On the canyon roads outside of Topanga, California, in the heavily wooded space squeezed between a few state parks, senior editor David Zenlea asks if I want to drive. I shake my head. I hate being a passenger in a car, especially a car being driven by Zenlea, but I really don’t want to drive the 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.
Not the Porsche I want
I’ve been on this road before in a Porsche, a yellow Boxster. It reeked of burnt brakes after I’d had my way with it. But over the course of a week in sunny California, this $100,000 plug-in hybrid Porsche hasn’t coaxed my inner child to come out and play.
Sure, it produces 416 combined horsepower and 435 combined lb-ft of torque, and it has an unflappable chassis. I don’t even have a problem with the Panamera’s styling. Our hybrid’s yachting blue paint delightfully clashes with its acid-green brake calipers.
My problems with this 2014 Porsche Panamera start only after I put a foot on either of its pedals. Tap the brake pedal, and there’s significant travel before the brakes actually engage. Tap the accelerator pedal, and the supercharged V-6 and its accompanying 95-hp electric motor fumble around, like hormone-driven teenagers in a dark movie theater, until getting in sync. I’d be unsatisfied with uncoordinated throttle response and weak brakes in any car, but they’re kind of insulting in a Porsche.
I’m not alone
So, no, I don’t need to drive. In fact, I’d rather see a one-man version of “Les Miserables” starring Russell Crowe than drive this car more than I already have. I tell Zenlea I’m falling asleep (I’m actually getting carsick), so we turn and head toward the ocean. The Panamera S E-Hybrid feels better once we’re on Pacific Coast Highway. As we pull away from a stoplight, though, Zenlea echoes my disappointment. “I’m sure it records impressive 0 to 60 numbers (it does: 5.2 seconds, according to Porsche), but here in traffic it feels hesitant. It’s like the car is always thinking about how much gas and electric power to deliver. Give me a Tesla Model S instead. It actually responds to driver commands.” Clearly lots of Californians agree, as we pass Teslas constantly.
Now that’s how you do hybrid
We arrive at Neptune’s Net, a restaurant and widely known motorcyclist meet-up, where I see pals Jason Paul Michaels from Dime City Cycles in Largo, Florida, and his wife, Leticia. Michaels is smitten with the Porsche, which surprises me. Then I remember: It’s a Porsche. Brand appeal will attract people to the 2014 Porche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and the fact that they’ll get a great parking spot and a free battery charge in many crowded garages will have them signing on the dotted line. I go inside and order shrimp tacos that aren’t nearly filling enough. With the sun setting, I persuade Zenlea to drive me into Santa Monica for dinner at Library Alehouse. We’re going down Lincoln Boulevard, and I’m about to say something akin to “Porsche should probably just stay away from plug-in hybrids.” Then a 918 Spyder in Martini Racing livery pulls up next to us, and I turn to Zenlea and say, “I guess Porsche can build good hybrids, but this definitely isn’t one of them.”
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