Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid review

91 mpg Porsche Panamera driven in UK
V6 hybrid emits just 71g/km of CO2
Costs £88,967; around £150 a month for company car drivers
The updated Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid looks to be powered by witchcraft, if the figures are anything to go by. It doesn't seem feasible that a 410bhp supercharged V6 petrol-powered car, capable of 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds, can emit just 71g/km of CO2, and cost roughly the same as a BMW 320d to run as a company car.
The truth is that the S E-Hybrid isn't powered only by a petrol engine. It also has a 94 bhp electric motor (with a new 9.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack), which gives real-world electric-only propulsion for between 11 and 22 miles.
The batteries can be charged conventionally through either a domestic socket or a fast charger, or on the move using the petrol motor and the car's regenerative braking system.
Less magical is the £88,967 price. However, with company car tax bills of around £150 a month (for 40% rate taxpayers), the S E-Hybrid makes an intriguing prospect in the fleet world.
What's the 2013 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid like to drive?
Possibly the most impressive thing about the hybrid Panamera is how far and how fast you can drive on electric power alone – and just how easy it is to do so.
The car defaults to E-Power mode when switched on, and this works to give you the maximum possible range in pure electric mode. You can drive at entirely normal town speeds for a useful number of miles without ever using petrol. In fact, you can drive up to 84 mph in electric mode, although this drains the battery considerably quicker.
You don't even have to worry about pressing the accelerator too far and the car unexpectedly switching to petrol power, because there's a very obvious resistance in the pedal travel that you have to punch through to make that happen.
The car will automatically switch to hybrid mode when there's less than 1.2 miles of electric range left. Or if you want to recharge the battery using the petrol engine, you simply press an E-Charge button. E-Power mode becomes available again when the battery has more than 20% of charge.
Opt for Sport mode, and both power sources work in unison to provide some impressive straight-line pace, although the eight-speed auto gearbox can sometimes be indecisive, letting the petrol engine rev into the rather harsh, upper ranges.
It's fairly obvious when the petrol engine cuts in, but not in an unpleasant way – there's a subtle change in the noise the car makes and the responsiveness of the brake pedal.
In fact, braking feel is one of the weak points of this car – regardless of which drive setting you're in – although stopping power itself is more than adequate.
That's useful, because this is a heavy car. All the gadgetry means the S E-Hybrid is nearly 300kg heavier than a Bi turbo Panamera S, and you do feel that extra weight.
Even the steering is weightier than in non-hybrid Panameras, and in fast corners the S E-Hybrid falls short of the handling benchmark you might expect from a Porsche.
True, no Panamera feels delicate, but this version is more willing to wash wide in corners, suffers from slightly more body roll and fails to provide the sense of connection you might expect. Put simply, there are too many complex systems working away, which make the driver feel less involved.
That said, around town the weighting is light enough, and when running on electric power alone slow speed manoeuvring is a breeze.
The weight also affects the ride comfort. With active air suspension fitted as standard, the S E-Hybrid is far from uncomfortable, but it's always firm and the ride becomes jittery with the suspension in its sportiest setting.
It is also important to point out that, while the Panamera promises extraordinary average economy thanks to its ability to run on electric power alone, as soon as you're out of battery power you'll be depleting petrol reserves at a serious rate.
Still, most of the time this is a remarkably refined car that asks little compromise for its impressive efficiency figures.
What's the 2013 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid like inside?
The interior of the Panamera remains mostly unchanged, which is no bad thing unless you're expecting outstanding practicality.
The rear cabin accommodates only two people, but in very comfortable, individually adjustable seats. The boot is more than big enough for daily use, although it's actually not much bigger than a VW Golf's and is an awkward shape.
The Panamera is clearly a luxurious car, though, and it shows. You feel properly pampered behind the wheel, with the centre console bisecting the cabin and housing most of the switchgear, and a standard colour touch-screen dominating the shallow, upright dashboard.
Crisp, easy-to-read dials provide you with vital driver information, while the touch-screen offers whatever other useful information you might want, from navigation instructions through to how much electric range you have left.
All the cabin materials feel appropriately sumptuous, and although the dashboard is a bit button-heavy in areas, most of the controls are easy to get the hang of.
A new mobile app called Porsche Car Connect can monitor and activate some of the Panamera S E-Hybrid's functions via your smartphone. These include a charging status indicator and the ability to heat or cool the car using the climate control system. Other functions include a tyre pressure monitoring system and vehicle tracking.
You get more standard equipment than before, too, which now includes a multi-function steering wheel, a powered tailgate and xenon headlights. You also get sat-nav, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, a USB socket, a leather interior and climate control.
Should I buy one?
If you're a private buyer, then no. For all its technical cleverness, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is too expensive to justify – even if it does end up getting the £5000 Government subsidy, which is yet to be confirmed.
It's simply not as nice to drive as the other Panamera models, and the economy savings won't make up for the added purchase costs unless you're driving to the moon via very regular charging points.
Having said that, there is obvious appeal to any car that can travel without using any petrol at all, is exempt from the London Congestion Charge and is affordable to run as a company car.
What Car? says...

Audi A7 3.0 BiTDI
BMW 640d Gran Coupe
Engine size Supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol and electric motor
Price from £88,967
Power 410bhp
Torque 435lb ft
0-62mph 5.5 seconds
Top speed 168mph
Fuel economy 91mpg
CO2 71g/km