Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit is a petite, Hermann Tilke-designed racetrack teased out of an old logging forest. With just 1.4 miles of fresh tarmac bent into 19 corners, it’s a technical course of quick transitions and blind crests. It’s made-to-order for close combat among Miatas, Boxsters, and the occasional Lotus Elise.
Why I’m here in a 17-foot-long, 5,100-pound Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is a question only Porsche product planners can answer. Still, as if a rolling metaphor for the disruptive times we live in, this new top-trim, 680-horsepower Porsche Panamera is improbably suited to a circuit whose longest straight is just 300 meters—a distance it dispatches in a virtual eye blink.
To put the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid in context, let’s dip into history. Porsche developed its first hybrid, a gasoline-electric Cayenne SUV, a decade ago. Later, it added plug-in capability and introduced a similarly-powered Panamera. Even with brake calipers painted signature acid green, the hybrids soon faded into the Porsche landscape, their electric-mode drivetrains excelling mainly at scoring savvy U.K. professionals a break on their company-car tax.
Then, Porsche started getting hybrid-electric power on the covers of enthusiast magazines. The conceptual 911 GT3 hybrid racecar begat the 918 Spyder halo hypercar. The 918’s LMP2-derived V-8 engine plus two electric motors were goaded into seamless cooperation via enough circuit boards and software to run a hedge fund. With its second electric motor mounted on the front axle, the 918 would hurtle out of a corner quicker than a 911 Turbo S. More than that, its complex, interwoven systems delivered coherent handling as well.
It’s no surprise, then, that Porsche chose to elevate the hybrid model from the lower end of the Panamera pricing scale to the line’s flagship. After all, the performance-luxury space runs on trickle-down technology. Knocking the non-hybrid Panamera Turbo S off its perch may seem controversial to fans outside the company—but inside, where electric power will play an ever greater role in Porsche development during the next decade, it’s a natural progression.
Like the 918, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is a mind-scrambling technical exercise. A 4.0-liter biturbo V-8 producing 550 hp alone and a 126-hp electric motor provide joint power. A launch-control scheme produces a zero-to-60 time of 3.2 seconds, according to Porsche. That may not be quick for a sedan in the post-Tesla-P 100D-universe, but the German Tesla owner can only stand agape as the Turbo S E-hybrid beats his car to 192 mph by infinity (the Tesla tops out at 155). The Tesla may have 10 times the all-electric range as the Porsche, but it has zero times the sound of a roaring V-8.
Like the 918, when combining the engine, e-motor and dual-clutch transmission for a launch-control pull, the effect is staggering. A more complex trick than just holding revs on a traditional car, hybrid launch control involves managing the early-onset torque delivery of the electric motor, controlling wheel slip, and engaging the V-8 when the moment is right (around 2,000 rpm). The systems all merge in a momentarily awkward tango, then the car surges forward like a careening coal cart.
In the Panamera, that performance is a function of the tons of electronic actuators, acres of ECUs, and petabytes of data flowing in from all manner of sensors, ‘ometers, and even GPS (the InnoDrive active cruise control calibrates drive systems by looking nearly two miles down the road). Engineers even slapped a 48-volt circuit into the mix just to run the automatic anti-sway bars.
The Turbo S E-Hybrid’s hybrid system also takes its power-blending cues from the 918 Spyder. Like the 918, the default setting is all-electric mode (E-Power, in the Panamera’s case), which calls on the electric motor primarily. Push the pedal past the 50 percent mark, though, and the V-8 ignites with a muted growl that resembles, in aural terms, a 918’s V-8 lying under a blanket. Porsche says the motor-battery combo is good for 31 miles on a full charge—though as we were driving to the track, the gauge indicated 20-25 miles at top charge, perhaps an averaging shortfall calculated from our driving style.
Once the engine fires, the system engages Hybrid Auto mode, which balances the two power sources for maximum efficiency and slides the 8-speed PDK automatic transmission into its most energy-saving protocol. Within Hybrid Auto, a pair of convenience settings are available to increase the V-8’s load and forces more energy into the battery for a faster charge time (E-Charge), or allow a level of battery charge to be “saved for later” (E-Hold)—when approaching London’s ultra low emissions zone, for example.
Sport mode activates more-aggressive chassis and transmission protocols familiar to Porsche owners, and holds a charge for short-term, full-throttle boosts. With the compulsory Sport Chrono package as standard equipment, the Sport Plus mode flips the switches for highest performance, while engaging system rules that charge the battery quicker.
In an odd quirk of location, the tightly-wound Vancouver Island track’s short discharge zones kept our battery use in check, while constant heavy regenerative braking piled on the volts. The surprising result was an extra three kilometers of charge after six laps while in Sport Plus. That same hybrid scenario wouldn’t play out at Suzuka, for example, where the long straights and fast corners would likely drain the battery more aggressively in exchange for maximum boost.
The technology parade doesn’t end at the hybrid system. Getting a two-and-a-half-ton car to take a corner while still delivering a luxury car ride takes the engineers’ complete mastery of Newton’s third law of motion—y’know, the one about force and counterforce. The Turbo S E-Hybrid comes with the entire catalog of Porsche’s magic spells: PDCC, an active anti-sway bar system that applies opposing torsional force only when the system detects aggressive cornering; PASM active damping with three-chambered air springs for quick adjustments; rear steer, which mimics a shorter wheelbase at high cornering speeds and adds stability in fast turns; and rotational help from a potent combo of electronically actuated limited slip diff and brake-drag torque vectoring.
Those systems are integrated into Porsche 4D Chassis Control, which engages a central processor to analyze pitch, roll, and yaw, giving the gargantuan sedan a real semblance of agility. While brake feel is still complicated by regeneration gear, any irritating mid-corner depletion of front grip is largely (and seemingly impossibly) solved. It’s been said about the 918, but it bears repeating in light of the Turbo S E-Hybrid: Merely calibrating these systems to work together is a remarkable feat.
More than just a new sort of flagship for the Panamera line, the Turbo S E-Hybrid is a harbinger of the predicted 911 hybrid and the first all-electric Porsche, the Mission E, which is still a year or two away. If you need more proof, note that Porsche recently announced it was leaving LeMans prototype racing to concentrate its energy on the all-electric Formula E series. No doubt about it: the Turbo S E-hybrid is made for these times.