Higher Calling

Is the new 2018 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Executive a respectable performer?

Photo: Higher Calling 1
August 3, 2017

Originally introduced on the first-generation Type 970 Panamera at its 2013 facelift, primarily for China, the long-wheelbase Executive version was soon made available in other markets due to growing demand for an even roomier rear compartment. As before, the long-wheelbase Executive specification for the new 2018 971-gen Panamera adds 5.9 inches to the wheelbase, 4.7 inches of which benefits backseat legroom, and 1.2 inches goes towards allowing the rear seats to recline. Meanwhile, the longer door openings also make access to the rear easier.

In terms of sheer panache, the new Panamera cabin strikes the perfect balance between modern architecture, superb ergonomics, and classic materials. It is also beautifully finished, with no sign of the nasty plastics that can trip up the apparent veneer of perfection in some luxury cars. Here, however, we have to remember that while the Panamera Executive’s chief rivals are the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class, its lower ride height, standard all-wheel-drive (AWD) system and the fact that it is a Porsche, immediately make it a car for a different minded buyer.

Tech Brief

Open the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Executive’s big aluminum hood and, apart from the neat molded plastic engine cover with a “2.9-liter V6 e-hybrid” badge, those in the know will see that the E-Hybrid’s engine bay is spanned by the same front shock tower brace found on the new Panamera Turbo. With its combined system output of 462 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque comparing favorably with the 550 hp and 568 lb-ft developed by the twin-turbo V8 engine in the Turbo, this structural brace is necessary. This is especially true considering the electric motor’s 136 hp at 2,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque is produced between 100 and 2,300 rpm.

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Although the hybrid’s system output is not an addition of the two power sources, but rather the maximum where they cross over on their respective journeys, the instant rush of power and torque added to the twin-turbo V6 engine’s 330 hp and 331 lb-ft is impressive. Where its predecessor was lumbered with a torque converter automatic gearbox and rear-wheel-drive only, the new Panamera E-Hybrid has a snappy PDK dual-clutch transmission that delivers power to an all-wheel drive system.

The stopwatch declares the 0-60 mph sprint over in just 4.4 seconds for the 4,784-lb Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, and 4.5 seconds for the longer 4,960-lb Executive version. An all-out acceleration run brings these cars to 100 mph in 10.7 and 11.1 seconds respectively, both eventually topping out at 172 mph. In parenthesis, the 4,398-lb Panamera Turbo covers the 0-60 mph sprint in just 3.4 seconds, with the 4,630-lb Executive variant taking 0.1 seconds longer. The key distinction here is that the hybrids are more fuel efficient.

Being able to run in electric drive mode for up to 32 miles takes the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid into a whole new world of zero emissions driving. Its consumption of 2.5L/100km (94 mpg) and CO2 emissions of just 56g/km give it license to do things mostly non-performance cars can do. For example, the new Panamera hybrid can travel into places like Central London free of the notorious Congestion Charge. This is a significant improvement on the 3.1L/100km (76 mpg), with 71g/km of CO2 emissions claimed for the outgoing model.

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“We started work on the E-Hybrid in 2013 after the facelifted first generation car was launched,” explained Panamera powertrain engineer, Daniel Semmler. “The first prototype was ready in late summer 2014 by which time the 918 Spyder hybrid supercar was already in production. The 918 Spyder and the Panamera E-Hybrid technologies fed off each other, thus the concept for the Panamera E-motor is based on the rear motor of the 918 Spyder and uses a similar design of rotor and stator.”

But where the 918 Spyder has an electrical rather than mechanical connection between its front and rear axle, the front-engined Panamera integrates its E-motor between the combustion engine and gearbox, and the connection between the front and rear axles is mechanical. A hydraulic-electric clutch was used to disengage the combustion and electric motors on both the 918 Spyder and the previous generation Panamera E-Hybrid. In contrast, the latest E-Hybrid uses an electro-magnetic clutch to couple the E-motor to the combustion engine. The new hybrid Panamera’s E-motor, battery, charger and the 400v high-voltage system weighs a total of 573 lbs, of which the battery accounts for 309 lbs.

While a dual-clutch gearbox is heavier than a manual, it is certainly no heavier than an automatic, and can also be rated to handle very high torque outputs.

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“The Panamera’s PDK gearbox is rated at 800 Nm (590 lb-ft), so the 770 Nm (568 lb-ft) of the Turbo and 700 Nm (516 lb-ft) of the E-Hybrid are well within this limit,” said Semmler. “The AWD system can shift 100 percent of engine power to either axle in slippery conditions as required,” he explained. “However, on a high friction surface, the actual traction is limited by the clutch rather than the tires. Thus, while the front axle is rated at 1,000 Nm (737.5 lb-ft), the clutch is the potential weak link in the chain.”

