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You see, despite Porsche being noted for its track-focused 911s and never-ending quest for driving purity, the German brand has wholeheartedly embraced hybrid technology like no other performance car manufacturer in history. Be it on track with its Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid, on the road with the iconic 918 Spyder hypercar, or off it with the Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, Porsche is determined to show that hybrid tech has the capacity to not only improve the fuel economy of its cars but also to enhance the driving experience.
And yet, not all of Porsche’s hybrid efforts have been wholly convincing. Take the car we are testing here – the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid (‘4’ denoting the number of driven wheels and ‘E’ indicating its plug-in capability). The first-generation E-Hybrid Panamera came equipped with a disappointing powertrain; like a blind date gone wrong, the electric motor and eight-speed automatic gearbox just didn’t gel all that well, resulting in a somewhat inconsistent and jerky driving experience. But did that hurt sales? Did it heck.
Despite the diesel Panamera being markedly better to drive, more than 20% of British Panamera sales were of the E-Hybrid. So, if market trends are to be believed, this second-generation car is likely to do even better. It is, of course, markedly quicker than the previous car. With an electrically assisted 456bhp (up from 410bhp), Porsche-designed twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6, the 0-62mph time has been cut back from a brisk 5.5sec to a properly quick 4.6sec. And despite this extra performance, Porsche claims that this two-and-a-bit-tonne saloon will return more than 95mpg – remarkable, even if this is an official figure.
Such is the rate of battery development that the Panamera's pure electric range has also improved dramatically, increasing from 22 miles to a more commuter-friendly 30 miles. And should you ever find yourself on a German autobahn, it might be handy to know that your Panamera will now do 87mph before it feels the need to call for internal combustion back-up (the previous car would do 84mph).
So, on paper at least, this second-generation Panamera E-Hybrid is better in every measurable way. However, as we’ve learned from testing a number of hybrids over the years, real-world testing has a nasty way of highlighting weaknesses in manufacturers’ ‘official’ claims.
2017 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid on the road
In electric-only mode, the 4 E-Hybrid is absolutely glorious. With 30 miles of range, the majority of owners will be able to complete the entirety of their commute in silence, cocooned within the Panamera’s remarkably quiet interior. It’s an utterly compelling experience, and with 134bhp of pure electrical power under your right foot, there’s ample performance for the kind of stop-start traffic that’s typical in busy urban-environments.
In fact, our test route took in congested towns, busy dual-carriageways and fast-moving motorways and the Panamera’s twin-turbo V6 only chimed in a handful of times, and only for brief periods of sudden acceleration. The resulting real-world fuel economy of just over 80mpg was rather remarkable and, we admit, somewhat unexpected.
What is less impressive, however, is the transition from pure electric power to good old-fashioned internal combustion. Like a quarterback fumbling a pass, the engine can quite often be caught napping, bursting into life at an inopportune moment, with its rather gruff tone striking a stark contrast to the silence of the electric motor. That's not exactly what you expect from Porsche.
Happily, once the engine is up and running, you’re fully able to enjoy the powertrain’s 516lb ft of torque (low-down grunt) – available from just 1100rpm. Depress your right foot and thanks to the assistance of the electric motor, there’s no delay in forward motion, with the engine building exponentially in strength all the way to its 6750rpm redline. Add in an optional sports exhaust, with its accompanying six-cylinder howl, and you have a package that is genuinely electrifying on the right road.
That said, don’t expect the Panamera E-Hybrid to compete with conventionally powered sports saloons on twisty roads. It’s not shabby by any means, but with a 320kg higher kerb weight than the standard Panamera 4, the E-Hybrid is not the most tactile and engaging machine on the limit. There’s slightly more body roll then you might expect, and thanks to the weight of those batteries, it’s more willing to push wide in the corners than competitors like the Mercedes-AMG E63 and Audi RS6.
It’s also a frustration that the poor brake feel of the previous-generation car remains, with the pedal pulsating underfoot as it does its best to harvest energy for the batteries. There’s no doubt that it is effective, with a few miles of hard driving generating another five to seven miles of extra range, but the inconsistent braking feel is disappointing.
2017 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid interior
Step inside and it’s immediately apparent that Porsche has created one of the best interiors on the market. The huge, high-resolution infotainment screen is clear and easy to use, and the touch-sensitive panel running down the middle of the car does away with the myriad of buttons that plagued the previous model.
The Panamera E-Hybrid is also treated to model-specific graphics for the instrument cluster that display key information such as remaining battery range, the amount of power being used and the amount of energy being recuperated. The mode dial (stolen from the 918 Spyder) on the steering wheel also allows you to toggle between the drive modes, from the EV-only setting though to Hybrid Auto, Sport and Sport Plus. A push-to-pass button located in the centre of the dials also allows up to 20 seconds of maximum battery-supported performance – ideal for tight overtakes.
In the rear, two full-sized seats offer plenty of space, and the centre console – equipped with its own infotainment screen and air-con panel – gives you the feeling that you’re flying first class with British Airways. That said, if you have children, we would recommend you look at the Panamera Sport Turismo instead, because, unlike the regular Panamera, it offers the option of a third rear seat.
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