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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Porsche Makes A Hybrid Estate. WHY IS IT SO GOOD?!

Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Concept
To survive in business, you have to go where the money is. Sadly, because rich people have no taste, that has lead to sports car companies (and other inhabitants of the premium market) making SUVs. Leading the charge was Porsche, which is a little strange considering how traditionalist they had been up until then. Nevertheless, the Cayenne opened the gates for BMW, Audi and soon Bentley, Lamborghini and Maserati. Thankfully, rich people who don't want to look quite that vulgar also buy four-door sports cars like the Maserati Quattroporte, and Porsche recently entered that market with the Panamera. However, there is now a "Shooting Brake" (read: swoopy estate that isn't a shooting brake) version of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, complete with an AMG version just for the hell of it. This along with the Ferrari FF provide supercar performance, executive luxury and the practicalities of an SUV (or, y'know, an estate car). Clearly Porsche has a new niche to fill, so here we have it: the Panamera Sport Turismo Concept.

Ten years ago, the idea of Porsche making a family estate would've been universally slated, especially a hybrid one, which this concept car is. However, now that a change of the times has occurred and they're allowed to make such a thing, I don't mind. Because it looks fantastic.

This is not something that a lot of people say about the current Panamera, which the designers had the difficult job of making both an executive saloon and a Porsche. The Porsche shape doesn't really lend itself to a three-box saloon, so instead it looks like a stretched, modernised 928 with five doors. I liked it when it came out - I still do - but then people everywhere started calling it ugly and horrible and I kept it to myself. Well, you know what? No more. You can disagree if you want to, and I don't think it's prettier than an AM Rapide or a Quattroporte, but I like the Panamera. Deal with it! That said, this version is much better-looking, because they've fixed the slightly awkward rear end by making it into the estate tail it always wanted to be.

As if it matters, this concept car is powered by a developed version of the "S Hybrid" system used in the Cayenne and current Panamera, utilising a 70kW (~95bhp) electric motor - double the capacity of current Porsche hybrids - and a 3.0 V6 Turbo making 333bhp. Together they make 428bhp and a 0-60 time below five seconds. Oh, and over 67mpg with just 82g/km of CO2. In all-electric mode, it can reach 81mph and has a range of 30km (18.6 miles), although probably not at the same time. Still, that would've been enough to get me from college and back without sipping a drop of petrol, leaving the tank full for fun time on a Sunday morning! And being a Porsche, it won't be too shabby on that front - while road testers have been just as divided by the looks as everyone else, they agree that its speed, handling and ability to eat up miles are commendable, perhaps even class-leading, and the interior's apparently great too. Adding family practicality and a prettier rear end to that package is no bad thing in my book.

Of course, being a concept car, there are other flashy touches too, like tiny headlights clustered together and cameras nestled in the air vent to look backwards instead of aesthetically and aerodynamically disruptive door mirrors. But such niceties are neither hither nor thither. The question is will they build it? Well, Porsche aren't very good at making concept cars that don't make it to production, I suspect because they only make concepts to test the water, and because they know their audience, they're always a success. Even the 918 Spyder is heading to production, with absurd economy figures for a V8 supercar making over 750bhp (one time when adding a hybrid system is actually a good thing). Thus, we can safely assume to see this soon.

But what's happening here? Is the automotive world really getting excited over sports car and motor racing legends Porsche making a hybrid family car? Well, there are a few mitigating factors here. One, it looks awesome, and aside from gaining door mirrors and losing the trick headlights, I don't see any reason why this shape shouldn't make production (perhaps in parallel with a facelifted Panamera using the ST Concept's nose). Two, it's not exactly going to cost the same as a Ford Mondeo, or be pitched at the same people. Three: If you look at it the other way round, we'll be getting a practical estate car (with non-hybrid versions as well) with Porsche power and expertise. The last time that happened, we got the Audi RS2, and that set a trend for super-estates that's still going strong 18 years later. Here's hoping that this time, people will be persuaded out of premium super-SUVs that never go off-road and into five-door supercars. Because that is a market we really want to see explode into popularity. Well, I do anyway, especially if it filters down into smaller and cheaper models in the same way that demand for SUVs has given us small cheap crossovers like the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Not-A-Mini Countryman. The Subaru Impreza estate could be back with a vengeance! We could have an Audi S1 Shooting Brake! The Reliant Scimitar GTE would become wildly popular and potentially appear on Wheeler Dealers! Alas, one can only dream of such things for now...

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