The Panamera is probably not the first car you think of when you hear the name Porsche. It’s likely not even the second or third. The Panamera is the boring workhorse of the Porsche fleet. It’s for people who own (or want to own) one of Porsche’s poster performance cars that, arm twisted behind their back, are being forced to admit that a cramped Carrera doesn’t fit their lifestyle anymore.
That might not be the case for long, though, because Porsche is rolling out a new hybrid version of the Panamera this year called the 2018 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. It’s not the first Panamera hybrid, but it is the first one Porsche is willing to label as the flagship version of this particular model.
And while, yes, this car is coming along at a time when Porsche and its parent company, Volkswagen Group, need to focus on greener cars as they face serious allegations about cheating emissions tests, the S E-Hybrid is still somehow every bit a performance Porsche as the cars the brand is known for. It’s also proof that driving a more efficient car that plugs into the wall can still be outrageously fun, even if the $200,000 price tag means you’d sooner buy two 911s.
These thoughts were swirling in my head when I spent a half-day with the Turbo S E-Hybrid last week. That time was split across two venues: the beautiful corkscrew roads that weave through the forests of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and the knotty roller-coaster track at Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.
My time on the track was brief — 10 minutes or so — but the Turbo S E-Hybrid made it feel like the experience was happening in slow motion. It was so much more comfortable in a performance setting than I’d ever expect a Panamera to be. A four-door sedan that looks like a wagon shouldn’t be this good on a track.
But it is. Two good reasons why are the behemoth 21-inch wheels and the air-cushioned suspension. What really made the Turbo S E-Hybrid feel so composed while I whipped it around that twisty circuit, though, was that any time it’s above about 1,400 RPMs, every bit of the car’s 627 pound-feet of torque is available. The jolt you get from pressing the gas pedal is consistent whether you’re exiting a slow corner or taking a bend in a high-speed straightaway.
This is thanks, in large part, to the way that the car’s combustion engine and electric motor work together when the car is in Sport and Sport Plus modes. The 550-horsepower V8 biturbo — which is the kind of high-performance engine many people might never get a chance to drive on its own — is the workhorse in these modes. But the Turbo S E-Hybrid’s extra responsiveness comes from the fact that the V8’s power is buttressed by the 100kW electric motor, which gives the car a total output of 680 horsepower.
Where and when the V8 might lag, the electric motor bridges the gap, meaning you’re already going by the time the combustion engine’s power kicks in. The car also makes sure the battery is always ready with enough juice for this by recharging it more quickly than in the two other more typical hybrid and all-electric modes. This all results in 0–60 miles per hour time of just 3.2 seconds. The Turbo S E-Hybrid might look like it’s best suited to haul groceries, but it also absolutely hauls ass.
Of course, even people with enough money to buy the Turbo S E-Hybrid aren’t going to spend all that much time with it on the track. It has to be just as good, or better, on the road. This is where the seven years that Porsche has spent iterating on the Panamera comes in. Because, as powerful as the car can be in the right situations, it’s also one of the most comfortable and smart in-car experiences that the manufacturer offers.
For one thing, the interior of the Turbo S E-Hybrid feels cavernous. There’s more than enough headroom for my six-foot frame, and that’s before I lowered the seat to a more race-ready position. And while cars that do well on a track tend to offer rigid rides on the road, the Panamera bucks this trend. This is a luxury road car that Porsche found a way to make work on the track — not the other way around. Driving to the store or out for a date night requires no sacrifice on the side of comfort.
This car is also pretty efficient thanks to that electric motor. Porsche is claiming it can do the European equivalent of around 80 miles per gallon when in the standard hybrid mode. The car can also make it a shade farther than 30 miles on electric power alone. If you can ignore the inherent range anxiety, or don’t mind draining the battery and then switching back to the V8, driving it in electric mode is a pleasant, almost placid experience.
