Porsche has never been a diesel kind of car brand, though its parent company, Volkswagen Group, is heavily invested in Germany’s favourite type of engine, as are rivals Daimler and BMW Group. While the local auto industry in general continues to grapple with the fallout from Dieselgate, Porsche has a good interim path toward full electric power thanks to the 2018 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid plug-in.
The Panamera 4E-Hybrid is anything but the only car in its class to embrace plug-in hybrid power, though its maker is in the unusual position of being able to make the best of the powertrain’s electrification as part of its performance recipe. Think Formula 1, as Porsche apparently is, if the latest rumors are to be believed. Torque-happy as diesels are, they’ve never made good sports car or race car powertrains.
It’s with that in mind that my drive partner and I drove this new hybrid Panamera in the morning and a conventional Panamera 4S in the afternoon. There was little tactile difference between the two.
The 4 E-Hybrid, like the Panamera 4S, uses Porsche’s 330-hp twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6, for a combined 462 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, but its 136-hp electric motor enhances the Porsche sedan’s performance. It reaches 62 mph, in 4.4 seconds, compared with 5.2 seconds for the standard 330-hp Panamera 4 (5.0 seconds with Sport Chrono), and the electric motor’s instant torque makes for nose-raising, pushed-into-your-seat launches that non-Turbo Panameras simply can’t match.
It uses a parallel hybrid system in which both the engine and motor feed off an eight-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission. Its rear wheels do most of the powering until conditions call for the front wheels to contribute. The 4E-Hybrid is capable of 51 kilometers of range—an odd specificity that rounds out to 32 miles. That emissions-free range is growing increasingly important as more and more cities consider congestion limitations. Like virtually all other plug-in hybrid and extended-range electric systems on the market, the driver may choose to hold the full battery charge and unleash it when entering an urban, stop-and-go area, where the charge can be used most efficiently.
The car always starts in the electric mode, however. Select hybrid mode and it mixes use of the gas engine and electric motor for optimum efficiency and performance, while the PSM Sport mode allows a “significantly sportier” driving style and Sport+ mode recharges the battery at a much higher rate.
A full recharge takes as little as 2.4 hours with the optional 7.2-killowatt on-board charger, at 240 volts and 40 amps, and four hours with the standard 3.6-killowat onboard charger. At 120 volts and 10 amps, either on-board charger takes 12.5 hours to fully juice up. The lithium-ion battery pack is placed in the rear, which also improves weight balance to 49/51 front/rear versus 52/48 for the all-wheel-drive Panamera 4.
“The future of the automobile industry is electric,” says Gernot Döllner, vice president of the Panamera product line and hybrid strategy. “I can see an electric Panamera in the future. I do not see a future where we have both the hybrid and the electric.” In other words, the Porsche Mission E will (of course) be on a dedicated platform and not on the Panamera’s MSB platform.
“We believe the hybrid strategy is a really strong step” toward electrification, Doellner says.
Our Panamera 4E-Hybrid tester included the optional Inno Drive system, which adds $3,910 to U.S.-spec models and includes adaptive cruise control. Inno Drive is a kind of semi-autonomous system, available on all Panameras but most effective on the 4 E-Hybrid because it uses Porsche’s mapping system and topographical data to make the most efficient use of its powertrain when climbing and descending hills.
Porsche has mapped European and U.S. roads, integrating the data into the navigation system. This directs the engine control unit to use the gas engine to power on uphill grades and switch to the electric motor when coasting down the other side. Mapping data provided is by second-source company Here and is updated four times a year..
As a hybrid aid, Inno Drive is seamless. You’ll pretty much have to watch the tachometer needle drop to zero on the way down to know it’s working. In fact, driving the 4E-Hybrid back-to-back with Panamera 4, on roads outside Zuffenhausen that allowed for no more than 5/10 the cars’ capability, we would not have been able to pass the blindfold test to tell the two apart. Inno Drive also is another step toward full autonomy, although you still have to keep your hands on the wheel to drive the car in this mode. Porsche, for the time being, is taking a much more conservative step than, for instance, Cadillac and its Super Cruise technology.
Changing out of “comfort” mode into the “sport” modes did no more than quicken throttle and shift responses, and those changes simply didn’t matter in this setting, where “comfort” still provides enough of the Panamera’s innate agility to maintain its image as the sports car of its segment.
And while the first-generation Panamera was the sedan to buy if you wanted Mercedes-Benz S-Class comfort with 911-like dynamics, and the best view of the was from the driver’s seat, where you didn’t have to look at its exterior styling, the new second-generation model is substantially more pleasing to the eye, especially if you like the current 991 look. As a sort of feeder series for the upcoming Mission E, the quick and smooth 4E-Hybrid offers performance that should lure the most hardcore of enthusiasts from any other conventional Panamera model.