Motoring

The Best of Three Worlds

The Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is an economical city car that has the refinement of a luxury saloon and the colossal performance of a hypercar.

Steve Chalmers

Sitting behind the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid’s chunky leather-trimmed steering wheel, I turn the ignition ‘key’ to the right, the aircon kicks in and we’re ready to roll. The big, four door Panamera has been plugged-in overnight here at Porsche’s Silicone Oasis HQ, so the lithium-ion battery pack is filled to the brim with DEWA’s finest and the indicator says if I behave, there’s 55 kilometers of pure electric power to play with. There is no noise. No mighty thrum of eight Porsche cylinders turning over at 900 revs per minute. Just peace, quiet and an ambient air of calm.

While I’m letting the air conditioning cool the two-tone Black and Crayon leather interior, I play around with the Panamera’s touch screen control system which is mounted in the centre of the dashboard. Everything from the central air vents to the Porsche’s drive mode can be controlled from here and it’s intuitive to navigate, courtesy of an operating system that is far superior to any tablet that I’ve come across.

There’s an awful lot of information to take on board and after five minutes of swiping, flicking and pressing, I’m nowhere near finding out the levels of tech hidden within its menus. Put it this way, scrolling through one of the rotary dials on the steering wheel has brought up the Panamera’s night vision/ thermal imaging system, which is displayed on the screen to the right of the speedometer. Seeing the heat signature of distant car engines passing by on the road up ahead is immensely impressive and the system will pick out people and animals hidden in the darkness too.

There’s a huge amount of buttons, switches, haptics, displays and warning lights in the Turbo S and frankly, that’s the way it should be: if I’ve got all this tech, then I want to be able to directly switch it on, not find it through a rotary dial, somewhere. From the LEDs at the base of the speedo telling me if I’m charging or draining the battery, to the G-force meter, the Turbo S lets you know how it’s performing. This is actually the first time on a test drive that I’ve not been able to fully familiarise myself with every system and switch – but what I have figured out is, all I really need to fiddle with is the drive selector dial on the steering wheel and the exhaust ‘loud’ switch on the centre screen – for this test, nothing else matters.

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E for Electric

Mounted on the steering wheel at the 5 o’clock position is the drive selector – a simple rotary dial that you use to engage the Porsche’s four operating parameters: E, H, S and S+.

With the dial set at E, I gently push down on the accelerator and we move forward. No noise, no fuss. Just a gentle waft. The plan is to take it easy in electric mode and enjoy a bit of silent Porsche driving. A raw, rorty exhaust note has always been a Porsche trademark, however with the successful arrival of the Cayenne and Macan SUVs and the 4-door Panamera, the Stuttgart manufacturer can easily slip into luxury mode without upsetting its flat-six followers.

The accelerator has a tactile two-stage step, with the electric drive using up the first couple of inches of travel. It’s a pleasant feeling as you accelerate and early impressions are that the E-Hybrid has the refinement of a certain big British saloon; it’s just silently wafting its way around Silicon Oasis, minding its own business, but turning heads at the same time. It’s a big car, two metres wide and over five metres long and weighing in at 2.3 tonnes. This gives it a real road presence, especially as the Turbo’s styling is unmistakably Porsche.

Performance wise, the electric motor produces 100 kilowatts, which is equal to 136bhp. That doesn’t sound like much, but with 295 ft/lbs of torque available from the off, it gets the Porsche’s speedo climbing steadily and consistently all the way up to motorway speeds (138km/h).

H for Hybrid

Turn the dial to the 3 o’clock position and the big Porsche slips into Hybrid. This is the most efficient mode and is recommended for everyday use, as it changes over from full electric to ‘friendly’ twin turbo V8 according to your driving. So what’s the switch like? Does it go from whisper quiet and smooth electric to thundering, antisocial V8? Err no, not in the slightest. Here’s the bizarre thing: there is no discernible difference between cruising in petrol and full electric.

The big V8 is so refined and Porsche’s NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) insulation so effective that you have to glance at the analogue rev counter to see if the engine’s actually running or not. Again, at traffic lights, if you ignore the dashboard readings, the only way you can tell if the V8s engaged are by feeling the tiny, distinctive, vibrations through the steering wheel. In electric mode, there’s a light, flywheel spinning type sensation; with a rhythmic, deep vibration coming through your fingertips when the V8’s running.

S for Sport

I had the E-Hybrid for three days and only drove it in Sport mode for about 5% of that time. Here, the twin turbo V8 is continuously running, but it keeps the battery charge maintained at a minimum level to ensure that if you decided to plant the go pedal, there will be enough electric boost in reserve to keep you accelerating like a freight train. It’s here though, that you can press the sport exhaust switch on the touch screen to open up the valves and let the V8 really roar. Again, when closed, it’s quiet and refined, but open it up and you get a quick, meaty V8 thrum, which barks when you let off the accelerator. It is by no means antisocial and still way under any noise limits, but it’s a glorious sound and one we should make the most of while we still can. Still, if you’re going to go S, you may as well go S+.

S+ for Supercar

And here we are in the S+ mode. Located at the 9 o’clock position on the selector, engaging this drops the suspension, tells the fantastic 8-speed gearbox to skip down a cog or three and puts the electric motor and twin turbo V8 at your disposal in one big 680bhp package. That’s lot of power and trying an emergency start for the first time out in the desert you quickly realise the Panamera’s 0-100km/h time of 3.4 seconds is entirely possible without any fancy launch control, or ideal test conditions. Here, the all wheel drive system transfers the Porsche’s 626 ft/lbs of torque to the tarmac without a hint of losing grip: it just hunkers down on its colossal tyres (275/35 ZR 21s up front with 325/30 ZR 21s at the rear) and thrusts you forward. On powerful cars up to around 400bhp, you can feel the acceleration in your abs: with the Turbo S, you’re desperately trying to keep your neck stable, as any body part loosely connected to your torso is being snapped backwards. It is brutally quick.

Green or mean?

The Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is unique in motoring as it has the best of three worlds. In electric mode, it manages to get a ridiculously low 3.0 l/100km/h economy rating. That’s a staggering number and as charging points are currently free to use, you can technically commute to work in electric without ever diving into your nearest petrol station.

The electric drive also highlights the Porsche’s unmatched refinement. When you have to check the Panamera’s pulse through tiny vibrations in the steering wheel to make sure its running, then you have a luxury car with little equal.

And then there’s the 680bhp combined with 626 ft/lbs of torque. Working together, they transform the Panamera into a 4-door a racecar – one that just so happens to have 14-way power seats and a massage function. There’s very few cars on the planet that can keep up with an angry Turbo S E-Hybrid, which is a very strange thing to write about a car that can whisk you silently to work, for free.

The big question is; is an electric Porsche still a Porsche? I like my Porsches old and loud and preferably with the iconic flat six engine breathing through Weber carburetors. But this is 2018, so, absolutely yes, an ultra high performance hybrid Porsche is a welcome edition to the range and let’s not forget, the E-Hybrid takes its drive concept from the legendary 918 Spyder, a hybrid that also happens to be the first series production car to break the Nürburgring 7-minute barrier. If hybrid is the future of performance cars, then sign me up now.

Porsche Turbo S E-H Specifications
Displacement 3,996 cm3
Horsepower 550hp
Electric motor 136hp
Max system power 680hp
Transmission 8-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK)