Saturday Drive: 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

Los Angeles Times

The car: 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

The power: 380 total horsepower and a maximum of 428 pound-feet of torque at any given time. A supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine makes 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque while an electric motor puts out 47 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque.

The photos: 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

The speed: Zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds with a top speed of 167 mph

The bragging rights: The least thirsty Panamera in Porsche’s lineup -- even better than the base Panamera

The price: $95,975 starts you with only the destination charge. The model we tested was $110,240.

The details: Essentially the same drivetrain that’s in Porsche’s Cayenne S Hybrid, this car promises fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the highway and 25 combined.

It gives you about the same power as the V-8 engine in the Panamera S (20 fewer horsepower but 59 more pound-feet of torque), with substantially better fuel mileage than the S or the V-6 in the base Panamera.

During 268 miles of testing, I averaged 23.6 miles per gallon and an average speed of 45 mph. Although that hardly saves the polar ice caps, it’s not bad for a car that weighs 4,365 pounds (400 more than the Panamera S).

Part of that additional weight is from the hybrid’s 1.7-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which is mounted below the floor of the cargo area. The car can travel short distances on electric power alone and up to speeds of 46 mph before the gasoline powerplant kicks in.

The Panamera S Hybrid also maximizes efficiency with one additional gear in its automatic transmission, for a total of eight.

The drive: That’s a hybrid? If it weren’t for the badges on the side and rear of the car, it would be hard to tell this Panamera has any more eco cred than its brethren. Power is plentiful and smooth, and the regenerative brakes lack the hyperactive touchiness that other systems can overwhelm you with. The only time you’re reminded that this car has both an electric powerplant and a fossil-fuel-burning one is when you drive away from a dead stop. The car initially starts with the gasoline motor off (as part of the start/stop function to save fuel). This means immediate acceleration is a bit tepid while you wait a brief moment for full power. But once the gas engine kicks in, the car shows no reluctance to move.

Freeway cruising is what this (and all Panameras) do best. It’s whisper quiet to the point where you sneak up on triple-digit speeds faster than you can say “hello, officer.” The Hybrid maximizes efficiency then too, shutting the gas engine off and letting the car “sail” at freeways speeds when the driver takes his foot off the gas.

But should your route take you on winding roads, the Panamera S Hybrid has those covered too. Even with specially created, low rolling resistance tires, the ride is always balanced and comfortable. The weight gain is slightly noticeable -- but only when you’re really sawing the car to and fro, something few 4,300-pound, full-size sedans really love to do. At least the suspension is wonderfully tuned to compensate for the weight, resulting in a car that still feels athletic.

All told, the S Hybrid makes a compelling case to skip the Panamera S entirely and trade 20 horsepower for 59 additional pound-feet of torque and gas mileage in the neighborhood of reasonable.

The takeaway: Green and serene.