Plugged In – The Big Picture

Electric cars. The horsepower of the apocalypse, whispering harbingers of the automotive end times. Plug-in hybrids. A soul-destroying halfway house to that dismal future, because driving pleasure can only be had with a full complement of cylinders firing at all times, right? Wrong. After spending time with Porsche’s Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Sport Turismo, I’m convinced the plug-in hybrid could be the sweet-spot powertrain for the thinking enthusiast. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

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Think plug-in hybrid, and most of us envision a Toyota Prius and its eco-car ilk, with their flaccid transmissions, floppy suspensions, and dreary engines. Think again. As with internal combustion-powered vehicles, not all plug-in hybrids are created equal.

For a start, the plug-in hybrid Panamera has the performance car basics dialed: a well-balanced chassis, sophisticated suspension, a slick eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a snarly 326-hp turbocharged V-6 under the hood. The hybrid bit is composed of a 134-hp electric motor that sits between the internal combustion engine and the transmission, powered by a liquid-cooled 14.1-kW-hr lithium-ion battery, and a powertrain control strategy developed from that used in the 887-hp, 214-mph Porsche 918 Spyder.

Total system output is 456 hp, with 516 lb-ft of torque. Porsche claims 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds, a top speed of 171 mph, and the ability to travel up to 30 miles on pure electric power at up to 86 mph. But where rocket science meets black magic is how Porsche engineers have made the E-Hybrid’s internal combustion engine and e-motor work together—and how much control over the powertrain they’ve given drivers.

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Porsche’s Sport Chrono package, which includes a mode switch integrated into the steering wheel, is standard equipment on the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. The car always starts in the purely electric E-Power mode. Select Hybrid Auto mode, and internal combustion and electric drive automatically mix and match for ultimate efficiency. In addition to stiffening its sinews and sharpening its responses, Sport and Sport+ modes change the powertrain mix and battery charge protocol so the e-motor works with the internal combustion engine to deliver more performance.

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