In normal conditions on a dry road, the front/rear torque is handled by the hang-on clutch in the middle differential, which remains nearly open, transferring around five percent of engine power to the front wheels for stability, and to maintain a pre-load condition. The E-motor boost strategy is similar to that of the 918 Spyder in being energy led whenever the driver tips in the throttle. This means that in E-Power, Hybrid Auto, E-Hold and E-Charge modes a pre-calculated amount of E-motor support is delivered for a given amount of throttle input.

While this means a fixed amount of energy available for every tip into the throttle, if you come off the throttle and reapply it then the same amount of energy will be available again until the batteries require a recharge. The exact amount of energy available is calculated to be mode specific and is also reserve dependent.

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In Sport and Sport Plus modes, the strategy shifts radically to deliver as much boost from the batteries as possible until they are empty. This allows the driver to extract the very maximum performance possible using the combination of combustion and electric motors. Sport and Sport Plus modes also enable the batteries to recharge as fast as possible, whether they’re at 5 or 60 percent, under throttle lift and braking with the aim of returning battery reserves to between 30 and 40 percent whenever they drop below that level.

“The energy discharge and recharge strategy impacts on overall fuel economy which is why we laid out these different strategies,” Semmler explained. “Clearly someone using the E-Power or Hybrid modes is looking for maximum efficiency, while a keen driver charging a twisty road in Sport Plus wants to wring every last ounce of performance from the car. Our different strategies optimize the performance and use of energy for each situation.”

On the Road

I was very taken by the color scheme of this 4 E-Hybrid Executive test car. The rich Amethyst Metallic paint changes color with the light, and the two-tone Marsala/Cream leather in the spacious cabin is both classy and understated. While the cream leather will obviously have to be kept immaculate, this eye-catching combination is far warmer and more interesting than the blacks and grays commonly chosen by customers in Europe and the United States.

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Inside, there is plenty of legroom; even if you are over six-feet tall. The Rear Seat Entertainment system is centered around two Android-controlled 10.1-inch touchscreens that can also be controlled by the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system in front. These screens also feature cameras for making video calls. The foldout tables in the optional larger rear center console can be used for writing as well as supporting a laptop or iPad. However, when you replace them, you need to ensure they are correctly aligned in their vertical folded position, or they will touch, creating an infernal rattle on bumpy roads!

From behind the wheel, the first-gen Panamera Executive, which was also longer and heavier than its non-Executive Panamera siblings, suffered a very slight drop in precision when turning into a corner at speed. However, the new Executive model counters this by having the normally optional rear-axle steering (RAS) system as standard, along with air suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM).

As good as the ride is in a standard Panamera, the extra 5.9 inches of wheelbase length makes a positive difference to the ride comfort and poise of the Executive version. With its three-chamber air suspension in Comfort mode, rear seat passengers can enjoy a very refined ride. However, I spent some time being driven in the back of the Executive and quickly came to the conclusion that the ride quality is not quite in the same league as a Mercedes S-Class, the class benchmark for rear seat ride comfort. But the Panamera’s ride is not far from the sportier AMG version whose uprated suspension and larger footwear puts an edge on that normally imperious S-Class ride.

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Wearing 21-inch wheels, my Panamera E-Hybrid Executive test car rode pretty much like an Audi S8 Plus, which means comfortable, but with a distinct sporting bent. Considering that the flipside of the coin is that none of its on-paper rivals would see which way the Porsche went on a twisty road, this balance of ride and handling is a fine achievement indeed. For those prepared to forgo the eye candy of the optional 21-inch wheels, then the basic 19-inch wheels and tires will deliver a noticeably smoother ride and save you a lot of money at the starting gate.

Speaking of being practical, a big plus of the new Panamera is its large, regular-shaped trunk, accessed via a wide opening hatchback. Not only does this give you more loading options than a sedan with a standard metal deck lid, it also allows you to stack cargo higher if you remove the parcel shelf. And depending on how many passengers you are carrying, folding one or both rear seats gives you even more load options.

Winding down my test drive, I made it a point to glide through urban areas in pure electric mode, where the combination of the low level of road noise, and the musically involving and dynamic Burmester high-end audio option really came into their own. With sunlight streaming in through the standard Panorama glass roof, the Marsala/Cream two-tone interior trim emphasizes the sense of light and space, transforming the cabin into a magical place. My upbeat mood would not have been the same had the cabin been swathed in somber black leather, no matter how practical this might be for a daily driven car.

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The Verdict

Looking at the breakdown of first-generation Panamera sales, the rear-drive-only E-Hybrid accounted for 10 percent of all Porsche sedans sold. With the all-weather versatility of AWD, far superior drivetrain performance, and dashing good looks, the latest E-Hybrid could easily double that figure. The long-wheelbase Executive and E-Hybrid versions greatly widen the Panamera portfolio, making it a very attractive proposition as VIP transport that breaks the mold set by traditional, squared rigged limousines. If potential rivals had been slightly worried before, they should be very worried now.

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