One of my wisecracking friends, always ready with a snarky remark, smirked as I drove up in the new Panamera E-Hybrid. “Congratulations,” he said. “You’re reversing global climate change, one Porsche at a time, by driving a plug-in hybrid.”
He was missing the point. The E-Hybrid, particularly the turbocharged version I was driving, is not about the environment. It’s about performance.
Though it’s disguised as a family car, and advertised as a fuel-efficient plug-in, the true character of the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo emerges when the car is in hybrid or sport mode and the accelerator is stomped.
That engages both the 4-liter turbocharged V-8 engine and the 100-kW electric motor, which together put power to all four wheels and produce 680 horsepower and 626 pound-feet of torque. (The electric motor contributes 136 horsepower to that, and 136 pound-feet of torque.)
That means zero to 60 mph in a reported 3.2 seconds — and a top track speed of 192 mph.
Depending on whom you ask, the Panamera is either a sedan, a sport wagon or a station wagon. It does have four doors and offers comfortable seating for four adults and room in the hatchback rear for their luggage. A five-passenger seating arrangement is optional.
It doesn’t do some of what a “shooting brake” or station wagon should. The storage area has 49 cubic feet of cargo room, but felt cramped. I would have hesitated to fold the seats down and make room for a bicycle or a brace of snowboards.
But it does drive well. On the road, it feels like a large sports car, dancing like a large person whose nimble feet aren’t aware of how much weight they’re supporting.
In fact, it feels like a wide, heavy 911 — because it is. The Panamera sits 2 inches wider and 20 inches longer, and weighs almost 1,500 pounds more, than a comparably equipped 911 Turbo S.
It behaves quite similarly too. The eight-speed PDK double-clutch transmission shifts seamlessly on its own, or can be manipulated with paddle shifters. A mode switch set inside the steering wheel, like the manettino on a Ferrari, allows the driver to choose among all-electric, hybrid and two sport settings.
Around town, the all-electric setting made for a sleek, silent ride, with up to 14 miles of range before the battery required recharging. (It takes about three hours to restore the battery again on a 240-volt system.) This stealth mode won’t wake the neighbors.
On a road trip to Santa Barbara, the hybrid mode proved a pleasant choice for cruising up Pacific Coast Highway, allowing the car to decide when to switch between the gasoline engine and the “e-machine” electric motor, and when to use both at the same time.
On the twisty San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara, Sport and Sport Plus settings seemed optimal, engaging the gasoline engine and e-machine simultaneously for maximum power while also adjusting transmission shift points, stiffening the suspension and increasing the exhaust roar.
Over the San Marcos crest, the Panamera looked right at home among the sports cars and superbikes parked at the legendary Cold Spring Tavern.
The handling is Porsche-grade delightful. Air suspension, all-wheel drive, traction management, 21-inch wheels and huge 420-millimeter ceramic brake calipers are standard equipment on this trim level.
The Panamera’s 21-gallon gas tank, along with the hybrid technology, made the trip up the coast and back a single-tank excursion. In the four days I drove the car, in fact, I didn’t go to a gas station or plug in to recharge the electric motor.
Porsche year-to-date sales are strong, up 3% over the same period in 2017. The company’s top seller is, by far, the Macan SUV, followed in descending numbers by the 911, the Cayenne and the Panamera.
But while Cayenne numbers have fallen in the last year, Panamera numbers are rising — partly because of the hybrid offerings. The company reports that 60% of all Panameras sold in recent months have been hybrids.
Why aren’t sales higher? The Panamera may be suffering from a design hangover. Many who remember the first iterations of the car found it ungainly or downright ugly. After the 2010 introduction, and despite a 2013 face-lift, some Porsche fans still remember the awkward rear end that made it the automotive equivalent of a reverse mullet haircut — a party in the front, but all business in the back.
Quite a few of those early versions are still on the road, which may prevent consumers from appreciating the newer, sleeker models.
The back has been lowered and narrowed, so the car looks less like an AMC Pacer and more like a Ferrari FF. Now it can boast, with dimensions to back it up, that it’s a real sports car, but with more cargo area.
Though I liked the look and the drive feel, I wasn’t wild about all aspects of the Panamera. I was not impressed by Porsche’s InnoDrive adaptive cruise control function, part of a $5,370 tech option, which felt far clumsier than comparable systems on a number of other luxury vehicles.
The automated braking and accelerating, designed both to prevent accidents and to allow the driver to relax in stop-and-go traffic, were jangled and jerky, as if the car were always figuring out a little too late that it was time to slow down or speed up.
But this was a minor point, and did not overshadow my enjoyment of the vehicle. My principal complaint, as with many cars of this caliber, is the MSRP. At just over $200,000, loaded with options such as rear-axle steering, massage seats and sport exhaust, this vehicle is for one-percenters only.
2018 Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo
Times' take: The world’s best hybrid sports sedan
Highs: Sleek design, super power
Lows: Driver aids clunky, especially at this price
Vehicle type: Four-door, four-passenger touring car
Base price: $189,450
Price as tested: $212,460
Powertrain: Four-liter V-8 gasoline engine; 100-kW electric motor
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Torque: 626 pound-feet