If Ferry Porsche were to bump into a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid in heaven, he might not recognize it as one of the flock. A leather-lined, near 5000-lb sedan pumping in excess of 400 horsepower and casting a shadow longer than a Buick LaCrosse or Mercedes-Benz E-Class would certainly be a . . . stretch from the small, light, rear-engine 356 sports car first produced in a sawmill. I won’t bore you with the genealogy that in fact does connect the two except to say that robust sales (and profits) from sales of four-door Porsches have proven to be the salvation of the two-door variety.
2015 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid Test Drive
The S E-Hybrid is one of ten Panamera models for 2015, which also include gas-powered versions ranging from a relatively tame base 310-hp V6 to an all-hands-on-deck twin-turbo 553-hp Turbo S V8. With a 333-hp Audi-derived supercharged V6 and 95-hp AC electric motor conspiring to develop 416 total system horsepower, and a Porsche-claimed 5.2-second 0-60 pink slip and 167-mph terminal velocity, the S E-Hybrid would appear to fit right in – it does.
One of Three Plug-In Hybrids
But the Panamera S E-Hybrid is a defensive move. As one of three plug-in hybrids in Porsche’s current lineup (the other two are the new Cayenne S E-Hybrid and the 918hypercar), it wouldn’t exist if not for the pressures of government agencies to increase fuel economy and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Provided the owner remembers to plug in and fully charge the large 9.4 kWh lithium-ion battery the night before, the Panamera S E-Hybrid can travel its first 15 miles on electrons alone. That could prove really handy for short jaunts in cities that require fossil-free days or perhaps when tiptoeing back to the villa after a midnight liaison.
The S E-Hybrid operates like most any other parallel hybrid, blending gas and electric power sources and channeling that through an eight-speed Audi-sourced (but very good) Tiptronic automatic. Besides the all-electric E-Power mode, you can select the default Hybrid mode, Sport mode for quicker throttle response and higher engine speeds, or E-Charge mode that uses the engine to top off a depleted battery for all-electric use later.
And it pretty much drives like any other V6 Panamera, albeit one hauling around about an extra 400 pounds of battery and a redundant electric powertrain. The good news is that the same chassis tuning and control that enables a driver to hustle a gas-powered version of this big four-place sedan down a curvy back road is onboard with the hybrid. Same monster brakes with monobloc aluminum calipers, same beefy 245/50R18 front and 275/45R18 rear meats, same pinpoint steering.
Hybrid hiccups? The brakes, painted Porsche’s hybrid-signature Acid Green (the same color adorns the badging and instrument needles), can have a two-stage feel as the system works to blend hydraulic and regenerative components. And the big one: The hybrid’s gas engine lacks the sort of aural signature I feel is part of the Porsche experience.
At least the S E-Hybrid’s $96,100 price is a relative bargain: For $2,900 above the price of the $93,200 Panamera S, Porsche uncharacteristically throws in about $20K of lithium-ion battery and related electric-drive componentry.
Get used to it. More plug-ins are on the way from Porsche and other luxury and high-performance automakers as they grapple with electrification schemes to allow their big, heavy, and fast offerings achieve EPA mileage estimates of slightly smaller, lighter and slower ones. It’s a bit of an apples-to-kumquats comparison with non-plug-in hybrids, but the EPA gives the S E-Hybrid a 50 MPGe rating (which sounds great until you compare it to the Prius plug-in’s frugal 95 MPGe). Not that I think Panamera owners place fuel economy high on their list of vehicle priorities.
While the S E-Hybrid presents an innovative (albeit complex) solution to appease the environmentalists, my first pick of the very capable 2015 Panamera litter is the new Panamera S twin-turbo V6. It’s faster than the Hybrid, makes appropriately Porsche engine sounds, and it delivers decent fuel economy – plus, it’s less expensive.