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2018 Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid: First Drive Review

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author photo by Autotrader September 2017

Luxury hybrids were once token gestures. Unimpressive fuel economy, weakened performance, flawed drivability and absurd price tags meant the only real reason to buy one was to flaunt the hybrid badge. The 2018 Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid is a new and indeed appreciably improved take on the luxury hybrid, replacing the compromises of yesterday with an appealing package of elements that showcase what a properly done electrified car can be today. Plus, there are more than a few glimpses of what's to come tomorrow.

Putting More E in E-Hybrid

Just a quick glance at the new Panamera E-Hybrid's spec sheet shows how far it's come with this latest, all-new generation. It starts with the same 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 engine from the base Panamera, which produces 330 horsepower -- no small amount itself -- and bolsters it with a 136-hp electric motor fed by a lithium-ion battery pack replenished by the car's brakes and, as it's a plug-in hybrid, the electric grid. Total output is a robust 462 hp, and Porsche estimates the model can sprint from zero to 60 miles per hour in a rapid 4.4 seconds (with the optional Sport Chrono package and its launch control function).

That's nearly a second quicker than the old Panamera E-Hybrid, while falling only a bit short of the 2018 Panamera 4S sedan, which costs about $4,000 more. Seems like a bang-for-your-buck push between those two models but, of course, the plug-in hybrid offers fuel economy and range the gas-only 4S quite obviously can't match. An official mile-per-gallon-equivalent (mpge) estimate has not been announced, but we would expect the new E-Hybrid to easily clear its predecessor's 51 mpge estimate. A ballpark of 60 to 70 could be possible.

The reason for that is the new E-Hybrid's dramatically increased battery capacity, which essentially doubles the old car's all-electric driving range. Porsche says the 2018 model can go 31 miles on electricity alone, an amount that should encompass the daily commutes of many and therefore greatly reduce fuel consumption. It's certainly possible to avoid burning any gas during a week's worth of driving to and from work. That wasn't the case with the old Panamera Hybrid and is literally impossible in the gas-only 4S.

(Note that there's also a range-topping Turbo S E-Hybrid available, which puts its emphasis squarely on max performance.)

Far More Normal to Drive

But what about the driving experience itself? The old car's odd brake feel was tantamount to a deal breaker and, indeed, the whole car lacked the polish one associates with Porsche. The new car is substantially better-realized, no longer drawing undue attention to its hybridness. It feels like a normal car to drive.

The brakes behave normally, and throttle response is in keeping for its brand, although uniquely, there's a detent about 60 percent of the way through the pedal stroke that helps keep you within the car's electric-only power band. Punch through it, say when an aggressive pass or emergency maneuver is called for, and you'll summon the full combined ferocity of 462 gasoline-plus-electric horses. When sitting in traffic, you're unlikely to ever notice it, although a more aggressive regenerative braking function for one-pedal driving would be appreciated (much as it is in a Tesla Model S or the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid).

That would be when using the E driving mode, which is summoned along with three other settings, using a small rotary dial on the steering wheel. The other modes are Sport and Sport+, which given their names not surprisingly put a priority on performance for those times when you feel like driving a Porsche more than an E-Hybrid. Downshifts from the 8-speed PDK automatic transmission are made sooner, upshifts are made later, and the V6 engine carries a greater amount of the load while still being bolstered by the electric motor.

The last mode, H for Hybrid, is likely your best, most natural option. It'll keep itself in all-electric mode as much as possible, but is quicker to kick in the gasoline engine if needed. Its job is to be as efficient as possible while still maintaining drivability. During our test drive, we found ourselves selecting H when we weren't in a city center (E is better for that) or bombing around back roads (S or S+).

It Can Drive for You (A Bit)

Yet if you're really looking to be the most efficient, selecting Porsche's new InnoDrive cruise control feature might be in order. By drawing upon precise map data, InnoDrive uses information about the next two to three miles ahead (corners, elevation changes) to prep the powertrain to be the most efficient. For instance, if there's a grade ahead, the car will bank electricity, so to speak, to be able to more judiciously dole it out and therefore be more efficient. Note that this does require you to enter a destination into the navigation system so the system knows where it's going.

InnoDrive has other tricks up its sleeve as well, which we recently highlighted in Porsche InnoDrive: What Is It and How Does It Work?, that provide a glimpse of what a more automated car might be like.

Beyond its powertrain, the E-Hybrid is every bit as appealing as the rest of the Panamera lineup, which was completely redesigned last year. Beyond the E-Hybrid-specific "Acid Green" brake calipers and trim, it shares the same dramatically improved exterior styling that's sleeker, less bulbous and altogether more Porsche-like than before. You can also get the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo body style, which extends the standard body style's roofline to create a wagonlike look along with extra cargo space and rear headroom.

Either body style is effectively the same from the front seats forward, boasting Porsche's superb interior craftsmanship. Our test car had beautiful Bordeaux Red leather covering the incredibly comfortable and supportive 14-way power front seats -- they can be further upgraded with additional bolsters, heating, ventilation and/or massage. That's just the tip of the iceberg of seemingly endless customization possibilities, which is a key reason to consider a Panamera in the first place -- you can get it almost any way you want.

New Infotainment

Sadly, though, if you're the type of person who likes buttons, you're out of luck. The old Panamera had tons of them -- some would say too many -- but they've been replaced on the new rising center console by touch-sensitive icons and a greater reliance on the central touchscreen, which has been enlarged to a 12.3-inch widescreen display. In total, the new setup requires more attention be drawn away from the road, and the gloss black surface attracts fingerprints. Worse, the central air vent is controlled by the touchscreen, a gimmicky feature that seems more Tesla than Porsche and is ultimately a complicated solution to a problem that didn't exist in the first place.

Better executed is the new gauge cluster. The centrally located tachometer remains as a resolute hallmark of Porsche tradition, even if, as a plug-in hybrid, that tachometer often lies dead at 0 rpm. On either side of it is a pair of displays, with those on the left mostly mimicking traditional gauges and those on the right serving as a redundant infotainment display operated by steering-wheel controls. This blend of heritage and modernity is appreciated.

In fact, the entire 2018 Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid is a better-executed example of that same ethos. It's a better Panamera, a better hybrid and a better Porsche. No longer will you be buying the hybrid badge and holding your nose at the rest. The E-Hybrid has plenty of reasons to make it your No. 1 Panamera choice.

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2018 Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid: First Drive Review - Autotrader