Chris Lilley puts the Porsche Panamera through its paces – and is left wondering why the competition bother…
Porsche’s Panamera has a tough job on its hands, as it looks to cover the needs of buyers across a broad spectrum. As Porsche’s four-door saloon, it represents a middle-ground between the Stuttgart firm’s more practical stuff – the Macan and Cayenne SUVs – and its more traditional bread-and-butter work, the sportscar range.
On top of that, there are a wide variety of bases to cover, with lower-end models available for less than a BMW M5, and top of the range examples looking to put the frighteners on Porsche 911 drivers. It has quite the arsenal to call on however, with the Porsche parts-bin one which any car company in the world would look at with envy.
Unusually for cars in general, and almost unheard of for performance models, Porsche’s top-of-the-range versions are plug-in hybrid options. Under the E-Hybrid heading, Porsche has combined a 100 kW (136hp) electric motor with, in the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid tested, a 2.9 litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine. This produces 330hp, and with everything on song, more than 460hp is available. More impressive is the torque figure of 700Nm, which helps allow a 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds. Flat out the Panamera will be doing 171mph.
Anyone requiring even more performance can go for the lighter 4S with 440hp, the GTS with 460hp, a Turbo model with 550hp, or the range-topping Turbo S E-Hybrid with 680hp. These are available in regular versions, lengthened wheelbase Executive form, or Sport Turismo estate.
Returning to the model tested, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is pitched well for everyday use. Porsche claims that the plug-in hybrid elements mean that you can cover 32 miles on a single charge. This should be more than enough for most trips, and even the 28 miles I found possible in day-to-day conditions will comfortably cover the school run, followed by a supermarket shop and coffee stop, before getting home again to plug in. It’s a good system, and one that allows users to cover decent distances without the need to use any fossil fuel whatsoever, something that helps keep running costs low.
When you need to travel further – or faster – you simply put the car into Hybrid or Sport mode and everything comes alive. The V6 engine is a beauty, with flexibility through its range to keep the power on song. Although hardly laggy, the electric motor fills in the gap at the bottom of the engine’s power curve before the engine takes over the bulk of the work at pace. It’s a versatile system, which allows drivers to potter around town with all the ease of driving an electric car, settle down on the motorway for a long-distance cruise, or even hustle the Panamera down your favourite country road at maximum attack.
And when you do decide to drive it hard, that power and torque create quite an impression. Despite weighing in at a distinctly portly 2.25 tonnes, the Panamera has enough power to hide its weight. The responsiveness is exactly as you would expect from a Porsche – namely instantaneous – and you can feel a broad smile spread across your face when pushing on. The eight-speed double clutch transmission aids your work, whether in auto mode or when you’ve taken over control with the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
It’s not just the outright pace that’s impressive because, if anything, the handling is even more remarkable. Don’t forget, it’s got a lot of weight to heft around a corner, yet it does so with a very ‘Porsche-like’ feeling; the Panamera doesn’t feel like a large car when being driven. The suspension isn’t too stiff, which allows enough compliance in the springs to soak up road imperfections, while keeping the car pretty level and the nose pointed on whatever arc you wish.
The steering is sharp, but not overly so. There isn’t a feeling that you are driving a focused 718 Cayman for example, but then you certainly don’t feel as though the Panamera is an unwieldy tool. There’s a balance to be struck between agility and comfort, and Porsche has nailed it.
This attribute is aided by the adjustable suspension, which can be altered between a more comfortable setting, through to sportier springs at the press of a lovely, haptic-feedback button.
The interior is a delightful one to sit in too, with large comfortable yet supportive seats, a driver-focused instrument binnacle, large infotainment system, and panel of glass touch-sensitive buttons on the centre console. It’s restrained in design but rather lovely, and the driver has the best of it – as they should.
There are five dials in the instruments, and the driver can call up various bits of information in many of them. There are lots of lovely touches too, such as the steering wheel heater , which is controlled by a button sitting behind the base of the wheel’s lower spoke.
Best of the lot though is a little dial on the wheel, which gives drivers a quick switch option between modes – and a ‘push-to-pass’ call-upon-everything-the-powertrain-has-got button in the middle for the odd overtaking move. It boosts power for a few seconds, by which time you’ll easily have dispatched that tractor, caravan, or other slow-moving target into your rear-view mirror.
It might sound like the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid has no issues, and to be honest, there really aren’t many. Even the cost, of a little under £68,000, is quite reasonable for a car in this class – and very reasonable for a car with so many different facets.
The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is a Jack-of-all-trades, which might seem like damning it with faint praise, but it’s absolutely what most buyers will be looking for. It’s a fine-looking car, considerably better looking than its rather lumpen predecessor, and one that can seat four in comfort plus several suitcases or a friendly Labrador in the boot.
Yet it can also keep up with some seriously sporty stuff on the road, and cover long-distances with a Bentley’s aplomb. It is all the car a driver really needs; unless they want more space or power. In that case, could Porsche tempt you with the Panamera Sport Tourismo or Turbo E-Hybrid? There’s clearly a Panamera for every need.
I’m not sure why other manufacturers even bother.
Chris Lilley @chrislilleydrive