2018 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid first drive

Tap a button, and Porsche's Panamera 4 E-Hybrid goes from ferocious to frugal

The Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is the best option if you want a dash of eco-friendliness with your behind-the-wheel thrills.
The Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is the best option if you want a dash of eco-friendliness with your behind-the-wheel thrills.
The Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is the best option if you want a dash of eco-friendliness with your behind-the-wheel thrills.

Highs

  • Standout design
  • Gorgeous cabin
  • Great all-around performance
  • Emissions-free driving when needed

Lows

  • Down on trunk space
  • Options pile on fast

We remember a time when suggesting Porsche should build a hybrid car was enough to get you boiled alive. Fueled by a malleable imagination, engineers went there and came back, un-boiled, with the original Panamera S Hybrid. The model has become a mainstay of the Porsche line-up, and it’s back with a number of improvements for the Panamera’s second generation.

Vehicle introduction and overview

Now called Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, its nerve center is a familiar twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 that makes 330 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with an electric motor that adds 136 horses and a stout 295 pound-feet of twist.

The system’s total output checks in at a V8-like 462 hp and 516 lb-ft, and it flows to the four alloy wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. There’s no rear-wheel drive option, but the powertrain is rear-biased so the back axle receives most of the power in normal driving conditions.

When taking pictures there is really no bad angle or ungainly side to the 2018 Panamera.

By sucking juice from a rear-mounted, 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the electric motor can power the Panamera on its own for up to 30 miles at no more than 90 mph. Replenishing the battery takes 2.4 hours with the optional on-board quick charger or 3.6 hours with the standard charger. Alternatively, it recharges itself on-the-go thanks to a regenerative braking system that captures kinetic energy.

The original Panamera’s design was a contentious one. The Quasimodo-like hunch out back was far from graceful, and the upswept belt line made it look even taller than it actually was. To our eyes, the new model rights the original’s wrongs. When taking pictures, it occurred to us there is really no bad angle or ungainly side to it. The proportions are just right, forging a sedan that’s handsome and eye-caching without going over the top.

It takes a bona fide Porsche spotter to tell the E-Hybrid apart from other Panamera models. It receives bright green brake calipers that create a visual link to the sold-out 918 Spyder, matching green e-hybrid emblems on the doors, and a green outline for the Panamera 4 logo out back.

You can order black calipers and delete the emblems if you prefer a more low-key look without the psychedelic accents. There are even fewer differences between hybrid and non-hybrid models on the inside, at least until you start the car and begin scrolling through the various menus in the infotainment system.

What’s new?

The second-generation Panamera is about a year and a half old so it’s still fresh. Slightly longer, wider, and taller than before, it wears a design that’s softer than its predecessor’s thanks largely to a roof line that echoes the emblematic 911. The cabin is more tech-oriented, and the passengers travel on top of a platform no older than the sheet metal.

Trim levels and features

The E-Hybrid slots near the middle of the Panamera line-up. Highlights from the generous list of standard features include an adaptive air suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, an automatic rear hatch, an adaptive rear spoiler, black trim around the windows, a charging cable with its own storage bag, an electronic parking brake, a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, partial leather upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, Apple CarPlay compatibility, a 10-speaker sound system, and parking sensors on both ends.

2018 porsche panamera 4 e hybrid first drive 863
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The list of options is longer than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. You can pay extra for 20- or 21-inch alloy wheels, 14-way power-adjustable front seats, sport seats, full leather upholstery, a rear wiper, soft-close doors, tinted tail lights, rear axle steering, carbon ceramic brakes, and a Bose surround sound system, among countless other features. There is an available six-disc CD changer for the old-school among us, and there are also numerous option packages to choose from.

Technology overview

Porsche positioned a wide touch screen right in the middle of the dashboard to display the infotainment software. It offers one of the best resolutions we’ve seen in any car regardless of market segment. It’s even better than the setup in modern-day Mercedes-Benz models, which we’ve praised in the past.

We’re not kidding; there is a lot of information in the driver’s line of sight.

The Panamera is an advanced car and its infotainment system reflects that well; there is an encyclopedia’s worth of information contained in it. It’s straight-forward to use and most of the menus are relatively shallow so it’s not as daunting as it initially appears. There’s more data for the driver to process in the instrument cluster.

It resembles the five-wide analog units found in classic Porsche models but the four outer gauges are replaced by a pair of configurable seven-inch screens.

For example, the screen on the right of the tachometer (which remains analog, with a hybrid-correct green needle) can display gauges for the fuel tank and the battery pack, a g-force meter, and the time and date all at the same time. Or, flick a button to switch to a lap timer. Or, toggle to a map showing navigation directions. Or, you can summon a diagram that illustrates in real time how much power the V6 and the electric motor respectively contribute to the car’s forward momentum. We’re not kidding; there is a lot of information in the driver’s line of sight. We like it, but we can understand those who don’t.

One of the Panamera’s stand-out tech features goes by the name InnoDrive. It helps deliver stress-free highway cruising without muting the car’s performance genes. We recently tested it on the roads around Porsche’s home town of Stuttgart, Germany, and we ended up using it more often than we thought we would, especially on the crowded Autobahn.

Interior fit and finish

Porsche is no longer merely a sports car company; it hasn’t been for decades. It also doubles as a luxury car brand, which explains why the Panamera’s interior is one of the best in the segment. It’s right up there with the usual suspects: Audi, Mercedes, and BMW.

Every part of the interior feels as solid as a bank vault and built to haute couture-like standards.

Every part of the interior feels as solid as a bank vault and built to haute couture-like standards. The stitching is perfect, and the gaps between the various surfaces are all spot on. That last point is even more impressive when you consider the dizzying selection of materials that come together to form the cabin. Real wood, soft leather, soft-touch plastics, harder plastics (like the buttons on the steering wheel), and various metals are all within reach.

Touch-capacitive controls with haptic feedback glow through the slanted center console. It’s a clean, uncluttered mini command center where you can adjust the climate control settings, heat or cool your bum using the seat heaters or coolers, or access the infotainment system’s various menus, among other functions. It works well enough, but our issue with this setup is that it’s difficult to keep clean. Fingerprints showed up on the buttons after just less than an hour behind the wheel. It’s an inevitable concession in the name of tech, but a slightly perturbing one if you like your car tidy.

We applaud Porsche for making seats that are supportive yet not overly firm. It’s a lesson the company has learned from decades of allying performance with daily-drivability. The front passengers are comfortable with ample space in every direction, and visibility is surprisingly good considering the car’s fast-sloping roof line. It’s much better than in the outgoing Mercedes CLS, which has a similarly sloped roof line. The second-row seats are installed low to clear enough head room for six-footers.

2018 porsche panamera 4 e hybrid first drive 862
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The battery pack encroaches on trunk space, which checks in at just 14.3 cubic feet. That’s on the low side of the segment; the standard Panamera offers a middling 17.6 cubes. You can fold down the 60/40-split rear seats to obtain 44 cubic feet, down from 47.3 in the non-hybrid model. Note Porsche now makes a station wagon called Sport Turismo for buyers who want a more practical car without stepping up to an SUV like the Cayenne. It, too, is offered in E-Hybrid guise.

Driving performance and MPG

The Panamera E-Hybrid always starts in electric-only mode – called, appropriately, E-Power – so it doesn’t fire up with a bang the way you’d expect it to. It comes to life silently and discreetly. You can leave it in E-Power and drive until the battery runs low on electricity, or use the race car-inspired dial that sticks out from the center of the steering wheel like a stunted spoke to select one of the three driving modes. They’re called Hybrid, Sport, and Sport +, respectively.

Sling it into a turn and
you’ll swear you’re
driving a coupe, not
a sedan close in size
to a Mercedes S-Class.

Engaging the basic Hybrid mode harnesses the powertrain’s full output to deliver a blend of performance and efficiency. The InnoDrive tech is a big advantage in Hybrid mode because it analyzes data from sensors and the navigation software to make the most efficient use of the E-Hybrid’s two sources of power. It’s not always on; you need to engage it like a cruise control system. InnoDrive is a Porsche exclusive which helps the Panamera stand out from the competition, and in this segment tech is key. We consider it a big win for Porsche.

