Since it was unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2009 as a 2010 model, the Porsche Panamera four-door sedan has proved a money maker – despite the fact critics initially cursed it for not fitting into Porsche's traditional sports car lineup.
In Canada, the Panamera is a hot commodity. Sales spiked 17.5 per cent from 2011 to 2012. And officials are banking they'll climb even higher with the face-lifted 2014 Panamera that is greener, longer and stronger than ever before.
The greener part of the equation is the new Panamera S E-Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid that costs $113,300.
Compared to the Panamera S Hybrid it replaces, the S E-Hybrid has a more powerful electric motor – it produces 95 hp (70kW), which is more than double the power of the outgoing version. Plus it has a higher-performance battery that supplies more energy. Gone is the old nickel metal hydride battery, replaced with a new lithium-ion battery. At 9.4 kWh, it has more than five times the energy capacity of the nickel metal hydride's 1.7 kWh.
As a result, the total combined output from the electric motor and the 3-litre supercharged V-6 gas engine is an impressive 416 hp and 435 lb-ft of torque. Other equally impressive stats: 0-100 km/h in 5.5 seconds, a top speed of 270 km/h, 71 g/km of CO2 emissions and a meagre 3.1 litres/100 km in fuel consumption, 56 per cent less than its predecessor, which averaged 7.1.
New innovative features such as an auto start/stop function helps cut down on fuel even more by shutting off the engine when stopped as well as when coasting to a stop. You can also charge the high-voltage battery during the drive by pushing the E-Charge button on the centre console. When you get home, just plug into a conventional household electrical outlet and it'll take less than four hours to charge. An industrial outlet cuts the time to about 2-1/2 hours.
On the autobahn, at speeds in excess of 120 km/h, I was driving on electricity alone – no gas consumption or harmful emissions. What a refreshing change. After 35 kilometres, the internal combustion engine (ICE) kicked in – exactly on par with what officials estimate – an electric range of up to 36 km and a speed of up to 135 km/h in electric mode. The transition from the electric motor to the gas engine is seamless and smooth.
The drive is impressive, quiet, and comfortable – it feels like a regular gas-powered Panamera. But with the added benefit of significant fuel savings. After my 80-kilometre trek, the fuel economy reading on the dash is a frugal 4.5 litres/100 km – amazing for a vehicle of this size and weight. Hybrid-specific indicators on the instrument cluster display other useful information such as the battery charge status and the electric driving range. Bold and unique acid-green accents appear throughout the cabin as well as on the exterior decals and brake calipers to distinguish this hybrid from the eight other Panameras in the family.
Also on the environmental front is a downsized engine with more power, but better fuel savings. A new 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6 replaces the previous 4.8-litre V8 engine in the Panamera S and 4S models ($94,800 and $112,500 respectively).
The twin-turbo V-6 pumps out 420 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque – an increase of 20 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque compared to the V-8. But that's not all; the twin-turbo cuts fuel consumption by 18 per cent. Yet, it's still a powerhouse.
Despite my 4S's hefty size, the V-6 had plenty of guts on the road, accelerating and passing slower-moving vehicles with confidence and stability. It's quick off the line, agile in corners, and stable at all speeds – even when pushing it towards the 260 km/h range. Mated to my tester – and all Panameras except for the S E-Hybrid – is a seven-speed dual clutch automatic or Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK), which shifts gears seamlessly. The S E-Hybrid gets an eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission.
Unfortunately, Porsche dumped the six-speed manual for 2014 because demand was so low. That's the bad news. The good news for power enthusiasts is the V-8 engines get more muscle. The Panamera GTS ($129,400) with a 4.8-litre naturally aspirated V-8 squeezes out 10 extra hp for a total of 440 hp. The Panamera Turbo ($161,500) and Turbo Executive ($184,100) with a 4.8-litre twin-turbocharged V-8 delivers 520 ponies – up 20 hp.
Porsche has also added two new Executive trims to the family – the Panamera 4S Executive ($143,600) and the Panamera Turbo Executive ($184,100). The extended-wheelbase models are geared to the growing Chinese market, Porsche's biggest market for the Panamera, followed by North America. Both have a 15-centimetre-longer wheelbase so the two rear-seat passengers lucky enough to ride in the ultra-comfy bucket seats will have serious space to stretch their legs and relax in luxury.
You can add four-zone climate control, a rear light package, heated and ventilated rear seats and, for the first time, LED headlights. An automatic lift gate, bi-xenon headlights and a multifunction steering wheel are new standard features for 2014.
On the outside, the Panamera hasn't changed much, but the rear has improved – it's not as big and bulbous as the last generation. There's a wider rear window, new tail lights and a larger rear spoiler as well as revised headlamps, larger air intakes, and new side sills.
The 2014 Porsche Panamera hits dealerships this fall. Prices range from $89,500 to $184,100. Two new models join the lineup next year – the Panamera Turbo S and the Panamera Turbo S Executive.
2014 Porsche Panamera 4S
Type: Four-door, four-passenger luxury performance sedan
Base Price: $112,500
Engine: 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V-6
Horsepower/torque: 420 hp/384 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.9 combined city/highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, Maserati Quattroporte