Porsche's latest Panamera offers a tantalizing peek at the coming Taycan electric sedan

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SAN FRANCISCO — Porsche’s de facto Tesla-fighter, the one-time Mission E that was just renamed Taycan, is due out next year. 

But we’re driving one right now.

OK, maybe not the actual four-door electric car from the fabled German sports car builder — that prototype-access privilege recently was reserved for the likes of Maroon 5 singer and Porsche fanboy Adam Levine — but rather a production car that essentially is a harbinger of Porsche’s electric car dreams.

Consider that at this moment, our Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is doing 74 mph on a Silicon Valley freeway and yet its centrally mounted tachometer reads … zero revolutions. Nada. Zilch.

That’s because the Panamera’s mighty 550-horsepower twin-turbo V8 is switched off and the big beast is running near-silent thanks to a 136-horsepower electric motor located between the front wheels that’s powered by a 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery.

More: Porsche’s U.S. CEO: Newly renamed Taycan electric sedan drawing ‘exceptional’ interest

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Voila. Electric Porsche. So what’s it like to drive a car that anyone with high-octane gas in their veins might consider a heretical vehicle?

As a sports car purist and Porsche EV skeptic, I will admit to a Scrooge-like epiphany, suddenly lurching from “bah humbug” to wanting to order a Taycan for Tiny Tim.

There are few key reasons for this Dickensian change of heart at the hands of the frighteningly capable Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, the automaker’s bank-busting ($199,400 as tested) halo sedan.

First, while the soul of any performance car has long been its engine, a new transportation age anchored to electric power will simply mean that vehicle dynamics will play a much larger role in a car’s personality. And that’s not a bad thing.

Second, driven in all-electric mode, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid shows that Porsche has managed to retain its race-bred chops in an EV, largely down to a compliant but communicative adaptive suspension and an impeccably weighted steering feel. 

And third, while the all-electric, 600-hp Taycan — say “tie-con” — no doubt will present itself as a cutting-edge high-tech status symbol and threat to Tesla’s Model S, it’s very clear that this top-range Panamera hints at how Porsche plans to leverage electric motors to enhance the performance and versatility of its gas-powered line-up.

“Our Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is the first plug-in hybrid Porsche to wear the Turbo S badge,” Porsche Cars North America CEO Klaus Zellmer told USA TODAY in an email exchange. “That is a deliberate decision because Porsche hybrids are synonymous with performance. To put it in context: This is a car that can do zero to sixty miles per hour in only 3.2 seconds. That’s supercar territory.”

Zellmer adds that “over the next 10 years our strategy will reflect a mixture of models using internal combustion, plug-in and fully electric powertrains.”

That means you might want to anticipate the arrival of a (partially) electrified 911. Sacrilege? Before 911 diehards take to the ramparts, there are a few points worth noting from our time with the E-Hybrid sedan.

This Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid demonstrates that there’s a win-win scenario here. For example, in city traffic, I kept the car’s steering wheel-mounted engine-mode knob — derived from Porsche’s 918 Spyder hybrid supercar — in its default E setting, which favors using the electric battery that’s good for around 25 miles.

Turn the knob 45-degrees and you’re in HybridAuto mode, which selects the best engine option given a certain driving scenario, gas or electric. And with the remaining two clicks you cycle past Sport and SportPlus, which favors the twin-turbo V8 that, in turn, when driven hard quickly returns energy back to the battery. 

Porsche reports 49 mph in electric mode, and 21 mpg combined city/highway in gas mode — the latter being an especially good number for a car packing a racing-oriented twin-turbo V8.

That sort of engine flexibility is good for managing gas consumption, but it’s also a boon for performance. Electric motors produce instantaneous torque, pretty much the opposite of the dicey delay once associated with old-school turbocharged engines.

Giving a vehicle both electric and gas engines is like building an athlete that can sprint like a 100-meter champ and then pull away like a miler. No wonder that upscale sports car makers such as Porsche and Ferrari have not only used that combo in their respective supercars, the 918 Spyder and LaFerrari, but both plan to slowly tweak much of the line-ups similarly.

Which brings us back to the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. Assessed solely in all-electric mode, the car indeed is a doppelganger for the forthcoming XXX, down to its 911-inspired silhouette. And romp on the throttle and your back presses into the seats as the car quietly — accompanied by a symphony of suspension rumbles — eases into traffic like the raking land yacht that it is.

But the good news for prospective Taycan buyers is that the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is one portly machine, due to its combination of powerplants, gas and electric. Think nearly two tons’ worth of Porsche machinery.

When the Taycan bows, it won’t need to lug around a heavy and thirsty V8 twin-turbo under the hood, and is likely to have even better balance and handling characteristics due to ideally placed batteries. The point being: If our test car suggests anything, it’s that the Taycan could boast far more get up and go.

That’s all for the future. At present, Porsche can comfortably steer anyone still unconvinced about the German automaker’s ability to retain its race-won DNA in a new generation of all-electric cars towards the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid and say: Try me.

And if you’re still suspicious this whole EV thing may be a passing fad, consider that Porsche has chosen to announce the name of its first all-electric car on June 8 — the same day, 70 years ago, that it registered its very first car: the iconic 356.

Follow USA TODAY tech writer Marco della Cava on Twitter.

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