Everyone, meet Porsche’s Prius! The new Panamera S E-Hybrid, like the Prius, is a 4-door hatchback, and it uses an electric motor to help out its gas engine in a similar way. Furthermore, the Panamera S E-Hybrid has shown in real world tests that it can top 50 mpg, also just like the Prius! Yes, the similarities between the two cars go surprisingly far, much further than most might expect, but they couldn’t be more different in their fundamental purpose.
The Toyota Prius is an economy car for people who want to spend as little money as possible on a car. The Panamera, on the other hand, is a high-end luxury machine for people who are comfortable writing a six figure check for a single car. You can buy four Toyota Priuses for the starting price of this Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and that’s before adding any expensive options. However, playing Devil’s advocate, the Panamera does have nearly the horsepower of all four of those Priuses combined. The Panamera may cost as much as four Priuses, but you could also argue that it’s also four times the car.
I remember being amazed when Al Gore’s son got caught going 100mph in his Prius, not because of his behavior, but because he actually got a Prius to top 100mph. If he buys one of these Porsches, then maybe next time he can be pushing 170mph.
Okay, it’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room here: The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid will not be competing for buyers with the Toyota Prius (sorry to disappoint). No, it will be going head-to-head against the almighty Tesla Model S, and Elon Musk’s trendy “King Innovator” brand image. It is a massive challenge, one that basically killed Fisker, but I think this Porsche is up to it, and I will explain why.
The addition of “E-Hybrid” to the name for 2014 is not just a branding gimmick, it signifies a massive technological change between the old “Panamera S Hybrid” (2012-13 models) and the new “Panamera S E-Hybrid” (2014+ models).
Basically, in a nutshell, the first Panamera S Hybrid gave a very lackluster performance, with just 700 units being sold in two model years. It utilized the exact same hybrid system found in the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid as well as my Mom’s VW Jetta Hybrid, with which I have much hands-on experience. The Panamera S Hybrid wasn’t stellar in MPG terms, and it needed a serious overhaul if it was going to be able to compete.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid is that overhaul, and it utilizes a new plug-in hybrid design that I strongly suspect is a derivative of the system found in the 918 Spyder hypercar. For starters, the new battery in the E-Hybrid is 8 times more powerful than the battery in the old Panamera S Hybrid (9.4kWh up from 1.7kWh). A 95hp electric motor sits between the engine and the new 8 speed automatic transmission with a clutch that can de-couple the gas engine when running electric-only. This is the part of the Panamera S E-Hybrid that I suspect is shared with / derived from the system in the 918 Spyder, and why it is so far improved from the old hybrid’s system.
While it is a “plug-in hybrid” like a Chevy Volt, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is a bit different in that it’s gas engine does have a mechanical connection to the rear wheels and does not solely serve as a generator to charge the battery. It’s gas engine is the familiar 3.0TFSI that comes straight out of the Audi S4. It is rated at 333bhp, although it has shown to be more like 370hp in real-world tests. Total horsepower from the E-Hybrid’s system is claimed to be 416hp, but given that the gas engine is under-rated, its more in the mid 400hp range.
Being a little under-rated on paper isn’t a bad thing at all, though. The Panamera needs as much power as it can get because it weighs a hefty 4600lbs. Despite the weight, this thing really moves when you put the hammer down, and get the gas and electric power-plants working together in sync. The Panamera S E-Hybrid certainly accelerates with the vigor that a modern Porsche should.
While the E-Hybrid has the right giddy-up in absolute terms, I must admit that it felt more like an Audi than a traditional Porsche in the manner in which it delivered its power. It had a ton of mid-range pull, but it wasn’t begging to be reved out all the way like a proper Porsche would. Mid-range pull is great in a luxury car because it gives a sense of effortless competency, which is relaxing, but this is a Porsche, so it should be exciting. There was nothing about the E-Hybrid that inspired such excitement, certainly nothing even remotely close to the way the Panamera GTS did.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid is more of a different sort of car, a luxury car. When I drove the Panamera GTS last year, it was quite clear that Porsche had made a sports car with four doors, a true alternative to a 911 Carrera S for someone with a family. The Panamera S E-Hybrid, on the other hand, feels more like a sporty Audi A8. It has the quick, responsive steering and tight chassis you’d expect from a Porsche, and the car handles quite nicely through bends. It doesn’t, however, have the raw excitement factor of a true sports car. It is exceedingly competent, but it is restrained. It could be a hooligan like the GTS, but it doesn’t seem to want to.
