Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Panamera runs with style, grace

Slick Porsche hybrid can really move

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Back in the day, we used to call them "nothing" cars. If they had a desirable powertrain or a few good parts we'd unceremoniously tear them apart then haul the carcass away to the shredder. It pains me to admit it, but many of these cars wore badges with cool names like Malibu, Nova and even Cutlass.

Why on earth did we do this? The answer is simple: Despite the fact these were decent cars, they had two huge things going against them. They had back doors. The curse of the four-door, or the "more-door" as my buddy Dave calls them.

Wow, have things ever changed. Today, there are numerous four-door sports cars on the market. If you ask me, though, the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is officially the coolest one out there.

If you're looking for my usual review of a new car you may as well turn the page. After a week with the new hybrid Panamera, things are totally out of whack around here.

Given the fact it's a Porsche -- with four doors and a hybrid power plant -- you'd typically be safe to assume there is nothing a gasoline-guzzling motormouth such as me would like about this car.

The reality is, I absolutely loved it.

The Crystal Green metallic paint had me at hello, and the black leather interior fit like a glove and smelled like an expensive leather jacket. From every angle, the Panamera screams sex appeal. If Jennifer Lopez were a car, she would be this one. This baby has back. You can't drive more than a few blocks without someone giving you the thumbs-up. If you actually stop you'd better anticipate a crowd and multiple questions.

The most common query? How much does that thing cost? With a price tag of nearly 130 grand, the Panamera S Hybrid we tested is certainly not for everyone and enters a growing list of cars we've had the chance to fall in love with, but sadly, will never own.

So what was it about this car that pulled me so deeply into its grasp?

In a nutshell, it is a car nerd's dream. Under the hood, it features a supercharged V-6 engine that produces a whopping 333 horsepower and a neck-snapping 325 pound-feet of torque. As if that wasn't enough, the Porsche engineers crammed a 47-horsepower electric motor into the car too. The combined ponies tap out at 380 hp, and maximum torque is a throbbing 428 lb.-ft. Enough power to propel this green machine from 0 to 100 km/h in a scant 5.7 seconds and although I never tried it, boasts a top speed of nearly 270 km/h.

The eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, complete with paddle shifters on the leather wrapped steering wheel, are a riot to play with and the power thrusts to the rear wheels like any self-respecting sports car should. It is the best of all worlds: a limousine-sized sports car that sips fuel and emits about as much emissions as one of Bambi's belches.

Other niceties include the ability to alter this car's suspension from as soft as your grandpa's 1987 Lincoln Town Car to as firm as a Porsche 911 with the press of a button. Speaking of buttons, this car has about 120 of them, and I was just getting the hang of it all when it was time to return it. As I said, a car nerd's dream!

Ultimately, for me anyway, it's all about torque, horsepower and speed. Frankly, I don't care how the car I'm driving obtains these things, it can run on orange Kool-Aid for all I care. This one, however, runs on good old gasoline. In a week of admittedly spirited driving, I was able to average just 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, or almost 32 mpg.

There is a level of hypocrisy here. If you can afford a car that rings the register at more than 100 grand, you can probably afford the gas. Base MSRP on the Panamera Hybrid S is $108,700.00 but our tester was jacked full of options and retails for $127,395.00.

It's a sure bet that just a few years ago when Porsche purists were going mad at the very thought of a Porsche sedan or the Cayenne SUV, no one expected that these models would one day be among Porsche's top sellers.

Although others have tried, thanks to Porsche, the once-boring domain of four-door sedans with hybrid power have finally risen to that rare place in the automotive world where people young and old stand at the curb with slack jaws and glazed eyes as they watch you whirl by as if you're spaceship.

Most, if not all of us, will never be able to afford this car, but the upside is all this technology is certain to trickle down into more affordable segments of the auto market. In the meantime... colour me green... with envy.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2012 F2

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