PORSCHE is a company that for many years stayed true to its roots, producing sportscars of the kind that its creator intended.
Other models – such as the 914, 944, 928, etc – have come and gone over the years, but the evergreen 911 has remained a staple in the marque’s line-up.
In the main, the range has remained very lean and, as a result, the German manufacturer has been able to concentrate on its core business; producing cars for real driving enthusiasts – machines such as the Boxster, Cayman and Carrera GT.
In more recent years, however, the German company has diversified its portfolio to include an SUV. This fact did not sit well with some Porschephiles.
Even if it isn’t a true sportscar, in typical Porsche fashion the Cayenne excelled at providing the best driving dynamics in the segment. And now we have the Panamera, Porsche’s first foray into the luxury saloon class…
The idea of a four-door (actually it’s a five-door hatch) Porsche has been around for over 40 years. Coachbuilders have been producing bespoke four-door Porsches since the early-1970s, and in 1989 Porsche itself toyed with the possibility of producing such a model based on the sales success of the front-engined 928.
The 989 project was commissioned, which was reputedly a four-door 911 with a front-mounted V8 engine.
When worldwide Porsche sales slumped in the early-1990s the 989 was scrapped. Or perhaps one should say it was put on hold until the Panamera was given the green light for production. Theoretically, that would mean the Panamera had a gestation period of over 15 years…
As a result of that long gestation period the Panamera was one of the worst kept secrets in the automotive world. Pixel pimps have been speculating on its looks and spy photographers have been supplying images of test mules for years. Finally, the Panamera broke cover at the Shanghai Motor Show early last year, and not long after its international media ride and drive event we received a unit to test.
Panamera is one of those cars that appears better in the metal than it does in photos; but that’s not saying a lot. It is not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. It does not lack presence but it is imposing rather than handsome. Much like its Cayenne sibling, the saloon carries the brand’s familial face.
The view from dead ahead is the Panamera’s most flattering angle. At over 1,9 metres in width, the frontal aspect is very menacing; ideal to intimidate other motorists when they see it in the rear-view mirror.
Seen in profile it seems slightly awkward… the shape is elongated and, thanks to the low roofl ine, the overall silhouette is ovoid. Optional 20-inch RS Spyder alloys (R17 910) add a sporty touch and really fill out the ‘arches. We fear that “lesser” models with smaller rim/tyre combos may look a little “under-wheeled”
Styling of the rear end is most controversial. It has a bulbous derriere that mimics a 911 to some degree. Some of our team members even saw traces of the new Renault Mégane about the rump. The curved line of the rear can be broken by the multi-piece wing that automatically deploys at speeds above 90 km/h or can be raised electrically. In deployment it behaves like the wing set of animated hero Buzz Lightyear – ultra cool.
Apart from one team member we fi nd that the design lacks cohesion and we’re certain the Panamera’s styling is going to be its most debated issue. The overall look lacks the subtlety of other large cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the Maserati Quattroporte.
One tester summed it up perfectly when he said that the Panamera was a mixture of Jessica Alba and Susan Boyle – beautiful in parts, but not as a whole. On the whole it is head-turning and slightly ostentatious, which should suit anyone keen to stand out from the usual S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 sea of grand saloons.
Inside, however, it is a completely different story. The awkward exterior hides a cabin that oozes luxury and decadence. The test car’s use of light coloured leather upholstery and roof lining lifted the ambience to create a sense of space and airiness despite the low roof and narrow glasshouse.
In contrast to the light sand-coloured seats, a dark blue hue is used on the upper facia, door trims and steering wheel. It is an unusual colour combination that works very well.
Porsche continues to eschew a central iDrive-type controller, which means that there is an array of switches along the edges of the console, positioned to mimic the design of an upmarket Vertu cellphone.
Despite the myriad of control options, functions are clearly marked and easy to fi nd. Even the rocker switches used to operate the dual-zone climate control are easy to use as they are placed horizontally. General functions of the audio/navigation/ integrated Bluetooth ‘phone functionality are handled by a touch screen interface.
The facia is neatly executed with the aforementioned touch screen taking centre stage. Ahead of the front passenger are two pop-out drinkholders hidden behind a fold-down panel. In typical Porsche driver-centric fashion, the rev-counter dominates in the middle of the cluster.
It is flanked by two smaller dials: the speedometer is marked in licence-threatening 50 km/h increments but, in now usual Porsche tradition, a digital readout provides the same info in increments of 1 km/h. The dial on the right houses a screen that allows the driver to choose various items of information to display.
Among these are digital readouts for oil temp, oil pressure, boost pressure, individual tyre pressures, a stopwatch that is part of the optional (R23 730) sports chrono package and, best of all, a colour map to display instructions from the satellite navigation screen.
Our test car was fitted with an optional (R44 360) Burmester hi-fi. The German audio system is quite possibly one of the best we have ever experienced. Accurate tonal reproduction, warm vocals, strong bass and defined imaging are just some of the hallmarks of this set-up.
Incidentally, the only other vehicle to benefit from Burmester’s expertise is the Bugatti Veyron. Front seats are electricallyadjustable items that feature height and lumbar tailoring. The steering wheel, too, is electrically controlled. The centre console stretches the full length of the cabin, splitting the rear occupant area. As a result, the Panamera is a strict four-seater.
