IAIN ROBERTSON 

 

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In a world predominated by anti-performance addicts, who would gleefully bin every gas-guzzler for all the wrong reasons, writes Iain Robertson, a perfect antidote weighs-in from Porsche that flies a flag for eco-friendliness.

 

Personally, as a scribe, I have always harboured a Preference for the letters P and C in our alphabet. Lyn Funnell has appreciated at least 50% of my argument in her creation of B-C-ing-U, in that all of the sub-headings commence with a letter C and the Creative Potential of using them together Presents Plentiful Possibilities. Of Course, Playful Puns and Catchy Cryptograms are only the start of the wordplay but alliteration has always been the headline-writer’s Perfect Pinnacle, despite the resultant spittle. (I am going to stop the capitalising now, where I am able…)

 

Of course, Porsche is a name and a brand to be reckoned with. Purposeful and seldom off-trend with its stance, the company has been able to boast a number of pinnacle achievements over the years, flying frequently in the face of adverse criticism from observers, who would never quite comprehend the cars (or their raison dêtre), while even Porschephiles have admitted to not seeing the point of some models. I give you the Cayenne as a primary example.

 

Based on a similar platform to the VW Touareg and Audi Q7, while it was regarded as audacious and inevitable that those brands (part of the same VW Group family, incidentally) would entertain large format 4×4 vehicles, for Porsche to do the same was utterly unreasonable. Yet, Porsche benefits massively from the reductions in development costs related to economies of scale that a smaller volume brand might otherwise avoid and thus never entertain the potential. The Cayenne, in its first iterations, was still undeniably a Porsche, although the same ‘naysayers’, who described the even earlier 924, 944 and 968 models (all excellent front-engine, rear-driven sporting models in their own rights) as little more than VW van-derived products and (therefore) unworthy of the Porsche denomination, elected to ignore them. Believe me, it was their loss.

 

The latest versions of the Cayenne are outstandingly good looking cars and I can assure you, following a winter test exercise I undertook a couple of years ago, with Porsche, in the rigours of the Arctic Circle, the Cayenne is every bit as, if not more, capable than a Range Rover Sport. Thanks to being able to decouple electronically the anti-roll bar on its rear axle, suspension travel and traction in even the trickiest of off-road environments is simply not an issue, although the Cayenne’s performance as a road vehicle is almost as brilliant as any of its stablemates.

 

However, this tale is not about 911s, or Caymans, or Cayennes. It is about the Panamera, Porsche’s answer to a raft of high-performance, four-door super-saloons that have emerged from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Bentley, Maserati and even Aston Martin in recent years. While not a major market sector, it is a niche worth playing within and Porsche has a surprising head-start over its rivals. Needless to say, it has been described variously as ‘ugly’, ‘ungainly’ and ‘unwarranted’, not just by anti-Porsche people but also fans of the rear-engined 911, who seem to resent anything other than ‘traditionalism’ being introduced to the marque.

 

Yet, without the aforementioned Cayenne, the next stage development of the 911 model would have been significantly more awkward to attain. You see, Porsche actually needs cars such as this to broaden its appeal and to allow the traditional elements to be perpetuated. Without it, it might not have the patronage of VW Group and would have been swallowed up by another major motor manufacturer, which would have used the brand name but lost all of the associated impetus…probably.

Now onto the loathers of high-performance motorcars. Despite the significantly smaller volumes involved, which actually lessens not only Porsche’s environmental impact but also that of those other brands effective in the high-end market sector, the company knew that it would have to address its own fuel and emissions targets. Thankfully, the company has a superb reputation for combining practicality and relative frugality into its supercars. Porsche can boast among the highest efficiency figures on virtually all counts that help to reduce running costs and eco-impact. Yet, more work could be done to make the task even easier, hence the hybrid version of the Panamera.

 

Hybrids are definitely the ‘in’ thing for carmakers. By supplementing the performance of a petrol engine with an electric unit, complete with storage batteries that can be recharged by simply plugging into a domestic electricity supply (or any one of the growing number of ‘superchargers‘ installed at motorway service areas and in town centres around the UK), not only can the vehicle’s range be extended somewhat but the combined power output can deliver phenomenal urge. In addition, the potential to operate as a strictly electric vehicle (EV), which is perfect for London’s Congestion Charge Zone (NO charge!), has innumerable user benefits, not the least of which is on the VED front, which is ZERO for the Panamera.

