Porsche's Panamera Sport Turismo estate packs enormous firepower, eco-friendly emissions, family practicality (just) and amazing quality into one package. The new Turbo S E-Hybrid is remarkable, if not quite perfect.
In the metal
OK, I for one (and I was possibly the only one) thought that the original Panamera was actually kind of good looking. Only kind of, and I could see why others thought it a hideous mess, but I always rather liked it. Then again, I have a habit of loving aesthetically ungainly cars.
You could not accuse this, the Panamera Sport Turismo of looking ungainly. If the standard new Panamera is more handsome than its predecessor, then this shooting brake is more handsome again. The extra metalwork aft of the B-pillar just looks right, as if it was always supposed to be there, and while there's not a massive gain in practicality (more of which in a tic) there is certainly benefit in styling. Porsche also points out that this, the Turbo S E-Hybrid, is the first estate car with an active rear spoiler. And it needs it, as we shall see.
I did say we'd speak about practicality first, though, and there is an argument that says that the Sport Turismo is the family-friendly Panamera. In standard form, with its 520-litre boot, it very probably is, but the need to package the battery pack of this E-Hybrid version means that the space behind the seats shrinks to 425 litres, so I'm afraid a lowly Nissan Qashqai is more practical still, if you were hoping that the extra practicality would be a viable excuse for purchase. Porsche does say that the back seat is now more useful, though, as this is officially a 4+1 seater. What that actually means is that you can have it with a central rear seatbelt, the value of which (considering the vast transmission tunnel) is dubious, but at least it's there. For the two outer seats, space is reasonable, with enough room for six-footers to get comfy for a journey of middling length.
Things are rather more promising up front. You could accuse the interior of being a touch messy, what with the mixture of analogue and digital displays and screens, the mix of haptic and physical switches on the tall, sloping centre console and the sheer variety and number of the menus and sub-menus on that Cinemascope 12.3-inch central touchscreen. Personally, I rather love it inside. The sheer heft and weight of quality is enticing enough, but to these eyes (and fingertips) the Panamera's cockpit comes across as futuristic fighter-bomber essayed by Hugo Boss. Classy and complex at the same time, it will definitely take some time to learn all that it can do (not least being able to control and access the hybrid functions from a smartphone or smart-watch). Suffice to say that our brief first test drive was not enough to even scratch the surface.
Right, we need to talk about power, because the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid isn't short in that arena. It uses the familiar 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 engine, as seen in various Bentleys, Audis and the Cayenne Turbo SUV, with 550hp. Now, in my experience, that qualifies as 'sufficient', but Porsche has chucked in a 100kW electric motor, fed by a 14kWh lithium-ion battery stack. Combined, the engine and motor produce 680hp, which qualifies as 'shit loads' and that's abetted by 850Nm of torque. With four-wheel drive, a new eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission and launch control, that means this big, broad-shouldered, roomy(ish) sports estate can make the jump to light-speed... sorry, crack the 0-100km/h run in just 3.4 seconds. That's knocking on the door of hypercar territory and yet, in spite of that performance and its bloated 2.3-tonne kerb weight, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid has a 69g/km CO2 rating, so you can tax it for €170 a year. Cutting-edge science meeting old-school hot-rodding, there. And getting on like a house on fire.
Not much chance of there being a house on fire today, though, as the skies are grey and leaden, and it's tipping down. We're in the south of Spain, not far from Malaga, but the rain is down for the day, and it's mixing with mist and a light sprinkling of fine dust on the twisty roads to make for conditions that are almost analogous to snow and ice. Ideal for testing a monster estate with 850Nm of torque, they are not, so take what follows with that in mind.
The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid starts, by default, in E-mode - fully electric. Charge the battery to max (it takes between two-and-a-half and six hours, depending on what amperage you're using) and Porsche says that it will go for 51km on zero emissions. That feels like a reasonable claim - with half a charge in the battery when we climbed aboard our test car, we squeezed close to 21km out of it before defaulting to Hybrid mode. Not bad, and the regenerative braking system is especially good at finding spare charge to feed to the battery, helped no doubt by the enormous 420mm ceramic-composite brakes.
