Jaguar, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz are taking the fight to Tesla

Electricity is fast becoming adopted as a way of boosting performance and reducing – or eliminating – fuel use. While Tesla has set the scene for electric excitement, the world's oldest and most traditional car makers are stepping up the fight, spurred on by tightening regulations, fast-improving battery technology and an increasing acceptance for cars that can be recharged. Not that we'll be waving goodbye to petrol stations any time soon; the transition to electric propulsion is coming.

Mercedes-Benz CLS53 AMG

It's telling that Mercedes-Benz has attached the AMG badge to one of its early hybrids, one that relies more on premium unleaded than electrons. While the six-cylinder CLS53 AMG doesn't have the barking, snarling, angry pace of a V8 AMG, there's enough on tap for lashings of high tech excitement.

At its heart is a new inline six-cylinder engine, complete with two different types of turbo tech. As well as the traditional exhaust driven turbo there is an electric compressor designed to minimise the time it takes for things to get exciting. Squeeze the accelerator and there's near-instant oomph, the zingy, free-revving six-cylinder quickly adding to the excitement.

Touching 100km/h takes 4.5 seconds, aided by a clever all-wheel drive system that all but eliminates wheelspin. It's delivered in a smooth, linear motion that makes for enticing – if not neck-snapping – go. Adding to the melody of go-fast goodies is an electric motor that delivers a 16kW/250Nm supplement, part of the EQ Boost setup for an initial surge early on.

Complicated combos

The complex combination produces a combined 320kW and 520Nm. Throw in a slick nine-speed automatic and it makes for a tantalising combination, albeit one that may leave some of the AMG faithful lukewarm. Some artificial exhaust sound pumped through the speakers inside is indicative of the challenges AMG had in ensuring the car lived up to the legend.

Elsewhere, the CLS is more comfortable grand tourer rather than tarmac tearer. Riding on air suspension, the substantial four-door coupe devours sweeping bends with the sort of tenacity few four-doors can muster. While high definition screens dominate inside, there's a refreshing old school solidity to its comfortable, relaxed nature. Quiet, too, while blending svelte good looks with four-door practicality. For lovers of V8 AMGs the CLS53 may stray wide of its target, but for others it will deliver a brisk bent with everyday restraint.

Mercedes-Benz CLS53 AMG

  • Price: $179,900
  • Drivetrain: 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo with 16kW EQ Boost, nine-speed auto
  • Power/torque: 320kW/520Nm
  • 0-100km/h: 4.5 seconds

Jaguar I-Pace

Our first taste of Jaguar's most radical model ever, the I-Pace, came kicking up mud and dust in the hills of Portugal. Sploshing along a creek bed before scrambling up a steep, dusty climb was not the place you'd expect to find one of the most technically advanced electric cars ever made.

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It's also a long way from Jaguar's comfort zone, one where mobile connectivity allows real time communication with a smart home, while artificial intelligence helps the car learn your seating and infotainment preferences. But the best was to come, the I-Pace unleashed on the fast, flowing Portimao race track to bookend its impressive ability.

All without using a drop of electricity. Designed from the outset as an all-electric SUV, the I-Pace is a no-compromises machine, laying 600kg of batteries along its floor and placing independently controlled 147kW electric motors at either end for true four-wheel drive capability.

Devouring the edge

Those electric motors combine to deliver 294kW and a hearty 696Nm wallop that's on tap the second you flick the accelerator. Performance is superb, the I-Pace launching with the sort of enthusiasm you'd normally expect of a V8. The dash to 100km/h comes in 4.8 seconds, the initial kick defining the I's intelligent punch. Even better is the claimed 480km range from that bank of batteries; our experience suggests you'll have to drive it gently to achieve that, but 400km-plus is eminently achievable.

More impressive is the way it devours corners, the low centre of gravity masking the substantial 2.1 tonnes beautifully. It's a lithe, athletic machine. That it manages to pack in good space in side – rear headroom is the only complaint for taller peeps – cements its many talents. The sort of talent that should give Tesla a run for its electricity.

Jaguar I-Pace EV400

  • Price: From $119,000
  • Drivetrain: Twin 147kW electric motors, all-wheel drive, single speed transmission
  • Power/torque: 294kW/696Nm
  • 0-100km/h: 4.8 seconds

Porsche Panamera Turbo S

Porsche has long been toying with electric motors, with mixed success. The 918 hypercar was a ballistic revelation of how electricity could add serious spice, some of the early Cayenne and Panamera hybrids underwhelming at best.

But the latest iteration of the Panamera takes the learnings from the 918 and injects them into the Panamera Turbo body. It starts with a 404kW twin turbo V8 but adds a 100kW electric motor, enough to earn it Turbo S status, with an E-Hybrid badge thrown in for good measure. Cleverly, the electric motor utilises the eight-speed automatic, making for seamless progress as pace builds, continuously leveraging the sumptuous torque on offer.

Unleash the launch control and the Turbo S scrambles to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds, its combination of V8 ferocity benefiting from the luscious electric assistance. Broad, grippy tyres initially struggle to contain the excitement. Driven more sedately, the electric motor is enough to keep up with traffic in everyday driving, delivering 30-35km of all-electric range before a recharge is required.

Weight gainer

It's not the most efficient way to get around; the E-Hybrid weighs 2.3 tonnes, courtesy of (gulp) 315kg of batteries and motors. So, you're carrying lots of unused cylinders when in electric mode, the engine in a slumber. Frustratingly, that usable electric range occasionally has you ignoring the V8 that is the headline act. Instead of planting your foot for all manner of V8 fury, the challenge becomes keeping those electrons flowing for no-fuel motoring.

Elsewhere, the Turbo S is pure Panamera – with some E-Hybrid touches. Enormous 10-piston front brake calipers are painted in lurid acid green, the hero colour Porsche chooses for its electric-infused machines. With discs measuring 420mm in diameter (with 410mm discs out back) the brakes do a phenomenal job of arresting all that pace. Throw in a spacious cabin that pampers front and rear and there are few cars that will match the Panamera's corner-carving talents in such air sprung comfort.

Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

  • Price: $460,100
  • Drivetrain: 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 and 100kW electric motor, 8-speed twin-clutch auto
  • Power/torque: 500kW/850Nm
  • 0-100km/h: 3.4 seconds