The 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid drives.
The 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid drives. Porsche

Rarely do the words sports car and luggage go together in a sentence without the connecting phrase does not have enough room for. Well no more, because the 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is a genuine sports car, and it can in fact easily deal with some bags at the airport. Moreover, it succeeds in actually combining a sports car with hybrid technology without totally neutering the driving experience.

The Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is a striking vehicle, especially tricked out in ruby red metallic. Walking down the street, you just have to notice it. It looks a little unusual, slightly long through the middle but with a surprisingly callipygian rear end, and it still exudes a sort of unmistakable Porsche-ness. Which it should with an MSRP of $96,150 (the version we drove with some options runs $110,215).

For that rich price, though, the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid really does give the driver an awful lot. Besides a sort of visual bonhomie, the Panamera S Hybrid brings 333 hp from its gasoline engine and an additional 47 hp from the electric motor for a combined 380 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. With a herd of stallions that big, our ruby red racer was able to knock out 0-60 mph in just 5.7 seconds, which is a blast.

It's virtually impossible not to have fun when driving the Panamera S Hybrid, even in New York congestion. Even on short city blocks, I found myself waiting extra time at lights and dilly-dallying just to give myself enough room to zip through 0-30-0 mph before reaching the next light. With the windows down, the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid delivers a satisfying roar appropriate for scaring ugly dogs and eliciting disgruntled exclamations from octogenarians.

That really is the best thing about the car. It's all Porsche, but in a forgiving, driver-friendly kind of way. The Panamera S Hybrid lets you have some fun in city driving, but can still quite handily brush by 100 mph on some straight open pavement. Top speed for the car is a solid 167 mph.

But the best part is that the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is not only an awesome sports car to drive, but a fully functional four-door. It is immensely comfortable, covered in leather and polished wood with all manner of seat heating and cooling options. Pretty much everything is adjustable and a few features emphasize the excellence of the Panamera's four-door sports car concept. While a sunroof doesn't seem like much on a sedan, it comes as a welcome surprise on a sportier car. Similarly, the navigation system is exceptionally well-designed.

The navigation system displays a large map on the center console touchscreen where the passenger or driver can control navigation, audio and cell phone pairing. However, the dashboard also has a circle dedicated to displaying a close-up of the path the navigation system has selected for you. So while the main map might show that you're approaching the Brooklyn Bridge, the little dashboard map shoes the exact turn you have to take and the lane you need to be in. It's brilliantly easy to use. Another welcome feature is the fact that you can still interact with the navigation and audio controls when the car is moving, something many other manufacturers no longer allow.

Another great feature of the car is the proximity warning system, which is especially useful in dense traffic and a must-have given the sometimes poor visibility rendered by the Panamera's architecture. When an object draws too close to the Panamera (within about 10 inches or so), the car lets out electronic whine which increases in intensity the closer the object is to the car. While it sounds irritating, it actually is a great driver assist and makes it far easier to keep track of who's coming into your blind spot than it would be otherwise.

The Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is a car that aims to unite the experience of driving a Porsche with the utilitarianism of a hybrid hatchback, and it succeeds on most counts. The hybrid technology means that it's got some extra torque when accelerating, and when combined with the start/stop engine, the Panamera S Hybrid gets 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, which is not bad for a car with a 333 hp V6 engine.

The car isn't perfect by any means. Rear visibility can be a bit cagy at times, and some of the options that you have to pay extra for aren't really optional. The car depends on the ParkAssist feature which displays a top-down image of the car and any nearby obstacles on the center console whenever you pop it into reverse. Furthermore, anyone buying the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid should definitely consider purchasing the optional power seats, and most buyers are probably going to opt for some of the extra leather trim packages and heated and cooled seats.

Fundamentally, though, the best argument for the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is not the good gas mileage, the great satellite navigation, the curvaceous good looks. The best part about the Panamera S Hybrid is that it is a Porsche that can carry a couple of suitcases and a couple of friends without losing its performance car credibility.

As Porsche racing driver Patrick Long said at the New York International Auto Show 2012 in April: I can drive the Panamera, you know, as hard as I want and I'm not anywhere close to the potential of the car, so why not have the space and the practicality of a four-door, four-seater than stuffing myself into a sports car? Long added that the Panamera S is his day-to-day car.

And that's really why the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid is great car. It's a day-to-day driver's car that is forgiving, comfortable and utilitarian in the places you need it to be, but it still has the heart and the soul of a Porsche racing car. It has a combined 380 horsepower and can thrash most other cars on the road, but it still manages to get pretty decent gas mileage. It comes in metallic ruby red with rearing horses stamped all over it. The trunk has a button to close it so you don't have to. The Porsche Panamera S Hybrid does what you want.