In 1986 a car called the BMW M5 came along powered by a 286hp, 3.6-litre straight-six, and changed the high performance saloon landscape forever. Five years later Mercedes replied with their 326hp, 5.0-litre V8 powered 500E and it was game on.
Having employed their quattro four-wheel-drive system since 1981, Audi was already on board with the famous Pirelli tyre message, “Power is nothing without control”, so their first RS6 was a very complete package that could deploy all its power all of the time. Only recently have BMW and Mercedes taken AWD to heart, and as their engine outputs soar past 600hp, they definitely need it.
In line with Porsche’s aim of partial electrification of its model range, the new Panamera Turbo S flagship arrives in E-Hybrid form only, with headline numbers of 680hp and 850Nm of torque that set new records in both the high performance and luxury saloon classes that it overlaps.
Like the V6-powered Panamera S E-Hybrid we drove in South Africa a few months ago, the system power of the V8-powered Turbo S E-Hybrid is not a direct summation of its petrol and electric motors.
In this case the 3,996cc direct-injected V8 makes 550hp (404kW) between 5,750 and 6,000rpm, while the electric motor sandwiched between this and the eight-speed automatic gearbox produces 136hp (100 kW) at 2,800rpm, for a total system power of 680hp (500kW) at 6,000rpm.
However, the key to the E-Hybrid’s punch and ability to overcome its sheer mass is torque. The V8 motor makes 770 Nm from 1,960 to 4,500rpm, while the electric motor punches out 400Nm between 100 and 2,300rpm. Thus, the 850Nm of peak torque is on tap from very low in the rev band, and thanks to electronics can be maintained over a generous spread from 1,400 to 5,500rpm where the raw horsepower output is also close to its maximum.
Thanks to these big numbers trying to neutralise the laws of physics the Turbo S E-Hybrid does fast in a very effortless and unassuming way on the road, so Porsche wisely hired the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit for us to explore some performance aspects of the fastest Panamera ever. I say some because this small 2.3 km long, 19-corner racetrack, with 91 metres of elevation changes per lap thrown in for good measure, is more of a handling than outright speed test for a car of such towering overall capabilities.
On that score one of the most amazing things about the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is how well it disguises its size and weight in the bends, no mean feat for a four-door saloon with near S-Class dimensions tipping the scales at a whopping 2,385kg.
Thanks in part to its rear-axle steering - standard on the LWB Executive model but optional on the normal car - the big, heavy Panamera attacks fast and slow bends like a smaller and lighter car. As we have noted before from the Porsche sports cars that use active rear steering the difference rear axle steering makes to the way a car turns into and tracks through a bend makes it feel like you are bending the laws of physics.
When I drove the 1,634kg 918 Spyder at Valencia Circuit in 2013, the rear-axle steering made this super sports car feel 200kg lighter in the bends. Here at Vancouver Circuit, the 2,385kg Panamera felt like it had shed 400kg.
However, in the end you cannot actually change the laws of physics, and with these numbers in mind I had to employ the immense stopping power of the huge PCCB brakes to avoid over-driving the car into the slower bends.
As a case in point, the slow in, fast out technique worked perfectly at Turn 12, and with the front-end settled into this tight second gear uphill left-hander, I fed in as much power and torque as my seat of the pants feel of the mechanical grip told me the tyres would take.
This is when I realised that the smaller, lighter 911 Turbo S in front was simply not getting away, and half a dozen hot laps later I was still staring at his rump. In all, this was a big surprise as Porsche’s 710kg lighter 580hp twin-turbo, flagship 911 also features 4WD and rear-axle steering.
Knowing full well that Porsche instructor, Patrick Hunninger, whom I have driven with before, was not holding back, it dawned on me that in being able to keep station with the 911 Turbo S on this tight and technical track the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid was demonstrating its seeming ability to defy the laws of physics. To ram home the point, it was shod with normal, street legal tyres rather than some exotic trackday rubber, which does not exist in this size and weight rating anyway.
Reviewing the video footage later only confirmed the Panamera’s spectacular performance on a tight and twisty track ostensibly suited to smaller, nimbler cars. Ample V8 turbo grunt, a powerful electric motor, four-wheel-drive, rear axle steering, PTV Plus, PDCC Sport, PASM, PCCB and a liberal sprinkling of PMD (Porsche Magic Dust!) certainly seem able to perform wonders.
Unlike many sports saloons of past generations, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid does not trade comfort for performance. The adaptive three-chamber air-suspension system introduced as an option on this second generation Panamera, and standard on this top model, has an even wider performance envelope than before. That means more comfort at one end of the spectrum, and more handling prowess at the other.
Thanks to having 60-percent greater air volume to work with than the original two-chamber system, the Turbo S glides along in town with an absorbent secondary ride calibrated to work with the big 21-inch diameter wheels and low profile rubber. This certainly makes the rear seat ride in the Executive version worthy of its name, and while it is never going to come close to the class-leading Mercedes S-Class for absolute serenity, its immaculate body control makes up for the loss of sheer bump absorption ability.
The question some will ask is whether the Panamera should be compared to limousines like the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series and S-Class, or performance saloons like the Audi RS6, BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG.
The answer is not so clear. In physical size terms the Panamera is unique in offering a LWB version that puts it into the world inhabited by the Audi S8 Plus, BMW M760iL and S63 AMG. But quite frankly none of these would-be rivals can live with the four-door Porsche on a racetrack, or even in a straight-line drag on the autobahn where the Panamera is the only one of the group not hobbled by an electronic top speed limiter.
Against the stopwatch, Porsche claim a spectacular set of numbers for the Turbo S E-Hybrid, and we know from experience that road test specialists will likely best these numbers thanks to their conservative nature.
The factory claim of 3.4 seconds and 7.6 seconds (with Sport Chrono Package) for the 0-100km/h and 0-160km/h sprints, and a top speed of 310km/h (167mph) are impressive for a big, heavy limousine, while the stump pulling 850Nm of torque is instrumental in achieving the 2.2 seconds 80-120km/h time. Since drag increases with the square of speed, the high-speed numbers are helped by the 0.29 drag coefficient.
The flipside of its blistering speed potential is the E-Hybrid’s ability to drive 50km on a full battery charge, helping it achieve an official average fuel consumption of just 2.9L/100km, with emissions rated at 66g/km of CO2.
Where the original Panamera was the ugly duckling of the Porsche range, the second-generation car is an achingly beautiful, head turning object of desire. However, in its latest Turbo S E-Hybrid form, this graceful swan has very sharp teeth indeed, and in the best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tradition, major league supercar performance lurks just below its elegant, eco-friendly mantle.