The Panamera S E-Hybrid is fast, fierce and eco-friendly.

PORSCHE PANAMERA S E-HYBRID
POWER: GAS ENGINE 3.0 LITER V-6 WITH 333 HP, ELECTRIC MOTOR 95 HP FOR A TOTAL OF 416
TRANSMISSION: EIGHT-SPEED AUTOMATIC WITH GEARSHIFT AND STEERING WHEEL PADDLES
FUEL MILEAGE: 46 MPG
BRAKES: BREMBO FRONT SIX-PISTON, REAR FOUR-PISTON
SOUND SYSTEM: STEREO WITH 235 WATTS, 11 SPEAKERS AND HARD DRIVE FOR STORAGE
PRICE: BASE $99,000, AS TESTED $115,770

Initially, when the porsche panamera appeared, the porsche faithful questioned how it could be a true porsche when it looked like a stretched 911 sports car with four doors, four seats and a front-mounted engine. But that reluctance drifted away when handling and good looks mixed nicely with practicality. Since then, Porsche has introduced multiple variations, and for 2014, there are 11 versions.

This year’s exterior look receives some fine-tuning, but the major redo is in the plug-in hybrid model. The overall look is still an attractive package with the sloping 911 look of the front and rear, plus the low roofline.

The plug-in electric hybrid now has some real electric powered range from a minuscule couple of miles in the previous edition to over 20 miles this time around. Essentially, Porsche doubled the electric motor power to 90 hp from 47 horses.

Combined with the 3-liter gas powerplant with 333 horsepower results in a total of 416 (some power is lost when the two are put together). Fuel mileage in the electric/ gas mode has a combined rating of 46 miles per gallon equivalent. Charging can be handled with a 240-volt system (which takes two-and-a-half hours to fully charge) or simply a regular 110-volt home socket.

Operationally, the electric mode runs in near complete silence and has some instant torque for a quick getaway. When super performance is needed, the combined powerplants push the Panamera from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Handling remains true to the Porsche heritage with accurate steering, non-leaning cornering, and yet, without a harsh ride. If further road performance is desired, pushing a couple of buttons will lock down the shocks and quicken shifting with the eight-speed automatic transmission.

Luxury, with sports car spin, greets both the driver and up to three additional passengers. Seats, no matter where found, are individual with side support for all occupants. Leather covers all fronts. A large center console with many controls are laid out for the driver and the front passenger. Likewise, a small version of the console is found in the rear with controls for individual air conditioning, seat heating and other features.

Multiple gauges for seemingly every possible function are found in the dash pod, and, of course, in Porsche tradition, the tach is in the center. In this car, showing the engine revs on the tach serves multiple functions, one of which is unique to this hybrid. Because the transition between electric motor and gas motor is almost never felt, the driver can look at that gauge to see if the gas engine is actually on.

Th e 7-inch video screen in the center of the dash can also help. Besides the usual graphics for navigation, climate, phone and such, the video screen has two usual functions. One is a graphic showing the interplay of the electric charging with use of the brakes and when the gas or electric motor is operating. With multiple cameras all around the car, the screen will provide a 360-degree view when the car is in tight parking areas. And, of course, the glove box is air conditioned so those delicate food items will not spoil!

Rear seating can handle two in roomy comfort with more than adequate headroom and legroom. With four air vents found in the console or door pillars and controls for each occupant, climate issues are handled. A power hatchback covers a mediumsized trunk area. A removable cover can hide those most recent valuable purchases and the back of the rear seats can be dropped for more storage.

Porsche wisely realized that you could still have the 911 sports car look, yet have an everyday luxury vehicle for the entire family. And with the hybrid plug-in electric, one can travel in silent speed while helping the environment.

DROPHEADS AHEAD

Convertible sales, as a percentage of the overall auto market, are minuscule. But in luxury land, a number of the major players have four-passenger drop-tops, and many have been recently revamped.

The Lexus IS line had a major remodel this year. Front-end styling received the biggest revision with a very new and wide mouthed grill. Two powerplants in the form of a smaller and larger V-6 provides up to 306 horsepower. And like many in this class, the top is metal and when erected, this convertible becomes a hardtop coupe.

BMW has not only redesigned their coupe and convertible lines, but has started a renumbering system. Even numbers in BMW Series are for coupes and convertibles and odd numbers for sedans. That being said, the Series 4 convertible has been substantially remade. Coupled to the eight-speed automatic is a twin-turbo, four-cylinder engine, and like the Lexus, the new 4 is a hardtop or convertible with push of a button.

Also in the renaming game is Infiniti, but this one is with letters. Now called the Q60, Infiniti’s mid-range luxury convertible also has the hardtop magic disappearing roof. Power is up there with a 3.7-liter V-6 with 325 ponies.

In the true soft-top world are the Audi and Mercedes Benz models. Audi actually renames its convertible depending on horsepower and features. The model line starts with A5 (220 hp), then the S5 (333 hp), and the ultimate RS5 (450 hp) all with a corresponding jump in performance and price.

The Mercedes Benz four-seat drop top is somewhat larger, faster and correspondingly more expensive and powerful than the others. It is the E350 with two powerful V-6s available with the top model accelerating from zero-60 in 5.2 seconds with a 402 horsepower engine.

But no matter what you choice in this field, there is nothing like a ride with the top down, some sun and some resulting fun.