Porsche has yet to commit its 911 to hybrid despite introducing its ultimate fuel-efficient supercar the 918 Spyder last year. Are Porsche’s current crop like the Panamera S and Cayenne S E-Hybrids enough to convince Andre Lam of their mettle?
Plug and play: The Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid (above) and Panamera S E‑Hybrid (below) take an electric charge to stretch fuel efficiency and boost its sprint.
Every decade or so, porsche’s best engineers get together to brainstorm about the future of their supercar. Not the 911 but ultra-rare and collectible cars like the 959, Carrera GT and last year’s uber car, the 918 Spyder. Each time, they deliberate on which will be the breakthrough technology they should adopt in their ultimate supercar that would represent the absolute best technology for the foreseeable future. Back in 1989, they thought turbocharging and four-wheel drive was the technology to have; in 2004 when they were launching their Carrera GT, it was lightweight carbon-fibre and ceramic brakes. For the 918, Porsche looked at all possible technologies and were convinced that hybrid technology was the way forward as it is used in Formula One and Le Mans racing.
The marque may not have been an early adopter of hybrid technologies like the Japanese, but that has not stopped it from rushing to the head of the class as a technological leader in the field, crowned by arguably the world’s most powerful and fastest crossbreed vehicle—its 918. Porsche has been dabbling in hybrids since 2005 and in five years offered one for sale in 2010 when the second-generation Cayenne became the first recipient of the technology. It was an impressive effort having a sprinting ability that nearly matched the V8 Cayenne S and was nearly as frugal as the Cayenne Diesel. Detractors said as a Porsche it was neither fish nor fowl but it has to be said that the Cayenne hybrid was merely the very first attempt by Porsche at making a crossbreed, and there was no doubt it delivered the same degree of entertainment value of any of the Cayenne range.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid appeared late last year and its name is quite a mouthful but represents the next generation of Porsche’s hybrid theme, the plug-in hybrid. This means the vehicle has the ability to store an additional electric charge from the household supply in a larger capacity battery that will give it an electric-only range of up to 36km under favourable conditions. It sounds like a decent distance but that range can be as low as 18km when the car is driven briskly. A big reason for including this plug-in feature is so the E-Hybrid can have an impressively low CO2 rating of around 71g/km, which just qualifies it for up to US$8,000 in sales subsidies in some countries like the UK.
In reality you will only get that sort of CO2 emissions as long as you are using the stored energy in the battery. Drive beyond the capacity of the battery and it will become more like its petrol driven sibling. This aberration is due to the way in which the European community measures how CO2 is emitted, not having fully factored the fact that the plug-in electricity has been made with (mostly) fossil fuel some distance away at a power station.
However it is not just Porsche that is exploiting this loophole in the legislation as all plug-in hybrids benefit from this distorted figure. What Porsche does best is putting its entire know-how into making even the most mundane of vehicles like the SUV a real blast to drive. Just forget about saving fuel for a moment and push harder on the gas pedal and you will be treated to some pretty impressive driving with all you would expect from a Porsche. If even more performance is needed, just go for the Turbo versions.
The Panamera is a proper sports saloon rather than a “utility vehicle” with the engine in the front and a much lower centre of gravity. This allows the Panamera to have the same capability as the Cayenne but have a better ride comfort and handling stability at the same time. It also enters the market where high-end limousines like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series have ruled the roost for the last few decades. Porsche found many owners of these German limousines also own a sportscar and it is very often the 911. Porsche figured that if these well-heeled customers owned a Porsche sportscar certainly they would prefer a Porsche super saloon instead.
With this year’s release of the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, both the Panamera and Cayenne range now share the latest E-Hybrid technology. Porsche’s E-Hybrid is just its second-generation hybrid offering and is now considerably further along the development curve offering an almost unobtrusive function of the hybrid mechanism. Of course being a late entry into the world of hybrids has its advantages, as the marque need not follow the same pitfalls experienced by the pioneers.
However, the E-Hybrid is but one in the range of the Panamera and Cayenne model line. For the Cayenne it starts with a 300hp V6 base model and moves up to a 420hp Cayenne S and tops out with a 520hp Cayenne Turbo. There are two diesel versions, a 262hp Cayenne Diesel and a 385hp Cayenne Diesel S. All these models are twin-turbocharged with the exception of the single turbo Diesel and the supercharged E-Hybrid with a system horsepower of 416hp. Later this year, a 440hp Cayenne GTS will join the range.
The Panamera range is similar, starting with a 310hp V6 Panamera and tops out with not just the 520hp Turbo but with a monster 570hp Turbo S version. Alas, the Cayenne has yet to receive the Turbo S engine. Porsche is truly the master in making derivatives, as there are basically just two engines, a 3L V6 and a 4.2L V8. The differences lie in the degree of turbocharging and whether it runs on diesel or petrol. The truly unique power plant belongs to the E-Hybrid, which not only has a 95hp electric motor but also a 333hp supercharged 3L V6.
They are all great to drive with ascending levels of performance and sportiness, but for those with a green conscience, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid makes the most sense. It manages the 0-100km/h dash in just 5.9sec yet offers the capability of stretching the fuel consumption to just an amazing 3.4 L/100 km. The Panamera S E-Hybrid is even more frugal requiring 0.3L less for every 100km travelled and is quicker to 100 km/h by four tenths of a second at 5.5sec.
The special thing about these hybrid models is really not about their sprinting ability but rather their ability to recover energy otherwise lost to the environment as brake dust and heat. By reusing this recovered energy, the vehicle’s fuel efficiency is improved, stretching each litre of fuel over a greater distance. They also use the stored energy to work together with the supercharged engine to produce greater acceleration that the 333hp petrol engine alone can deliver. Clearly Porsche has refined the operation of the hybrid technology to deliver a nearly seamless drive experience that is a noticeable improvement over their first efforts.
The writer was one of a dozen international journalists privy to the testing of Porsche’s one-and-only 918 prototype last year, gaining rare insight to what makes Porsche tick.
There may yet be an all-electric car in our future but that is not cast in stone as there are a host of issues to solve before that becomes a reality. As a bridging technology between the past and future, hybrids are an excellent hedge. However, Porsche is more renown for sheer performance rather than economy driving, so going hybrid posed a great challenge not just technologically but in terms of consumer perception too, as going green is hardly associated with performance. Having sampled these new Porsche offerings, I am convinced that there is no better manufacturer out there to marry the efficiency of the hybrid to a life of performance
Images: Porsche Press
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