Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit is a brand spanking new facility situated in the the beautiful Cowichan Valley at the foot of Mount Prevost in British Columbia, Canada. It’s a fun 2.3-kilometre road course, built to FIA standards, and its combination of 19 corners and over 91 metres of elevation change per lap mean that it’s perfectly suited for ragging something like a Boxster around all day.
This is the type of circuit where a feisty roadster — piloted with skill — can keep a heavier hyper-car honest. This is the type of circuit where a car constructed to Colin Chapman’s philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness” can become a giant slayer. This is the type of circuit where nimbleness is more important than horsepower or top speed. Well, this is what I thought. But after a morning spent lapping this circuit in something contrary to each of my assertions, I am now not so sure… Having to reevaluate your understanding of physics is usually best dealt with by lying down in a darkened room and meditating. Or watching a supercut anthology of all the best slow-motion, jogging-along-the-beach scenes from every episode of Baywatch to focus your mind. Or whatever floats your boat for reconfiguring your grey matter. But ain’t nobody got time for that and I am back out on track following photographer Frank in his camera car getting this issue’s cover shot. And even this is compounding my confusion.
I’m in the same car that barely an hour ago forced me to accept that technology can overcome natural law. And I am currently sitting behind photographer Frank lapping Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit in complete silence. Yes, I am in a tree-hugging hybrid and rigged for full silent running on purely electric mode. And sure, I have driven hybrids before. I have even driven hyper-hybrid supercars before. But this is full-size luxury saloon that weighs approximately the same as a concrete elephant and uses clever engineering to mock Sir Isaac Newton and his childish theories.
This is the new Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid and hopefully you will forgive me for not rambling on about the interior or exterior aesthetics. Or its infotainment system. Or how many driver’s seat adjustment options are available depending on which trim level you go for. It’s a new Panamera and obviously has all that stuff and gubbins that the other Panamera models possess that you’ve already read about. The important thing about this Panamera is the drivetrain and how Porsche engineers have managed to not only make it all work, but successfully combine the drivetrain with innovative systems to genuinely make this an extremely potent and competent performance vehicle without sacrificing luxury or comfort.
At the heart of the Turbo S E-Hybrid — and it is still very much the heart — lies the new Porsche four-litre V8 bi-turbo ‘traditional’ combustion engine. With 550 horsepower and 770Nm of torque, it really is all you need and naturally you can buy a Panamera from Porsche with ‘just’ this option if you are satisfied with regular insane performance. But the Turbo S E-Hybrid is the sporting flagship model in the Panamera line. And it is indeed substantially more powerful and noticeably faster. Yet it is a heavier, plug-in and hug-a-tree variant. Wait… what?
This obviously isn’t the first time that Porsche has utilised a hybrid powertrain for outright performance. But the 918 Spyder was a focused two-seater hyper-car. This Panamera is a four-door full-size luxury sports saloon and there has been absolutely no effort whatsoever to dial back customer expectations of luxury trimmings or comfortable fixings in an effort to save weight. The extra weight of the batteries alone is about 135kg and they are nonchalantly slung out over the rear end. This is a 2,310kg behemoth that can sprint and hustle with a rapidness and agility that, until very recently, wouldn’t have been a combination that was possible.
With a total power output of 680 horsepower and 850Nm of torque, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is deserving of its performance flagship model status. It is also a glimpse into the near future and highlights the importance of electro-mobility at Porsche. Hybrids are normally seen as eco-friendly commuter vehicles and, because of the added weight increase, haven’t made much of an impact on the psyche of the performance posse until very recently. Obviously that all changed when the latest trio of hyper-cars arrived on the scene. The Ferrari LaFerrai, the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918 Spyder made ‘us petrolheads’ reevaluate our prejudice against hybrid technology. And, by extension, reevaluate (to a degree) our fear of an all electric-powered future which is looking increasingly inevitable.
After a morning spent lapping this circuit in something contrary to each of my assertions, I am now not so sure...
In many ways the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is actually more impressive than these focused hyper-hybrids as weight is traditionally considered the enemy of performance. With immense grip from all-wheel drive and the instant torque available from the electric motor this thing can hustle its mass from 0-100kph in 3.4 seconds. And all that insta-torque is available from 1,400 to 5,500rpm which means it is pretty much always there no matter which gear you are in on the new eight-speed PDK transmission all the way up to a top speed of 310kph.
It is really the handling that impresses the most on this 2,310kg luxury sports saloon however. All of the Panamera range offer superb handling but the addition of extra weight in the rear of this flagship model actually result in a more neutral front-to-rear balance. This, combined with Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport (PDCC Sport), torque vectoring system and and the three-chamber air suspension system with active suspension management (PASM) result in comfortable cruising or focused taut handling at the flick of a switch.
And, despite being over five metres in length, the S E-Hybrid even manages to feel surprisingly agile on the tight and twisty Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit thanks to the rear-axle steering and superb ceramic brakes which make short work of decelerating its mass without a fuss.
Hybrid power may well be an interim technology while we hover on the edge of an all-electric future. But the balance of eco-friendliness — with a 50 kilometre range of electric only power — and downright ridiculous performance — with 680 horsepower with 850 Nm of torque — is hard to argue with. We should rejoice in the fact that we live in an era where a full-size, four-door luxury saloon can have supercar-slaying performance. Especially while we thankfully still have the option of a proper V8 engine pumping out the petrolhead’s anthem.