The Panamera is an aggressive corner-carver in Hybrid mode, but keeping it in Sport or Sport + is the best way to really dance with it on a back road. The throttle becomes more responsive, the transmission holds its gears for longer, and the air suspension gets firmer. Body roll turns into a distant memory of whatever car you last drove before slipping behind the wheel; a 40-year old Renault, in our case.  You sit close to the ground and look out at the road ahead over a long, sloping hood. When you sling it into a turn you’d swear you’re driving a coupe, not a sedan close in size to a Mercedes S-Class. Porsche quotes a 4.4-second zero-to-60-mph time and, while we didn’t time it, it certainly feels the part in spite of the 4,787-pound mass the V6 lugs around.

The battery that feeds the hybrid system actually helps handling slightly by placing more weight over the rear axle. Weight distribution is just one factor in this equation, though. The amount of fine-tuning that went into making such a buttoned-down chassis must be immense. You’re almost encouraged to drive it hard, too, because Sport + sends more electricity back to the battery pack than any of the other modes.

2018 porsche panamera 4 e hybrid first drive 870
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The Panamera morphs into a completely different animal in electric-only mode. It’s still fast-paced, and the instant torque delivered by the motor makes it brisk off the line, but it lacks the ferocious bite of the full hybrid experience. That’s to be expected because, in its defense, the E-Power mode’s mission in life is to save gasoline, not to provide race track-like performance. Drive it rationally and it rewards you with an utterly silent and relatively relaxed ride that passengers react to with suspicious awe. It shows a different side of the Panamera, and indeed a different side of Porsche as an auto-maker.

The brakes are powerful, which you’d rightfully expect in a car with such a high power output. What surprised us is that the regenerative braking effect is subtle, especially compared to other plug-in hybrid models we’ve driven like the much smaller and more basic Volkswagen Golf GTE. Releasing the accelerator pedal in E-Power mode doesn’t feel terribly different than it does in Hybrid or Sport mode, and there is not enough resistance to bring the car to a full stop without touching the brake pedal.

Our time behind the wheel was too short to accurately measure fuel economy. We did notice the gauge that displays the remaining electric-only range was surprisingly accurate. We lost a mile of range after driving a mile, not two miles or 300 yards. There’s no range anxiety because the V6 kicks when needed with nary a shudder, but it’s nice to know precisely how much longer you can drive on electric power.

Safety

The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid comes standard with dual front, front side, rear side, front knee, and curtain airbags, along with traction and stability control systems. It hasn’t been rated yet by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

How DT would outfit this car

If we were in the market for a Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, we’d get ours painted in Agate Grey Metallic, an $830 option. We’d also spec the 911 Turbo Design wheels pictured on our tester, but we’d ditch the green brake calipers in favor of black ones – it’s a no-cost option. Inside, we’d get the black/chalk leather interior and add the Bose surround-sound system.

Conclusion

What surprised us most about the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is that going from the E-Power to the Sport + mode feels like you just switched cars. It’s as if Porsche bundled two different sedans under the same body, no small feat when both need to live up to the brand’s high standards. It shines as a sports sedan, succeeds as a hybrid, and excels as a Porsche.

This is the best option if you’re looking for a blend of performance and efficiency without the constraints of a battery-electric car. Other plug-in luxury sedans like the BMW 740e and the Mercedes S560e aren’t as sharp to drive as the Panamera. And there are better Panamera variants, including the more expensive V8-powered Turbo, but they’re in a different league when it comes to CO2 emissions and fuel economy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but if you want a dash of eco-friendliness with your behind-the-wheel thrills the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid should at the very top of your very short list.

Stationed in the middle ground of the Panamera line-up, the E-Hybrid makes a strong case for itself. It’s more powerful than the base model and it’s considerably more affordable than either of the Turbo variants. That gives you two reasons to buy one.

The first is because you want a mid-range Panamera. The second is because you want, or need, a plug-in hybrid car capable of driving on electricity alone for relatively short distances. If you tick either box, the E-Hybrid is the Panamera to get… at least until Porsche resurrects the GTS-badged model. Then we’ll re-evaluate whether the E-Hybrid ticks the first box.