Porsche’s first-generation Panamera set the benchmark for luxury performance sedans. Can the new one move that mark even further forward?
In some significant ways, what you are looking at here is less of a car than its predecessor. It’s the second-generation Porsche Panamera and it is visually smaller, the cabin has far fewer dials and buttons, and it possesses a smaller-capacity turbocharged engine. Has this downsizing strategy created a better vehicle? After all, in terms of its performance and dynamic handling, that predecessor was considered the benchmark in this rarified niche of four-door luxury performance sedans.
Yet, this 2017 Porsche Panamera shares only three things with that original car: the Panamera name, the Porsche crest on the hood and the goal of being the fastest luxury sedan globally. One area where it certainly wasn’t considered the benchmark was its styling. The previous Panamera was rear-heavy, with far too much sheet metal occupying the last third of the car and a silhouette that looked more suited to a shooting brake (which, ironically, has since been launched) than a sedan.
Thankfully, the Stuttgart design department has given the new car a more gracefully curved roofline that is 20 mm lower at the rear, as well as a shorter front overhang and a longer rear equivalent. The bonnet is also marginally lower and sharper than the blunt nose presented by its predecessor and, especially with the new taillamp cluster design, the Panamera finally does have the appearance of a four-door 911. The overall aesthetic impression is of a successor that is sleeker and more agile.
The interior has been through a similar paring-down process, with the previous array of buttons that lined the centre console replaced by a smaller suite of touch-sensitive controls on a gloss-black surface that operates such essentials as ESC on/off, damper settings, front and rear window demisting and the seat warmers. There are also four beautifully bevelled roller dials gracing the climate-control panel.
The instrument binnacle now features a sizeable analogue rev counter flanked by two additional seven-inch digital screens; the left is the speedometer and the right can scroll through a series of displays, from engine data to a sat-nav map and the (optional at R40 030) night-vision camera. At the centre of the dash between the driver and passenger is the latest Porsche Communication Management’s (PCM) 12,3-inch touch display that now houses the functionality those previous dash-mounted buttons used to operate. And then some.
Given the myriad settings and customisation options that can be applied to almost every aspect of the new Panamera, there are a host of levels and sub-menus within the PCM that, as the car’s owner, will require some time until you are completely familiar with them. That said, the menus are intuitively structured, and once you have configured everything to your liking, you are unlikely to have to delve too deeply again.
Needless to say, being a Porsche, the interior’s perceived build quality is of the highest order. Our test model was specced with the optional carbon-fibre trim inserts, adding to the cabin’s upmarket ambience, as well as immaculately stitched leather, scratch-resistant gloss plastics and alloy strip accents that cover many of the surfaces and occupant touch points. Don’t, however, be fooled; all this high-end luxury won’t cause you to forget what this car is capable of.
Scooching down into the low, superbly comfortable bucket seats, with the essential driver controls a thumb-touch away on the thick, leather-bound multifunction steering wheel, the Panamera feels every inch the performance vehicle. And what performance! Under that long bonnet, replacing the previous 4,8-litre engine is a new 4,0-litre V8 with twin-scroll turbochargers mounted centrally within the Vee and therefore closer to the cylinders for quicker response. Smaller and lighter (by 9,5 kg) this engine may be, but it’s also more powerful, boasting outputs of 404 kW and 770 N.m of torque available from just 1 950 r/min. Given the previous car’s 382 kW/700 N.m stats, the new engine’s power-to-litre ratio has jumped from 79 kW/L to 101 kW/L.
This increase in power translates into brutal acceleration, with our test team twice recording a best 0-100 km/h time of 3,44 seconds … that is 0,16 seconds quicker than Porsche claims for the car. Our thunderous in-gear figures show how just how much grunt this Panamera has between 2 000 and 4 500 r/min. Coupled with the new eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission that debuts in the Panamera range, this unit delivers times of 1,16 and 1,54 seconds for those crucial 100-120 km/h and 120-140 km/h highway-speed overtakes respectively. Beyond the odd supercar, there is nothing on our roads you won’t be able to overtake. Stopping power – thanks to the optional (R153 440) ceramic brakes with their massive 420 mm ceramic plates and 10-piston calipers – is prodigious and the average time recorded for our series of 10 emergency braking tests from 100-0 km/h was 2,80 seconds, registering an “excellent” rating on our scale.
These figures are particularly impressive when you consider both the vehicles’s size and mass. Visually more svelte it may be, but at just over five metres in length and a smidge under two metres wide, this is still a big vehicle. It’s a relatively heavy beast, too, with a mass that – by our reckoning – is a mere two kilograms lighter than the car it replaces (Porsche lists the previous Turbo’s mass as 2 038 kg and we weighed this new one at 2 036 kg). But, while the performance figures seriously impressed us, they were outshone by the new Panamera’s driving dynamics.
The car is the first in the VW Group to use the new aluminium-and-steel MSB platform (it will underpin the next Bentley Continental GT and Audi A7) that is suspended on double wishbones at the front and a multilink arrangement at the rear. On the Turbo model, this is controlled by standard adaptive dampers and a revised air-suspension system that comprises Porsche’s Active Suspension Management. There’s also an active suspension system (PDCC Sport), a torque-vectoring system to the rear wheels (PTV Plus), an active all-wheel-drive system (PTM), and finally an optional rear-axle steering system that was fitted to our test vehicle.
It’s something of an acronymic maelstrom to get your head around, but it’s all overseen by Porsche’s new 4D-Chassis Control system that integrates it for you, so attacking a mountain pass is as easy as a thumb turn of the alloy dial on the steering wheel from normal to sport+. The culmination of all the systems makes for optimal turn-in properties, maximum agility and stability. A spirited drive through the twists and turns is both an engaging and comfortable exercise.
Thanks to the active suspension system and air dampers that now have three instead of two air chambers per strut and around 60% more air volume, the chassis feels both firm and supple. Turn-in for low-speed corners also belies the Panamera’s lengthy wheelbase thanks to an all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 50% of the torque to the front wheels, plus rear-wheel steering that, at speeds below 50 km/h, swivel in the opposite direction to the fronts (up to 2,8 degrees).