Pull away in E-mode and the Panamera is, unsurprisingly, very quiet. The electric motor has a mere 136hp to play with, but it feels sufficiently brisk for intra-urban work, and easily romps along at around 100-120km/h (Porsche says it will go up to 140km/h before asking for petrol assistance). Refinement is extremely good - there's no noise from interior components (often a bugbear of electric and part-electric cars) and the ride quality on the adaptive dampers of the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system is little short of brilliant. Yes, Spanish roads are better-surfaced than Irish ones, but we found sufficient crags and hollows to show that the Panamera really is a very comfortable device.
With the battery running low, we switched to Hybrid mode, using the little rotary controller mounted to the spoke of the steering wheel. Now, with the big V8 gurgling gently away, performance stepped up significantly. Even with the wet and the slipperiness, slower vehicles could be overtaken with ease and a faraway crackle of exhaust noise. The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, in this mode, is one of those cars that gathers speed with relative stealth, so you find yourself thinking 'hmmm, I'm probably going a bit too briskly here' only to glance down and find yourself carrying big, senior, three-figure speeds into corners. Be warned, the local constabulary will not take 'but it's so refined, officer' as a valid excuse.
How about Sport mode? Tweak the controller another notch clockwise and things start to happen. The sort of things that usually require Stephen Hawking and the Large Hadron Collider to measure. Nail the throttle in Sport and the Panamera (which I'll take this moment to remind you weighs more than some Range Rovers) accelerates. And when I say accelerates... It actually seems to pass through a separate channel of space-time between where you are now and a distant spot on the horizon, at a speed that is going to get you into quite silly amounts of trouble. With a howl of V8 fury blocking out the Devil's Milk Float whine from the electric motor, the Panamera just goes and goes and goes until you can't take it anymore. Or a corner looms up.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. With that wet, greasy surface and the Panamera's hefty weight, we're talking some serious understeer on the way in to tight corners if you've been a little too optimistic with your entry speed, and no little oversteer on the way out of them. On a dry road, with a better surface, you'd probably do a lot better and have a lot more fun (not that we weren't enjoying ourselves), but the weather and tarmac were certainly limiting what the Panamera can do. Nonetheless, it definitely disguises its weight, and the transfer of that weight, far, far better than the old Panamera plugin, but the steering is rather frustrating - it has beautiful weight, and the steering wheel itself feels glorious to hold, but there's just not enough feel and feedback coming up from the tyres to engender true confidence. The Panamera is a hoot to hurl down a straight stretch, and it'll look after you in the corners (helped by active anti-roll, and optional rear-wheel steering), but it's not chatty. Perhaps it's unreasonable to expect an ambulatory super-computer to be thus, but this is a Porsche... Mind you, we got to the end of our rain-afflicted, twisty, mountainous test route in one piece, with the car undamaged, so it must be doing something right.
What you get for your money
We've no Irish price for this model yet, but the Turbo S E-Hybrid's sticker is likely to start with a €2 and be followed by a significant number of zeroes. Can something such as this ever be called decent value? Probably not, but you do have to remember that this is a car right at the cutting edge of what can be done with current technology - a car with hypercar performance, but Toyota Prius emissions, able to drive itself on motorways, but be enjoyable driven on twisty roads, all with four passengers and a boot full of luggage. It's far more multi-role than most cars, in that respect, but it's never going to have anything other than a mega price tag, especially once you start adding options. Still, €170 tax, eh? That's pretty cool.
The sheer velocity of the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid would be impressive enough on its own. Combine it with the slinky good looks of the Sport Turismo shooting brake body, the charms of that over-complex, beautifully built interior, its (relative) practicality and its ability to trundle around town on silent, zero-emissions battery power, and you have really quite something. If the steering were better, we'd be reaching for the 'p' word (perfect), but as it is, this is a deeply fascinating, entertaining and enticing Porsche.