This sort of “un-Porsche-ness” is my one big criticism of the Panamera S E-Hybrid. It lacks the drama I’d want if I’m buying a Porsche, and there’s no reason for that. Porsche could have at least put a loud crackly exhaust on this car, and maybe tuned the engine note a little bit to make it more inspiring. The 3.0L supercharged V6 is not a bad sounding engine at all, and I really wanted to hear more of it in this Panamera.
Having said all that, I do realize that most Panamera and Cayenne models fall more toward the luxury end of the spectrum, and that the high-volume sales of those cars fund all of the awesome “proper” Porsches that we enthusiasts love. I also realize that the sort of person who would cross shop this Panamera and Tesla Model S probably isn’t going to want a loud barking engine upsetting their peace and quiet. All in all, I think the more luxury-focused approach was the right way to go with the Panamera S E-Hybrid, even if I’d prefer it be different.
Let’s talk fuel economy!
When I say the Panamera S E-Hybrid is a 50mpg-capable car, that does not mean all day, everyday. It means that if you drive it intelligently, utilizing the hybrid system well, you should be able to see 50mpg in good conditions. Now, if you’re constantly flooring it, you probably won’t even see 20mpg. Getting good fuel economy from this car is all about using it properly. Nothing is a given with this much horsepower and this much weight.
I can tell you right now that the official EPA figures will not be accurate for what this Panamera can really do either, because of the way the EPA tests are conducted. The EPA runs a car through their fuel economy tests in each of its different driving modes, and then averages them together to get their official figure. In modern sports cars, with dedicated aggressive-tuned “Sport” modes, this completely kills the window sticker numbers. However, you won’t be driving around in Sport mode when you are trying to get good mileage, will you? Didn’t think so.
The intelligent way to use the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is to leave it in its standard hybrid setting, and let the system alternate between gas and electric power on its own. I should stress that this is going to be far more efficient than starting off in electric-only mode for the first 20 miles because after the battery is drained you’ll need to use E-Charge mode to recharge it with the engine, and that wastes a lot of gas. The way this car will get the best mileage is by getting up to speed with the engine and then cruising along with the electric motor. And since the electric motor alone gives as much grunt as an entire Fiat 500, it should have no trouble sustaining cruising speeds with ease.
Now, let’s discuss when you should use electric-only mode. It works for trips under 25 miles when you have a full charge, so it’s perfect for an emission trip to the grocery store. Basically, my rule for electric only mode would be if I’m going to use it, the gas engine should never turn on. If the trip is going to be longer than the electric-only range, then I’d just use the normal hybrid mode.
53 mpg (US) was the group average during a German press drive of the Panamera S E-Hybrid. One person got as high as 84mpg, while others exploited the unrestricted autobahn (topping 140mph) and didn’t see MPG that was quite that high. Still, for a wide group of cars being driven by different types of drivers, 53mpg is quite a high average, so it should be attainable for many customers.
Is the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid a good purchase?
It’s kind of funny because Porsches are usually so grossly overpriced these days, but the E-Hybrid may actually be the least-overpriced Panamera model that Porsche makes… in relative terms, of course.
Pricing for the E-Hybrid starts at $99,000, and effectively goes up to around $140,000 with all of the functional, non-gimmicky options fitted (but it can go even higher if you feel compelled to see Porsche Crests everywhere you look)
For comparison, the Tesla Model S P85 (the top Model S) starts around $93,000 and maxes out around $126,000 fully loaded. For that same $126,000 you can have a sensibly-equipped Panamera S E-Hybrid with all of the major options fitted. (Also, its smart to forgo the carbon-ceramic brakes, this is not a track car so you don’t need them.)
People at this price point tend to buy their cars fitted with all of the bells and whistles, so many buyers will be comparing in the $120-130k range. That said, if you wanted to save money, you can have a well-equipped, medium-spec Tesla Model S 85 for under $90,000.
It’s really a tough comparison, but we need to remember that fuel efficiency, at this price level, is more about convenience and some sense of “doing the right thing” than actually needing to save money on gas. For wealthy people, time is money, often a lot more money than it costs to fill up a tank of gas.
