Electric cars. The horsepower of the apocalypse, whispering harbingers of the automotive end times. Plug-in hybrids. A soul-destroying halfway house to that dismal future, because driving pleasure can only be had with a full complement of cylinders firing at all times, right? Wrong. After spending time with Porsche’s Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo, I’m convinced the plug-in hybrid could be the sweet-spot powertrain for the thinking enthusiast. You can have your cake and eat it, too.
Think plug-in hybrid, and most of us envision a Toyota Prius and its eco-car ilk, with their flaccid transmissions, floppy suspensions, and dreary engines. Think again. As with internal combustion–powered vehicles, not all plug-in hybrids are created equal.
For a start, the plug-in hybrid Panamera has the performance car basics dialed: a well-balanced chassis, sophisticated suspension, a slick eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a snarly 326-hp turbocharged V-6 under the hood. The hybrid bit is composed of a 134-hp electric motor that sits between the internal combustion engine and the transmission, powered by a liquid-cooled 14.1-kW-hr lithium-ion battery, and a powertrain control strategy developed from that used in the 887-hp, 214-mph Porsche 918 Spyder.
Total system output is 456 hp, with 516 lb-ft of torque. Porsche claims 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds, a top speed of 171 mph, and the ability to travel up to 30 miles on pure electric power at up to 86 mph. But where rocket science meets black magic is how Porsche engineers have made the E-Hybrid’s internal combustion engine and e-motor work together—and how much control over the powertrain they’ve given drivers.
Porsche’s Sport Chrono package, which includes a mode switch integrated into the steering wheel, is standard equipment on the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. The car always starts in the purely electric E-Power mode. Select Hybrid Auto mode, and internal combustion and electric drive automatically mix and match for ultimate efficiency. In addition to stiffening its sinews and sharpening its responses, Sport and Sport+ modes change the powertrain mix and battery charge protocol so the e-motor works with the internal combustion engine to deliver more performance.
Two more modes are accessible via the touchscreen: E-Hold, which conserves the battery’s charge, and E-Charge, in which the internal combustion engine generates more power than needed for driving in order to quickly recharge the battery.
But what does all that mean?
For me, it meant the E-Hybrid Sport Turismo returned an average fuel consumption of 24 mpg over more than 700 miles of running, which included stop-and-go London traffic, 70- to -90-mph motorway cruising, mooching through picturesque English villages, and brisk stints on winding Welsh two-lanes. Not bad for a 4,800-pound luxury sport sedan with four adults and their luggage on board. That’s better than the official combined EPA fuel consumption numbers for 3.0-liter all-wheel-drive versions of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8.
The point is, I wasn’t chasing fuel economy. I drove the big Porsche the way I wanted to drive it. I used Hybrid Auto in the city, leaving the eight-speed PDK transmission to its own devices. I switched to Sport+ and the paddle shifters for fun on the winding roads through Shropshire and Wales, going back to Hybrid Auto so the Sport Turismo would noiselessly glide through villages on the e-motor. And I experimented. I used Sport+ mode cruising on the motorway to find out if it recharged the battery. (It did.)
The “a-ha!” moment, however, came as I drove home through central London. I’d topped off the 21-gallon gas tank 90 miles west of the city and brought the battery to 95 percent charge while running with the fast-moving motorway traffic heading back to the capital. Then, as the motorway ended, I switched to E-Power for the final 22 miles home. I loved the instant-on response of the e-motor, the silky surge of acceleration, and, most of all, the soothing silence and serenity. Running under pure electric power, this 170-mph Porsche felt like a true luxury limousine. It was as if I had two cars in one.
That it didn’t burn a single drop of gas along the way was almost a side benefit.
More from Angus MacKenzie:
- Check Engine: A Globalized Industry Collides With National Politics
- ePrix: Racing for the Future
- How Electric Vehicles Will Go Mainstream
- All Change: Are America’s Automakers Ready?
- End of the Road: Marking the Passing of the Australian Auto Industry