The 2013 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is both an outstanding sport sedan and an impressive hybrid — but at this price, you'll have to really want green credentials to choose it over a Panamera Turbo model.
Unlike the cars themselves, reviews of Porsche vehicles tend to be boring and predictable: gushing prose over how amazing it is to drive, how its handling is incredible, how it's faster or more visceral, etc. And there's a reason those reviews are all so similar: Porsches are generally fantastic driver's cars. Yet the Panamera hatchback sedan, Porsche's first four-door that isn't an SUV, doesn't get the universal praise heaped upon the 911 or the Cayman, largely due to its awkward styling. Throw in the first-ever hybrid version, introduced for 2012 and carried over almost unchanged for 2013 (see them compared), and some questions will be raised — such as, does putting a hybrid powertrain in an unusual-looking sports car make it more or less appealing? Is there a buyer out there for a $100,000 four-door hybrid-electric Porsche? Why would Porsche even make something like this to begin with?
The "why" is actually fairly simple: All automakers are required to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards for carbon dioxide in Europe, Porsche's home market. Failing to meet them means hefty fines; the Panamera S Hybrid is therefore the cleanest Porsche ever sold, emitting only 159 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. Those numbers mean absolutely nothing to most Americans, but they're fairly important to the Europeans. So now we know why such an animal exists, but the questions remain: Is it any good? Is it worth its massive price tag? And if you're going to spend more than $100,000 on a Porsche sedan, why wouldn't you get a GTS?
Love it or Hate it, It Looks Like a Porsche
Walking up to the Panamera, you realize just how massive it really is. Pictures don't capture how long and wide this car is, as its shape still bears a resemblance to the old Porsche 928, if not quite the current Porsche 911. The more one lives with it, however, the less offensive the shape becomes. I say the car looks as only a four-door Porsche can. If it looked more like the dead sexy Aston Martin Rapide or a frumpy BMW 7 Series, people would complain that it didn't look like a Porsche. Love it or hate it, it is absolutely unique and will never be confused for any other car on the road — something many luxury-car owners seek in a high-end sports car. The only exterior clue that this is a hybrid is the discreet chrome "hybrid" script on each fender.
Saving the Planet, one $100,000 Sedan at a Time
"Hybrid Porsche" seems like an oxymoron. Hybrids are generally thought of as frumpy, slow little econoboxes with odd styling and buyers more dedicated to efficiency than speed — basically, everything that runs contrary to how most enthusiasts view Porsche as a brand. But Porsche has crafted something rather unique: Yes, it's a hybrid, but it's equipped with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine from Audi, the same one that sits under the hood of the Cayenne Hybrid and many Audi sport sedans. It's mated only to Porsche's eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which is not a bad gearbox, but isn't the quick-shifting wunder box that Porsche's seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission is. Being a hybrid, there are two sources for power: the V-6, producing 333 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque, and an additional electric motor assist that produces a system total of 380 hp and 428 pounds-feet of torque.
Around town and in non-stressed situations, the car behaves like one of the best hybrids I've driven. Acceleration is geared toward relaxed driving until you really put your foot on it, with the electric motor providing initial motivation under optimal conditions. A stop-start system kills the engine instead of idling at a stop, then fires up quickly and seamlessly when you lift off the brake. Go really easy on the throttle or push the EV button and you can keep the car in electric mode during your initial travel, though not for very long or very fast. Transitions from electric to gasoline power are absolutely seamless, with only the monitor in the gauge cluster to really let you know when the engine has shut off at speed. (Unlike most hybrids, Porsche's can turn off the gas engine at high speeds, a condition the company calls "sailing.") When you grow tired of leisurely motoring (which will happen; you're driving a Porsche, after all), two sport modes deliver different levels of performance tuning. Switching to Sport or Sport Plus will change steering responsiveness, the air suspension height and firmness, and the aggressiveness of the transmission's shift patterns. It makes a big difference in how the Panamera feels and performs, changing it from a serene luxury hybrid into the sports car you expect it to be, with crisper shifts, stronger acceleration and flatter cornering.
The point of a Porsche, however, is performance, and by the numbers the Panamera is by no means the fastest horse in the stable. Porsche estimates that zero to 60 mph occurs in a decent, if uninspiring, 5.7 seconds. That's quick by most cars' standards, but when compared with the Panamera Turbo S' time of 3.6 seconds, it's somewhat less impressive. Still, it's on par with the base Panamera V-6's figure of 5.8 seconds when that car's Sport Plus mode is engaged, meaning you can have the performance of a regular Panamera along with a decent bump in fuel economy, if you so choose. Compared with direct competitors, the Panamera Hybrid is edged out by the BMW ActiveHybrid 7L, which goes from zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds, according to BMW's estimates. Both the BMW and the Porsche soundly trounce the 7.6 seconds it takes the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid to reach 60 mph.
