2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Road Test | Have your cake and eat it, for a price

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Not long ago, I spent some time in the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon. And in so many ways, it's the best all-around car you can buy. It's a sports car, a hauler of people and stuff and a luxury machine. It has some weaknesses, though, one of the big ones being that, as a twin-turbo V8, it's not exactly environmentally friendly. So you can't have a one-car garage that fulfills all your needs, right? Wrong. This is where the (deep breath) 2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid comes in.

While not a new model altogether, the 2021 Turbo S E-Hybrid is better than ever this year. Mainly, it makes more power and torque, specifically 12 more ponies and an additional 16 pound-feet for totals of 690 horsepower and 641 pound-feet. That makes the car 0.2 second faster to 60 mph. The battery is more energy-dense, too, at 17.9 kWh instead of 14.1. That increases the EPA-estimated electric range from 14 miles to 17. Somewhat ironically, however, EPA combined fuel economy when running only on gasoline drops from 20 mpg to 19. Throw in the fact that the infotainment has been upgraded with a higher-resolution screen and wireless Apple CarPlay, and that the Turbo S E-Hybrid gets every single performance upgrade available (adaptive suspension, active roll control, torque vectoring, rear axle steering and ceramic brakes), and you have the best Panamera ever built.

That pans out in the driving experience. The twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 with the electric assistance is hilarious in its raw force but impressively controllable thanks to its smoothness. The electric assist masks the time it takes for the turbos to deliver boost, and the power just builds and builds right to redline. Throttle response doesn't feel quite as sharp as in the benchmark BMW M5, but it's plenty close, and it isn't as brutal as the Bavarian.

The Porsche V8 has a lovely little rumble with the adaptive exhaust opened to the "loud" setting, which is in quotes because it's really not very loud. It's a rumble just for you, not necessarily for the whole neighborhood. And of course, in quiet mode it's extremely hushed. The engine is backed by an excellent eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that shifts immediately and seamlessly. It works great left on its own, but with the responsive and satisfying aluminum paddles, you'll find yourself shifting manually more than you might expect.

Of course, being a plug-in hybrid, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid can also be operated in fully electric mode. It's a great option to have to soothe a guilty green conscience even if, as in the hybrid Cayennes, EV mode does sacrifice a measure of Porsche-ness. The electric motor only produces 134 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which isn't a whole lot for propelling a 5,280-pound car. But it is entirely gasoline-free, assuming you don't prod the pedal too hard (which reengages the engine) and assuming your commute is fairly short and you have a place to plug in when you get there. You can then have your Hellcat-rivalling sports sedan without constantly contributing to climate change.

2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid
2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

Just as it's no surprise that a 690-horsepower V8 is exhilarating in a straight line, it's no surprise that Porsche made a car that has a thoroughly incredible chassis. Overall, it's beautifully balanced and extremely communicative. It feels as though it would like to oversteer pretty much all the time, but would only slide if you asked it. It won't do anything you don't want it to. The Panamera does feel a bit heavy, but with the roll mitigation and rear-wheel steering, it's as quick to turn in as much lighter cars. The steering is extremely precise and accurate, though a little light on feedback. Weirdly, this is where Mercedes has a leg up on Porsche. And thinking of the AMG E 63 S, that car feels livelier than the buttoned-down and composed Panamera. But that's not necessarily a criticism, just an observation. Ride quality is also good — smooth, ranging from somewhat firm to pretty darn stiff. But even in the stiffest setting, it isn't punishing. The brakes are plenty strong, but the blending of the regenerative braking and the physical means that pedal feel is a little mushy. That's really the only lowlight of the car's dynamics.

How is the Panamera inside? It's good, but not quite as good as the rest of the car. The driving position is superb; you can sit super low and stretch way out if you like. The seats themselves are firm but extremely supportive. They have lots of adjustments, either 14-way as standard or 18-way with the optional sport seats, so you really can find a perfect position. The rear seats aren't quite as accommodating, but adults can fit back there reasonably comfortably. Cargo space is on par for sedans, with 14.2 cubic feet behind the seats, but fold down the seats and the space expands to 43.8 cubic feet. The Sport Turismo gets a little more space at 14.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 45.4 with them folded.

2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid
2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

The Panamera's interior design is minimalist and elegant. Most of the surfaces are covered in pleasing leather, and the switches are stylish and clicky, though the center console ones can be tough to read due to their upward angle. The instrument array is crisp, clear and legible, and as is typical for Porsches, an analog tachometer sits in the center. The infotainment screen also looks good and is very responsive, but Porsche does fall prey to the German tendency to bury functions in menus.

The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, then, seems to have no major weaknesses. But that's not quite the case. For all this excellence, you must pay. A lot. The base model starts at $191,150. That E 63 S I mentioned? It starts at $108,550 for the sedan and $113,500 for the wagon. Yes, Porsche gives you almost 90 more horsepower and a more efficient powertrain. But that is a huge price difference. Plus, if you're really looking to have enormous power without a big carbon footprint, the all-electric Taycan Turbo S is about $5,000 less and makes 750 horsepower. The Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is easy to make more expensive, too. From colors, to wheels, to leather air vents to cigarette lighters, there are numerous ways to spend more money, and it's a breeze to break $200,000.

Still, for those who can afford a Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, it really is hard to beat. It's massively powerful, handles amazingly, has a nice interior, is also practical, and is kind of efficient without suffering any range or charging issues. I guess you do get what you pay for.

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