There is plenty of rear legroom even for tall-ish back seat occupants. Individual rear seats appear as though they have been tailored differently from the front chairs, the padding actually feeling more luxurious. An interesting comment from rear passengers was that forward visibility was severely limited thanks to the wide front seatbacks and low rear seat mounting. They complained that the forward view was akin to that of riding a roller coaster.
However, both front and rear seats should be comfortable for many hundreds of kilometres. Rear passengers have their own air vents but no independent temperature controls.
The Panamera has a tailgate. In the case of our test unit an automated lift option (R8 210) was fitted, which makes life very easy. The luggage area is shallow and according to our ISO measuring blocks can hold only 224 dm³ of luggage. It can accommodate golf bags sans drivers, which is probably what really matters.
If more space is required the rear seats can be dropped flat, in which event BEST WORST 1 000 dm³ is on offer. Enough of the static evaluation, however: Porsches are drivers’ machines. The test unit was the range-topping Turbo model, powered by a high-tech 4,8-litre V8 that uses aluminium and magnesium to keep engine mass to a minimum. It features two turbochargers to help produce maximum power of 368 kW at 6 000 r/min.
Courtesy of direct fuel injection the compression ratio is kept to a highish 10,5 to 1. Variable valve timing and lift help to keep the torque curve as flat as possible. A maximum of 700 N.m is developed across a plateau between 2 250 and 4 500 r/min, and an additional 70 N.m is on tap with sports chrono.
The V8 fires with a deep burble and does not shout its capabilities. It is a free-revving unit that zings easily to the red line. An optional sports exhaust can be fitted for those who prefer their V8s a little throatier.
Panamera has a seven-speed version of Porsche’s twin-clutch transmission, dubbed PDK, and drive is delivered to all corners. The shifter is like a regular auto’s but features an additional parallel gate for driver selected shifts. In the normal driving mode the ECU selects 2nd gear for takeoffs.
A result of this is that you need to feed in plenty of throttle to get going. Many of our team found that the Panamera’s PDK was not as smooth or quiet as that of the 911 PDK we have driven, or even the M-DCT twinclutch system in a BMW M3.
In the more hardcore Sport Plus mode, first gear is used for pulling away and the throttle action is hair-trigger sharp. Once moving, the system is fast and becomes more efficient as speed builds. Driver controlled shifts are affected by the console-mounted shifter or those counter-intuitive steering spoke-mounted push-pull buttons.
The sports chrono package includes launch control functionality. Activate the system and the ECU dials-up the perfect number of revs for a hard launch, with the desired amount of wheelspin.
When the brakes are released the grippy Michelin rubber momentarily relinquishes grip and then digs in, slingshotting the car away from standstill.
Speed increments appear and disappear on our external VBOX display almost as fast as we read them. 100 km/h flashes up an astounding 3,91 seconds after take-off, a time that makes the Panamera Turbo officially the quickestaccelerating vehicle that CAR has tested.
Keep the pedal planted firmly into the plush carpet and the one kilometre marker flashes by in 22,03 seconds, at which point it is travelling at nearly 240 km/h. In-gear shove from the boosted V8 is immense, too. How does 3,44 seconds from 60-120 km/h grab you? This straight line performance would be searing for a thoroughbred sportscar, let alone a grand saloon that can carry four adults in plush surroundings.
Courtesy of the optional (R109 320) Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), speed is reined in fuss-and-drama- free. In our 10-stop emergency braking procedure the combination of 410 mm front and 350 mm rear discs hauled the Panamera down to standstill from 100 km/h in an excellent average stopping time of 2,71 seconds.
Of course, between those high speed blasts, Panamera still has to do duty as a daily driver… and it does so with aplomb. It can pootle around at city speeds without betraying the performance potential it possesses.
Ride quality in the Comfort setting could be slightly softer… the car never wafts or floats across any surface. We suspect the ultra-low profile Michelins on those 20-inch alloys are to blame. The trade off, of course, is handling prowess that few, if any, of its rivals can match.
In Sport Plus mode, ride height is dropped by 25 mm and a harder spring rate is activated, which, in conjunction with the PDCC stability control, virtually eliminates body roll. Weight balance is 54:46 when unladen.
Unfortunately, the Panamera can never hide from the fact that it weighs the better part of 2 tons and the mass is always a consideration when pressing on, braking late and carrying mid-corner speed.
Steering is perfectly weighted and, oddly, feels very similar to that of the rearengined 911. In fact, we can only guess that Porsche has intentionally given the Panamera the “feel” and sound of a rearengined car to reinforce its lineage.
As a sports saloon, the Panamera has few, if any, true rivals. Its raw pace leaves all saloons and most supercars in the shade. Outside, its shape will always cause debate, and perhaps that is the mark of groundbreaking design. The cabin is a masterpiece of exquisite design and fi nish.
The only areas of concern that resulted in the Panamera not earning full marks were its low speed ride and the smoothness of its transmission. These minor criticisms are perhaps a direct result of its sporting nature.
Otherwise, the Panamera stays true to the Porsche ideals while still being a luxury creation to behold. It is a car that Ferdinand himself would be proud of.