The point of a hybrid, however, is fuel economy, and the Panamera S Hybrid delivers. While its EPA rating of 22/30 mpg city/highway, 25 mpg combined, may not be typical hybrid territory, compare it with the Panamera Turbo's figures of 15/23/18 mpg and it does indeed represent a significant improvement. Compare it with the less expensive base V-6 Panamera's 18/27/21 mpg, however, and the improvement is not quite so huge. The numbers match up exactly against the BMW ActiveHybrid 7L and decisively edge out the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid's 19/25/21 mpg rating. My rather aggressive driving in the Panamera returned about 25 mpg in mixed use, including a fair amount of highway driving. That's an impressive number for such a big, quick car.
As controversial as the exterior shape is, it's also quite functional, providing plenty of room for four people to travel in comfort and spacious style. The best place to be is up front, where a beautifully crafted instrument panel sweeps low and wide from door to door. Slip inside and you'll find the driver's seating position is highly adjustable, with larger-than-expected standard sport seats providing both comfort and grip for all driver types and sizes. The steering wheel is meaty and covered in Alcantara faux suede — all the better for gripping during spirited driving.
Unlike some German automakers, who bury controls in electronic touch-screen menus, Porsche provides dedicated buttons for most functions, which means you need to study the center console and even the overhead panel to figure out how to work everything. I had to consult the manual to figure out how to deactivate the front parking sensors after an annoying, bleating trip through an automated car wash (hint: look up). Atop the dash sits an expensive-looking clock that doubles as a racing chronometer (the function can be engaged in the gauge cluster using the steering-wheel-mounted controls).
Five gauges stare at you from behind that wheel: one circle housing an electric operation meter and oil temperature gauge, then a small speedometer, a large central tachometer, a reconfigurable LCD, and the final circle housing a fuel gauge and oil pressure meter. That reconfigurable LCD is the most interesting, however; it's able to show everything from navigation maps or satellite radio channels to the aforementioned racing chronometer so you can monitor your lap times on the track — not that a Panamera Hybrid is ever likely to see track time. A lot of information is presented, but it fits the sporting nature of the car.
Seating in back is surprisingly comfortable for full-sized adults, with the front seatbacks sculpted in a way that allows taller passengers to place their knees to either side. For 2014, Porsche has created an Executive series model that adds another 6 inches to the wheelbase, most of it going to rear-seat passengers in a clear nod to the Chinese market's tastes for being chauffeured instead of driving oneself.
No government crash-test data is published for the Panamera, nor has it been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The car features eight standard airbags, including dual two-stage front airbags, driver and passenger knee airbags, front-seat side-impact torso airbags and side curtain airbags to protect front and rear passengers. Rear passenger side-impact torso airbags are optional. In a rare option, a fire extinguisher can be requested, mounted under the front passenger seat. See the lengthy list of the Panamera Hybrid's features and options here.
Thus far, we've established that the Panamera S Hybrid is both fast and (relatively) frugal, making one think it's a fantastic idea — but then we come to pricing and the dream starts to collapse. The starting price for a 2013 Panamera S Hybrid is $97,125, including a $975 destination charge. That represents a nearly $21,000 premium over the basic V-6 Panamera hatchback. If that doesn't put you off the idea of the hybrid, our test car's as-tested price of $130,900 might — yes, it had $33,775 in options. The car's Carmine Red paint was $3,140, those fancy 20-inch black wheels were $4,935 and the full black leather interior was another $3,655. Power seats with memory are $1,705, making them warm is $530 and making them cool is $800. Adaptive cruise control is a whopping $2,490 while satellite radio is $1,120. The Bose stereo adds $1,440, and heat- and noise-resistant glass comes in at $1,240. Some items on the option sheet are patently ridiculous: $335 for a painted car key, $1,100 for illuminated aluminum door sills and $595 for a light in the cargo area. I'm not sure how many Alcantaras had to die to make the interior, but their pelts are apparently pricey too — it'll be $1,990 for the headliner, $865 for the shift knob and $1,295 for the steering wheel. See the Panamera's impressive option possibilities for yourself here.
Panamera S Hybrid in the Market
Matching the Panamera S Hybrid up against competitors is somewhat tricky. The most obvious comparisons are to the BMW ActiveHybrid7 and Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, two other high-dollar German luxury sedans that hover around the same price. But neither of those cars come close to the driving enjoyment that the Panamera S Hybrid provides; it's skewed far more toward being a sports car than a luxury sedan, as the BMW and Mercedes-Benz are. You could put it up against the Aston Martin Rapide, another four-door sports car, but the Panamera S Hybrid has a distinct power disadvantage while providing much more interior room for backseat passengers. Instead, a more compelling argument might be made for the Tesla Model S fully electric sport sedan. The Model S is wickedly fast and handles beautifully, but it's not available everywhere and provides unknown reliability, not to mention the disadvantage of lengthy recharge times versus filling the Panamera with gas. For a match up of the Panamera Hybrid's competition, click here.
For 2014, Porsche has taken the powertrain to a new level: The S Hybrid reviewed here is being replaced by a plug-in E-Hybrid model, promising even more impressive fuel-economy gains and more electric operation, as well. But for my money, a Porsche isn't about fuel efficiency, it's about pure performance. And for this kind of scratch, a V-8 powered GTS or Turbo model just make more sense.