Socket-friendly Panamera

Porsche has upped the hybrid game by giving its distinctive fastback plug-in capability. Is it still fun to drive?

The E-Hybrid technology Porsche is touting in the facelifted Panamera marks a new milestone for the brand's vehicle electrification roadmap.

And if you don't count America's Tesla and Fisker EV specialists, the so-called Panamera S E-Hybrid becomes the first series production model in the luxury car market to feature plug-in capability for its hybrid drivetrain.

At the international driving trials in Germany last month, Porsche expressed so much confidence in the E-Hybrid to the extent that it expects sales of the hybrid-powered Panamera to double in the coming years.

The E-Hybrid replaces the pre-facelift Panamera S Hybrid, which used a less sophisticated petrol-electric combination that couldn't extract juice from the home socket.

This particular version joins a myriad of other conventionally powered Panameras Porsche is aggressively promoting around the world from next month onwards, including four distinctive petrol engines and one diesel motor.

But it's the E-Hybrid that's set to become an attraction in Thailand thanks to the privileged _ but controversial _ 10% excise tax on hybrid-powered cars whose internal combustion engines don't exceed 3,000cc.

With such a special levy, the E-Hybrid will again spoil the price position of other Panameras in the Thai model line-up. So don't expect to pay less for the diesel version, which is supposed to be the natural choice for those seeking to make the Panamera a rational choice based purely on finance.

Button-filled console remains a slight drawback.

Set to be priced close to 10 million baht in Thailand, the E-Hybrid should theoretically appeal with its 400hp performance and unusually low price.

Before we get into detail about the E-Hybrid, it's worth noting that the cosmetic tweaks of the mid-life facelift are quite effective in visual terms. The front has new bi-xenon lights and bumper design, while the rear end also gets new light themes, a lower license plate position and a fastback that can now be operated electrically.

Among testers, it was unanimously said that the Panamera now has a better appearance on the road, although the overall styling still remains controversial. The E-Hybrid, in particular, gets a flashy green overtone on the badges to express its intention of going green.

The interior is basically the same as before meaning that drivers might need a degree in aviation to painlessly find the button-festooned console a delight to use.

It would have been nice if Porsche considered modernising ergonomics to specially suit the E-Hybrid's advancement in drivetrain technologies.

As you'll be able to note in the accompanying see-through graphic of the car, the E-Hybrid possesses new electric components to increase power and electric driving range, while lowering fuel consumption and CO2 emissions at the same time.

The acceleration time, for instance, has been improved from 6.6sec down to 5.5sec. But whether you'd be able to achieve the rather optimistic economy figure of 32.3kpl is another thing because it largely depends on how you drive the E-Hybrid.

With the ability to draw power from an electric socket _ via a recharging system that Porsche says is complimentary when buying the car _ the E-Hybrid relies less than usual on the petrol engine.

When driving in pure EV mode, the Panamera is exceptionally refined on the move. Special thanks also go to the improved levels of external noise suppression carried out throughout the Panamera's model range.

On the autobahn, the Panamera provides a very relaxing drive; the cabin is quiet and the driving characteristics ranging from the steering, chassis and brakes are utterly sure-footed.

Sure, you can feel the weight of the E-Hybrid under hard cornering and braking when you've just driven a more conventionally powered Panamera. The E-Hybrid weighs just over 2 tonnes (2,095kg to be precise) which is more than 300kg heavier than an entry-level Panamera.

But there will be some good reasons why you won't be driving that enthusiastically in the E-Hybrid. Select the EV mode and you can drive to speeds of up to 130kph _ unless you aren't too hard on the throttle to prevent the 3.0-litre V6 from firing up.

This is probably a driving mode many buyers would opt to use in city-driving where it proves to be great: ample performance, quiet driving experience and zero tailpipe emissions.

If the battery runs flat _ or you haven't charged the car overnight _ you can choose a mode whereby the battery can recuperate energy from braking and coasting. Refuse to totally unplug the E-Hybrid and the economy is set to come closer to the predecessor's 14kpl average rating.

There's a sport mode for all-out performance whereby the combined power reserves help overwhelm the E-Hybrid's weight disadvantage. But the E-Hybrid will never be as fun to drive as, say, the regular S.

The E-Hybrid's regular automatic transmission doesn't shift as quickly or fluidly as the dual-clutch PDK. Moreover, there's no aural thrill when driving the E-Hybrid.

Which is to say that the E-Hybrid is another character in the Panamera model line-up, another car for a different type of customer or a technology statement for what Porsche intends to portray for the future.

Some might counter that true driving enjoyment should come in the form of a Cayman or 911 and this is where the Panamera S E-Hybrid makes sense.

After all, it's the next stage in the evolution of the hybrid car, so don't be surprised if other Porsches like the Cayenne SUV, for one, receive such technology in the future.

On the autobahn, the Panamera provides a very relaxing drive

The other Panameras

Porsche has now become a more responsive luxury car player, explaining why the facelifted Panamera range comes onto the market with 10 different versions to choose from.

Aside from the tech-savvy E-Hybrid as tested in the main story, the novel engine is the new 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 sourced from the VW Group and marks Porsche's engine-downsizing exercise.

It has been designed to replace the naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 of the pre-facelift Panamera and uses the same S badge. Despite its smaller size, the V6 develops a higher 420hp and 520Nm (both up by 20).

Both performance and economy have improved. The 0-100kph time is rated at 5.1sec (0.3sec faster) and economy at 11.2kpl (previously 9.3kpl).

You can feel these improvements on the move. But of more importance is the spread of more punch at low engine speeds, thanks to the turbos. Yes, it's a step in the right direction.

But for those who don't care about fuel thirst and still crave a nice-revving naturally aspirated V8, don't despair because there's still the GTS to choose from.

Coupled with the twin-clutch PDK auto, the GTS is a genuinely fun car to drive with revs to play with. In fact, Porsche has distanced the GTS further away from the new S by giving it a 10hp hike over the outgoing 420hp version.

Those who simply need ballistic performance can always go for the Turbo whose power has also been bumped up by 20hp to 520.

And making for a sensational driving experience is the optional sporty exhaust sound package fitted to our test car. Even so, don't discount the S as of yet because it is only marginally slower than the Turbo. On-paper stats confirm this: 4.1sec vs 5.1sec.

Although not available at launch, Porsche has confirmed that the even faster Turbo S will arrive next year for speed freaks. Also announced is the diesel which sees a more powerful version coming on stream next year.

An interesting addition made to the Panamera range is the so-called Executive, essentially a long wheelbase version available for only the all-wheel-drive 4S, Turbo and Turbo S.

With 150mm of added length between the front and rear axles, rear passengers gain more legroom. In addition, seats can recline and slide for more comfort.

To make chauffeur-driven owners as happy as possible, there two LCD screens fitted behind the front head rests.

But it isn't necessarily a bed of roses for those who have been acquainted with the pampering chairs of either the Mercedes-Benz S-class or Lexus LS.

In the Porsche, there's no massage function and the seats are still tailored by Stuttgart to feel sporty rather than cosseting to fit the Panamera's concept.

Whatever the impression, Thais won't be getting the Executive version because it is made only in left-hand-drive format after being inspired by the Panamera's huge sales success in China. Last year, some 9,000 Panameras were sold there.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor