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We drive 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S e-hybrid: Living in Taycan's shadow

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Article by Vu Nguyen
Photos courtesy Porsche unless noted

Porsche’s latest darling, the Taycan, has cast a pretty large shadow over the Panamera. Since the introduction of the Mission E electric vehicle concept at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, Porsche had been pretty much all hands on deck to deliver the EV sedan, now known as the Taycan, to customers in the fall of 2019. Throughout this time Porsche continued to refine the e-hybrid platforms, though we’d forgive anyone who didn’t notice. Fortunately I had 24 hours with a 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid, and I aimed to find out if it’s still a worthy and distinctive choice next to the Taycan.

Above: 2021 Panamera 4S e-hybrid as delivered to the PCA National Office. Photo by Vu Nguyen

Introduced in 2009, the Panamera entered its second and current generation for the 2017 model year. The 2017 Panamera addressed most styling concerns many had with the first-gen car, and more importantly its chassis had undergone a huge change. The first-gen car had a bespoke platform that only the Panamera used. The second-gen Panamera uses the excellent, Porsche-developed MSB platform (Modularer Standardantriebsbaukasten, or “modular standard drive train system”), which is now used throughout Volkswagen Group’s various brands.

I’ve been a Panamera fan since day one, but before this one showed up at our office recently, I hadn’t really thought much about Porsche’s first sedan since we were loaned a 2019 Panamera 4 e-hybrid Sport Turismo in late 2018. (Read that review in the December 2018 Porsche Panorama.) Aside from the slightly updated drivetrain, the main difference between our 2021 Panamera sedan and the 2019 model we drove was the body style, and I prefer the wagon shape and cargo capacity of the Sport Turismo. The sedan was still a head-turner, however.

Above: 2019 Panamera 4 e-hybrid we drove in late 2018. Click here to read the Porsche Panorama review in the Dec. 2018 issue.

As I slipped behind the wheel, I was instantly impressed by the familiar cockpit. Not much has changed since the second-gen launched, and that means a large touchscreen dominates the center of the dash, while digital displays flank an analog tachometer in the gauge cluster. The center console is a large, glass haptic touchpad interspersed with a few buttons, knobs, and a stubby shift knob. The dash and center console are much tidier than the first-gen's button-heavy layout. Whether you prefer buttons over touchscreens or not, it's hard to argue that the new car is unintuitive to use after a few hours of driving. Having been in a Taycan recently, I also noticed how much more room for passengers the Panamera offers. Our loaner had a center seat in the rear, an important option for somebody like me, part of a family of five.

The first hybrid Panamera I drove was a S Hybrid model in 2012, and let me just say hybrid technology has come a LONG way. Unlike the 2012 model, the gasoline-electric drivetrain of the new car transitions from e-power to internal combustion seamlessly, and the brakes, which employ the electric motors under light braking and the calipers and rotors under heavy braking, were easy to use in all scenarios.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the 2019 4 e-hybrid and the 2021 4S e-hybrid that replaces it is the engine. We noted that the 2019 car used a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6, the same engine in the 4S, but it was detuned from 440 to 330 horsepower. Total gasoline-electric output was 453 horsepower, conveniently making the heavy 4 e-hybrid slightly slower than the 4S. A Porsche spokesperson told us, "This is simply the output that best suits the needs and intent for this specific model within the Panamera lineup." Fortunately, the 2021 4S e-hybrid gets the 2.9-liter V6 with the same tune as the 4S. Gearheads will be impressed by the dual efforts of the 443-hp V6 and 134-hp electric motor, in combination giving the car 552 hp. For those counting, that’s two more horsepower than the 2020 Panamera Turbo.

Above: The twin-turbo 2.9-liter V6 makes 443 hp in the new 4S e-hybrid, much more than the 330 hp in the previous 4 e-hybrid model. Combined with the 134-hp electric motor, the new hybrid 4S makes 552 hp overall. Photo by Vu Nguyen.

If that doesn’t impress you, the how do 0-60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 11.5 seconds sound? That is supercar territory from just a decade ago, and the 0-60-mph time matches that of the 911 Carrera S. The engineers also managed to deliver an unflappable chassis with true sports-car handling despite its massive 5,004-pound curb weight and near Chevrolet Tahoe length and width (198.8 x 78.2 in. vs 204 x 80 in.). Where this Panamera outshines the Taycan is the beautiful note of the sport exhaust. It wasn’t as deep or menacing as V8 Panameras of past and present, but was still a welcome soundtrack. 

I always try to do my part to be environmentally friendly. If I were to own this model, I could commute to and from work purely on e-power with its 30+ mile range — made easier due to a battery-capacity increase from 14.1 kilowatt hours to 17.9 kWh. It takes a lot of willpower not to dip into the internal combustion engine, but it’s doable. In e-power, I was able to accelerate and move along with ease in traffic with the masses. Going green doesn’t get much easier than this because there is zero range anxiety. If the battery is emptied, the car switches to the gasoline engine, the battery recharging under braking and light, constant throttle. 

During my time with the car, I did notice a few minor annoyances. The A-pillars are huge and take time to get used too. Those proximity sensors on the bumpers that jump out on a light exterior color are ugly. But these are nitpicks. I will admit that if I were to own this, I’d be a little nervous about servicing or fixing it out of warranty due to how sophisticated it is. For example, the high-tech center vent that opens, closes, and diffuses the air electronically and the touch screen command center that holds the key to just about every adjustable control for driver and passenger. Replacing simple buttons with computers for everyday functions isn’t just a Panamera or Porsche issue, virtually all modern cars use a touchscreen to access crucial functions and information. And then there’s the high-voltage hybrid-drive system. Under warranty these probably wouldn’t be big issues, but I keep cars for at least a decade.

Let’s look at the simple math here. For what we estimate to be around $110,000-$115,000 (Porsche hasn’t yet announced pricing for the 2021 Panameras), you get amazing performance that now approaches that of the recent Panamera Turbo, room for five, all-wheel drive, and plenty of cargo room in a package that can be summed up as the ultimate environmentally friendly tourer. All of this also means that the 4S e-hybrid will likely be more expensive than the Panamera 4S (the 2019 4 e-hybrid was several thousand dollars less expensive than the 4S, but offered less performance) as well as the $103,800 Taycan 4S.

All of this begs the question: Is the 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid relevant in the age of the Taycan? Absolutely! Until charging access is more commonplace and EVs offer a more visceral driving experience, I’d put my money on a hybrid Panamera, such as the new Panamera 4S e-hybrid.

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