Few automotive brands in the world have the kind of reputation for performance that Porsche has. The mere mention of the German automaker's name invokes images of speed, power and prestige.
For about 60 years, the company has delivered some of the most memorable sports cars ever to hit the streets, and they've established a legacy of victories on the racetrack as well. The company's iconic vehicle, the rear-engine 911, has been continually improved over decades to be one of the best performance cars on the planet. Porsche has also offered more attainable fun in the mid-engine Boxster and at the other end of the spectrum, supercar speed in the 10-cylinder Carrera GT.
But by Porsche's own admission, the company cannot survive by making sports cars alone. Doing so nearly put them out of business in the early 1990s. And in times of economic downturn, buyers tend to shy away from impractical vehicles built only for speed.
So the priority at Porsche, a company with heavy ties to Volkswagen and Audi, is now diversification. They started doing it in the mid-1990s with the aforementioned Boxster, a more affordable car than the premium 911 but one that's still a thrill to drive. A decade later, they did it with the Cayenne, an SUV co-developed with Volkswagen. While some hardcore brand loyalists have ridiculed the idea of a Porsche SUV, the profits say otherwise: The Cayenne is now the company's top-selling vehicle.
The trend of diversification continues this year with the addition of the Panamera, Porsche's first-ever production four-door sedan. Looking not unlike a 911 with an extra set of doors, the sedan goes on sale later this year and will compete with other premium four-door models like the Maserati Quattroporte and the Mercedes-Benz S Class.
The Panamera has another trick up its sleeve you may not expect from Porsche: It will offer a hybrid model in addition to its normal V-6 and V-8 engines. You heard that right -- a hybrid from Porsche!
In this article, we'll take a look at the new Panamera sedan, with a special emphasis on the planned hybrid version and how it will help save gas and maybe even the environment, too.
Porsche Panamera Development
The Panamera made its official debut in April at this year's Shanghai Motor Show, after nearly three years of spy shots and heavily disguised prototype photos began showing up on the Internet.
The car is built on an all-new platform that shares some components with the Cayenne SUV, including similar engines. The long-wheelbase sedan features two seats up front and two full-sized seats in the rear, with plenty of trunk space.
As it's only the fourth model in Porsche's current lineup, the manufacturer went through great pains to make it more than just an ordinary sedan. What they wanted was a true "sports car for four," said Gary Fong, a spokesman for Porsche Cars North America.
Fong said the company expects the Panamera to appeal to existing Porsche loyalists -- people who already own Porsche Boxsters or 911s -- but need a more practical car to fill out their garage. The same kind of person is also a Cayenne buyer, so Porsche hopes the sedan will achieve similar success as their SUV.
"We believe this car will do much of the same [as the Cayenne]," Fong said. "It allows the owner to share the sports car experience with three others."
So, Porsche needs a sedan to broaden their appeal beyond sports cars. But why would one of the world's foremost performance car companies need to build a hybrid?
Again, Fong says it's about ensuring that Porsche fans can have the cars they want -- like more practical, eco-friendly models -- without having to buy from another automaker.
"We can't survive by being a niche manufacturer," Fong said. In addition, the money generated from making cars with more mass appeal -- like the Cayenne -- allows Porsche to do what it does best: build performance machines like the 911 GT3 and compete in auto racing.
So now we know what role the Panamera Hybrid will play in Porsche's lineup, but in the next section, we'll look at what makes it tick. Can a four-door Porsche live up to the brand's go-fast reputation?
Porsche Panamera Overview
No matter how many doors it has, if it wears a Porsche badge, it had better be a performer. Initially, the Panamera will come with two V-8 engines to choose from, and that motor will be situated up front, unlike the rear-engine 911. So, what are the two options?
The engine in the base model Panamera S and all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S is a 4.8-liter V-8 with 400 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. (500.3 newton-meter) of torque. That engine is good enough to propel the car from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in about 5 seconds, with the 4S being slightly quicker, according to Porsche estimates.
The top model, the Panamera Turbo, sports the same V-8 engine but with a turbocharger bolted on for extra juice. That model will have about 500 horsepower, and Porsche says it will do the 0 to 60 (0 to 96.6) haul in just 4 seconds flat. The latter also has a track-tested top speed of 188 miles per hour (302.6 kilometers per hour) [source: Porsche].
In other words, for a big sedan that weighs about 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms), it's expected to have sports-car speed. A 3.6-liter V-6-powered version is also planned.
Like any good performance car, there's more to it than just its engine. The Panamera will feature Porsche's acclaimed PDK transmission, a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. The PDK transmission will shift gears automatically or let drivers do it themselves. (Read How Dual-clutch Transmissions Work to learn more about these unusual gearboxes.) There's also a six-speed manual transmission for traditionalists.
Another new feature is the car's air ride suspension. This does away with traditional springs and shock absorbers in favor of air pumps that inflate to different volumes based on how firm (or soft) the driver wants the ride to be. With a firmer ride comes better handling, so the car can literally become "a sports car on demand" [source: Reid].
Designers focused on comfort as well as sportiness. The car features two full-sized, individual rear seats and plenty of leg and headroom in the back. With 15 cubic feet (.42 cubic meters) of trunk space, it can accommodate about as much luggage or groceries as a Toyota Camry. The car features a tapered rear end with a strong family resemblance to the 911, so it noticeably looks like a Porsche from the outset [source: Kable and Neff].
"We look at this car as being very unique," Porsche's Gary Fong said. "There's not quite anything like it out there."