Other driving accoutrements are present that you’d expect in a high-end car like this, like adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist. There are so many ways to drive the Turbo S E-Hybrid that you can almost begin to see why Porsche’s asking so much for the thing.
Being a Panamera, the S E-Hybrid also gets all the wonderful interior touches that Porsche has been refining in the lineup over the last few years. The centerpiece of that is a 12.3-inch touchscreen located in the center dash. It’s tack sharp, full of fluid animations, and, most importantly, refreshingly responsive. To wit, the screen is surrounded by infrared sensors that notice when you lift your hand. When this happens, the menu buttons peek out from the edges of the screen, saving you a step and some all-important seconds that otherwise would have been spent being distracted from the road.
The dashboard in front of the driver is also pretty smart. There’s a fat analog RPM gauge front and center, but it’s surrounded by digital readouts that are customizable and dynamic. The best example of this? When you’re driving with the navigation on, the map will “bleed” over into this digital screen in front of you to show an upcoming turn in detail. It’s a clever way to make sure you aren’t always peering over at the center touchscreen, and it helps keep you focused on the road ahead — a rare thing to find as carmakers throw more screens in front of our eyes.
But, oh wow, the Panamera’s center console. Nothing has made me feel more like I was at the controls of a spaceship than the massive box of tech sitting to the right of the Panamera’s driver seat. The shifter in the center is practically swallowed up by a lake of black glass dotted with small switches and LED lights. The controls here are touch-sensitive, but in that 1980s kind of way, where there’s a little click and vibration with each press. Most of the stuff you find here — including temperature, media, traction control, and suspension — you can also find in the touchscreen menus. It’s just way more fun to toggle through them on this console.
Yet, as good as the Turbo S E-Hybrid appears to be, it’s still hard to imagine it being remembered in the pantheon of Porsches in a decade’s time. The practicality of this particular Porsche means it’s probably doomed to stay in the shadows of the 911s and 918s of the world. But just because it might be forgotten doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Think back to how Porsche has been teasing one of the most exciting electric vehicles that will hopefully be coming to market in the next few years: the Mission E. The high-performance, quick-charging concept car is the kind of thing that could finally balance out Tesla in the high-end of the EV market, and it just looks fantastic.
The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is not as exciting as the Mission E, and it’s also not all-electric. But it is a stepping stone into alternative powertrains, and a way to initiate traditionalists and woo new buyers. The way Porsche is using electrification to squeeze performance out of what would normally be an overly expensive but unsexy road car feels like a precursor to what we can expect with future efforts like the Mission E. If you squint hard enough, the Mission E even kind of looks like a flattened-out Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.
There’s also a good argument to be made that a hybrid like this is the best way for consumers to get a sense of what Porsche is doing at the highest levels of performance as a company. After all, the company just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the prototype 919 Hybrid. If you’re a rabid Porsche fan, and you want to drive something that reflects what the company’s doing in the motorsport world, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is one of the few ways to do that. Your only other options are the older, less-powerful Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, or the 918 Spyder, which costs $850,000 and is sold out anyway.
The cloud of emissions scandals aren’t blowing over anytime soon, so Porsche and other Volkswagen Group brands are going to keep rallying around as many remotely fuel-efficient cars as possible. Automakers were already pretty focused on green technology before the public’s trust was shredded by the crimes and allegations of the last few years. In that sense, it’s not surprising to see a hybrid at the top of the list of 2018 Panameras.
What a car like the Turbo S E-Hybrid shows is that, regardless of what sort of intentions are driving the push to a greener fleet, hybrid cars can be every bit as good as their combustion-only counterparts when it comes to raw performance. In fact, in some respects, they’re even better. If I had $200,000 to spend on a performance car, I’d probably have to talk myself in circles about making a practical adult decision before I picked the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. But if the time I spent with Porsche’s new performance hybrid taught me anything, it’s that I wouldn’t be disappointed at all if that happened.
Photography by Sean O’Kane / The Verge