DRIVING THE PORSCHE PANAMERA S E-HYBRID
Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room. At over half a million dollars, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is by no means an affordable everyday car. And even if you consider its efficiency, there is no way the Panamera S E-Hybrid is going to be more cost-effective than an affordable model from a Japanese or Korean make. That said, the Panamera S E-Hybrid was the first plug-in hybrid to reach our shores and has one of the best hybrid drivetrains in the market today. Hence, it is a good starting point for us to get a taste of hybrid technology.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid is powered by a combination of a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The internal combustion engine is an Audi-derived supercharged 3-liter V6 that churns out 333hp, whereas the electric motor produces 70 kilowatt or around 95hp. together, the car has a combined power output of 416hp and 590nm of torque. That’s a respectable amount of grunt, sufficient to haul the car from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.5 seconds. So, despite the eco-friendly positioning of the Panamera S E-Hybrid, this car is still a properly fast Porsche.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid has three driving modes: E-Power, E-Charge and Sport. E-Power is the default setting that the car starts in; and in this mode, the car is powered mostly by the electric motor and the internal combustion engine only comes on when absolutely necessary. To avoid drivers unintentionally summoning the supercharged 3-liter V6, an artificial step is added to the accelerator in this mode and the engine only comes on when drivers press beyond this point. As a result, the Panamera S E-Hybrid starts silently and this was slightly disconcerting experience for us since we were expecting to hear the rumble of the V6 when we started the car. Surprisingly, despite the Panamera S E-Hybrid weighing over 2 tons, the electric motor never felt insufficient or underpowered, though overtaking can be a little tricky. That said, it accelerates briskly enough and can even reach a maximum top speed of 135km/h on electric power alone.
More impressive, however, is its range. Porsche claims a maximum range of 36km is possible on a fully charged battery and we do not doubt it. Even on a half-full battery, we easily managed 20km. This is made possible by the efficiency in which the car recovers energy during normal driving. For instance, energy is recovered whenever the brakes are applied and also whenever the car goes into coasting mode, the instances where the car is “gliding” without any motive force.
The E-Charge mode is, as its name suggests, the mode to use if you want to charge the batteries. In this mode, excess energy from the internal combustion engine is used to charge the battery. Together with the energy recovered during braking and coasting, the battery charges significantly quicker. In our experience, we managed to get the battery up to around 40% charge after about 30km.
Sport mode is the setting you want to be in to experience the full fury of the hybrid drivetrain. In this mode, full performance, from both the supercharged 3-liter V6 and the electric motor, is available at any time. Together, the engine and the electric motor produce a whopping 590nm and this can be easily appreciated whenever you dig your right foot deeper into the carpet. The immediacy of the electric motor helps fills out the torque gaps nicely and it is quite impressive to see a car as large and heavy as the Panamera S E-Hybrid surge forward with such urgency. And with the various suspension settings, one can really tune to the Panamera S E-Hybrid to feel and drive like a bona fide sports car, despite its eco-friendly positioning and immense mass.
“Despite the ecofriendly positioning of the Panamera S E-Hybrid, this car is still a properly fast Porsche.”
The Long-term Viability of Plug-in Hybrids
Plug-in hybrids profess to offer the best of both worlds - the convenience of a traditional internal combustion engine cars and the eco-friendliness of fullelectric cars. After spending a day with the Panamera S E-Hybrid, we are convinced of this claim.
For short commutes, it is possible for the Panamera S E-Hybrid to drive solely using electric power. This makes it excellent for city driving or in a small country like ours. And when you are done, the Panamera S E-Hybrid can be plugged in, charged and ready to go the next day. So if used in such a manner, the Panamera S E-Hybrid functions almost like an electric car, and its internal combustion engine is only called upon for longer distance commutes or when the driver needs more power for overtaking maneuvers. And even if your daily commutes are longer than the electric range, the hybrid drivetrain does a good job of extending the overall range of the car and its energy recovery systems are useful in recycling energy that would otherwise have been wasted.
However, the biggest hurdle for plug-in hybrids is the charging station. Porsche Singapore admits that the unique selling point of this car can only be realized if the driver has his own property so that the special Porsche charging station can be installed and used to charge the car. This predicament extends to all hybrid cars and not just the Panamera S E-Hybrid. Hence, significant investment needs to be made by governments to install charging stations in public and housing estates to fully appreciate the potential of plug-in hybrids. To complicate matters, there are also differences between the charging cables used for hybrids - European and Japanese makes requires cables with different connectors.
The market for cars in Singapore has always been an unusual one because of the unique policies that we have surrounding car ownership. So while plug-in hybrids are touted as more efficient and cheaper to run, the reality is that the buyers who are usually in the market for such cars do not have access to a charging station nor can they install one as they please. As a result, plug-in hybrids, in Singapore at least, is really only viable for folks staying on landed property that can allow for the easy installation of charging docks.
In summary, plug-in hybrids, like any other cars that rely on alternative forms of fuel such as LPG, can only be viable if they receive the necessary infrastructure and support from the government. However, with car makers exploring other forms of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, it remains to be seen if the government would be willing to invest in the infrastructure required for the widespread adoption of both hybrid and full-electric cars.
The charging dock charges the car in just 4 hours.
The interior is a plethora of buttons and switches.
The rear seats fold for even more boot space.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid can be identified by its acid green brake calipers.