So far, we've learned that this sedan should be fast enough to deserve its Porsche badge, but just how "green" will it be? On the next page, we'll examine the planned hybrid version, and showcase some of the car's other eco-friendly features.
Porsche Panamera Hybrid Version
"One of the hallmarks of Porsche is trying to find efficiencies," company spokesman Gary Fong said. The Panamera was designed with a hybrid system in mind. With the addition of the hybrid version, the company expects to infuse a fuel-efficient car with a performance flavor.
The system in the Panamera sedan will be a parallel hybrid system. In other words, the car can be driven by the gas engine, electric power or both at the same time. This flexibility means there are times when the Panamera is a zero-emissions vehicle.
In the Panamera's setup, the battery unit will be located below the luggage compartment in the trunk, and the electric motor will be between the engine and transmission [source: Porsche].
But, as you may have guessed, the Panamera's hybrid system has a little more "oomph" to it than your average Toyota Prius. The Panamera Hybrid can drive on electric power alone to up to 70 miles per hour (112.7 kilometers per hour). Also, the driver won't notice when the car switches from gas to electric power, according to Fong. But the boost of the electric motor will give the gasoline V-6 engine a surge in power. "The horsepower and torque ratings are right up there with a V-8, but you get the fuel economy of a much smaller vehicle," Fong said.
The EPA hasn't yet rated the Panamera's fuel efficiency in either standard or hybrid form, so it's tough to estimate just what fuel economy it will achieve. The similar system on the Cayenne SUV hybrid will get an estimated 30 percent improvement in fuel economy, perhaps getting about 25 miles per gallon (10.6 kilometers per liter). Since the Panamera will weigh less than the big Cayenne, it will likely get better gas mileage, too -- 30 miles per gallon (12.8 kilometers per liter) seems possible [source: Johnson].
Even the regular, non-hybrid Panamera has a uniquely green feature: an idle-stop system. When the car is idling for a certain length of time, like when it sits in traffic or at a long stop light, the engine switches itself off. As soon as the driver steps on the gas pedal, the car instantly restarts and is on its way. This system is designed to save gas, but its main priority is reducing emissions.
The Porsche Panamera Hybrid isn't the only "green" super-sedan out there. In the next section, we'll see what the competition offers.
Other "Green" Super Sedans
Porsche says it's building a premium four-door sedan with serious performance that also has some environmental benefits. But Porsche isn't the only company doing this. With the Panamera costing between $89,000 and $132,000, there are several other sedans in this price range that offer speed, luxury and improved fuel economy.
Mercedes-Benz is taking a similar approach to Porsche with a hybrid version of their top-of-the-line S-Class sedan. Dubbed the S400 Hybrid, this car uses an electric motor to back up a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, all to achieve about 30 miles per gallon (12.8 kilometers per liter). The car is priced to compete with the Panamera, and diesel versions have shown up on the auto show circuit as well [source: Poole].
For those who want to take a more unconventional approach, there's the all-new Fisker Karma -- a four-door luxury sedan with plug-in hybrid technology. That means plugging your car in to a socket while it's stored in your garage can recharge the batteries that drive the electric motor. In fact, Fisker claims the car can travel 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) on electric power alone. Then, the four-cylinder engine kicks in to turn a generator which drives the car on electricity once more. With a 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) time in the 5-second range, the Karma is no slouch in the speed department either [source: Johnson].
If, for you, comfort and luxury are more of a selling point than performance, there's always the Lexus LS Hybrid. The world's first V-8 hybrid has been around for a while, and with Lexus' proven record for reliability, is the kind of car that can remain in your garage as long as you need it there. The Lexus V-8 hybrid engine puts out 439 horsepower. While it is faster than the standard LS, the hybrid version only achieves slightly better fuel economy -- 22 miles per gallon (9.4 kilometers per liter) on the highway [source: Leftlanenews.com].
Though all of these cars offer a lot for the money, none of them can seemingly match the Panamera Hybrid in terms of pure speed. Time will tell whether or not this car is the ultimate hybrid sport sedan.
For more information about the hybrid cars and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Fong, Gary. Product Communications Manager, Cayenne and Panamera, Porsche Cars North America. Personal interview. Conducted April 14, 2009.
- Johnson, Drew. "Fisker Karma pre-production model." Leftlanenews.com. Jan. 11, 2009. (May 18, 2009) http://www.leftlanenews.com/fisker-karma.html
- Johnson, Erik. "Porsche Panamera Hybrid - Car News." Car and Driver. January 2008. (May 18, 2009)http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/hot_lists/high_performance/furious_four_doors/porsche_panamera_hybrid_car_news
- Kable, Greg and Natalie Neff. "Porsche Panamera designer focused on rear-seat passengers." AutoWeek. April 6, 2009. (May 18, 2009) http://www.autoweek.com/article/20090406/CARNEWS/904069991
- Leftlanenews.com. "Lexus LS 600h L." (May 18, 2009) http://www.leftlanenews.com/lexus-ls-600h-l.html
- Poole, Chris. "2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid Review and Prices." Consumer Guide Automotive. (May 18, 2009) https://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/2010-mercedes-benz-s-class-hybrid.htm
- Porsche Cars North America Media Central. (May 18, 2009) http://press.porsche.com
- Reid, Rory. "Porsche Panamera: Has wings, rides on air." CNET UK. March 19, 2009. (May 18, 2009) http://crave.cnet.co.uk/cartech/0,250000513,49301618,00.htm