Porsche makes great sports cars and that’s a fact. It’s why the company has experienced longevity and why the 911 is the world’s most recognisable ride. But Porsche knew it had more to offer the automotive world and developed the Cayenne SUV. The Cayenne has proved a sales success for the German firm but it’s still not enough. Now Porsche is filling out its range with an ambitious entry into the luxury sedan segment with the new Panamera. Rather than making a confined four-door coupe the Panamera is designed to be a true ‘gran turismo’ automobile, uncompromising in its cabin space and road trip practicality while still offering traditional Porsche driving characteristics. It sounds great on paper but has this demanding ideal been achieved? Car and SUV slid into the Panamera’s leather driver’s seat to seek out the answers.
For all the technology and power a modern Porsche has on offer it’s the styling that is always called into question before a key is turned or a spec sheet browsed. From when the first concept sketches were revealed critics have been shouting ‘ugly’ at Porsche’s first four-door sedan but in the flesh it’s not so simple. What’s noticed first is the car’s dominant size and presence; it’s a big machine that’s 1931mm wide, just 1418mm in height but almost 5 meters in length. The Panamera has typically elegant Porsche styling cues at the front and rear particularly around the light clusters and bumpers. However, view the vehicle in profile and elegance turns to awkwardness. While the front end is low the rear is high with a fastback look that is muscular but ultimately unbalances the Panamera. An upswept window-line and thick rear pillars help ease the odd overall shape but it’s the rear styling that will polarize opinion. Exterior quality is excellent with gleaming paintwork, tight shut-lines and 5-spoke 19-inch rims finishing the look. Love it or hate it, the Panamera is a true head-turner that offers the eye both familiarity and novelty the same glance.
The Panamera cabin looks fantastic, our tested vehicle had a sumptuous mix of leather, silver trim and piano-black plastics. The seating position is low-slung and sports car snug with the instrument cluster inspired by the Carerra GT and offering a secondary colour display screen among the regular gauges. Rather than fit a jog-dial i-Drive type system the Panamera uses a multitude of buttons and a touch-screen to perform almost every function. The central control stack is flanked either side by wide buttons finishing at the main multi-function screen. The same look is repeated overhead with sunroof and lighting controls. The ergonomics are very good with everything at hand, the finish is exquisite and the look and quality of materials give driving the Panamera a genuine sense of occasion.
In terms of seating Porsche was aiming for a four front seats feel with its 2+2 layout in the Panamera. This is achieved, all seats are cosseting and would remain comfortable on journeys longer than possible in our small nation. The front-seats offer plenty of adjustments and like the leather steering wheel are heated. The back seat is where the Panamera’s bulky exterior dimensions pay dividends with generous headroom and ample legroom. While forward visibility for the front-seats is very good, the rear passengers’ view is dominated by the wide sports seats in front of them and while they can see out the side well I noticed back occupants leaning on the long centre console for a look at the road ahead.
To load luggage the rear hatch has a wide automatic opening and inside there’s a 445-litre capacity which expands to 1,263-litres with the rear seat backs folded down.
Turn the ignition and Porsche’s 4.8-litre V8 engine fires into life. Power-output is rated at 294kW and there’s 500Nm maximum torque. This naturally aspirated unit will launch the Panamera from stationary to 100 kph in 5.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 283 kph. The direct injection V8 offers real sports-car acceleration that is delivered smoothly and with an endearing exhaust note as the revs mount. The engine is mellow at cruising speeds and also well mannered around town, it can return a credible 10.8l/100km combined fuel economy that can be further aided by a stop/start engine function included as standard spec.
Shifting duties are handled by Porsche’s 7-speed twin-clutch PDK transmission which delivers slick, responsive changes and will happily shift down through multiple gears when intense power is required. Manual shifts can be performed sequentially through the gear stick or on the steering wheel mounted buttons that act identically on both sides with both up and down options. After criticism of this system more established F1 style up/down paddles are now offered as an option.
Weighing in at 1770kg the Panamera isn’t a light car but Porsche has done exceptionally well to make it lithe and nimble. On twisting roads there is a high level of grip and while it can’t be chucked around like a 911 the Panamera stays extremely low and maintains total balance even at high speeds. To provide assistance there are active anti-roll bars, a rear diff lock and an active boot mounted spoiler that deploys at high speeds to generate downforce.
The Panamera chassis is very advanced with an electronically controlled damper system that helps negate the usually opposed interests of ride quality and sharp handling. With the push of a button the suspension can be set to ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport Plus’ accommodating either smooth luxury travel or leery point-to-point haste. The variable ratio power steering is another clever piece of kit, it’s intuitive in staying light at low speeds and firms up when desired. The huge stoppers hiding behind the wheels are six-piston callipers at the front and four-piston at the rear.
When it comes to safety no expense is spared with all stability and traction control systems well covered. There is a hill-hold feature, rear view camera for reversing and eight airbags in total. To thwart thieves an alarm system and immobiliser is also included.
What’s the bottom line with the Panamera? If you allow yourself to look past the polarizing styling there is plenty to be excited about. Porsche has successfully replicated the dynamics of its sports cars into a four-door format with a vehicle that has high-handling abilities and raw V8 power. But Porsche has gone even further and given the Panamera genuine refinement and a level of luxury higher than seen before in any of its vehicles. Whatever way you try to justify it $260,000 for the currently ‘base-model’ Panamera S is a lot to pay and will rule out almost all from owning this cutting-edge machine. However, if you have the money, love the badge and want a technology-stacked, truly original vehicle that offers real-world practicality then the Panamera provides a forcible case.
What we like:
- Excellent handling
- Still pure Porsche in nature
- Exquisite interior
What we don’t like:
- Exterior looks won’t suit all tastes
- Maserati Quattroporte looks better
- Extreme price
- Rear seat visibility
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Porsche Panamera S (2010) – Specifcations
Layout / number of cylinders 8
Displacement 4,806 cm³
Engine layout/Drive Front engine / rear-wheel drive
Power 294 kW (400 hp)
at rpm 6,500 1/min
Max. torque (Nm) at rpm 500 Nm at rpm 3,500 – 5,000 1/min
Compression ratio 12.5 : 1
Top speed 283 km/h
Acceleration from 0 – 100 km/h 5.4 s
Elasticity 80 – 120 km/h 6.1 s
Length 4,970 mm
Width 1,931 mm
Height 1,418 mm
Wheelbase 2,920 mm
Drag coefficient (Cd) 0.29
Unladen weight (DIN) 1,800 kg
Permissible gross weight 2,405 kg
Fuel tank 80 litres
Fuel Consumption** Urban in l/100 km (mpg) 16.0 (EU5) (17.7)
Non-urban in l/100 km (mpg) 7.9 (EU5) (35.8)
Combined in l/100 km (mpg) 10.8 (EU5) (26.2)
CO2 emissions in g/km 253