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 |  Aug 15 2009, 9:43 PM

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Tomorrow at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, for the first time Porsche will show off its new Panamera model to the public. Today, Porsche invited AutoGuide to take the controversially-styled Gran Turismo out for a spin on the winding Northern California roads that surround that world-famous golf course.

At 9 a.m. I’m stretching the Panamera’s legs on a nearly-deserted stretch of California’s Pacific Coastal Highway. With a 4.8-liter V8 generating 400hp and 369 ft-lbs of torque mated to a wickedly-quick seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission, I’m attacking the curves and blasting down the straits, completely oblivious to the fact that this is a four-door. It sure doesn’t feel like it.

While Porsche’s Cayenne is excellent… for an SUV, the same philosophy isn’t true of the Panamera. It’s not good… for a four-door. It’s just damn good.

The handling is superb with a chassis that doesn’t know the meaning of body roll. And yet the suspension soaks up bumps in the road. It also does an amazing job of keeping the car planted on the ground, as I discovered after hitting a dip in the road at some serious speed. As I popped out the other end of the dip, it actually felt like the suspension sucked the car back to the asphalt.

The steering is precise and direct, like any Porsche. The throttle and brake are responsive and the brakes provide excellent initial bite… like any Porsche. I experienced absolutely no understeer and even with the traction and stability control nannies on, there’s still plenty of room for fun. And the naturally aspirated V8 delivers bountiful amounts of linear power. 

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Inside, the cockpit is truly incredible. With Porsche’s motorsports background and a long history of sports cars, it’s no surprise that the interior of pretty much every model up until now has followed a more basic philosophy. The Panamera, however, is a luxurious oasis, and yet maintains a true Porsche sports car feel. With supple leather coating almost every surface, the Panamera also features solid aluminum trim pieces and (on my model) Teneo wood. And for the first time, possibly ever, I have to say I not only liked the wood trim, but loved it. Instead of plastic-looking overly-lacquered wood, this stuff has more of a matte treatment, giving it a genuine organic look.

There are a lot of buttons, knobs and switches inside, which Porsche PR boss Gary Fong says was a conscious decision. Porsche would rather opt for more easy-to-use buttons, than have drivers hunting through an information system to find what they’re looking for.

I was happy to see a simple-to-use touch screen navigation system and was impressed with the redundant screen located inside the main instrument cluster, meaning a driver doesn’t have to look far to see what’s next on the map.

Now because the Panamera is a four-door, it’s necessary to dedicate a little copy to those two back seats. Equally as sporting as the front ones, there is more than enough room for my long-legged 6’1″ frame, directly behind the driver’s seat – which I had just been sitting in.

My solitary critique of the Panamera remains a big one; the car’s design. Straight on, it’s fabulous, but once you start to see that bulging rear, it’s hard not to shake your head and wonder how the designers came up with it, and how that look made it all the way to production. There are two ways to look at it: the first is to think that it’s a shame that a car that performs so spectacularly well looks so strange; the second is to overlook the oddness and appreciate the drive, which I most certainly did.

You can’t even complain about the price. Sure it starts at a fraction under $90,000, but when put into perspective, a Carrera S will run you $80,000 and the Panamera delivers the same quantity of thrills… which you can now share with not just one, but three passengers.

GALLERY: 2010 Porsche Panamera S

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