The 911 pace car ahead of me raced up the main straight and took the ascent up through Turn 1 of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit without a flash of brakelights. Behind the wheel of the 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, I tried to close the distance. My car weighed a lot more but it also boasted substantially more power.
The pace car's brakes went on hard before Turn 2, a strategy I emulated. The very tight corners on this tiny track gave the smaller 911 a natural advantage. To close the distance, I quickly learned that, to access the Panamera's 680 horsepower I needed to really put the pedal down, as the throttle felt modulated for smooth on-road driving.
On the third of a succession of turns, I steered too tight and the Panamera's rear end began to wag. It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't devastating, either. Under Porsche's direction, I was driving with the Panamera's Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system turned on. PSM performed its magic of individual wheel braking, and instead of a spin-out, I was able to get the car back on its line, following the pace car.
The Panamera made up for its 5,093-pound curb weight on this 19-turn, 1.4-mile track with a staggered tire set, ceramic brakes, rear-biased all-wheel drive and Porsche's years of sports car engineering expertise. However, as well as it did on this small track, I felt the Panamera would be more at home on the Autobahn.
With the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, Porsche bests its own power-mad Panamera Turbo, the former top model in the Panamera lineup. When I first drove the Panamera Turbo some years ago, this hatchback sedan's launch control gave me an exceptional grin-inducing experience. Adding a plug-in hybrid system gets the zero-to-60 mph time down to 3.3 seconds, shaving a tenth off that of the Turbo. It's like Porsche found a niche beyond a typical type A personality buyer, aiming the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid at a type A plus.
The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid relies on the same 550 horsepower twin turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 as the Panamera Turbo, but adds a 101-kilowatt electric motor, integrated into the eight-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission. Porsche claims total system output of 680 horsepower and 626 pound-feet of torque, massive specs in any production segment.
Porsche's E-Hybrid system means plug-in capability for the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, along with electric range of 30 miles under the New European Drive Cycle testing, the equivalent of US EPA fuel economy testing.
During a Porsche-sponsored press event, I drove the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid on the track and on public roads around Vancouver Island. This latest generation of Panamera, launched last year, comes with a simplified dashboard and console interface, based around a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen displaying what the company calls Porsche Communication Management (PCM). I particularly like the console panel, with haptic touch areas for quick access to car and infotainment functions.
Along with navigation, stereo and hands-free phone system, PCM in the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid adds hybrid-specific screens for people who want to monitor the energy mix. Through either a dial on the steering wheel or a screen, I could choose one of four different drive modes: E-Power, Hybrid Auto, Sport and Sport Plus. And if I really wanted to dig in, I could choose submodes for the hybrid system, one that maintains the car's battery level and one that runs the engine harder to charge the battery, making sure I have range if I need to drive electric in a city center or other situation down the road.
On public roads, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid felt comfortable, solid and heavy. There's a palpable substance to the driving experience, communicated through the steering wheel and in the cabin appointments, from thick leather covering seats and console-mounted drive selector to metal switchgear. However, the drive mode dial on the steering wheel felt plasticky, as if it were tacked on as an afterthought.
Even with the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid's adaptive suspension set to its most comfortable, it didn't insulate me from the road. I could still feel rough patches, and got a significant jolt from a bit of broken pavement. A soft ride was never Porsche's goal.
Rather, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid really comes into its own with the drive mode set to Sport or Sport Plus and room to run on an appropriately twisty road. This big sedan exhibits Porsche sports car DNA, so comes into its own when pushed. On a country road cutting across Vancouver Island with no painted center line, I exhilarated in the feel of tucking it in through one turn after another. Precise steering and balance, coupled with a suspension that kept it from wallowing, made for a fun time.
However, the grip proved too strong to hang the tail out at anything but stupid speeds, and the throttle required a strong push to really feel the punch of acceleration. The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is certainly more of a fast cruiser than canyon carver.
As the new top dog in the Panamera line-up, the Turbo S E-Hybrid commands a high price, $184,400 base. For $10,000 more, Porsche offers the Executive model, an extended wheelbase version with more room in the rear seats, designed for a chauffeured experience. There won't be many options to add, however, as the base Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid comes standard with niceties like ceramic brakes and Porsche's Chrono package, which actually adds performance.
Despite the 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid being a hybrid, fuel economy is not this car's raison d'etre, and certainly not a concern of those that can afford it. No, this variation of the Panamera is all about its 680 horsepower, not only for on-road performance but also a boon for the type A plus boaster.
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