Muscat, OMAN – One of the finest mountain passes in the world played host this week to the Middle Eastern and African launches of the revised Porsche Panamera. The location of the small country of Oman seemed an unlikely pairing for the German carmaker’s large saloon, but Porsche’s decision soon made sense.
The Middle East is one of the largest markets for the Panamera, even as global sales of this model have seen a decline of more than 30% in the first half of this year combined with the same period in 2012. South Africa is no exception, and together the African and Middle Eastern markets have in fact posted a gain in Panamera sales of 1%.
So, we came to the oil-rich nation of Oman to experience this Porsche in its natural habitat. And it shone…
The Panamera has consistently refused to be defined to one vehicle category. It straddles the executive (BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class) and large-saloon segments without truly belonging in either. Porsche would have you believe it falls into the latter, but for that to been true it would have needed more rear cabin space. Legroom remains at a premium, something the company has addressed in the extended-wheelbase Executive variant that sadly will not be sold in right-hand-drive configuration.
Thankfully, the Panamera is more involving to drive than any of the other saloons mentioned. It captures most of the essence that makes two-door Porsches such wonderful vehicles to pilot. The new S model, especially, feels wonderfully poised and composed. On that road that stretches north of the capital Muscat into the spectacular Hajar Mountains, the 4S (the 4 denotes all-wheel drive) shrugged off it considerable mass and behaved like a fully fettled sportscar. The new 3,0-litre V6 biturbo-petrol musters a considerable 309 kW and 520 N.m, which should silence naysayers who believe it shouldn’t have replaced the naturally aspirated 4,8-litre V8 that used to do service in S models. The new powertrain isn’t as sonorous as the V8, but it makes a not-unpleasant sound thanks to the standard fitment of an adaptive sports exhaust and it uses a claimed 18% less fuel.
We were also afforded the opportunity to drive the 382 kW Turbo (immense speed – 0-100 km/h takes just 4,1 seconds – but it lacks the 4S’s light-on-its-feet feel) and S E-Hybrid. The latter is a plug-in hybrid that pairs electric power and a 3,0-litre V6 supercharged petrol engine for a total power output of 306 kW and a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 5,5 seconds. And, you guessed it: it doesn’t make any more sense than the Diesel derivative (no hybrids do). With an average consumption figure of 10,5 L/100 km, we couldn’t get near Porsche’s combined-figure claim of a wildly optimistic 3,1 L/100 km. But, in the E-Hybrid’s defense, we were driving it on undulating mountain passes that aren’t exactly its natural habitat. And its green-tinged badges clearly make it known to Joe Public that its wealthy owner is (potentially) concerned about the environment; isn’t that the point?
Visually, the facelift has been subtle enough to almost miss but detailing has never let the Panamera down. What Porsche couldn’t quite fix is the clumsiness of the design, despite the car having drawn criticism for this aspect right from the start. It still looks too heavy at the rear (although the relocation of the number plate to the bumper has done wonders), too long from some angles and too wide from others.
An unquestionable success, however, is the design and construction of the cabin. The materials are flawless and refinement top-notch. The only fly in the cockpit’s rich ointment is the aforementioned lack of usable room in the rear. In this regard, it is soundly beaten by the Cayenne.
The only hindrance to the S models achieving even greater sales success is the presence of the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and BMW M5. For similar money, you get enormously powerful V8 engines and oodles of cabin space and boot volume. But, put such fripperies aside and the Panamera makes a subtler, no less compelling case. It might not quite have the M5 and E63’s sledgehammer performance, but the Panamera is a more delicate device. And a proper Porsche.
Porsche Panamera 4S PDK
Price: R1 271 000
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, biturbo-petrol
Power: 309 kW/6 000 r/min
Torque: 520 N.m/1 750-5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,8 secs
Top speed: 286 km/h
Fuel consumption: 8,9 L/100 km
CO2: 208 g/km
Maintenance plan: 5 years
All manufacturer’s claimed figures