Porsche is on fire. The auto manufacturer from Stuggart, Germany is so well branded and internationally known that they can’t keep Panameras and Cayennes in stock. The U.S., China, and Germany are pleading dearly for them. Moreover, plans to build the $845,000 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid sports car have been approved as well as a new corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The 128 acre Aerotropolis adjacent to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will host Porsche Cars of America with a 26 acre estate for 400 employees, in which 19.5 acres will be set aside for a test track and handling course to expose customers to premium exclusivity and showcase Porsche vehicle’s extraordinary driving characteristics.
It’s no coincidence that Porsche has ventured into the eco-friendly, green energy market segment with more than a few product models including the Cayenne S Hybrid, 911 GT3 R Hybrid race car, the aforementioned 918 Spyder, the 918 RSR super car, and now the all-new 2012 Panamera S Hybrid. After all, Porsche’s autoganic fascination was begat by company founder Ferdinand Porsche, who invented the world’s first hybrid vehicle labeled the Lohner-Porsche “Semper Vivus” in 1900. Today, we call his ingenious discoveries and technological bravado Porsche Intelligent Performance.
To experience the efficiency and consistent sporty traits of Porsche’s most economical vehicle of all-time, we headed overseas to Salzburg, Austria where the hills are alive and the countryside is full of countless winding roads! Our overnight accommodations weren’t all that bad either. The magnificence of the Alps and the wonderfully refreshing air they brought from my balcony at the InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort prepped my respiratory system for eco-conscious performance driving. So let’s get into the details.
The Panamera was launched September of 2009 with nearly 30,000 worldwide sales since the debut. The average customer is 53 years old, mainly men (more than 90%) who love technology. The 2012 Panamera S Hybrid is the 6th Panamera model to debut and will retail for $95,000 beginning this fall. With this new hybrid, Porsche would like to target younger buyers who have a higher level of economical awareness (Porsche speculates) and more likely to understand the technological advances in the parallel full hybrid unit, which is exact componentry found in the Cayenne S Hybrid. Yet, the system is a little freer to perform more efficient operations since the Panamera S Hybrid is rear-wheel drive and not all-wheel drive like the Cayenne S Hybrid. Porsche will target well-established markets with the Panamera S Hybrid. The U.S. will represent 26% of the allotment.
In terms of performance, I think we all were astonished of its capabilities in both the power department and fuel consumption. Before our main test run, Porsche held a mileage challenge to see if we could match or better their engineer’s numbers. One of our media colleagues did just that by driving 56.3 miles on just 1.77 gallons of fuel for a 31.8 mpg average. Of course he had the AC off and was probably driving like my grandma, but that’s still unbelievable for a 4,365 pound Panamera. Optional roll-resistance tires will decrease your fuel consumption even further, though not by much, but every bit of fuel savings counts.
Lets go over some key driving distinctions with the Panamera S Hybrid.
- E-Power: Engage this button from the right side of the sci-fi center console to drive on electricity alone up to 53 mph for a 1.24-mile range. The internal combustion engine is turned off and the clutch is decoupled. This calls for relaxed and gentle operation of the accelerator. If you press on the pedal too hard the gas engine kicks in.
- Sailing or coasting: Imagine driving the vehicle at 80 mph and you take your foot off the pedal and let the vehicle coast. What’s happening is that the clutch opens and the engine shuts off. The only force slowing the hybrid’s momentum is air resistance. The vehicle can sail up to 103 mph and is especially good for down hill runs, exiting off the highway and open road sailing with no other traffic in order to conserve petrol.
- Recuperation: Basically this is converting kinetic energy from braking into electrical energy to help recharge the battery by using the electric motor as a generator. The harder you brake, the more energy is regenerated. Driving scenarios from the gas V6 will also recoup energy.
The scary thing is the Panamera S Hybrid transforms on you quicker than an Autobot and plays like it’s Memorial Day weekend at the Indy 500. It’s 342 pounds heavier than a Panamera S with the 400 horsepower V8 and runs 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, only 1/10 slower than its gasoline brethren. Maybe this is initiated by the 428 lb-ft of torque obtainable from 1,000 rpm. I’ve driven countless hybrids and electric cars, and I must say, the Panamera S Hybrid outwits them all. You could be coasting slowly on the electric battery and need a sudden boost of passing power; the vehicle will engage the gas engine without the driver noticing. Maybe that’s why Porsche paired the hybrid with the “S” designation. For them “S” equals sport, which equates to a hybrid performance car. They believe it’s on the same level of the 8-cylinder engine. I do too!
The Audi sourced, supercharged, 3-liter V6 compressor engine in the Panamera S Hybrid produces 333 horsepower and commingles with the 3-phase 47 horsepower (34 kW) electric motor for a total output of 380 horsepower. Together, they ride and feel like a conventional V8. The electric motor can drive the vehicle on its own, support the gas engine or can be used as a generator or a starter. A 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery is mounted in the rear below the luggage compartment and does not compromise any typical Panamera hallmarks such as the second row seats folding flat. The battery pack however is not as advanced as today’s Lithium-ion (no memory effect, good energy density and slow charge depletion rate) because the decision making process started five years ago with the VW Touareg and Cayenne S Hybrid platform, which the Panamera S Hybrid shares. Every two to three years, successive improvement with battery technology develops. Unfortunately, Porsche wasn’t in position to take advantage for this platform. Though, they claim the battery will last through 12 years of useful life. Also, software was developed to offer an electric cold start for several markets. The U.S. won’t see this feature due to environmental protocol. In terms of service, the maintenance intervals are identical to the gas engine while the battery pack itself doesn’t need maintenance.
Sit behind the wheel of the Panamera S Hybrid and take in all the futuristic amenities the multi-function cockpit has to offer. Literally, you become a pilot in a Lear Jet. Inputs, gauges, switches and displays are omnipresent. The central PCM (Porsche Communication Management) LCD for example displays not only navigation but also has five screens that showcase what your vehicle is up too. For instance, screen 1 shows the hybrid energy flow with orange indicating when the gas engine kicks in, green representing energy regeneration and blue being the all-electric drive. The instrument cluster houses 5 gauges which, again, display more functional vehicle information like the full navigation display in ring 2 when the central LCD is pre-occupied.
The acoustic highlight hails from a well-balanced Bose surround sound system. The countryside of Austria did not flow with my high-bass reggae tunes so I opted for the natural peace of the hybrid’s energy exchange. My only question marks are the flimsy cup-holders that unfold from the glove compartment, and shift confusion from the steering wheel integrated paddle shifters that come with the 8-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission. See, you can upshift and downshift with both the left and right thumb actuated paddles. Porsche engineers say they have heard both arguments. An optional butterfly system is available for those who shift conventionally like myself -- up with the right and down with the left.
The morning drive was all about getting comfortable with the vehicle. For there were many more questions to be asked of the engineers at recess. We stopped for lunch at the historic Lake Castle Ort on Lake Traunsee. The ancient water fortress features a museum full of artifacts, a diner, shops and now a wedding chapel where countless couples are married daily. We used the majestic setting for a photo shoot with the Panamera S hybrid in the courtyard. I asked about the transmission and its smoothness and how it allows the Panamera S Hybrid to reach its 167.8 mph top speed in 6th gear, while leaving 7 and 8 for overdrive. The 8-speed Tiptronic S sees its first use in a Panamera since it has a torque converter (absent from the PDK gear box), which gives the hybrid drivetrain comfort.
The visceral experience from the Cayenne S Hybrid has given Porsche a great starting point to work from. And from what I experienced in Austria, eco-friendly thinkers with a lead foot are the consummate consumers of the Panamera S Hybrid.