If you drive longer distances, even if it’s only sometimes, I’d say go with the Porsche, because you just fill it up, and you’re back on your way. Tesla’s supercharging network is a cool idea, and it does work, but you are left waiting around at rest stops a lot. If time is money for you, the Porsche is the safest bet.
Now, if you identify with the Elon Musk movement, then there is no choice to make here, you’ve gotta have the Tesla. If you have a big family, the Tesla can be had with seven seats, whereas the Panamera only has four seats. Also, if all you do is drive locally in the same repetitive, dependable routine, then the Model S may also work well for you.
The Porsche is more for people who would find themselves worried about range anxiety with the Tesla. Say you have a second home at the beach 150 miles away, you are pushing the range limit a bit. Sure, one-way it should work fine, but what if you get halfway home and realize you forgot something — you’d have to go back to the beach and wait for the car to charge before you could head home again.
Also, the Tesla’s range depends totally on how you drive it. Sure 265 miles, or likely even 300+ miles, is possible with a delicate foot. But when Ian Litchfield (of Litchfield Tuning) recently took a Tesla Model S to the Nurburgring for a full-throttle lap, it only made it a quarter of the way around the track (3 min) before the battery got too hot, and the car went into limp mode. You wouldn’t have that problem in the Porsche, that’s for damn sure.
Other than the Tesla, buyers may also cross shop the BMW i8 and the Lexus LS600h with the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.
The BMW i8 looks to be something quite cool, and really is more of a direct competitor to the Porsche 911 than the Panamera E-Hybrid. That said, both the i8 and Panamera seat four people, and both utilize the most current, cutting edge hybrid technology out there. If you don’t necessarily need the Panamera’s practicality, then you might consider spending the $135,000+ on the BMW i8.
The Lexus LS600h is a beautifully made car, but no more so than the Porsche. The Lexus is really from an entirely different world than the Porsche, one entirely focused on luxury and comfort. The Panamera is definitely more exotic, definitely more exciting. The Lexus is also a bit of a dinosaur in the hybrid department compared to the Porsche’s E-Hybrid system. All that R&D in racing and with supercars really does pay off. The Lexus will set you back $120-130K, and it doesn’t even have green brake calipers?! No contest, I’ll take the Porsche.
I want to wrap this up by talking about technology and innovation. The Toyota Prius lead the Hybrid car movement for a long time, but there is only so much they could do to really innovate in a car that had to be priced under $30,000. Big leaps in technological innovation take a lot of money and development effort. Toyota got the ball rolling, but I really think this Panamera makes it clear that Volkswagen Group will be taking the reins very soon at all levels of the market.
Prius-style hybrid tech made it possible to take the edge off of bad fuel economy in more powerful cars, but they still never got “good” MPG. The first Panamera S Hybrid is a good example of this, getting mid-20 MPG when the standard V6 version was getting low 20 MPG. The gain just wasn’t all that much, and certainly wasn’t worth spending a lot of extra money for.
Now look at the Panamera S E-Hybrid, with it’s technology clearly derived from the 918 Spyder and GT3 R Hybrid racing program. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into the development of this system, and it is only just now bearing a little bit of fruit, but the future is seriously bright.
This new system allows a 400hp+ Panamera, weighing a massive 4600lbs, to be capable of achieving over 50mpg. Before now that was unheard of in any car with any sort of performance capability whatsoever. If this hybrid technology can do this much for the enormous, powerful Porsche Panamera, then just imagine what it will be able to do when it is fitted to a Volkswagen Golf… maybe, hopefully, even coupled with a diesel engine. Can you say 100+ mpg?
As a technical leap forward, I would say that the Panamera Hybrid is right on par with the Tesla Model S, but nobody really seems to know it. VW/Porsche haven’t really been doing a whole lot to push awareness, and it took a lot of research on my end to really understand what had been accomplished here. I’m sure that as the new “E-Hybrid” technology makes its way into VWs and Audis, more buzz will be generated, but it is awesome to know that the technology from the 918 Spyder and 911 GT3 R Hybrid programs has already managed to start trickling down to other models, even before the 918 itself went on sale.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid, along with the 918 Spyder, marks the start of a new era in hybrid automobile technology. This time with 100% more German engineering!
-Article by Nick Walker