Road Tests

First Drive: 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

This is what happens when you answer a question no one thought to ask

DUNCAN, Canada — The tarmac is heating up at Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit and a Skittles array of 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrids sits ready for hot laps around the 1.4-mile circuit. When was the last time we flung a 2.5-ton, 680 horsepower sedan around what is essentially a large-scale go-kart track? Uh, that would be never. But the good people from Zuffenhausen thought it would be a good idea, so we kindly obliged.

While waiting for our turn behind the wheel, we spy a specimen of the late, great 918 Spyder, just past a dizzyingly complex cutaway of the E-Hybrid’s electron- and gasoline-powered drivetrain. “The E-Hybrid is the first time a plug-in hybrid has been positioned at the top of the Panamera line,” sales and marketing specialist Dr. Stefan Utsch told us earlier, bringing the not-so-innocently placed 918 into sharp context. Mixed hypercar metaphors aside, it’s finally our turn to give the hybrid range topper—the Panamera—that is) a go.

Big Boy Pants

Strapped into the driver’s seat of the big-bodied Panamera, there’s still a distinctly Porsche sports car feeling to the cockpit view. Dead ahead is a large tach (still analog, thankfully), flanked by twin TFT screens. The visual focus is on engine rpms, with supplemental graphics on electric motor output available if the driver so chooses. Rotate the knurled, steering wheel-mounted dial to S+, and the drivetrain switches to full attack mode—all eight cylinders always on, regeneration set to maximum in order to keep the lithium-ion battery charged, and eight-speed dual-clutch set to stun.

Creep along the pits, and the Panamera’s brakes have a disconcerting lack of initial bite. The system is a vast improvement over the early build Panamera 4 E-Hybrid we drove in South Africa earlier this year, which had an unpredictable pedal takeup at low speeds. But it still takes a moment to acclimate to the stoppers, which use regeneration during much of the pedal stroke before activating the calipers for friction braking.

Chasing a 911 Turbo S in a Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is an elaborate exercise in cognitive dissonance. Punch it from the pits, and little is lost in straight-line acceleration—after all, the sedan’s 3.2 second 0-60 mph time is only three-tenths off the 911’s. But with a nearly three-quarter ton weight disadvantage, the Panamera must overcome a predictably more stupefying physics challenge. It helps that this Porsche’s torque vectoring, active suspension, and ceramic brake systems are all standard. Aiding the cause is an optional rear steering system that turns the back wheels out of phase below 31 mph for agility, and in-phase above those speeds for stability; this big girl can use all the virtual wheelbase shortening she can get.

As the 911 Turbo S whips into the first corner, it takes a bit of pre-emptive steering input to get the Panamera to do the same. Apex too late and turn too sharply, and the rush of power to all four tires triggers the stability control, buzz-killing what might have otherwise been a raucously quick corner. A few turns in, it becomes evident we’re going to need a different technique to keep up with our twin-turbocharged lead car. By braking hard, turning in more gently, and exiting with a more gradual throttle application, the Panamera manages carves through the corner and can hang reasonably close to its immensely capable lead car. It takes a few bends to arrive at that tactic and it isn’t long before our session is up, leading us to wish we had the forethought to switch the Porsche Active Stability Management system to Sport, which would have further loosened the reins. Then again, maybe we were better off with the full safety net during our manic chase of the spritely, be-spoilered sports car.

Un-Rowdy on the Road

As grunty and commanding as the S E-Hybrid is on track, this particular Panamera masks its anger remarkably well on the road. Partial credit goes to the expansive power spread between the 550-horsepower twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8 up front, and the 136-hp electric motor that’s fed by a liquid-cooled, 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery hanging off the rear axle, in the old school 911 style. The combo can dispatch 60 mph in a scant 3.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 192 mph, making the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid the quickest and fastest hybrid sedan on the planet. But the linear power delivery makes for no power spikes or surprises when you lay on the right pedal, just a silky, seemingly endless tug of thrust; 626 lb-ft of torque, peaking between 1,400 and 6,000 rpm, can do that.

The all-new Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) eight-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission delivers 28-percent less friction loss than its predecessor, and shifts just as smoothly. Gear changes are quick and drama-free, with the wheel-mounted paddle shifters responding instantly when called upon. Press the Sport Response button and the drivetrain coils up for quick passing, calibrating throttle response and gear selection for 20 seconds of antic acceleration. The tactic worked well on Canadian dawdlers, and once we were freed from the shackles of slow-moving traffic the Panamera met triple-digit speeds with disarming ease.

However, if there is a weak link to this hybrid’s performance matrix, it is suspension damping over some of the bumpier stretches of two-lane twisties. In firm mode (selected by pressing the shock absorber pictogram button on the center console), the suspension feels like rebound is too firm; in softer settings, body motion gets annoyingly loose. These dynamics unfold at rather high speeds, and produce definitively first-world complaints, especially considering the comprehensive breadth of this plug-in’s capabilities. Dial things to electric-only, and you can travel with serene, vibration-free battery power at speeds up to 86 mph and, if you have the throttle discipline, for up to 31 miles.

21st Century Flagship

Despite its superlative numbers and genre-busting performance, this Panamera manages to feel surprisingly terrestrial. Quiet when it needs to be but fiercely quick when provoked, Porsche’s top-line sedan is, in a sense, the $185,450 answer to the question nobody asked. In fact, the Turbo S E-Hybrid is really but a corner within the well-rounded Panamera lineup which now offers no fewer than 15 variants, among them four handsome Sport Turismo offerings. Regardless, this hybridized four-seater is an excellent use of the 918 Spyder’s wild strains of DNA, sensibility be damned.

2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $185,450 (base)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/ 550 hp @ 5,750 – 6,000 rpm, 567 lb-ft @ 1,960 – 4,500 rpm plus electric motor / 136 hp @ 2,800 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 100 – 2,300 rpm ; combined/680 hp, 626 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 198.8 x 85.2 x 56.2 in
WHEELBASE 116.1 in
WEIGHT 5,093 lb
0-60 MPH 3.2 sec
TOP SPEED 192 mph

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EPA MPG:

21 City / 28 Hwy

Horse Power:

330 @ 5400

Torque:

331 @ 1340