Porsche Panamera: Beauty way more than skin deep
You can learn a lot about a car company by spending time where it grew. If you hang around Stuttgart, Germany, for example, you will be able to experience the wonderfully winding roads and byways that bring you to, in, and around that area.
It will become crystal clear why 911s handle the way they do, and always have. Balance and communication are key to driving and enjoying such roads.
Lotus Cars in Britain is similar in that you have tight country roads all around that allow you to bring speed up in short bursts and keep it there if you know what you are doing.
The difference though, is that Lotus is on an island. It may be surrounded by racetracks, but you really aren’t going to spend much time in their cars doing anything but having fun.
You’d probably even want to truck them to the track, as they aren’t the most comfortable things in the world.
As such, when we would visit Lotus (which I have to say is a truly spiritual experience for any gearhead), you can see why they really haven’t gone much further than that.
Now look at Porsche, developed along similar lines with similar individuals of vision and force behind them.
The original Porsches were meant to be sturdy, and even if you talk to most racecar drivers and vintage racers today, you will get the feeling that this is still an accurate description, and indeed why they choose to go racing with these particular vehicles.
Everything expanded outward from that initial reason for existence: good cars that are fun.
How does this discussion of old German engineering and reasoning bring us to what I am now discussing, which is the new Porsche Panamera? Maybe because Germans just had places further away that they wanted to go.
I was never an early adopter of the love for Porsches with four doors. I was more of a purist (theoretically at least), and I was so critical of the first Cayenne that I suggested to Porsche to invite someone else instead of me to test that SUV.
But perhaps because the company had no real experience in family transportation, they looked at things differently than others. Because the Cayenne became a truly unique offering in the SUV world.
Numbers, stats and all that aside, it was and is a truly different drive. I began to see why the Cayenne deserved a place in the appropriately well-funded garage.
Still, for enthusiasts, it should only be there after a sports car. Or two.
So now the Panamera—a very well-engineered car from day one, but with a bulbous back that made it very hard to love.
Rumor has it that this larger rear was put there so that certain important bosses would fit comfortably. Either way, the shape was a focal point of derision.
Yet something started happening. Porsche personnel would sometimes pull me aside and say, very quietly, that the Panamera was their favorite car, their choice for use almost everywhere but a racetrack. They were, naturally, talking about the old Panamera.
The new Panamera, though, shatters several barriers, one of which actually is a racetrack: the famous Nurburgring.
A new Panamera Turbo puts in time that would embarrass most sportscars: a production sedan record time of 7 minutes and 38 seconds. And it does it with four full and comfortable seats that adults can actually use, and it does so without that big bulbous back.
I often find myself staring at the curves of cars, following their lines to see where they go and how they move. It surprised me completely to remember that it was actually the Panamera I was looking at when I was doing that.
So it is good-looking and capable in the right hands. How does this translate to real world use? Remarkably well.
When you look at other large luxury sedans, they will now end up looking very similar and even driving relatively the same.
The visual difference in the Panamera is now a good thing, not just a unique thing. The Panamera manages to bring forward the character, feel and drive of the marque in such a way that gives it identity in a sea of similarity.
If you are looking for a luxury sedan, the car will have all boxes ticked, and for the most part, won’t disappoint.
If you want the sportiness, feel, and extra joy that most enthusiasts enjoy, there is pretty much no other choice unless you go to the specialty models. Which, remember, the Panameras are not.
Driving the new Panamera is a combination of comfort and joy. The back seats (only two of them) are full and spacious, not 2-plus-2s meant for small kids.
The front seats are more comfortable than sports car seats, and give you as much support as you would need and like in almost all cases save racetracks.
We tested two variants in southern Germany—the Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo. Note that, like their other cars, all models are turbocharged even though only one carries the badge.
And just like the other cars, there is a significant difference that the badge brings. The 4S uses a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 440 hp, while the Panamera Turbo uses a 4-liter twin turbo V8 that puts out 550 hp.
Power goes out through a new dual-clutch eight speed gearbox, with shift times that can keep up with a 911 GT3. So in this case, there is far more than beauty in the new bod.
There is a palpable difference in handling the two variants, and its not just about power.
The Panamera 4S seems lighter to drive than the Panamera Turbo, and a little more sprightly and fun on twisty roads.
The 4S actually does weigh less, by about a hundred and a quarter kilos, and is 4 mm lower and with a slightly wider track.
The Turbo with its big V8 handles the higher speeds better and with more confidence.
They both ride wonderfully in comfort mode, and the question of whether to go Sport or Sport Plus ended up being a matter of personal preference more than performance demand.
Both cars throw the power out to all four corners, but here is another difference. The Panamera can throw all the power out to either front or back, which makes for some amazingly tight fast curves where and when you want them.
They are, of course, generally rear-biased most of the time. It is, after all, still a Porsche.
The new car is the package you want for all the good stuff.
It is, in comfort mode, as comfortable as you would wish short of going ultra-luxury bespoke.
It would allow you to go quicker and with more confidence than any other sedan without special skunkworks badging, and even if you do go up against those other monsters, you will probably end up doing better while being more comfortable and secure as well.
It’s about the package, and it is a balanced package.
I have never been a fan of the all-digital instrumentation, but I have to say that in this configuration, it works wonders.
We had been seeing it already in other Porsches and other family members of the group, but it was the combination of immediate information, secure feel, and hugely ample power applied well that made the difference.
With the Panamera Turbo, we had our longest sustained high-speed drive, and it was completely uneventful.
Because you could arrange the instrumentation, you could display both the speed limit and the GPS map in such a way that once you see the diagonal lines denoting unrestricted autobahn, you would also see the curves coming up ahead.
As we sailed past 250 kph, we began to do our “slowing for safety’s sake” thing, but then realized we didn’t need to.
We kept speeds sustained and moving upwards not just on long straights but on successive sweeping curves because we could see what was ahead of us (at least in terms of road direction).
This is also one of the few road cars where you can, at the right speed and the aero working correctly, keep you stable when normally you wouldn’t be—on a curve, and in a four-door sedan.
And just to be clear, we were not being dangerous. We would come up to other cars calmly, mainly because they were doing around 260 anyway when we passed them. It was all polite, it was all controlled.
Funny that the autobahn is now best enjoyed because of the technology on the dash and not just in the engine bay.
The new Panamera is, more than anything else, a well-built and purposeful package of technology.
Porsche is not about giving the horsepower in everything, they have said, but rather in making everything work better together to produce real and tangible results.
The new V8, for example, deactivates cylinders as needed in order to achieve efficiency and environmental goals.
Fuel injectors with high pressure injector valves are more centrally located, and have a maximum pressure of 250 bar compared to the previous 140.
And each cylinder bank gets its own high-pressure pump. So while the V8 has only 4 liters, it makes them work hard.
An adaptive three-chamber air suspension system in the Turbo gives amazing flexibilities or ride quality and dynamic demand.
The new Panamera is longer, wider and taller than the previous model, yet feels lighter and more frisky.
The back seating area is comfortably spacious even without the previous model’s enlarged rear.
More aluminum than ever now inhabits the car, notably in places like the roof and side body. This means a lower center of gravity, which improves handling.