It has to be said that no other Porsche model, bar the Cayenne, has managed to generate as much of a stir as the Panamera. Much like the aforementioned SUV, Panamera’s introduction seemed to go against the very tenets of what the Porsche brand was all about – albeit tenets that were established by the iconic 911 series.
The two-door, two-seater configuration and rear-located flat-six boxer engine made way for a spacious four-door layout and V-cylinder engines in the nose. Viewed against the traditional benchmark of the 911 models they were controversial changes but, as evidenced in the wide-spread praise bestowed upon the 8-cylinder models, they were changes that have helped to steer Porsche into Grand Saloon territory in an authoritative manner. So, will the introduction of an entry-level 6-cylinder model see this daring move lose any of its hard-gained ground? I got behind the wheel of the all-wheel drive Panamera 4 at its international launch in Cologne, Germany, to find out.
Well, in terms of presentation and quality those in line for a 6-cylinder Panamera won’t be disappointed in the least. Visually, the main differences between it and the V8 are matte black window surrounds in lieu of the latter’s chrome affairs, oval exhaust pipes as opposed to a quad setup and the wheels shrinking to 18-inchers.
It’s only the latter that lets the side down a little bit, but thankfully the Panamera V6 wears its more conservative body work (read comparatively discreet front air dam and sills when viewed next to the V8s) very well. Similarly, the interior has lost none of the sheen of its larger-engined counterpart, still exhibiting the same sense of occasion and good accommodation all-round, although the rear seating is strictly for two.
So, the entry-level Panamera certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to aesthetics, but what about the powerplant? The 3,6-litre V6 develops a healthy 220 kW at 6 200 r/min and 400 N.m of torque at 3 750 r/min – outputs normally associated with V8 engines. Porsche has thrown a great deal of the technological know-how bestowed upon the V8 at this particular powerplant, including direct fuel injection, VarioCam plus (variable intake and valve-lift). But perhaps the two most noteworthy features of this engine are an optimised version of the company’s automatic start/stop system and an oil pump-driven balance shaft that rotates within the oil sump.
As its name suggests, the start/stop system shuts off the engine when the brake pedal is depressed for any length of time, kicking the engine back to life once the driver lifts a loafer from the brake pedal. Actually, kicking is not the correct term for the manner in which it does this – the actual operation is smooth and unobtrusive. Augmented by a brake energy recuperation system and a raft of other energy-saving features, this system helps this Panamera achieve an average fuel consumption figure of 9,6 litres/100 km when paired with the PDK transmission. And the relevance of the balance shaft? Normally talk of such a subject would be sufficient to cue a chorus of crickets, but in the case of the Panamera 4 it forms an integral part of the car’s character.
Normally, you’d expect a 90-degree V6 to be something of a gruff character, just think of Mercedes’ current crop of petrol V6’s and you’ll see where I’m coming from, but the Panamera’s V6 is one of the most delightfully smooth and refined motors I’ve sampled in a long time – thanks to that balance shaft. It’s all very civilized but don’t get me wrong, there’s a satisfying snarl from the nose and plenty of shove when you hoof the loud pedal.
That PDK ‘box is just as happy swiftly dropping cogs in anger as it is sliding effortlessly through the ratios in traffic and there’s still that confidence-inspiring combination of weight and precision about the steering and the car strikes a fine balance between beguiling agility and a very respectable level of comfort. Sure, the ride may be marginally stiffer than that of an S-Class but you can’t hurry the big Stuttgarter with the same confidence and poise as the Porsche, especially when you take the vast reserves of grip served up by the all-wheel drive setup into account.
It’s always perceived to be something of a gamble when a premium-placed carmaker decides to introduce an entry-level model to the fold. Perhaps the greatest concern lies in the perception that such a model will potentially dilute the brand’s reputation when it comes to such vital criteria as quality and performance. The first crop of Panameras were seen as something of a gamble for Porsche, especially given the second controversial foray into four-door territory and opinion-dividing looks.
But the model’s popularity has grown in leaps and bounds. The addition of a 6-cylinder option really moves the model further into the realm of a distinctive, and viable, alternative to the likes of the 7 Series and S-Class. Whether this will potentially dilute Porsche’s offerings by venturing into the premium performance car maker’s no-man’s-land of mainstream is purely a matter of opinion – as it stands, the company’s ‘entry-level’ offering feels anything but that and is a very accomplished piece of machinery.