Hot stuff: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid review

New cars Reviews
PetrolBlog heads to Munich to review the new Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid and achieves some quite remarkable economy results from a four-door that will do 167mph.

Maybe we took the challenge too seriously? But when the good people of Porsche presented us with a map and a new Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid and told us to go out in search of maximum efficiency, we did as we were told. Besides, after a frantic and quite wonderful dash from Munich airport in a Porsche Panamera twin-turbo V8, it was time to chill out for a while.

Sadly, chilling out was something we didn't get a chance to do. To maximise efficiency, we switched the Panamera's dual-zone climate control to ‘off’ and started to bake. It took all our willpower not to press the magic A/C button and set the temperature to a blissful 16-degrees. It was 36-degrees in southern Germany and it made the inside of the Panamera feel like a furnace. But like stubborn fools, we persevered with our challenge.

At this point I should probably do some introductions, by 'we' I'm referring to Simon Harris who was my unfortunate companion for the trip to Germany. We were there to check out the refreshed Porsche Panamera range. Love it or hate it, Porsche's four-seat GT has been a huge success for the brand. Over 100,000 sales since it launched in 2009 and a big hit in China, where a third of all Panameras have been sold.

Porsche proudly went through the cosmetic changes to the ‘second generation’ Panamera in great detail, but you sense that even they accept that the tweaks are minimal. In fact, they used a kind of ‘spot-the-difference’ / ‘before and after’ PowerPoint presentation to make their point. There are new headlights, a revised front end, subtle changes to the profile, a wider rear window, a wider spoiler and a repositioning of the numberplate, which now sits lower down.

Rear view of the new Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid in Germany

If - unlike PetrolBlog - you're not a fan of the current Panamera, there's little on show that will change your mind. But regardless of your view, few could argue that the interior is not a thing of beauty - so wonderfully put together and laid out. Highlights include the classic five-pod dial layout and the individual, independently reclining rear seats.The optional Alcantara headlining is simply a must-have option.

Other changes of note? Well the S and 4S no longer get the benefit of a glorious 4.8-litre V8. Instead it has been replaced with a less evocative, but all-new 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo. Seems like a backward step, until you discover that the V6 has more power - 420hp plays 416hp; more torque - 520Nm plays 500Nm; has a higher top speed - 178mph plays 176mph; and is quicker to 62mph - 4.8 secs rather than 5.0 secs (with PDK transmission).

And that's not all. At 32.5mpg, the Panamera V6 bi-turbo is about 2.5mpg more efficient than the V8 and by emitting 204g/km of CO2, it's 43g/km cleaner. Remarkable figures. It may lack the aural stimulation of the V8, but as a 168mph sprint up the Autobahn will testify, it's still mighty quick enough, thank you.

Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid on the road in Germany

But back to the point in hand - the new Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. As you'll remember, we were basking - or should that be baking - in the glorious surroundings of the German-Austrian border and had just set off on our eco challenge. Legendary Bentley-driver and former Jensen Interceptor owner, Simon Harris, was at the wheel.

Things got off to a good start. The route from the hotel to the main road was largely downhill, allowing the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid to consume next-to-no energy whatsoever. In fact, by the time we had reached the village, we had actually gained a few kms of range. Nice. We knew this thanks to the Porsche Car Connect smartphone app which constantly monitors the status of the battery. It will also remind you where you left the Panamera in a car park, plus, should you so wish, set the climate control to pre-heat the cabin for you. Not that this was required in Germany...

Simon Harris was doing his best impression of an eco-Terminator. Shades on, looking straight ahead, hands barely moving from ten-to-two on the steering wheel. The man was focused on one thing - maximum efficiency, baby.

Quite what this exercise was doing for the Porsche brand is anyone's guess. Progress was incredibly slow and we were being overtaken by cars that would ordinarily be mere specks on the inside lane as the Panamera makes its way up the Autobahn at lightning speeds. But not today, the big Porsche had to suffer the ignominy of being out-performed by BlueMotions, Shatchbacks and MPVs. Fortunately there were no first generation Nissan Serenas around to rub salt in our wounds.

Interior of Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

The thing is - this challenge was as enjoyable as it was nerve-wracking. Knowing that each hill and even the smallest of inputs on the gas pedal could deplete the battery led to intense levels of concentration. Not that we needed to worry - Porsche has cleverly installed a two-stage throttle, with a noticeable ‘cliff-edge’ warning you that you're about to leave the green and pleasant surroundings and enter what the Renault Fuego would call the ‘Turbo Zone’.

Support also comes from the Power Meter, which replaces the speedo and indicates the power level demand for the hybrid system or its electrical system recuperation power. And, crucially for this test, the Power Meter also displays the best power range for an efficient drive. Or, should your heart desire, a more sporty performance. We'll come back to this later.

