PORSCHE is on the charge towards an electric future in the Australian market. Chief executive Oliver Blume says it has already begun planning its potential charging infrastructure in Australia as it prepares to launch its first all-electric vehicle, the Mission E sedan, next year.
The sedan is likely to be followed by a high-riding wagon - shown in concept form at the recent Geneva show - and a coupe and convertible could follow.
Until it flicks the switch on full-time EVs, the brand is relying on plug-in hybrid versions of the new Panamera to spread the word. At the top of the range there's a circa-$500,000 turbo V8 hybrid, but the twin-turbo V6 is likely to be the most popular.
It claims an all-electric range of 50km and can travel at up to 140km/h with no emissions from the tailpipe. Official consumption is just 2.5L/100km. In hybrid mode, with the electric motor and 2.9-litre bi-turbo petrol V6 working in tandem, it puts out 340kW of power and a potent 700Nm of torque, available from rest.
Porsche says it clocks 4.6 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash.
The claims are impressive but they come at a cost. Our test vehicle had a recommended retail price of $242,600, which ballooned to $264,120 with options that included a set of wheels costing almost $10,000. That's more than $300,000 on the road and $24,000 more than the standard V6 turbo.
Numbers aside, the new Panamera is a big step up on the predecessor, particularly aesthetically.
The last model looked awkward from the rear, a bloated, hunchback cousin of the 911. The new one is a more cohesive design, although it still doesn't have the sleek lines of a Cayman or 911.
Inside, there's been a purge on buttons and switches. They've been replaced by a combination of touchscreen commands and a toggle switch to navigate the various infotainment menus. The 12-inch centre screen delivers outstanding clarity but the glass and piano black surfaces are easily smudged. It's definitely not for the OCD-inclined.
In front of the driver, a digital widescreen mimics the old-school analog dials and can be configured to display the satnav and a host of information about the various electric-only, hybrid and sports modes.
Rear passengers are better looked after than before with more legroom (headroom is still tight) and their own controls for media, aircon and the separate rear sunroof.
On the road
The Panamera hybrid has a real Jekyll and Hyde quality to it. One minute you're gliding effortlessly and silently in the traffic, with the tacho reading zero revs, then you flick it into sports mode and the turbo V6 roars to life and loudly clears its throat on each gear change.
The all-electric performance is smart enough for commuting but there's no neck-snapping surge off the line. If you floor the throttle the petrol engine immediately kicks in to provide added grunt.
The range figures appear reasonably accurate. At one stage we travelled 25km in a mix of freeway and urban traffic and used just 18km of range.
Another trip in the rain with the wipers going used a little more than the initial range but overall the claim of 50km without recharging seems achievable.
If you run out of range, you can choose to charge the battery using the petrol engine as a generator, although fuel consumption climbs in this mode. We saw as high as 11L/100km on a mix of country roads and freeway.
The option is aimed more at cities that charge congestion tax for petrol cars. It allows the driver to build up the electric range on the freeway before hitting the city, then travelling emissions-free.
If you've been saving the planet during the week and feel like exploiting the true potential of the Panamera, switch to sport plus and it begins to feel like a real Porsche. The eight-speed transmission is intuitive, selecting the right gear for slingshotting you out of the corner, the steering is surgically precise and the grip is fierce.
On a tight winding road you will feel the weight and size of the Panamera, though. It weighs well over two tonnes - and 300kg more than the base V6 - so it's more of a grand tourer than a sports car.
The brakes also have a wooden feel under light application, although the big green calipers pull you up in a hurry if you press on.
Three and a half stars
The Panamera hybrid is a clever solution to a more environmentally aware future for a sports car maker like Porsche. During the week, you can drive like Miss Daisy and save the legs of the petrol engine for what it's built for - going fast. As with all cutting-edge technology, you'll pay for the privilege of being an early adopter.
AT A GLANCE
PRICE From $269,000 drive away (expensive)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/unltd kms, $2590 over three years (pricey)
ENGINE 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6/100kW electric motor, 340kW/700Nm (plenty)
SAFETY Not tested. 10 airbags, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, surround view camera,
THIRST 2.5L/100km (impressive but depends on use)
SPARE Inflation kit. (not good)
BOOT 405 litres (good)