Pick your mode and your personality
For the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid's drive route, Porsche picked a picturesque, but leisurely drive along the South African coast. It was meant to show off the car’s efficiency, but I wasn’t having it. Paired up with a pleasant Brit with the anachronistic name of Jethro, we chose the twistier route for the concurrent 911 GTS drive through the Franschhoek Wine Valley. That would give me a chance to see both sides of this car’s personality.
How the 4 E-Hybrid acts is determined by its modes. It has Porsche's usual Sport and Sport+ modes, as well as a Hybrid Auto mode and an E-Power mode. The car always starts out in E-Power, which means it will run on electricity alone up to 86 mph, provided you don’t kick the throttle down past a detent in the pedal stroke.
I ran in this mode for a while and was impressed that it had decent power to keep up with traffic and perform most everyday driving maneuvers, despite running on only 136 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. I wouldn't entirely trust it for highway merging, but the car will start the gas engine when you go harder on the throttle and return to electric operation once you ease up.
Drive the car like this on a relaxed (or slow, but tense) commute to work, and it's a green machine.
While in E-Power, there are two other modes: E-Hold and E-Charge. These modes create or conserve electric power for times you might need it, such as when driving in emissions-free zones in city centers. E-Hold will hold the current level of battery charge and E-Charge will use the engine to charge the battery. Be aware that the car will run rather inefficiently in E-Charge because the engine is doing extra work to charge the battery.
Next, I tried the E-Hybrid Auto mode. In this mode, the car will seek to run the most efficiently, using the engine, motor, or a combination of the two to achieve the best fuel economy. While deep stabs of the throttle are not efficient, Hybrid Auto mode is just fine with that because it will team the two systems to give you max output when you ask for it. The last version required the throttle to be pressed at least 80 percent of the way to the floor to get the electric motor to kick in. In this mode, electric assist is available at all times.
DON'T MISS: 2018 Lexus LC 500 first drive review
Opt for Hybrid Auto mode on a regular basis and the 4 E-Hybrid will be efficient for a 462-hp full-size luxury car. How efficient? We don’t know yet as EPA numbers aren’t available, but combined fuel economy in the mid-to-upper 20s doesn’t seem out of the question. For reference, the EPA gave the 2016 Panamera S E-Hybrid a 51 MPGe rating and a combined city/highway rating of 25 mpg. Expect slightly better for both ratings.
Then we arrived at the mountainous wine country roads and it was time for the Sport and Sport+ modes. That's when I got the chance to sample the Mr. Hyde side of this car’s persona. Sport mode always maintains at least a minimum battery level to ensure that there is a so-called “e-boost” reserve for aggressive sprints. Sport+ is the only way to reach the car’s top speed of 172 mph, but also recharges the battery faster than Sport. In either mode, the engine is always on.
Hammer the throttle in any model and the two power systems are blended beautifully to deliver sudden and thrilling acceleration. Power is available throughout the rev range, and the shifts through the new 8-speed PDK are quick and crisp, but not jarring.
She handles, too
The drive along the Franschhoek pass showed that the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is a Mr. Hyde in more ways than one. It is a Porsche after all, and that means it has to be sporty. On these twisty mountain roads, this 198.8-inch, 4,784-pound car drove much smaller than its considerable size.
The car rotates around corners like its wheelbase were a foot shorter. It leans very little in turns. The steering is quick and precise, but light, and the car gathers its considerable heft quickly to attack the next turn. For reference: The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is some 700 pounds heavier than the all-wheel-drive 4 model with the same engine.