Hedging bets is in vogue. Like all other car companies, Porsche has learned that battery-electric technology is not about to sweep the world and change the face of the industry. Battery-electric works well in low-volume luxury high-performance vehicles like their very own Taycan Turbo S, which remains one of my favorite supercars, a toy for acceleration junkies that can also attack mountain roads with style. But marketplace critical mass will not be reached without breakthroughs in battery chemistry, and trillions invested in power generation, let alone a charger in every garage.
Hedging bets, Porsche is investing in demonstrable upgrades of its existing gasoline and gas-electric hybrid vehicles to keep them relevant and fresh. Cayenne received a healthy list of upgrades in the past year—the Cayenne Turbo GT I drove earlier this year is arguably the most exhilarating Super-SUV available in the U.S.—and now it’s Panamera’s turn.
Porsche calls this a third-generation Panamera, but it’s more a second-generation car with significant updates, a major-major in marketing parlance.
Panamera’s greatest advance is hidden from view, a form of active suspension available as an option on the E-Hybrid models. Active suspension had a moment in the sun in the early 1990s, but quickly lost favor in production luxury vehicles. I spent plenty of seat time in the early 1990s Infiniti Q45 Active and loved it, but it also did not make a huge difference in overall performance. For that time, active was simply too complicated with limited real benefit, not ready for prime time. Funny, but in racing the story was entirely different: active suspension worked so well on Williams-Renault Formula One cars of the era that the technology was banned.
Thirty years on, Porsche has figured out active suspension for production cars. Standard Panamera will have a more conventional 2-chamber air suspension. The top-spec car seen here has the optional Active Ride system, which has a 1-chamber air spring on each corner (think of the chamber as a thick-skinned balloon or toddler’s garden kickball serving as a spring), but the dampers (shock absorbers) are boosted by tiny electric pumps that control and adjust the pressure of the hydraulic fluid inside. Anyone in product planning or marketing of any type of consumer product who looks at the graph below will marvel at Porsche’s claimed results.
The tube-shaped damper has two valves, so motion of the piston inside can be controlled on compression (when you hit a bump and the wheel comes up) and on rebound (when pressure inside the damper pushes the wheel and tire back down firmly onto the road). Just think of performing a free-weight bench press at the gym. Compression is the weight coming to your chest (ufff) and rebound is you pushing that weight back up (wufff).
Imagine spearing your Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid into a tasty right-hand corner on a mountain or a smooth, sweeping highway onramp that absolutely must be attacked every day on the way home. The electric pumps will increase pressure within the left-side dampers, which will “bench press” against the forces of physics to keep Panamera from heeling over too much or too quickly. In short, the left-side will be propped up with hydraulic pressure and the car will be kept in a flatter stance, a more assured stance, translating into greater confidence for the driver. The car will perform better with less drama, less slop. Proof is in the pudding, but I can think of a few mountain corners I’d like to spear with this car, discover what feedback arrives at the seat of the pants.
Next, upgrades to the gasoline powertrains. Porsche is dubbing the 4-liter twin-turbo V8 “new,” but it’s more a case of noodling to produce greater power and torque. The fuel injectors squirt gas into the engine at a higher pressure. Camshafts pop open valves more precisely and more deeply to improve breathing. “Porsche ambassadors” in the press will tell you it’s an all-new “wunder-motor,” but in reality it’s a very nice evolution.
With the added instant-on 331 lb.-ft. of torque from the 140-kW electric motor, Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid offers no less than 670 horsepower and 685 lb.-ft. of torque. As an old timer, I still have trouble comprehending cars capable of running to the grocery store with Grandmama in the passenger seat while also offering nearly 700 horsepower. This is one of the upsides of so much electronic wizardry. We live in a Golden Age of horsepower and torque. We can get misty-eyed about the past, but today we can choose from many of the greatest powertrains ever.
Fundamental architecture is carryover, but most of the bodywork is new, except for the door skins. The Turbo E-Hybrid has unique fascia front and rear, and also a unique rear diffuser, important on a car capable of easily reaching triple-digit speeds in mere seconds—it only takes three seconds to hit 60 and 100 is just a breath or three beyond that. If you have access to an airport runway or can rent Cape Canaveral, top speed is 195 mph. The car’s “punch-and-pass” acceleration from 30 to 60 mph or 60 to 90 should be impressive.
Just like the Cayenne received a remake of the dash and center console, a rethink of the entire man-machine relationship, so too Panamera. Directly ahead of the driver is a 12.6-inch curved panel. Gauges are rendered digitally, with the usual wide assortment of displays and information chosen by the owner. Following Cayenne, Panamera also adopts the clever dash-mounted up-down shift lever that first appeared in the Taycan, which frees up considerable landscape on the center console.
Porsche has taken several smaller and separate internal efforts at personalization, at customization, and placed them under one roof to create their own version of the Rolls Bespoke Studio, or Lamborghini Ad Personam, or Ferrari and its atelier services. Sure, for decades one could commission a 911 with paint to match a girlfriend’s lipstick—how many recently divorced dentists did that in the 1990s? But now Porsche has wrapped up all its personalization efforts in one group, applied across the enterprise. At the recent Shanghai auto show, Porsche unveiled a Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid that had received the full treatment.
For the top-spec Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid, the obvious cross-shops are BMW’s M8 Gran Coupe and Mercedes-AMG’s excellent GT 63 4-door coupé—fine company to keep, all exceptional everyday cars.
Since the days of the Porsche Engineering Bureau and Dr. Ferdinand, Porsche has only pursued programs that earn money—no vanity projects, no pixie dust, no chasing unicorns. In the end, Porsche is in business to sell cars to successful individuals and thus earn profit. I love the specialty battery-electrics I’ve experienced—Taycan Turbo S, Battista, Rolls Spectre, Mercedes-AMG EQE—but gasoline rules supreme for the foreseeable future, no matter what Gavin Newsom thinks about Unicorns, Faerie dust and the kind wishes of Emperor Xi.