First drive: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
What is it?
Conspicuous consumption with a conscience. For those less interested in the ballistic pace of its V8 engine Turbo offerings, Porsche is serving up its four-seat Panamera with a hybrid system that is able to propel the car up to 22 miles (and at speeds of up to 84mph) on battery power alone. It returns an incredible 91mpg on the combined cycle and thanks to CO2 emissions of just 71g/km, the E-Hybrid is even exempt from the London Congestion Charge, something – due to the new, more stringent rules – not even a Toyota Prius can boast. Elsewhere, the exterior styling has been (very) subtly revised and equipment such as a multi-function steering wheel and a powered tailgate are now fitted as standard across the range.
What's under the bonnet?
Don't think all this eco-worthiness makes the Panamera E-Hybrid slow – this is a Porsche after all. The 410bhp shove from the combined 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and 70kW electric motor means this two-tonne leviathan will sprint from 0-62 mph in 5.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 167mph. Those attracted by a full-size performance GT with running costs that won't make you cry should also consider the Panamera Diesel, which is not only much cheaper to buy (to the tune of £26,045) but will also likely return better fuel economy in real world driving. Replacing the V8 in the petrol lineup is a new supercharged 3.0-litre V6, available in the 306bhp and 414bhp 'S' guises, with a choice of two or four-wheel drive. Power mongers needn't despair as a V8 is still available – naturally aspirated in the 434bhp track-oriented GTS, or with twin-turbos for supercar-baiting performance in the range-topping Turbo model.
What's the spec like?
No trim levels as such, just increasing levels of standard equipment the higher you venture up the model hierarchy, and an extensive options list which can see you easily add £20,000 to the car's list price should you get too happy ticking boxes. With the refreshed model a manual gearbox is no longer offered, with all cars bar the diesel and hybrid models coming with Porsche's excellent PDK twin-clutch automatic instead. Also available are a plethora of electronic safety aids, such as lane change assist and adaptive cruise control with Porsche Active Safe, which alerts the driver to potential obstacles. Of most interest is the new Porsche Car Connect smartphone app, which allows owners to do everything from checking the hybrid's battery charge status, to receiving warnings if their car has been driven above a certain speed or outside a specified geographical area. It will even allow you to remotely lock the engine should you find your keys have been pinched.
If it's specifically a performance luxury hybrid you're after, your choices are limited to the BMW Active Hybrid 5 and new Infiniti Q50. Both are cheaper to buy and offer similar levels of performance, but cannot compete with the Panamera's GT credentials and sheer interior opulence. They are both conventional hybrids, too, and lack the plug in capacity and electric-only range of the Porsche. If, however, you merely want a fast, stylish, well appointed four-seater you are spoilt for choice, with all of the German premium manufacturers occupying the same market. We would recommend the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe to keen drivers, as it has a similarly focused feel to the Porsche, particularly in range-topping M6 guise. The Mercedes CLS and Audi A7 should be on the shortlist for those who value long-distance comfort over seat-of-the-pants thrills.
What's it like to drive?
Thanks to its battery pack and electric motor gubbins, the Panamera hybrid weighs in a whopping 325kg more than the normal entry level model, and unfortunately this extra bulk does blunt the driving experience somewhat. Jump out of an S or Turbo model and the E-Hybrid feels a tad lethargic, less eager to change direction and with acceleration at odds with its 410bhp headline power output. It's not slow, but doesn't deliver the same eye-widening surge of acceleration found in the regular petrol models. What appeals is the sports car driving position and feelsome (for an electric system) steering, which gives a driver the confidence to place the car accurately on the road – a boon with a vehicle as wide and as long as the Panamera. On a cruise, the car plays the consummate GT, with acres of lounging space, a comfortable ride and a hushed cabin, intruded on by only a piercing tyre roar on the wrong surfaces.
The AOL Cars verdict
The Panamera remains a highly accomplished, involving and desirable GT car. Its new plug-in hybrid system certainly makes it the eco-darling amongst its peers, but you'll really have to want a part EV vehicle to shell out the weighty premium over the impressive and frugal diesel model.
Model: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, supercharged, petrol
Power: 410bhp, 590NM
Max speed: 167mph
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
MPG: 91.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 71g/km CO2