 

What you want to know are the bare bones figures. Therefore, how do these look?: 167mph top speed; 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds; Official Combined fuel consumption is 91.1mpg (!); while the emissions figure is 71g/km of CO2.

 

They represent a genuine shock to the system and I can tell you that they are all, pretty much, hard facts. The actual combined power developed by the 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine and its electric support unit is a fantastic 416bhp, which means that the performance figures, even from a car that tips the scales at just over two tonnes, are outstanding. However, the torque figure (590Nm) assists with comprehension of it. Of course, there is a slight ‘downside’, especially if, like me, you cannot afford a Panamera Hybrid and it lies in the price-tag. In stock trim, the car costs £84,401. Factor in the accessories fitted to the test example (Sapphire Blue paint, 20-inch alloys, LED headlamps, adaptive cruise control, BOSE hi-fi system, soft-close doors, four-zone climate control, electric rear blind and the rear interior lighting system) and the price is whacked up to £94,344.

 

Naturally, users of vehicles at this level, who probably drive Range Rover Autobiography, Audi A7, BMW 640 Gran Coupe and Aston Martin models, are familiar with hefty price tags, or king-size monthly lease rates. The reality is that the Panamera is not the most costly model in the class, which is another Porsche ownership benefit. Thanks to strong residual values, swapping from one model to the next is also beneficial, as the important ‘difference to change’ is markedly less than for some brands.

 

The fact that a Panamera can travel up to almost 25 miles in EV mode alone is the biggest reason for contemplating the purchase. Were you to reside in London, perhaps somewhere swish, like Chelsea, you could drive realistically to and from your City office, without the petrol engine ever engaging. Bingo! Of course, it is complete sorcery but, the fact that you can also drive at speeds of up to an indicated 90mph in the same mode is an added bonus. Consume the stored electricity and the Panamera assumes hybrid mode and both power units work in unison. The car is technologically brilliant.

 

Driven in this manner, up to around 30mpg can be attained with relative ease. Of course, depress the E-Charge button and both engine over-run and brake energy recovery will recharge the Lithium-ion battery pack. Once it reaches the 20% charge level, it will operate again in EV mode, which is how it can boast its remarkable fuel economy figure. On a drive from Lincoln to The Cotswolds, I attained an outstanding 73mpg, although I am aware that such a figure could be halved readily. I should add that the change from one to other, or both power sources, is virtually imperceptible and the silky-smooth 8-speed automatic transmission slurs up and down the ratios like a spoon stirring a dense mug of melted chocolate.

 

Driven in moderation (still faster than most other road occupants), the Panamera is a real delight. Its handling is good, its power delivery is prodigious. Carrying around 300kgs more bulk than its conventional, turbocharged V8 sister model, it can be felt during harder cornering and in the way the adjustable air suspension settles on undulations. However, it is a large car and most class rivals find it hard to disguise their portliness. Yet, the steering is deliciously weighted and full of typical Porsche feedback, if not quite as surgically sharp as the effervescent and much wieldier Cayman model.

 

In practical terms, the cabin will accommodate four large adults in sumptuous, all electrically adjustable armchairs. Its range of chassis adjustability allows it to be comfortable, yet to also display its sporting prowess. To be frank, I am not the biggest fan of Porsche’s current centre console button fixation. It is visually impressive and users can become familiar with the array but it is not the most intuitive to use. Owners might be able to slot a couple of golf bags beneath the hatchback but the other two passengers would not get a game, unless they shared clubs. Still, there is no denying the air of total luxury exuded by this excellent large hatchback and there will be few places that it would visit, where the driver would not be accorded the utmost respect, as it simply looks so splendid.

 

Conclusions:  While Porsche has an amazing repute, the Panamera Hybrid is the ultimate riposte to anyone doubting the brands integrity. It is ridiculously frugal. It drives supremely well. It is sumptuously luxurious. Yet, most of all, it flicks two-fingers at all of those people perpetrating the lies about environmental protection and the future role of the motorcar in a dystopian and much-nannied existence. Is it a real Porsche? You had better believe that it is and that is what makes it the perfect chairmans wheels, especially if that person has a sense of style, fun and appropriate gravitas!

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).