2018 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid: First Drive

It's a car of the moment, but is it a car that will be remembered for a generation?

Brendan McAleer

The more education you get, the longer your title. The longer your title, the fancier Porsche you'll likely be able to afford. The fancier (and more expensive) the Porsche you buy is, the longer its title will be. Say hello to the Herr Professor Doktor of cars, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.

“Before, we were asking our very top customers to make a choice between the Turbo model and the hybrid,” said Dr. Gernot Döllner, head of Porsche's Panamera product line. “Now, they can choose both. They're interested in the technology – this is not something we have to explain. And the car is fun.”

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Fun? This battery-stuffed behemoth weighs 5,093 lbs, occupants. A Boxster is fun. A Cayman is fun. This is a medium-sized battleship with a Sport Chrono timer on the dashboard. It may be technologically amazing, but fun?

Already a very complex and heavy machine, the Panamera is a logical next step for Porsche's spreading efficient performance umbrella. If they'd hybridized the 911 first, some sort of additional wall would be required to keep out the pitchfork and torch-toting enthusiast crowd, and all the construction crews are too busy building the Mission-E plant.

Brendan McAleer

Thus, the Panamera becomes the recipient of the halo cast by cars like the 918 Spyder and the conveniently victorious 919 Hybrid Le Mans prototype. Everything seems perfectly lined up for Porsche to roll out a new supreme variant of their super sedan.

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Still, the cynic can't help but sigh a little as Stuttgart bends physics again by adding complexity instead of subtracting weight. Some time ago, at the launch of the Cayman GT4, head of GT division Andreas Preuninger told me, “Technology now outperforms the weight penalty.” Instead of stripping a car to make the racing variant, you can add grip via torque-vectoring, power via boost, and then throw huge brakes to deal with the inertia.

Even so, you'd have to be made of stone not to be impressed by how much faster an LMP1 car is than the racing variants of the Corvettes, Ferraris, and Aston-Martins. Just watch the hybrids warp past the GTE cars through the Porsche Curves at Le Mans. It's like watching Spitfires get roasted by the USS Enterprise.

Or possibly the Borg. With the sense that resistance is useless, I assimilate myself into the luxurious cabin of a limousine-long hatchback, select Sport Plus mode, and glide out of the pits onto a compact racetrack that would be better suited to a Spec Miata. A 911 Turbo S leads the way – this is pretty tame lead-follow stuff – talks us through the turns, then leaps ahead as the straight approaches. I walk on the throttle.

Brendan McAleer
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We go to plaid.

If the regular Panamera Turbo has a twin-turbocharged freight train under the hood, then this thing gets a warp drive. The internal combustion part is the same: a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 with square bore and stroke that redlines at 6800 rpm. It produces 550 hp from 5750-6000 rpm, and 568 lb-ft of torque from 1960-4500 rpm.

Now add in a jolt of electricity. The electric motor, powered by a 14 kWh lithium-ion battery, cranks out 136 hp at 2800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque from 100-2300 rpm. Total power output is a 680 hp at just below 6000 rpm, and 626 lb-ft from 1400-5500 rpm.

It's like somebody sent a Hellcat to the electric chair – and only succeeded in making it angry. The Panamera's weight is suddenly a non-issue, with throttle response like that of a lightswitch. Any time the Panamera rubber-banded the 911 Turbo a bit, the quick application of supercar power levels warped the E-Hybrid right up to its sporting cousin's raised spoiler.

Brendan McAleer
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The brain boggles. It boggles all the more when you consider how totally inappropriate this car is for this track. Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit is a sort of country club for speed fans, and they've done a lot within the restrictions of space and zoning. I lapped a Subaru BR-Z here not long ago, and the many technical loops and elevation drops were perfect for a modestly powered, nimble machine.

Expecting something the size and power of the Panamera to shine here is like expecting your lower intestine to handle digesting an entire eggplant without chewing it. Things should get clogged.

They do not, and this is the perhaps the E-hybrid's biggest advantage over its obvious rival, the Tesla Model S. The latter is a great street car, if one that occasionally suffers from build quality issues that would embarrass a Plymouth Neon. Take a Model S to the track and they tend to overheat and throw up issues. It's just not in the car's mission.

Brendan McAleer
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The E-hybrid, on the other hand, happily lapped for hours, utilizing its four-wheel steering to carve convincingly into the tighter sections at the top far corner of the track. A car this massive should not be able to dance like this.

The new eight-speed PDK transmission adds extra flexibility to the powertrain (not really needed at these power levels). Porsche's torque vectoring system and carbon-ceramic brakes are standard, as is the air suspension and electromechanical anti-roll bars. The usual drive modes are supplemented by E-Power, where the car will travel 31 miles on electricity only, E-hold, where the charge is held until needed, and E-charge, where the battery is slowly charged off the engine. You might want to use the last to creep silently into your neighborhood at night.

Leaving the track, things get even better out along the spine of the coastal mountains along the far side of Vancouver Island. With 626lb-ft of torque available anywhere just off-idle, the E-Hybrid effortlessly lunges past any obstacles in the road, backing up the low-end electric shove with relentless turbo-V8 pull.

The only giveaway to the way physics are being bent comes when you drive the car in hybrid mode, with the air-suspension softened up. Over rippling pavement that jigs left and right, the Panamera E-hybrid is no electronically-distilled Boxster. It feels pretty huge.

Brendan McAleer
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But then you reach a straight bit and unleash the hybrid hounds. This does not get old. Okay, fine, Dr. Döllner, it's fun.

To the tremendously addictive power, add a full suite of technologies designed to make driving fast effortless. The Panamera's improved infotainment interface are bolstered by driver assists that take some of the drudgery out of driving. The InnoDrive adaptive cruise control function, for instance, reads upcoming corners, changing gradients, and traffic conditions. It's not quite a chauffeur, more a co-pilot, but for a long-distance dash across Europe, perhaps you'd appreciate the break.

Do we lust for a car like the Panamera E-hybrid? Probably not. On this same track--road drive day, a GT3 with a six-speed manual would be just the ticket. Or perhaps even a basic C2 with minimal options.

Or perhaps the original Porsche application of technology for speed, a 930. Certainly part of the reason we've seen the air-cooled Porsche market go completely insane over the last while is that the early cars are more human somehow. They can be easily understood, their flaws are charming, and they can be repaired forever.

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Brendan McAleer

You do not have to be a Herr Professor Doktor to recognize that the Panamera Turbo S E-hybrid is a car of its time. It will not be preserved for generations, it is not really a game changer, and while it is ludicrously quick and competent, it does not engender a lot of emotion.

It is, however, an evolutionary step. If you look back across the sprawling mass of Porsche products, the slow pace of change can be easily charted as various models change and grow. It is a surety that one day the Porsche 911 will adopt a hybrid powertrain, and the Cayman/Boxster twins too.

This time, it's the Panamera that points the way forward. Happily, technically speaking, it's excellent. I realize that wanting a naturally aspirated flat-six stirred up by a stick shift is, by comparison, like dreaming of a board with a nail through it, but there you have it. I am neither a Professor nor a Doktor. I like my fun a little bit dumb.

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