Would you drive a Porsche hybrid into the brandy-fuelled epicentre of oval track racing? No? Great idea, we thought…
IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN TO THE BRANDY capital of South Africa (no kidding, it’s the home of the KWV museum), you’ll know that the locals pronounce it Woester. With good reason too, as things can get seriously woes here at times.
This is not your archetypal Boland wine and fine dining town. Worcester’s proper tough. Call it an industrial/agricultural hybrid, set in the stony heart of the Breede Valley.
And while other Boland towns quietly ebb and flow to the influx of European tourists on Saturday wine tours, that’s when Worcester’s working class don their Monster Energy peak caps, cradle their bottles of Olof Bergh (in these parts it’s improper to drink brandy that doesn’t have both a name and surname) and lay siege to the gates of the local gravel circuit.
The name of the game is oval racing, which is motorsport at its most basic. Think box-welded chassis (“aluminium is for kitchen appliances, not cars,” a local tells me) and carburettor-fed iron-block V8s.
Entering Worcester’s oval track parcferme (a lawn) is like stumbling onto the set of a Mad Max movie, except here the bellowing five-litre monsters ranged about all carry race numbers.
This is not a place to speak English with a toffee accent or argue the merits of hy¬brids and the green cause. So, obviously, when Porsche delivered its Panamera S Hybrid to the TopGear offices, the editor decided Worcester would be the best place to gauge its worth. Obviously.
A battery-assisted Panamera is an easy sell in the leafy suburbs. There the batteries neatly disguise that this is in fact a four-door Ger¬man performance saloon. But in Worcester, we figured convincing the locals that hybrids are the future would be like trying to throw a soya sossie on the grill during National Braai Day. Dangerous and ill-advised in equal measure.
Which is of course why I’m now talking to race organiser Sakkie Joubert. No flak jacket, but I’m ready to face a good couple of jibes. It’s not quite clear either why Sakkie’s given me full access to the pit area, though he is a guy that likes a bit of fun. No matter.
I hit the e-power button on the centre console and engage ghost mode, appropriate on a car whose licence plates read “Casper H-GP”. And we roll silently past a bunch of race crews resting on the tailgates of their double-cab bakkies. “Is daai dingaan, seun?” heckles a mechanic.
In this place, real power has a voice. But as I park-up Casper H and start taking in the buzz of Kleinplasie’s pit area, curious locals mill about like puppies around a bowl of hot porridge.
Few kind things have been said about the Panamera’s proportions since its reveal at the 2009 Shanghai motor show, but what it does have is presence. It’s huge, wide, and low. Standing off, within earshot, I spot an eight-year-old sidle around its 911 -alike rump and exclaim in surprise: “Pa, kyk, hy’t vier exhausts!” Indeed. This is a hybrid in function, but certainly not in form.
The Panameras novelty value is obvious in a pit area crammed with screaming rotary and V8-powered homebuilt specials. A veteran oval track enthusiast draws deeply on his Kent, then cracks the icebreaker: “Watse motor loop die ding.’”I want to reply, “Audi S4″, which is technically correct, though I’m not about to tarnish the Porsche halo with a reference to the four-ringed member of the family. “It’s a super¬charged drie-litre V6, Oom,” I say, “and there’s an electric motor too.”
“Bedoel jy Porsche bou ‘n kar met vier deure wat op batterye loop?” Believe it. Twakkie couldn’t have said it better, and I offer a demo. It’s prob¬ably going to be easier than trying to explain the 279kW ‘handshake’ between the electric motor/ generator and that donor supercharged engine from the S4. Fact is, for these grizzled oval rac¬ers, port fuel injection (never mind direct) is a dark art.
It’s true that Porsche’s hybrid drive tech uses a nickel-hydride battery pack instead of the more efficient lithium-ion set-up favoured by most other hybrid manufacturers for their hybrid models. But it’s efficient enough to run as a parallel hybrid: the battery pack can power Casper H on its own for two kilometres, though in the real world, using the brakes to charge the batteries, it does run further.
The details mean as little as stock exchange movements to the assembled throng. Petrol runs in their veins and they are as deeply sceptical about a quad-piped Porsche moving without the motor spinning a single bearing as they are about the patter of a short-term insurance sales¬man. Just to add a bit of twilight to the demo, as I slip behind the helm, the strains of Jakkie Louw’s Drie Pikkeivyne crackle yet again over the PA system. It’s been playing all afternoon. Afrikaans rock, penguins on a mission, an unlikely love trio. Things are getting weirder around here.
I find that e-power button again among the two dozen on the centre console that Porsche deems vital for drivers, and with the tacho needle firmly at zero, ease off the brake and roll away to nothing more than the crunch of gravel.
“Burger, kyk, kanjyglo: die ding loop silent en hy’sgemerk tot330km/h. “I don’t have the heart to tell these hardcore, self-taught racers that it tops out at 270kph. It’s hardly the point. The point is that the hybrid element of the drivetrain hasn’t scuppered the brand for these petrolheads: it’s still a driver’s car and Porsche engineers say it’ll do the lOOkph sprint in 6 seconds dead. That’s probably a lot faster than the car’s drifting around the oval today with their double wish-bone suspensions borrowed from old Jags and powered by fettled small-block Chevy motors of a bygone era.
By contrast, this Porsche Hybrid is a road sur¬geon’s scalpel. It’s positively crammed with tech. Like its turbocharged siblings, it rides on air suspension with real-time, read almost instant, damping. The steering is electrically powered, not hydraulic, and as you’d expect, it loses out on the last fraction of steering feel. Its eight-speed automatic transmission which talks so cleverly to the electric motor/generator between it and the engine is built by Aisin in Japan. It’s not quite as sensitive as the PDK seven-speeder on other petrol-powered Panameras, and the batteries and other electric wizardy add 180kg compared to a V8 version. But these are details. We’re forgetting this car is the proverbial soutie straddling two worlds.
And it’s almost time to leave the pure petrol world behind. Racing finishes at 11pm, and the last chorus of Drie Pikkewyne fades to a splutter. A new set of engines are revving. Portable braais, mostly disused steel wheels, are doused as the racers trailer-up for the journey home. I join the exodus, and as we reach the exit of the Worcester show grounds give the throttle a good whack. All the reserves of that supercharged V6 kick into action and we scorch to the first robots. Cape Town’s a good hour-and-a-bit away. I engage Sport+ and Casper H morphs into what Porsche’s design team always intended it to be – an oversized 911 with four seats.
As I thread comet-like through a sweeping mountain pass, with 580Nm of torque giving plenty of go-go to the rear wheels, I’m puzzling over this car’s strange talents. It’s a sportscar first, a four-seater limo second and a Captain Planet merit badge candidate third. Or is it?
Engaging e-power as I turn off the Nl, I cruise down my street in silence. The Panamera’s chronograph reads dead-on midnight as I park; that’s a 90-minute journey aced in well under an hour. I scroll through the vehicle info menu before switching off: average consumption, 9.6 litres/100km. Emissions? Negligible.
It’s been a strange day and night in this Panamera Hybrid: 240 kilometres of hooligan-in- fused driving, guarded approval from oval track enthusiasts and, apart from emerging unscathed by the potential woes in Worcester, not a single drowned polar bear on my conscience. Proper.
Porsche Panaera S Hybrid Specifications
Engine: 2995cc V6,279kW @ 5500rpm, 580Nm @ 1OOOrpm
Performance: 6.0 sec 0-100kph, 270kph top speed, 6.81/100km (combined)
Trans: Eight-speed auto, RWD
Weight 1980kg Price: RI114000