The most enjoyable part of the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is its quiet operation, uncanny for such unimpeded motion. It’s like traveling in a high-speed elevator, with the machine’s distant hum only amplifying the silence and no comprehension of speed until you look at the speedometer. It’s usually a big number.
This electrification is happening, with the zero-emissions Mission E penciled in for 2020 and hybrid 911s rumored to be undergoing prototype testing. Porsche (and everyone else from Honda to Ferrari) is building you up to believe the terms performance and hybrid are not contradictions. “At Porsche, hybrid means performance,” says the company’s Panamera spokesman Ben Weinberger.
Except when, really, it doesn’t. The all-new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid weighs two-point-two tonnes and the regenerative braking system comes with a grabby, pulsing middle pedal that gets an anxiety attack every time you think about slowing.
“This vehicle raises driving performance almost to the level of the Panamera 4S…”
But, um, for the same money you can almost buy a Panamera 4S.
And then there’s the massive problem I have with the new Porsche Advanced Cockpit they’re obsessing over, which is just a gorgeous surface for collecting stains and fingerprints and for not being very useful at all.
Porsche designer Thorsten Klein, when asked why he swapped foolproof hard switches for fiddly and unsafe touch surfaces replied, “Because our rivals are doing it.” All that was missing was a ,”Duh!”
Yes there’s plenty to love about the new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. As a parallel hybrid the car combines a 2.9-litre V6 twin-turbocharged engine rated at 330bhp and 450Nm of torque, with a 136bhp electric motor driving the wheels through an eight-speed double-clutch transmission (the same ’box services all Panameras, hybrid or not) with a six-plus-two design, meaning top speed of 278kph is achieved in sixth gear.
In S or S+ modes selectable with the rotary dial hanging off a wheel spoke, like in the 918 Spyder, you can flap the shift paddles yourself without getting lost amongst all those gears, bouncing between only about two or three of them with maximum system torque of 700Nm on hand from just 1,750rpm.
Because they can’t seem to help it and simply must stick something back there, Porsche packages its lithium-ion batteries right at the rear of the 4 E-Hybrid, right behind the axle just like in the 911. It was the same placement as in the old Panamera, except the new pack features an energy increase of around 50 per cent compared to its predecessor. For a full charge you’ll need nearly six hours to kill, but most will opt for an optional on-board charger which drops waiting times to about three-and-a-half hours. With an available smartphone app you can set charging options and air conditioning controls remotely.
Even though it costs less than a Panamera 4S the hybrid model gets Sport Chrono as standard equipment, although honestly, rather than going for lap times this thing lends itself best for playing Ultimate Hypermiler. In electric-only mode you can still hit 140kph which is your highest allowed speed limit just about anywhere and seems fast enough in a relaxing cruiser like the 4 E-Hybrid. If you’re careful you’ll see 50 zero-emissions kilometers out of it, knowing you can trust the reliable digital range readout. Don’t however, expect the range to stay true when you spec yourself some 17 grand 21in Sport Design wheels.
The electromechanical steering isn’t unnecessarily burdened to simulate some kind of bravado. It’s light and easy to steer around town with one finger on a spoke. It’s a small way of attempting to disguise the thing’s enormous bulk.
And the Panamera, in Hybrid or Turbo or any form, is a beautiful car — in jet black it looks like a giant basalt massage stone, and in milky white it’s better. Porsche’s interiors are also incredibly well put together even if there’s way more plastic in the Panamera than in, say, BMW’s 7 Series. Great plastic, but plastic… In the BMW you have to really look for it.
In long-wheelbase Executive models (also available on the Hybrid) rear passengers get a nifty infotainment system that includes performance gauges and comprehensive trip computer, as well as satellite navigation maps so you can set your chauffeur’s destination. Both individual chairs recline, slightly, and both get sturdy table trays and removable displays you can use away from the car so you can finish this round of Spider Solitaire.
Impressive as it is the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid would make a lot of sense on its own, except that it has 15 other Panameras in the line-up for company, several of which are much better choices. Keep in mind though that this is only the beginning — Porsche has just released the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, which with 680 horsepower is a flagship model for the first time in the range. Get used to grabby brakes.