Think hybrid, and many auto enthusiasts immediately think sensible commuter cars such as Toyota’s ubiquitous Prius. However, the auto enthusiasts inside Porsche’s engineering HQ in Weissach, Germany, have a slightly different point of view. The fastest Porsche race car ever, the 919 Le Mans Prototype, is a hybrid. The fastest Porsche road car ever, the 918 Spyder, is also a hybrid. At Porsche, hybrid powertrains are not about squeezing the last mile out of a gallon of gas; they are about efficient performance.
And that’s the logic behind the 2018 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, the newest addition to Porsche’s luxury sport sedan lineup. A plug-in hybrid, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid’s powertrain consists of a 326 hp, 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-6, and a compact 134 hp electric motor mounted between the internal combustion engine and the eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. Total system output is 456 hp, with a solid 516 lb-ft of torque on tap from just 1,100 rpm. Porsche claims the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid will accelerate to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, and hit 172 mph on the autobahn. A Toyota Prius it ain’t…
When it goes on sale in the U.S. this summer the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid will be priced at $99,600, a $10,000 premium over the all-wheel drive, V-6 powered Panamera 4. The E-Hybrid is 0.6 second quicker to 60 mph and 10 mph faster. But that’s not all you get for the extra money. The E-Hybrid automatically starts up in pure EV mode and can travel up to 30 miles on pure electric power, at speeds of up to 86 mph. When the battery’s used up, the powertrain will then switch to a hybrid mode that delivers various combinations of combustion engine and electric motor power to deliver maximum efficiency.
What makes this big Porsche more interesting is that it’s an intelligent hybrid. The standard Sport Chrono package offers E-Power mode (the default mode) and Hybrid Auto mode, plus the usual Sport and Sport+ modes, which sharpen up the throttle response and transmission shift protocol, stiffen the dampers, and open the sport exhaust (an option) just like in regular Panameras. But there’s also E-Hold mode, which allows drivers to conserve the battery’s state of charge so the Panamera can run in pure EV mode at their destination, and E-Charge mode, in which the internal combustion engine generates more power than needed for driving in order to recharge the battery while driving.
Plugged in, the 14.1 kW/hr battery takes 12 hours to fully recharge using a standard 120V, 10-amp connection. Porsche claims with the optional 7.2 kW charger—a 3.6 kW unit is standard—and a 240V, 40-amp connection, charging time drops to less than three hours.
The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid doesn’t shout its hybrid-ness. Externally, the car is identified by acid green colored brake calipers, and small e-hybrid badges on the front fenders. These badges and the model designation across the rear are outlined in acid green. The trim around the glasshouse is matte black, and the standard wheels are 19 inches, though larger ones are available as an option.
Inside, only sharp-eyed Porschephiles will notice the acid green needle on the tach and the different modes on the Sport Chrono mode controller in the steering wheel. The real differences appear when you twist the ignition key. Hybrid-specific information, including an energy boost meter and a power flow schematic, can be accessed on the two 7.0-inch screens either side of the analogue tach, and on the 12.3-inch central touchscreen.
In Sport and Sport+ modes, the E-Hybrid drives just like a regular V-6 powered Panamera 4. And in Hybrid Auto mode it feels rather like a Prius, except that it’s bigger, faster, sportier, better looking, and way more luxurious. Porsche’s powertrain management system shuffles energy flows back and forth between combustion engine, electric motor and wheels just as seamlessly as Toyota’s, though with more precision and responsiveness.
In E-Power mode the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid feels different from almost every other EV, mainly because the electric motor drives through the eight-speed PDK transmission. There’s some shunting evident at low speeds, particularly when slowing, as the mechanical transmission declutches and moves masses of metal about inside the transmission housing. Although a regular single speed EV—such as a Tesla or Chevy Bolt—delivers a totally seamless driving experience, the E-Hybrid can occasionally get wrong-footed by the transmission. And that mechanical link to the driving wheels accentuates the exponential progression of the regenerative braking effect as you bring the big Porsche to a halt.
At first acquaintance the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid makes good on Porsche’s promise of efficient performance. We’ll find out exactly how quick and how efficient once we subject it to our own performance and Real MPG testing back home in Los Angeles, but our first drive of the car in and around Cape Town, South Africa, produced some tantalizingly impressive numbers: On a 42-mile loop that included stop-start traffic along the scenic coastline and gentle cruising through Table Mountain National Park amid a swarm of Sunday tourists, our tester returned an indicated 53 mpg. Bolstered by about 25 miles of pure EV running, that number would of course have come down significantly had we driven farther, but Porsche’s point was made: Many large luxury cars are most often used for relatively short urban and suburban trips. In this scenario, the E-Hybrid is impressively efficient for a car of its size.
The only problem is, will American consumers care? With the country awash in cheap gas, it will take a long time to get a payback at the pump on the $10,000 price premium over the regular and impressively accomplished Panamera 4. Ignoring the E-Hybrid’s efficiency equation shifts the focus to the performance differential between the two. And $10,000 is a lot to spend to arrive at 60 mph 0.6 second sooner and to get 10 mph more top speed you can’t use.