TEST DRIVE: 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid – The World Is Changing

For 2021, the Panamera range got a mild facelift which follows the Porsche rulebook to the letter.

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A hybrid Porsche? What’s next? An electric one? Those might’ve been valid questions 10 years ago, but the world has changed rather drastically in the meantime and, today, such an approach isn’t just recommended, it’s actually imperative if you want to keep selling cars.

Of course, some brands warrant a lot more attention than others when it comes to electrifying their cars and when your name is Porsche, it’s easy to upset a lot of people and ruffle some feathers whenever you mention anything else than an ‘air cooled’ engine. Those days are long gone though and after making most of their line-up turbocharged (which used to be an exception), the Stuttgart-based manufacturer is moving on and starting to infuse more and more electrons into its most recent offerings.

The Panamera range is no exception and what started initially as an exercise is now one of the best-selling models from Porsche today. It’s not only available with a wide variety of engines, the Panamera also has two body styles on sale today, with the Sport Turismo aiming at a completely new demographic. Sales have been encouraging so far for the ‘wagon’ Panamera but will the same be said about the first plug-in hybrid versions?

I’m willing to risk a Benjamin on ‘Yes’. Like in the case of many brands today, people are no longer buying the character or performance of a car, but rather the badge on it. You can make the Panamera completely electric and it will sell like hot cakes. As long as the company knows its customers, there’s nothing they can’t do with a certain product.

A Mild Facelift For The Panamera Range

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A subtle refresh

After my experience with the Panamera in 2019, I was eager to hop inside one once again, regardless of the engine choice. The Panamera 4 made me really appreciate chassis engineering work and I was curious to check for myself how good a 560 HP model would be.

For 2021, the Panamera range got a mild facelift which follows the Porsche rulebook to the letter. You’ll have to squint really hard to see some noticeable differences on the outside. The headlamps have been ever so slightly reshaped, but they still keep the four LED daytime running lights inside, which tells you this is a current generation Panamera. Also, the front bumper now has slightly different air intakes, depending on which exterior design package you go for.

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Nothing has changed on the sides while the rear-end has a couple of different touches. The biggest change can be found in the taillights which are now clear instead of red. Other than that, there really isn’t much to say about the differences in styling made on the new Panamera.

The Interior Gets New Materials And Color Choices

And that goes to show that the Germans are committed to their principles. Therefore, if something works, don’t change it. Since the sales figures for the Panamera have been incredibly good with the new model, there was no need for drastic alterations in the way they look. On top of that, the design of the second generation was brilliant from the get go. It addressed all the issues plaguing the first gen and made the whole car look absolutely stunning, with great proportions, a clear-cut design and a familiar feeling, harking to the iconic 911.

TEST DRIVE: 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid – The World Is Changing
Analog and digital design

The changes are virtually non-existent inside the cabin. Nothing changed apart from the introduction of a few more color choices, new materials for the upholstery and trims. There are hardware changes though, the infotainment system being upgraded with better processors. Yet, you’ll be hard pressed to notice the differences, as the pre-facelift model’s system was already very good. That’s the thing with the German automakers: they always strive for more, even though nobody explicitly asked for improvements.

Therefore, the design looks up to date and is dominated by a huge screen in the dashboard, as well as a lot of shiny surfaces that include touch-sensitive areas that have replaced the countless buttons of the first-generation model. It’s all very ergonomic, easy to use and intuitive. I love the fact that the instrument cluster still has an old-school, analogue rev counter right in the middle, combined with screens on both sides. It’s a great way of mixing in the old with the new, keeping in touch with your DNA and history. Even the fonts used for the screens left and right is staying true to the older Porsche models and that shows incredible attention to details.

The materials and the fit and finish are also top notch. Our tester was fitted with wood trims. Not my first choice. But that’s very subjective and I do have a problem with all wooden trims in cars. One exception does pop to mind, but then again wood in a Rolls-Royce is a whole different thing. As for the one used in this car, I felt like the high-tech feeling of this hybrid Panamera doesn’t really warrant a wooden set of trims inside. A brushed aluminum finish would’ve been better in my book. Nevertheless, if you are a fan of wood trims, you should know that they felt good, solid to the touch.

A Roomy Interior

Sit in the back and you’ll be surprised of how much room you actually have. Sure, fitting five people in the back is still not recommended, and the car is actually defined as a strict four-seater, but I found that there’s enough room for three adults, if the one in the middle doesn’t mind sitting at a bit of an odd angle. Fit four adults in the Panamera and unless they are over 6-feet tall, they’d be perfectly fine for longer trips.

