Porsche doesn’t make a bad car. It just doesn’t. Every single one of its cars – two-door, four-door, or otherwise – is the best in its class. Hands down. Well, almost.
Let me explain.
I was recently invited to drive all nine variants of the second-generation, 2014 Porsche Panamera. And I will just quickly tell you that they are – without a doubt – out of this world. Each Panamera model is stand-up-and-shout fantastic.
Each Panamera model is stand-up-and-shout fantastic.
That isn’t the news, though. At its core, the Panamera is essentially a four-door 911 built for men who want both driving dynamism and also enough room to haul the things they love – like their golf clubs and children.
Porsche could have easily stopped with the first-gen Panamera, as it quickly outself even Porsche’s wildest expectations. In fact, Porsche now sells more four-door models than two-door models. I know. I was surprised, too.
Rather than resting on its laurels and letting the cash come cascading in, Porsche stuck its neck out and – for 2014 – added a plug-in S E-Hybrid to the Panamera lineup.
This, my friends, is the car worth reporting on.
Before we dig into the S E-Hybrid, let’s take a look at the eight other Panameras offered here in the States for 2014.
DT Drive Time: 2014 Porsche Panamera
“Some say,” Porsche’s Panamera project director bragged to me, “the extended bodyline of the Executive model looks even more dynamic than that of the original.” Dr. Stefan Utsch might be right, but I couldn’t tell the difference.
When the Germans put the picture of the 2013 Panamera up on the screen next to a picture of a 2014 and stated to the group of journalists “how clearly different” the two were, I nearly spit out my coffee. At immediate glance, I saw no difference. As the PowerPoint presentation continued, however, the changes became clear.
Porsche designers reshaped and slightly enlarged the lower air inlets. The headlights, too, are now less pointy. And the power dome on the hood is more bulbous. In the back, the hatch is wider and longer. Also, the license plate has been moved from the center of the hatch down into the bumper, giving the backend a cleaner look.
For any other automaker, these would be niggling little changes and barely worth mentioning. For Porsche, a company that holds onto designs for six decades before it gives a second glance, these changes are revolutionary.
Regardless of Porsche’s reluctance to change, I really like the Panamera’s bodylines. It took some getting used to, but over the years I have come to find the Panamera quite handsome. It’s distinctive. There’s nothing quite like it. And I appreciate that.
At the bottom of the reshaped 2014 Panamera lineup, we have the base Panamera priced at $78,100. The first-gen base Panamera was powered by a 4.8-liter naturally aspirated V8. For 2014, that motor has been mangled into a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6.
Performance fiends will worship you, as will Greenpeace.
When I say Porsche re-worked that V8 into a V6, I’m not just being cute. I’m being factual. A Porsche chief admitted to me that the engineers took the V8, lopped off two cylinders, and shortened piston stoke, and bolted up two turbochargers. Et voila! Now Porsche has a completely distinctive 3.0 V6 in its lineup.
At the top-end, Porsche now has what it calls an Executive model. Although its shapes are slightly different than the standard wheelbase version, it is essentially a Panamera stretched out by 5.9 inches. This makes the Panamera, for the first time, a car you can both enjoy driving and being driven in.
But I digress.
The S E-Hybrid
The S E-Hybrid is the plug-in hybrid follow-up to the S Hybrid of the first-gen Panamera. The S E-Hybrid is driven by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 and a 95-horsepower electric motor powered by a 9.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. All told, net system power output is pegged at 416 horsepower and 435 pound-feet of torque.
Mated to the hybrid powertrain is Porsche’s seven-speed PDK transmission. Until this drive, I never knew what PDK stood for. It’s much, much more wondrous than I could have ever dreamed. PDK stands for – and I kid you not –“Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.”
The S E-Hybrid has four drive modes: E-Power, which is the standard drive mode; Hybrid mode; E-Charge, which will uses the gasoline engine to not only propel the car down the road but also to charge the lithium-ion battery pack; and Sport mode.
When fully charged, the onboard lithium-ions can propel the S E-Hybrid for 22 miles – up to 84 mph. When in Sport mode, the Panamera S E-Hybrid can sprint to 60 mph from a dead standstill in 5.2 seconds and onto a top speed of 167 mph.
Porsche only waited five years between Panamera redesigns rather than its normal six decades.
This is perfect if, while motoring along in an eco-friendly fashion, you decide you need to put the hammer down. No need to fiddle with buttons. Simply stomp on it and the S E-Hybrid will do the rest.
Clearly, then, the S E-Hybrid is a cleverly designed car filled with perfectly brilliant engineering bits – just like the rest of the Panamera line. On paper, I am absolutely in awe of the car. It’s hugely advanced and excels in the three dimensions that Porsche strives to achieve: sport, comfort, and efficiency.
Take it off the paper and put it on the pavement. How does it stack up?
On the Road
Plop into the driver’s seat and the first thing you’ll notice is that the S E-Hybrid’s interior tenor is not quite as refined as the rest of its Panamera pedigree. Frankly, it feels more like a run-of-the-mill hybrid than a performance and luxury-oriented hybrid. The plastics, the materials just look a bit less elegant.
I’ll chalk this up not to cheapness, but to lightness in the name of efficiency.
Fire the engine, put the shifter into drive, and take off. The transition from stationary to motion is much smoother than most plug-in hybrids. Get up to speed, though, and the story changes a bit.
On hard acceleration, where the other Panameras shine brightly, the S E-Hybrid lags a bit. The engine note that permeates the cabin is shockingly buzzy – not at all like the rest of the Porsche line.
Although the S E-Hybrid is much faster than any other plug-in hybrid on the market, you just didn’t ever feel the purported 416 hp that it has under the hood. It’s fast, yes, but is it $99,000 fast? I’m not sure.
This, I realize, is the wrong way to look at the Panamera S E-Hybrid. It’s not about hardline performance. It’s about presence; it’s about efficiency; it’s about comfort. And the S E-Hybrid has those in spades.
I should mention, though, that when I prodded Porsche on fuel economy numbers for the S E-Hybrid, I was told that, “The S E-Hybrid achieves fuel-efficiency that any hybrid carmaker would be proud of.” This is the German way – I suspect – of saying, “Ask me no questions, and I shall tell you no lies.”
For a four-seater plug-in hybrid, the S E-Hybrid is hugely spacious and comfortable. Unlike every other plug-in on the market, thanks to clever Porsche packaging, you don’t pay a storage capacity price in the S E-Hybrid.
As for behind-the-wheel smoothness, the S E-Hybrid is tops. Every hybrid suffers from drivetrain jitters, but not the Panamera. All imperfections have been ironed out with German exacting precision. Disregard the 0-60 time difference, and you wouldn’t know you’re in a fuel-efficient Panamera but rather one that hasn’t been hopped up.
Pull up in front of, well, anywhere in the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid and you immediately enjoy a double-dose of cool factor. You’re in both a $100,000 Porsche but also in a plug-in hybrid. Performance fiends will worship you, as will Greenpeace.
The S E-Hybrid might not be the fastest Panamera in the lineup but what it lacks in power, it easily makes up for with a healthy dose of eco-friendliness and a whole hell of a lot of gravitas.
Ultimately, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid wasn’t what I was expecting. Once I saw it for what it really is, though, it all made sense. And I very much like it.
- Diverse model lineup
- Exceptional luxury sedan performance
- Interior refinement
- Easy-to-use launch control
- Cost of optional equipment
- Evolutionary rather than revolutionary design changes