New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

The Porsche Hybrid badge isn’t a joke. Though some may consider an eco-minded Porsche an oxymoron, the engineers in Stuttgart have already proven that their hybrids are driver’s cars and don’t stray far from the brand’s performance ethos. Porsche is quickly embracing hybrid technology with cars like the 918 Spyder, the 911 GT3 R Hybrid racecar, the Cayenne S Hybrid, and now the Panamera S Hybrid. After its launch in the fall of 2009, Porsche sold about 22,000 Panameras in the US in 2010, and some 80 percent of those sales were to buyers new to the Porsche brand. Porsche hopes to continue its sedan success when the Panamera S Hybrid goes on sale this November.

The Panamera S Hybrid uses the exact same powertrain as the Cayenne S Hybrid save for a couple small changes to the plumbing for battery cooling. Under the Panamera’s enormous snout lives a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 333 hp – the same engine found in the Audi S4. Add to that a 47-hp electric motor for a combined peak power output of 380 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque at a mere 1100 rpm. The Panamera S Hybrid can run in hybrid mode or electric-only mode, accessed by the “E Power” button on the center console. A 288-volt nickel-metal hydride battery is mounted under the trunk and can hold up to 1.7 kWh of energy. The battery weighs about 150 pounds and helps the Panamera S Hybrid achieve an almost perfectly balanced weight distribution all while being mounted low enough that trunk space isn’t compromised much. Compared to the V-6 Panamera S, an S Hybrid is about 400 pounds heavier.

The electric motor sits between the gasoline engine and the eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, another first for the Panamera as seven-speed PDKs are standard in other trim levels. In E Power mode, the gasoline engine is completely decoupled from the drivetrain and power is routed from the battery to the electric motor through the eight-speed transmission to the rear wheels. However, the car is limited to 53 mph and a range of about one mile before gasoline assistance kicks in. With both the gas and electric powertrains operational, the Panamera S Hybrid is the fastest production hybrid in the world with a top speed of 167 mph and sprints to 60 mph in a claimed 5.7 seconds. Lift off the throttle at cruising speed, and again, the gasoline engine shuts down and is decoupled from the drivetrain, reducing engine drag and fuel consumption.

On our mountain drive deep within the Bavarian Alps, the Panamera S Hybrid possessed great poise with just a touch of understeer when pushed hard. The electrically-assisted steering is perfectly weighted and helps make the big-bodied Panamera feel smaller than it really is. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how well the powertrain performed. There is no lack of power from the engine, and the transition from gasoline to E Power mode is smooth as silk; in fact, it didn’t feel or drive anything like a hybrid vehicle, and that’s exactly what Porsche was going for.

EPA numbers haven’t been released, but we estimate the Panamera S Hybrid to achieve 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. That’s a smidge better than the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid and the BMW ActiveHybrid 7-series. The base price for the Panamera S Hybrid is $95,000 without destination. It comes with a plethora of standard equipment including an adaptive air suspension management (PASM), adaptive dampers, Porsche communication management (PCM) with navigation, a USB audio port, and bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights.

We walked away impressed with the Panamera S Hybrid and its seamless yet powerful operation. Today, hybrids hold only a two percent market share worldwide, but Porsche predicts that number will balloon to 24 percent by 2020.