All this talk about practicality might give you the wrong idea though. Fret not, this is still a Porsche in every sense of the word and when you get behind the wheel, you feel it as soon as you set off. That might be a difference experience than what you’re used to. The plug-in hybrid models in Porsche’s range are here to give us tax breaks, cut CO2 emissions and also enhance acceleration. While all of those sound good, they are also a bit heavier than their non-hybrid counterparts. Luckily, we’re treated with so much power and torque, it’s not really an issue for most people. So what hides under the hood of the Panamera 4S e-Hybrid model then?

Staying True To The V6 Engine

TEST DRIVE: 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid – The World Is Changing
A sporty stance

It’s the same 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 you’ll find on a number of other cars made under VAG’s roof. From the RS5 to other Porsches, this is a good engine that’s here to stay. It makes the same 440 HP you’ll get on other cars and normally, that would be enough for a car, even one as big as the Panamera. But here’s where the real upgrade comes in. The Panamera 4S e-Hybrid also has a 136 HP electric motor on board, to help out from time to time. This electric motor sits right inside the eight-speed automatic transmission and it takes over as soon as you set off.

Driving off in a Panamera 4S e-Hybrid (provided you charged it) is done electrically. It reminds me a lot of the Taycan, but the Panamera is a better built car with a better-quality interior. That electric motor adds a whopping 300 kilos, including the 17.9 kWh battery pack, located at the back. The position in the boot floor takes away some of the luggage space.

30 Miles Of Electric Range

According to Porsche, with a full battery, you could drive this car up to over 30 miles on a charge, without ever tripping the internal combustion engine. During my time with the car I saw an average of 25 miles which was influenced by the cold weather.

You can choose from a number of driving modes too. The car sets off in Normal, hybrid mode. This means it will rely on the battery for most of your trip, if you live inside a city. The car’s systems uses geolocation services. Therefore, if you live in rural areas, for example, and daily drive from and to work, the car will use its internal combustion engine on the way, charging the battery if need be and warming up the cabin. It will switch to electric power alone automatically, as soon as you enter the city.

Quite a smart move from Porsche, one that reminds me of BMW’s own geofenced e-Drive zones. If you don’t want to use the internal combustion engine at all and squeeze all the power out of the battery, you can do that, by choosing the pure EV driving mode in which the car can be driven at speeds up to 140 km/h. Impressive but keeping up that speed will probably deplete the battery in no time. After all, we’re talking about a 136 HP motor driving around a car that’s well over 2 tons.

Most of the time though, you’ll let the car do its thing and choose for itself which power source is more efficient. The transition from that roaring V6 to electric mode is smooth but you will notice it, as the internal combustion unit does have a particular sound to it that is hard to miss, even in Normal mode. What you should know is that you get a total of four new driving modes compared to a non-hybrid model: E-power, Hybrid Auto, E-hold and E-charge.

60 mpg Average Consumption

TEST DRIVE: 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid – The World Is Changing
The future is electrified

The fuel consumption is also rather low, especially over the first 50-80 miles. That’s because the car will be using its electric motor and battery as often as possible to keep the mpg numbers low. During my time with the car, the average fuel consumption was close to 60 mpg (4 l/100 km) but that’s because I recharged it often and let it drive itself in Hybrid Auto mode. Kick it into Sport and the whole thing comes alive.

In total, you can rely on 560 HP and 750 Nm of torque. That’s a lot of power and torque and when you include the all-wheel drive system and the PDK gearbox, you get a really good idea as to how fast this Panamera is. It will do 0-62 mph in 3.8 seconds from standstill, feeling like it wants to break your neck with so much torque, despite weighing 2.3 tons. Naturally, I expected the car to be a beast in a straight line. After all, this is a 560 HP Porsche after all. What I didn’t expect though was how well this car kept its weight in check in the corners.

Don’t think it will hide all of that extra 300 kilos perfectly but for a car this size and weight, the Panamera 4S e-Hybrid handles really well. The adaptive suspension helps in tight corners and you do feel a bit of lean but in general it is well subdued. The steering is perfectly weighted in my book and pleasingly direct. You do get a feeling of what the front wheels are doing.

There are some differences compared to the regular Panamera though. The suspension had to be reinforced and you will feel that going over potholes or uneven surfaces. Nevertheless, the ride is composed and these issues are the exception, not the norm.

Heavy, But It Won’t Disappoint You

What you’re left with when you finally get out of the car then is a moment to gather your thoughts. At first, you sneer at the possibility of this car being any good. Can a 2.3-ton sedan of this size be that good on the road? Then you hark back through your short-term memory and try to find the one moment when this car disappointed you.

And it’s just not there. It’s simply bewildering how good this car is and how the eye-watering weight is kept in check. It is truly a marvel but it does have its shortcomings. The engine note is not nearly as good as this car deserves. You can’t have them all.

The V6 delivers performance and that’s what Porsche were going for. This is, in my book, the choice of the range, combining great MPG figures with incredible handling and eye-watering speeds. Sure, there are faster choices out there, even hybrid ones, but you simply don’t need anything more.