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Does plug-in hybrid tech really work in Singapore?



 

To find out, we drive a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid for a day. The results are surprising, to say the least…


SINGAPORE – Plug-ins seems like the next big thing in cars. Volvo has just unveiled a plug-in hybrid version of next year’s XC90 (pictured below) that it says is the cleanest and most powerful seven-seater SUV in the world.

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The prototype of a plug-in BMW 3 Series that we drove last month seems tailor-made for Singapore’s low speeds, short driving distances and even our vehicle taxes.

And Porsche sells a plug-in here, in the form of the Panamera S E-Hybrid. But what is a plug-in hybrid, and does the technology really work?

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That first question is easy enough to answer. A Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV) has a combustion engine as well as an electric one, with large batteries to power the latter.

Most of us never exceed 120km/h and the average Singapore car covers 50km a day, yet we all buy cars that can hit much higher speeds and cover more than 500km on a tank of petrol.

A PHEV is meant to suit our modest daily needs, but it can also perform like a normal combustion-powered car when we need to go on longer trips or feel like hitting higher speeds.

Typically, the car’s electric engine is powered by batteries that can be gently charged on the move, but to get the best from the technology you should plug it into a special charger every day, just as you would a smartphone.

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As for whether it works well in Singapore, I decide to take a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid for a drive to find out.

A FIRST IN SINGAPORE
In a sense, like all PHEVs the Porsche is two cars in one. It has a supercharged engine for moments when the driver wants, well, a Porsche. But it also carries a 95 horsepower electric motor (pictured below, in red) for whenever silent, emissions-free movement is called for.

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Of course, both systems can work together to deliver a combined punch worth 416 horsepower, enough for the big hybrid to hit 100km/h in a brisk 5.5 seconds.

But there are faster Porsches that cost less, so the Panamera S E-Hybrid’s claim to fame is that it’s the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) to go on sale in Singapore.

It comes with a wallbox charger that customers can install at home if they have a house, or wherever they can convince building management to let them do so.

Topping up the Porsche’s battery takes around four hours, and with that done you can whisper along for 36km on electric power, unless you gobble up the range by running the air-conditioning (which, let’s face it, you have to do here). Or by exploring the E-Power mode’s top speed of 125km/h.

We’ve tested the car at high speeds in Germany, but what is it like at Singapore speeds, on Singapore roads?

That’s precisely what I try to figure out throughout my day with the Porsche. I collect it with a full battery, and immediately try to simulate a congested commute to work with some low-speed start-stop traffic.

The Porsche seems pessimistic at first. It tells me I have just 14km on a full battery. But 12km later, it informs me there is 8km left in the bank.

Next, I pull onto a highway to cruise at higher speeds, and press the E-Charge button to switch to combustion power, which also diverts some of the engine’s output to charge the battery.

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After 24.5km—about half a day’s work for the average car here—the S E-Hybrid has returned 5.1L/100km. That’s nearly 65 percent more fuel burn than the official figures suggest, but it’s better than most frugal, small hatchbacks. And there’s still 9km in the battery bank to spare.

Presumably, the eco-conscious would approve of such a large, powerful car having such a small appetite for petrol.

As for the environmental cost of charging the batteries, the efficiency of electricity generation (versus relatively inefficient combustion engines) means that even after taking power transmission losses into account, the overall carbon emissions are still lower than from a normal car.

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SLOWLY DOES IT
Of course, because it still has an engine on weekend jaunts or for drives across the Causeway, you can still have all the performance you expect of a Porsche even if you have nowhere to charge it, although with the caveat that the S E-Hybrid feels noticeably heavier and less nimble than the regular, combustion-only models.

And a plain Panamera S is marginally quicker but $16,900 cheaper, so the PHEV tech comes at a premium that you may never claw back at the pumps.

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Perhaps that’s why it has struggled to find sales. So far, there have been no takers in Singapore.

That’s a surprising fact. Apart from the silence and smoothness of electric drive, there’s an elegance to the way the Porsche sips petrol only occasionally, so much so that you end up wishing for PHEV technology to spread beyond the luxury realm and into everyday cars.

And using the tech carefully means you really can postpone those trips to the filling station. I recorded 5.7L/100km at the end of a day’s gentle driving, with 49.3km covered.

At that rate the S E-Hybrid’s 80-litre tank would have lasted me 1,400km. That’s 28 days before refuelling.

Driving a Porsche slowly has never felt more rewarding.

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NEED TO KNOW
Engine    2,995cc, 24v, V6, supercharged
Power     333bhp at 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque    440Nm at 3,000 – 5,250rpm
Electric Motor 95bhp
Battery Lithium ion, 9.4kWh
System Power 416bhp at 5,500rpm
Max Torque 590Nm at 1,250rpm-4,000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 270km/h
0-100km/h 5.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 3.1L/100km
CO2 71g/km
Price $518,088 without COE

MORE TO READ ABOUT PLUG-IN HYBRID CARS

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about the author

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.