It's not unusual to receive an invitation from an automaker to test out its sedan and sport-utility vehicle. When that company is Porsche, known the world over for its expertise in producing sports cars and supercars, it's less common. And when the offer involves a hybrid, it's not a 918 Spyder, but the electrified Panamera and Cayenne S e-Hybrids.
Herein, our first impressions of the Panamera S e-Hybrid, the battery-electric Porsche of necessity.
What is it?
The Panamera S e-Hybrid is one of nearly a dozen variants of the four-door Panamera "coupe," which has been a mainstay of the tidy Porsche lineup for nearly five years. A recent refresh of the Panamera's styling adds a modern look to the exterior, while the overall recognizable shape stays the same. The Panamera's cavernous rear cargo area remains, as does its 2+2 seating configuration that enables racetrack visits for four.
Unique, green-tinted badges are the only giveaway that this is an earth-friendlier Porsche—unless you count the silent startup and take-off process.
How does it drive?
Splendidly, with a twist. The Panamera S e-Hybrid's powertrain starts with a supercharged, 3.0-liter V-6 engine that makes 333 horsepower, and adds to it a 95-hp electric motor. In this setup, startup always occurs in electric mode, with the twist of the left-mounted ignition key, devoid of the fanfare of a throaty exhaust note. Whirring noises are an interesting change from mechanical engine sounds.
Acceleration is brisk, and we had no complaints about getting up to speed or maintaining it. At the heart of the Panamera S e-Hybrid's driving character is its electric power steering, which is standard equipment on the hybrid and optional across the Panamera lineup. It eases low-speed maneuvering, but offers significantly less road feel than we expected. The same could be said about the Panamera S e-Hybrid's brakes, which have some of the unavoidably awkward pressure of regenerative brakes before the friction brakes ever kick in. By the end of the day, however, we had found the driving experience we had expected all along.
We like the Panamera S e-Hybrid's extra boost over the non-hybrid model, and recognize that this model is meant to supplement, not displace, rockets like the Panamera Turbo S.
What's it like inside?
Like an exclusive spacecraft. All Panameras feature a button-heavy, switch-rich cockpit, and the S e-Hybrid is no different. Material finishes are as you might expect for a sub-$100K luxury vehicle, with leather amply dispersed and aluminum discreetly placed. There's room for four, with a fully usable backseat that has its own climate controls—and heated/ventilated seats, if so equipped. Because there are only so many ways to be a backseat driver on the racetrack.
What's its specialty?
Making economical driving sporty with minimal penalty.
Most innovative feature?
The variety of driving modes on the Panamera S e-Hybrid are an innovative take on power delivery. In E-Charge mode, the engine recharges the battery, in order to make the most of the hybrid system. It isn't new technology for the hybrid market, but it sure is innovative to see it on a Porsche.
How's the competition?
Almost nonexistent. Whereas the petrol-only Panamera competes with the BMW 6-series, Mercedes-Benz CLS, Maserati Quattroporte, and other sport coupe/sedans, the Panamera S e-Hybrid faces few direct challenges—except in the Porsche showroom. The Panamera Diesel across the aisle looks and acts a fine alternative to the hybrid.
The hybrid Porsche needs to build so that it can build the ones it wants to.
Hybridized boost in acceleration, excellent transmission, cargo space aplenty, hunkered-down road feel without harshness.
Button-heavy interior, green accents can be gaudy, imperfect steering and brakes.
The ideal setup:
As with most Porsches, it doesn't hurt to add a few options to this Panamera. To our eyes, the 20" wheels (from $3305 to $5595) accentuate the bigness of the four-door, and there is really no way to go wrong with interior and exterior color choices. For the entire list of options—from painted air intakes to a rear-seat entertainment system—consult your friendly Porsche dealer.
By the numbers: 2015 Porsche Panamera S e-Hybrid
MSRP: $97,095 (includes $995 destination charge)
Power / drive wheels: 3.0-liter, 333-hp supercharged V-6 engine and 95-hp electric motor / rear-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy: 23/29 city/highway mpg
In showrooms: Now