2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid review
* Plug-in hybrid Porsche Panamera * We test real-world range and fuel economy * Costs £88,967; around £150 a month for company car drivers...
Judging from the figures, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid looks to be powered by witchcraft. It doesn't seem feasible that a 410bhp supercharged V6 petrol-powered car, capable of 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds, can emit just 71g/km of CO2 and cost roughly the same as a BMW 320d to run as a company car.
The truth is that the S E-Hybrid isn't powered only by a petrol engine. It also has a 94bhp electric motor (with a new 9.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack), which gives real-world electric-only propulsion for between 11 and 22 miles.
The batteries can be charged conventionally by plugging the car into a domestic socket or a fast charger, or on the move using the petrol motor and the car's regenerative braking system.
Less magical is the £88,967 price. However, with company car tax bills of around £150 a month (for 40% rate taxpayers), the S E-Hybrid makes an intriguing prospect in the fleet world.
What's the 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid like to drive?
Possibly the most impressive thing about the hybrid Panamera is how far and how fast you can drive on electric power alone – and just how easy it is to do so.
The car defaults to E-Power mode when switched on, and this works to give you the maximum possible pure electric range – you can drive up to 84mph in this mode, although the quicker you go the faster you'll drain the battery.
You don't even have to worry about pressing the accelerator too far and the car unexpectedly switching to petrol power, because there's a very obvious resistance in the pedal travel that you have to punch through to make that happen.
Porsche says the Panamera Hybrid is capable of between 11 and 22 miles on electric power, and our tests back up that claim; we managed 11.2 miles on a mix of roads with the outside temperature a chilly 5C. We've no doubt the range would be better in warmer conditions.
The car automatically switches to hybrid mode when the battery charge falls below a certain level, at which point you should still get around 30mpg (the E-Hybrid averaged 30.7mpg in our real-world True MPG tests).
If you want to recharge the battery using the petrol engine, you simply press an E-Charge button. E-Power mode becomes available again when the battery has more than 20% of charge.
Opt for Sport mode, and both power sources work in unison to provide some impressive straight-line pace, although the eight-speed auto gearbox can sometimes be indecisive, letting the petrol engine rev into the rather harsh upper ranges.
It's fairly obvious when the petrol engine cuts in, but not in an unpleasant way – there's a subtle change in the noise the car makes and the responsiveness of the brake pedal.
In fact, braking feel is one of the weak points of this car – regardless of which drive setting you're in – although stopping power itself is more than adequate.
That's useful, because this is a heavy car. All the gadgetry means the S E-Hybrid is nearly 300kg heavier than a Biturbo Panamera S, and you do feel that extra weight.
Even the steering is weightier than in non-hybrid Panameras, and in fast corners the S E-Hybrid falls short of the handling benchmark you might expect from a Porsche.
True, no Panamera feels delicate, but this version is more willing to wash wide in corners, suffers from slightly more body roll and fails to provide the sense of connection you might expect. Put simply, there are too many complex systems working away, which make the driver feel less involved.
That said, around town the weighting is light enough, and when running on electric power alone slow speed manoeuvring is a breeze.
The weight also affects the ride comfort. With active air suspension fitted as standard, the S E-Hybrid is far from uncomfortable, but it's always firm and the ride becomes jittery with the suspension in its sportiest setting.
Still, most of the time this is a remarkably refined car that asks little compromise for its impressive efficiency figures.
What's the 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid like inside?
The interior of the Panamera remains mostly unchanged, which is no bad thing unless you're expecting outstanding practicality.
The rear cabin accommodates two people in very comfortable, individually adjustable seats. The boot is more than big enough for daily use, although it's actually not much bigger than a VW Golf's and is an awkward shape.
The Panamera is clearly a luxurious car, though, and it shows. You feel properly pampered behind the wheel, with the centre console bisecting the cabin and housing most of the switchgear, and a standard colour touch-screen dominating the shallow, upright dashboard.
Crisp, easy-to-read dials provide you with vital driver information, while the touch-screen offers whatever other useful information you might want, from navigation instructions through to how much electric range you have left.
All the cabin materials feel appropriately sumptuous, and although the dashboard is a bit button-heavy in areas, most of the controls are easy to get the hang of.
A new mobile app called Porsche Car Connect can monitor and activate some of the Panamera S E-Hybrid's functions via your smartphone. These include a charging status indicator and the ability to heat or cool the car using the climate control system. Other functions include a tyre pressure monitoring system and vehicle tracking.
You get more standard equipment than before, too, which now includes a multi-function steering wheel, a powered tailgate and xenon headlights. You also get sat-nav, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, a USB socket, a leather interior and climate control.
Should I buy one?
Not if you're a private buyer. For all its technical cleverness, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is too expensive to justify – even when factoring in the £5000 Government subsidy.
It's simply not as nice to drive as the other Panamera models, either, and the economy savings won't make up for the added purchase costs unless you're driving to the moon via very regular charging points.
Having said that, there is obvious appeal to any car that can travel without using any petrol at all (albeit not very far), is exempt from the London Congestion Charge and is remarkably cheap to run as a company car – assuming your fleet manager will let you have one.
What Car? says...
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Engine size Supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol and electric motor
Price from £88,967
Torque 435lb ft
0-62mph 5.5 seconds
Top speed 168mph
Fuel economy 91mpg