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Porsche with a plug: Confessions of a first-time PHEV user

Sections: Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid Photo Shoot 031

The 2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid was a car loaded with firsts for me, including my first opportunity to use a public Blink charger. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

My time with the Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid was very interesting, especially considering it was my first experience with a plug-in hybrid and my first time driving a car that would cost more to replace than my house. As with most first-time experiences, there was a learning curve.

Having to learn the ins-and-outs of a new car is in and of itself not an unknown experience for me. Most weeks bring a new test car to my driveway, and I only have six or seven days to learn about and try out as many of the cars’ features as possible. However, plug-in hybrids are totally new to me. So while I might be familiar with Porsche’s infotainment system quirks because of time I spent with the Porsche Cayman S a few weeks prior, I had never had a car that needed to be plugged in whenever I got a chance if I expected to maximize fuel economy.

To be clear, the 2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid didn’t have to be plugged in to work. Fail to plug it in, and you’d eventually run the hybrid battery system down to just a mile or two of range, at which point the car would behave like a normal hybrid. That’s something I learned in short order my first day commuting in the car — which leads me to my first confession.

Confession #1: I didn’t realize the key to fuel efficiency is to save EV range

There were a couple of things working against the Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid’s theoretical 21-mile EV range during my test week. First, Tennessee hills are unforgiving of battery efficiency. Second, because I lacked a dedicated Level 2 EV charger in my driveway, I had to plug the Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid into a standard outlet. This lengthened charging time substantially, and resulted in a condition where I often wasn’t able to obtain a full charge overnight.

As a result, my EV range dwindled through the week, as I covered in a previous piece about the car.

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“E-POWER” is Porsche speak for EV mode, and is the default when starting the car unless the EV batteries are nearly drained. As I found, it is not always the most efficient to allow the car to operate as an EV from the get-go. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

That situation was exacerbated by the fact that the Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid defaulted to its “E-POWER” mode, which is Porsche speak for EV mode. So unless I pushed the “E-POWER” button upon starting the car, it would run on battery power until the batteries drained enough to warrant using the gasoline engine.

With my commute being mostly highway, this defaulting to EV mode would see my EV range completely deplete before I could finish my return trip home in the evening. As far as the batteries were concerned, the hills I traverse made my regular commuting route of 10 miles more like 15 miles. Not good.

What worked best was to remember to punch the “E-POWER” button when I started off from home in the morning, so that the car would go back to hybrid mode. This made the best use of the Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid’s gasoline engine, which proved fairly efficient considering the car’s size, while saving battery range for the relatively short in-town portion of my commute as well as my lunch hour. This resulted in better fuel economy results than what I was able to achieve by letting the car do its own thing. The default mode probably works a treat when you live in a congested city. In ruralia, not so much.

Confession # 2: I didn’t know how to unlock the power plug from the car

So on day two of my test of the 2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid, I was presented an interesting conundrum: I strappeed my son into his car seat, popped the rear hatch, and commenced trying to remove the EV charging plug from the charge port on the driver’s side rear fender.

I pressed the large, silver thumb button, but it seemed to do nothing to release the plug. No matter how hard I tugged on the plug’s handle or how hard I pressed the button, it made no difference. The plug didn’t budge.

2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid Photo Shoot 033

An energy flow meter not totally unlike those I’ve seen in Lexus and Toyota hybrids was present in the 2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid and proved useful in keeping an eye on the hybrid battery pack’s state of charge so I could save some battery range for in-town driving on my commute. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

I had to refer to the sizable owner’s manual in the car’s glove box. Therein, I found the secret to releasing the plug is to hit the unlock button on the Panamera-shaped key fob just before attempting to remove the plug. What was curious about this arrangement was that I had just hit the same unlock button perhaps 60 seconds earlier to unlock the doors before putting my son inside the car.

It’s a great safety and security feature that ensures nobody can disconnect your car’s recharging plug maliciously. I just had to take time to learn about the feature before I could even unplug the charger.

Confession #3: It was my first Blink charger experience, too

I have seen public EV chargers in several locations, especially on trips to metro areas a couple of hours away from home. Near my home, they’re mostly installed at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations.

It was at a nearby Cracker Barrel that I got the opportunity to use a Blink charger for the first time.

Mini confession-within-a-confession: I was operating under the impression that Cracker Barrel Blink chargers were free for customers of the restaurant and store. Not so. Charging was $2 an hour for people who don’t have a Blink membership, or $1 an hour for those who do.

The process itself was easy enough. I pushed a button on the kiosk, and it walked me through the process of entering my debit card number, having a code sent to me via my smartphone, then punching said code into the kiosk’s somewhat clunky on-screen keyboard, then hooking up the charger.

We dined, spending just a couple minutes shy of a full hour in the restaurant, and I came out to a screen that informed me our charge was “complete” and we had amassed a total charge of $2 billed to my debit card. Strangely, I found the Blink charger thought a Panamera-indicated 15-mile EV range was a “full” charge, even though that’s a full five miles shy of the range indicated on the day the car was delivered.

An impressive first PHEV experience

Overall, the Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid was one impressive automobile, both in terms of its executive-class luxury and its powertrain’s combination of handling and efficiency. And as an introduction to the world of plug-in hybrids, it was most sublime.

I hope we soon get the opportunity to experience a plug-in hybrid that might be a little bit more affordable for folks like me, who live in houses that don’t cost as much as a Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid. Having the opportunity to drive the PHEV version of the Panamera was definitely a rare and appreciable treat, but there’s a good reason you don’t see too many of them in traffic in my part of the world. They’re practically unobtainium for the working-class folks around here. A Chevrolet Volt or two, I have seen, but a six-figure anything in my rural part of Tennessee is exceedingly rare, let alone a six-figure car with a powertrain as high-tech and unconventional as the 2014 Porsche Panamera S e-hybrid. I’ll always remember this experience, both for its rarity and its abundance of personal firsts.

Disclosure: Porsche provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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