Porsche’s Now Solidly into Hybrids

2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid.

“Porsche makes a hybrid?” asked the man who saw the car in the parking lot just as I unlocked the doors. “They actually make two of them,” was my reply. He was walking from his late model Volvo into a store, smiling and shaking his head at the same time.

He’d seen the badges on the back of the Panamera S Hybrid, with the word “hybrid” even done in Porsche’s famous script font. He’s probably not alone, a bit surprised that a company known for high-performance street and racing cars would have hybrids in its lineup.

The gas-electric Panamera joins the Cayenne Hybrid in Porsche showrooms, giving buyers two ways to have both a performance car and a green-ish car all in one. Their drive systems are identical, since both large vehicles share the same platform. The Panamera is in many ways a Cayenne with a lower roofline and a bit less utility.

But why a hybrid Porsche? Well, several reasons. First, every car company has to find ways to reduce the fuel consumption and carbon output of its vehicles. Secondly, buyers of high-end cars often don’t mind paying a premium for advanced technology. And finally, despite the common misconception, not every hybrid has to be a boring car that’s not much fun to drive.

A lot depends on how the hybrid system is designed to work. For most small hybrid cars that seek maximum efficiency, a continuously variable transmission is employed in order to smooth out the transition from gasoline mode to electric and back. But Porsche developed a hybrid transmission that connects directly to everything for better throttle response.

The other advantage to this system is that the engine can be completely de-coupled from the transmission in order to shut off at amazingly high speeds. If you’re going downhill on a freeway, like let’s say the Sepulveda Pass, you’ll see the tachometer drop down to 0. The engine is off, the rest of everything is powered by electricity in the hybrid battery, and fuel isn’t being consumed. You can also glide along at light throttle in certain freeway situations with the engine still off and the electric motor propelling the vehicle.

The payoff is EPA mileage ratings of 22 city and 30 highway with a combined number of 25. Compare that to the conventional Panamera S’s figures of 16 and 24 and you can see that over the course of a year, the efficiency can add up. (Of course the hybrid version costs more, but for buyers in this segment it’s not necessarily about money.)

And there’s no penalty in performance to speak of. Porsche decided to include the “S” in the model name Panamera S Hybrid because the power output and performance is comparable to the conventional S version of the car. The supercharged V6 engine and electric motor combine to produce 385 horsepower and a claimed top speed of 167 miles per hour.

Overall, the Panamera has done very well for the company. Early reviews praised the car’s performance, but often pointed out its somewhat dowdy looks. But in person, it’s actually a handsome car from most angles, especially in darker colors. (The Panamera S Hybrid I tested wore a shade of brownish-gray called Carbon Metallic, set off by a deep burgundy interior.) Sales of Panameras have so far exceeded the company’s expectations.

This is also a very practical car. It’s “only” a four-seater, but each of those seats has room for a full-size adult and then some. So many cars that claim to seat three in the back have far less room for two than the Panamera. A big bonus is the hatch at the rear, which opens up to a fairly large cargo hold.

So yes, Porsche is now in the hybrid game. You’ll have to fork over at least $95,000 (base price) for a Panamera S Hybrid. But as a hybrid, a performance car, and most importantly a true Porsche, it does very well.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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