The 2018 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Is a Car of the Moment

This hybrid looks to the future while nodding at the past.

Chris Perkins

The Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid sits in the middle of a lot of things. Within its own family, it slots right between the slower, less-powerful Panamera 4 and the lighter, quicker Panamera 4S. But for a more important comparison, we have to look beyond Porsche.

In a way, this car lives in a strange grey area between luxury sports sedans like the BMW M550i and Mercedes-AMG E43 and something a bit more futuristic—the Tesla Model S 75D. The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is very much a car of this moment, both looking at the past and the future. And it's a really compelling machine.

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Thanks to its hybrid drivetrain, the Panamera can offer two experiences: sports-sedan and silent luxury EV. A 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 offers 330 hp while an electric motor positioned between the engine and eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox provides an additional 136 hp. Total system output is 462 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which really defines the driving experience.

If you're wondering why 330 + 136 somehow equals 462 hp and not 466, the gas engine and electric motor can't both offer maximum power at the same time. That's just the nature of internal-combustion versus electricity.

Chris Perkins

You get the Tesla Model S-like experience when you first hop in the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. Shut the door and you're greeted by all the fancy tech of the new Panamera, also by silence. The car starts in E-Power mode, which uses the electric motor alone unless you dig deep into the throttle, where a kickdown switch brings in the engine for a quick blast.

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With only 136 horsepower to move 4800 lbs of car—the E-Hybrid is 705 lbs heavier than the Panamera 4—you're never going to get full Tesla ludicrous performance in E-Power mode. Though with 295 lb-ft of torque, the E-Hybrid never feels sluggish in its all-electric mode.

The thing that defines the electric-car experience—other than zero-rpm torque—is the silence. Electric motors typically make a faint high-pitched whir in their operation, but it's almost imperceptible unless you're concentrating. It can be disorienting if you come from the internal-combustion realm where more noise equals more forward motion, and it's one of the most striking things about driving an electric car.

Cruising around New York City, I began to wonder how much of the car's 4800 lbs was just sound deadening. The clatter of Midtown Manhattan seemed to vanish, replaced by that faint whirr and the sound of wind rushing over the car. It's relaxing in a way I never expected a Porsche to be. Eerie almost.

While I'm always happy to listen to the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 of the Panamera Turbo burble away in the background, there's a big appeal in the silence of the hybrid's electric motor. It's soothing, and isn't that what you want from a luxury car? It's certainly a big part of a Tesla's appeal.

Chris Perkins
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But, it's when the gas engine and the electric motor combine that things get really interesting.

Twist the knob attached to the Panamera's steering wheel to either Sport or Sport Plus, and the V6 immediately fires to life (Hybrid Auto switches between gas and electric power—good for day-to-day stuff). It's at this point, the Panamera starts to do the whole sports-sedan thing quite well.

I left the Road & Track office early one afternoon to head upstate to some of our favorite challenging backroads—the sort of place where a Cayman or 911 might feel at home. Mostly out of curiosity, as I wanted to know what would happen if you took a 4800-lb luxury sedan to sports car country. Could something this big and heavy possibly live up to the Porsche brand?

Thanks to some really clever hardware, it kind of can. Our Panamera tester was equipped with rear-axle steering, a $1620 option that I think is totally essential. Porsche offered this first with the 2013 911 GT3, and its operating principle is simple—at low speeds, the rear wheels steer opposite to the fronts, and at high speeds, they steer in the same direction.

The system is totally seamless, making the Panamera much feel much smaller than it is. Combine that with an adaptive air suspension that can lower and firm up the car, and you've got something that feels way more agile than it has any right to be. You're always aware of the huge mass moving around—especially when you jump on the brakes, which are heroic—but the Panamera just seems to shrug it off.

And all that instant electric torque lets you point and shoot between corners with ease. Sport and Sport Plus modes use the electric motor to help fill in the torque gap of the engine, giving you constant access to all kinds of shove. It's the opposite of a momentum car, where you need to carry speed through corners to make swift progress—you just use the torque to shoot across any straight.

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In terms of performance, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid falls in line with the BMW M550i and the Mercedes-AMG E43, but comparisons of outright performance aren't really relevant here.

Chris Perkins

All automakers today are at a crossroads, heading towards a future where electrification will play a much larger role in powering cars. Porsche is at the same crossroads, but it also has to answer to its past, probably more than any other automaker does. This is a company that built its reputation on making great driver's cars, and it's got to keep doing that even as it heads towards an uncertain future.

The 4 E-Hybrid is the result. It shows Porsche looking towards its future, where hybrid- and all-electric cars will become the norm, while acknowledging why people care about the brand in the first place.

A lot is asked of the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. It has to drive like a Porsche, and preview future technology, all while being a quiet comfortable luxury car. Its remit is to be a lot of things to a lot of different people.

And it is. Not many other cars offer a similar mix of sportiness and effortless, quiet luxury, and it's quite appealing as a result. But more important than that, the 4 E-Hybrid shows Porsche has its eyes on what's important. It gives a lot of hope for its next generation of cars.

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