At the half-way point, I took over the Panamera's reins. With around 15 miles to go, the green needle on the battery meter was finally edging towards the wrong side of the dial. Soon we were hovering between 10 and 15%. To cut a long and rambling story short, with about a mile to go, the battery ran out and was swiftly followed by the sound of the Audi-sourced 3.0-litre V6 engine firing into life. I have never been so disappointed to hear the sound of a petrol engine starting up.

Until this point we had driven nearly 32 miles accompanied by the sight of the needles on the dials relating to the combustion engine failing to even register a mere flicker of activity. As we reached the car park at the half-way point of our journey, our fuel consumption figure was an astonishing 0.1 litre/100km - or 2,825mpg. Yep, that's right - two thousand, eight hundred and twenty five miles per gallon.

Fuel economy, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid style

Now admittedly this was hardly real world stuff. Crawling along Autobahns, enduring tropical temperatures and struggling to overtake tractors simply isn't reflective of typical driving habits. But the point is, we proved that a 2,095kg four-seat Porsche capable of 168mph can achieve a range of 32 miles under electric power. This surpasses Porsche's estimate of between 11 and 22 miles.

Clearly some balance is required. So the journey back to the hotel was conducted under far more typical Porsche conditions. Now we'd drive the Panamera taking advantage of its combined 416hp and 590Nm of torque. But we did utilise the E-Charge mode to use the engine to recharge the now-depleted battery. Interestingly, by the time we got back, at least 20% of the battery's juice had been restored.

On some typically narrow and twisty Bavarian back roads, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid began to demonstrate the compromises that green motoring can deliver. Whether they matter is up for debate - it's unlikely that a Panamera will be bought for on-the-limit driving, 100% of the time.

But anyway, the first thing that strikes you is the extra kilos put on by the lithium-ion battery and electric motor. At 2,095kg, the S E-Hybrid is over 300kg heavier than the lightest Panamera you can buy and it certainly shows. It's not that the Panamera is a delicate and dainty sports car in the first place, but the additional weight serves to provide considerably more body-roll and a tendency to drift wide in the corners.

Cornering in the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

The brakes - whilst not lacking in stopping power - also deliver the artificial feeling so typical of cars with regenerative braking. And the standard-fit air suspension doesn't quite have what it takes to deliver the same ride:comfort ratio as the other Panameras. Switch to Sport mode and the Panamera is noticeably more fidgety over harsh surfaces.

And then there's the price. At £88,967 the S E-Hybrid is still some £20k cheaper than the flagship Turbo, but crucially it's £26k more than the 44.8mpg Diesel. You'd have to spend an awful lot of time getting hot and sweaty in southern Germany to justify the price difference. That is unless you're fortunate enough to be in a position to order a Panamera as a company car. This thing could work out cheaper than BMW or Audi saloon.

So it's expensive, but it's arguably more entertaining overall than the £82k and £85k S and 4S. And neither of these will be exempt from the new 75g/km London Congestion Charge limit. At 71g/km CO2 and 91.1mpg, the S E-Hybrid might just become the must-have accessory for wealthy executives in London. A Panamera that can literally travel around London for free during the week, before shooting up the M40 or along the M4 to head for the weekend home in the country.

The new Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid - a plug-in hybrid

And that's what makes the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid so bloomin’ exciting. Admittedly an £89k Porsche is hardly the most PetrolBloggy new car on the market, but then neither is the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid. And I love that too.

It's just impossible not to be impressed with the technical masterpiece Porsche has created. Porsche's claim that the Panamera S E-Hybrid is “the world's first luxury plug-in hybrid” is, to a certain extent, a throwaway line. What's more compelling is the fact it's arguably the most technologically advanced sports or luxury car you can buy today.

Although I'm unlikely ever to be in a position to buy a Porsche Panamera, this would be the one I'd choose. From the tiny details like the green badges, brake calipers and needles, right up to the techno-wizardry associated with the powertrain, you sense that living with an S E-Hybrid would be an engaging experience. Beating your best mpg figure would be just as rewarding as setting a new fastest time home from the office.

Rear badge on the new Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

And once you're back, simply plug the Panamera into the home-charging point, kindly provided by Porsche, and the car will be fully charged in four hours. By which time you'll relaxing indoors, smartphone app close at hand to check the car's status. Should it be cold when you wake in the morning, simply use the app to warm the cabin up for you. Joyous!

Put aside the slight feeling of detachment delivered by the eco gubbins and you'll enjoy the most complete Porsche Panamera money can buy.

Now where did I put that deodorant?

For a more grown-up review of the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, check out MSN Cars soon. Photos © Porsche.