Hybrid is only tame when you want it to be, and the brand’s DNA remains intact, but first, let’s briefly review this complex piece of engineering – or if you already know all about it, skip to “On The Road” below.

More Juice

The rear-wheel-drive E-Hybrid increases lithium-ion battery power to 9.4 kilowatt-hours (kwh) over the old car’s 1.7-kwh marginal helper.

It can recharge by plugging in one of two included Porsche Universal Charger cables for either 120 and 240 volts. Its onboard 3.6-kw charger replenishes the battery at 15 amps in 2.5 hours on the higher current level.

The usable pack capacity is 7.5 kw, or about 80 percent of total.

2014 Panamera_engine

Porsche was thus able to more than double the electric motor’s output from 47 horsepower to 95.

Main power is supplied by the 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged six feeding power through an 8-speed Tiptronic S manumatic transmission.

The E-Hybrid’s gas-plus-electric output is 416 horsepower and 435 pounds-feet torque. Curb weight ranges from 4,613 pounds minimum to a maximum of 4,950 pounds.

The 95-horsepower electric motor helps fatten the powerband down low with 229 pounds-feet from 0-1,700 rpm, and the 333-horsepower gas engine peaks between 5,500-6,500 rpm, and delivers 325 pounds-feet torque from 3,000-5,250 rpm.

As you might have surmised, this is a highly flexible system able to reward driving styles ranging from granny to grand prix.

Driving Modes

E-Power – Assuming battery charge is available, E-Power is the mode that makes this into a part-time EV once you’ve inserted and turned the color-matched, car-shaped wireless key and engaged the E-Power button on the center console right of the shifter.

Porsche makes it easy to stay in E-Power with an electric servo engaging a plainly discernible detent feel in the accelerator pedal’s travel. The detent allows up to 30 percent of system power to be engaged, as indicated on a power meter. Pressing past this resistance point instantly snaps the engine into action.

At its core, the E-Hybrid is a parallel hybrid, and works as such when E-Power is deactivated – either by switching it off, or because the battery is down to charge-sustained levels.

interior

Hybrid operation automatically switches between electric driving, hybrid driving with load point shift, decoupled free-wheel “coasting,” electrical system recuperation from regenerative braking and boosting to aid the gas engine.

E-Charge – Another completely original engineering choice – and flying in the face of a decision Chevrolet opted against with the Volt – Porsche’s E-Charge mode uses the combustion engine to recharge the propulsion battery by spinning the motor as a generator while en route.

The system at certain points determined by the computer increases engine load and the generator effectively siphons off the electrical power developed. The result is a quick recharge – we saw around one mile range returned for less than every two driven – but the cost is decreased mpg and increased emissions.

profile

In Europe where urban zero emissions zones are cropping up, this feature will be especially useful. Drivers can use electrons and fuel outside of town, but may still avoid emissions-based tolls when arriving with a charged battery.

Sport Mode
– Porsche says a hybrid-specific, “emotionalized gear shifting strategy” is stored in the control unit. It attempts to select gears for the best possible balance of longitudinal dynamics, “acoustics” (engine note) and fuel economy.

In short, it turns up the excitement and is the mode responsible for maximizing the irresponsibility factor or for those just wanting the most viscerally scintillating experience possible.

Styling, Unique Features

The E-Hybrid makes itself obvious with “acid green” painted alloy brake calipers and the same color echoed in badging, and on the instrument needles inside.

Acid green alloy rotors clamp 360mm rotors; standard tires are 245/50 R 18 front, 275/45 R 18 rear with 19 and 20-inch sizes optional.

Acid green alloy rotors clamp 360mm rotors; standard tires are 245/50 R 18 front, 275/45 R 18 rear with 19 and 20-inch sizes optional.

All Panameras received tweaks to sharpen features. The front fascia has larger air intakes, the rear power lift gate is revised with wider glass, and the rear license bracket is lower to make the car seem like its hunkering and ready to burn up the road.

Hybrid-specific instruments include a Power Meter in place of an “analog” speedometer, with a digital numerical-readout LCD speedo retained. The Power Meter relays drive power and electrical system recuperation power from regenerative braking.

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As is usual for hybrid car data readout, digital displays – in the centerstack and main instrument cluster – can be toggled through, and some info is redundant.

The battery charge icon has a learning program and guesstimates available range based on how aggressively the car was previously driven. The most accurate power meter is an analog needle gauge on the left side of the main instruments.

On The Road

Porsche actually brought German-market E-Hybrids with European charging ports to Oregon, so they were limited to 120-volt slow charging from standard chargers.

E-Charging was also possible, but we never had the chance to drive the maybe 35-40 or so miles in that mode necessary to fully recharge.

2014 Panamera

We’re told also Porsche is fine-tuning software and hoping to tweak efficiency as it anticipates U.S. launch.

As it was, the most highly charged car we were able to get had only 12 miles indicated battery range which we took on a 16.9-mile route trying for max mileage.

Driving carefully, it was immediately novel seeing indicated gears digitally clicking upwards through the Tiptronic transmission while in all-electric E-Power mode. This is a unique function, and Porsche says it maximizes efficiency for the motor’s low-end torque. So much for arguments that EVs do not need more than one gear.

Not U.S. spec. U.S. cars will have SAE J1772 ports.

Not U.S. spec. American cars will have SAE J1772 ports.

Starting up a hill, the battery icon lost a couple miles range inside of one mile – remember, estimates are based on previous drivers’ habits. All told, we got over seven electric miles driving on rolling terrain at up to 55 mph with stops and light traffic along the way.

45.2

That’s when the car’s mpg indicator began to plummet down to 45.2 mpg at the end of the mixed route. If we’d had a full charge, it is likely we would have done the whole thing on electrons and been gas and emissions-free.

Other testers have been all over the map in their “mpg” numbers, and we completely believe it. Splicing stretches of zero-gas driving into a given route accentuates the standard qualifier “your mileage may vary.”

To be sure it may vary. On a 20-mile trip, you may burn no gas, thus get an “infinite” number of “miles per gallon” because you are using kilowatts, so best to consult your electric company for that price.

On a 70-mile trip, assuming a full battery, you might factor for the fuel burned after the first 20 or so electric miles – actually testers have reported as many as 31 electric miles.

on-road

Thus, if the E-Hybrid got 30 mpg in parallel hybrid mode, lopping the first 20 miles from a 70 mile trip would mean 50 miles of gas burning. Your costs would be the price of electricity for 20 miles plus 1.667 gallons of gas. The mpg would average to 42.

Not Just An Eco Car

The E-Hybrid costs $99,000 plus destination. And it’s a Porsche. Options can easily add a third or quite a bit more to this, so maybe we should just consider the fuel savings as icing on the cake, and emissions prevented as something to feel good about? Will some buyers even remember to always plug in?

Less questionable is Porsche took pains to dial the suspension, spec fat, sticky rubber, and big brakes to make this a hybrid that could be entertaining in any situation up to a track day, even if it is the heaviest of all the Panameras. At 629 pounds bulkier than a 3,990-pound non-hybrid Panamera S, and 276 pounds heavier than the second-heaviest Panamera Turbo, the E-Hybrid is no racer.

road

It is however a couple hundred pounds lighter than an 85-kwh Tesla Model S albeit without the Tesla’s super-low center of gravity, and chassis engineering has otherwise come a long way to making a toss-able nearly 2.5-ton car, if that does not sound like an oxymoron.

Tossing economy concerns out the window while we’re at it, the E-Hybrid can deliver much of what the more-focused and thirstier Panameras can on winding asphalt that goes right, left, right, left for miles.

We weren’t ready to risk tail-out antics on public roads lined with guardrails and trees, but the car – especially in Sport mode – is set up for flat-cornering fun.

rear

Very much un-EV like, at its heart it remains a 416-horsepower electric-assisted gas burner with attendant “acoustics” of a snarling engine shifting up and down through the gears.

What do you give up compared to the GTS or Turbo Panamera? Those cars are noticeably quicker with 0-60 times 1 and 1.5 seconds faster respectively, and in Sport Plus mode, the intensity from their more-advanced 7-speed PDK transmissions with paddle shifters is turned up – and in some ways contrived.

Unlike the BMW M5, Porsche does not feed fake hi-po exhaust sounds through the high-fidelity stereo system to wow well-heeled patrons with its “NASCAR” emulating “experience,” but it offers other experience-enhancing tricks.

For example, the 7,100 rpm V8 GTS – louder without the sound-muting turbos – is enough to make a high-school show-off green with envy with its boy racer sport exhaust screaming on the go – and raucously popping as it automatically or with the left paddle shifter blips perfect rev-matched downshifts.

Another trick happens when you press the accelerator to the floor on the GTS – or the also-loud Turbo. Here, the kick-down delivers initial acceleration in a perfectly tuned jolt to physically lurch you – and passengers – back into the seat. It’s as though you’ve hit the afterburners on a fighter jet. Fun, huh?

The GTS is for extraverts; its lightly muffled sport exhaust is like a siren song sure to impress all who witness it, including the police.

The GTS is for extroverts; its lightly muffled sport exhaust is like a siren song sure to impress all who witness it, including the police.

This is what we mean by visceral experience. At this level, people are pampered with a melding of carefully crafted creature comforts, terrific attention to detail, and high-performance received and also merely perceived audibly, visually, and physically.

And you might get as low as 11 miles to the gallon like we did if you begin to tap into the 440 and 520 respective horsepower of the $114,000-plus GTS and $142,000-plus Turbo.

As an alternative, the E-Hybrid may deliver 95 percent of the visceral effect, 100-percent of the luxury, more tech appeal, and potentially far-better mileage and emissions.

Of course if you thrash it like we did for a stretch, mileage will easily plummet to the mid teens.

Who Is It For?

Short answer: People will say all sorts of things but the E-Hybrid is for anyone who wants one, and it’s for the future of Porsche.

While inevitable comparisons to the Tesla Model S and Chevy Volt and other plug-in cars have been and will be made, take these with a grain of salt as the E-Hybrid is its own unique car.

When asked, even Porsche personnel gave varied answers as to who the ideal customer would be.

We asked whether the E-Hybrid is for the eco-conscious, and some said not necessarily, while others said yes. One Porsche rep said the car maxes out the “geek factor” and if you love techy things, this one makes it fun to play with the settings, seeing how he could do.

IMG_8381

At this level, buying a car like this is not just about money or the environment – and actually, that has been said by those choosing the techno-appealing $71,000-$133,000 Tesla, notwithstanding perceived gas-saving and environmental benefits.

If the environment or fuel savings are one’s primary concerns, any one of a number of sufficiently appointed hybrids or EVs could offer better value for daily commuting.

But if someone wants the creature comforts, prestige, driving competence, and to be part of the Porsche club, the E-Hybrid starts to look more appealing.

Further, if someone wants it all – ability to beat a Prius not just in a race, but in the mpg game as well, now it’s possible at least for limited distances.

Whether you like the E-Hybrid, don’t see the point, or are indifferent, Porsche is preparing more applications for the E-Hybrid’s powertrain which represents a significant advancement over the former S Hybrid, and this is all heading somewhere.

Almost certainly the Cayenne SUV will see an E-Hybrid version just as soon as possible.

Beyond this, Porsche has said it aims to eventually make hybrid versions of every one of its models – including the Boxster, Cayman, and 911.

Its $845,000-$929,000 2015 918 Spyder is already pointing to Porsche’s future, and the company’s engineers have learned from its development and hybrid track racers also in the works.

panameras

Porsche says it’s continuing toward fuel-savings without departing from the core elements that brought it to where it is.

In fact, even before the Panamera E-Hybrid had been launched, this year in a seminar Porsche revealed intentions for a second hybridization phase projected in 2016-2017.

It’s expected the new MSB rear-wheel/all-wheel-drive platform will be used for cars both water and air cooled, with weight-saving aluminum wire looms, inductive charging, and among other advancements, increased electric power will be afforded by an all-important more energy dense battery.

Meanwhile, we hope to have a closer view of the Panamera S E-Hybrid and more details not long after we get a production version for a more thorough evaluation later this year.


Price quote for Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

First Drive: 2014 Porsche Plug-In S E-Hybrid
Base MSRP: $99,000
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