2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid – ‘green’ performance sedan or white elephant?

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Think “Hybrid” and you’ll likely think “green” and “Toyota Prius.”  Think “Porsche” and you’ll likely think “racing” and “raw performance.”  But think “Hybrid Porsche” and it boggles the mind.  For an old school sportscar enthusiast like me, Hybrid Porsche is an oxymoron of the highest order.

But let’s not jump to any conclusions.  This isn’t Porsche’s first hybrid – that honour goes to the company’s best-selling Cayenne SUV range.  Is the Panamera merely Porsche’s attempt to jump on the premium hybrid bandwagon, joining manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz (S400 BlueHybrid) and Lexus (with 4 hybrids in their lineup)?  Or is the Panamera S Hybrid merely a clever marketing ploy by the German company to demonstrate its engineering prowess on the world stage?  Likely a bit of both, I’d surmise.

At a base MSRP of $108,700, the Panamera is at the top of the premium luxury sedan heap, competing with the likes of the Audi A8 4.0T and Mercedes-Benz S550 4-Matic.  In typical Porsche fashion, there’s a mile-long list of options available and they quickly add to the car’s price.  Our Panamera test vehicle came in Crystal Green Metallic paint ($3,590 extra), black ‘full leather’ interior ($4,170), gorgeous 10-spoke 20-in. 911 Turbo design wheels ($3,860), park assist front/rear cameras ($1,440), sport chrono package plus ($1,100), Bose audio system ($1,650), and Birch anthracite interior package ($1,140) and rear axle wheel spacers ($550.)  Porsche isn’t the only company that allows customers to pile on options; these are good money makers, and manufacturers gladly offer numerous options so the luxury you are buying perfectly suits your outstanding taste and immaculate sense of style.

The Panamera’s exterior design roots are clearly derived from the iconic Porsche 911.  From the sloped nose to the broad, curvaceous rear fenders and 911 trademark rear roof line, one can’t mistake the Panamera for anything but a Porsche.  “The Panamera’s looks are growing on me, even its wide hips”, I casually say to a car enthusiast observer as we compared it to a new Audi A7 parked adjacent.  “Wide hips are great on a woman, not so good on a car”, he replies, wryly.  So the jury’s still out as to whether the Panamera sedan is a styling success or anomaly.

Whether you like the Panamera’s external styling or not, the Porsche’s cabin exudes a feeling of luxury and quality.  The door closes with a satisfyingly heavy thud and one wants to sit there and visually soak in the visual aesthetics of what makes the Panamera a $130,000 dollar sport sedan.  Perforated leather covers the seats, dark grey birch trims the interior, and numerous controls on the console are finished in chrome, offsetting the mostly dark interior.  The instrument cluster is dominated by a large tachometer directly facing the driver with a smaller analogue speedo to the left and multi-information display to the right.  Two dials, containing electrical system/water temp and oil pressure/fuel level, bookend the 3 main instrument faces.

Porsche stubbornly adheres to its quirky placement of the ignition fob to the left of the steering column (supposedly a throwback to the company’s racing days.)  Starting the car gives no indication you’re behind the wheel of 380 (combined) horsepower hybrid.  Underway, at steady state cruising in the 50-60 km/h range the electric motor quietly takes over and the gasoline V6 engine shuts down.  The Porsche also has automatic stop-start technology, turning off the gasoline engine when stopped in traffic.  These technologies enable the Panamera to achieve a very credible 8.6l/100 km city rating.

While this Panamera may posses interesting hybrid technology, this is a Porsche, dammit! and at speed, the big 2-plus-2’s dynamics are superb.  In rapid driving, this 4-seater inspires confidence with precise steering and a solidly ‘planted’ feel.  But carrying more than two tonnes of mass reminds the driver this is a luxury automobile (albeit with the highest sporting credentials) – not an ultra performance sportscar.  If it’s whippet-quick handling you desire, mosey across Porsche’s showroom and have a look at the featherweight Cayman R.

The 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is head-scratcher to me.  Beautiful styling, wonderful driving dynamics and cache make the Panamera unquestionably desirable.  But I’m not convinced hybrid technology and the legendary Porsche brand is a match made in heaven.  For my money, I’d opt for the much less expensive base non-hybrid Panamera ($87,500) we tested last year (and loved), and laugh all the way to the bank.

The Specs

2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

Type of vehicle:  Luxury hybrid performance rear wheel drive 4-seat sedan

Engine: 3.0-litre supercharged V6 with E-motor

Power: horsepower 333 at 5,500-6,500 r.p.m; 440 pound-feet of torque at 3,800-5,250 r.p.m.; E-motor: 47 horsepower, 300 pound-feet of torque; Max: 380 horsepower, 580 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic S

Brakes: Ventilated disc brakes front and rear. ABS and Porsche Stability Management.

Tires: 255/40ZR20

Price: $108,700;  As-tested:  $127,395 (includes:  options $17,480; destination charge $1,115; ACE tax $100)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 8.6 city, 6.8 highway (premium unleaded)


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