Toodling along in fifth gear I see my chance as I approach one of the few passing zones on this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, just south of Monterey, California. Preferring to use the center console mounted shifter rather than the somewhat awkward steering wheel buttons, I pull the stick twice and Porsche’s amazing dual-clutch PDK transmission obeys.
|1. The Panamera S comes standard with a 4.8-liter V8 that makes 400hp and 369 ft-lbs of torque.
2. A Sports Chrono Package adds a “Sport Plus” button that engages the PASM suspension, increases throttle response and shift times while reducing the engagement of the stability control system.
3. Porsche also offers an all-wheel drive Panamera 4S, a 500hp Turbo model and is planning to release an entry-level V6.
The power comes on smooth and solid as the naturally aspirated V8 blasts me forward. Power delivery is equally exhilarating through fourth and just as fifth seems like a possibility I’ve run out of straight road and I’m back into the twisties, the pickup truck and its horse trailer as distant in my memory as they are in my rear view mirror.
Thankfully it’s early on a Saturday morning and the normally busy PCH is mostly abandoned with large stretches of open road ready to be consumed.
Hard on the brakes the Porsche slows without any dive. There’s no understeer as I turn in and begin to roll on the throttle. There’s no oversteer either, but that’s more due to my careful application of the gas pedal. My brain, keenly aware of the steep cliffs I’m driving alongside, manages to keep some control over my often-overzealous right foot.
Were I 20 miles in the opposite direction, at Laguna Seca Raceway, I’m certain my self-preservation-minded brain would have lost the battle.
The newly risen sun; the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing on the rocks; the sandy beaches in the distance and the open road in front of me; this is driving nirvana. And until now, I didn’t know it was available in a four-door version.
That’s right, there’s a second row to this Porsche – and a real one at that. There’s even a trunk and… wait for it… the engine is up front.
“Are you sure this is a Porsche?” you are no doubt asking yourself.
Is it ever.
From the driver’s seat it’s easy to forget there are two extra doors. The seats are snug, like any Porsche. The steering is direct and precise, like any Porsche. The throttle and brakes are responsive, and the brake pedal provides excellent initial bite… like any Porsche.
ON THE PANAMERA, PORSCHE DOES LUXURY LIKE IT’S ALWAYS DONE PERFORMANCE
And yet, while both exhilarated and entertained by the performance of the Porsche Panamera S, I’m equally cosseted by its unusual amounts of luxury.
The cabin is quiet, the suspension is comfortable and the seats are soft. There are oodles of buttons for creature comforts (and performance settings). And the cockpit is filled with leather, aluminum and… gasp… wood.
That’s right… wood… in a Porsche. And while I’d normally be the last person on the planet to say anything nice about wood trim, this stuff is stunning. Rather than glossed-up to the point where it’s so plasticky it might as well be Lego, the Tineo wood trim has received a matte finish, giving it an organic look and feel. Surrounded in most places by big strips of brushed aluminum and met with rich leather everywhere else, if I didn’t know better I’d guess Volkswagen had sent its Audi designers over to Porsche before the merger.
Not that there’s anything normally wrong with Porsche interiors, it’s just that the company has always tended to favor its motorsports heritage in its cabins. That works perfectly for sports cars, but I’m pleased to report that Porsche has taken the luxury of its new sedan as seriously as its performance.
As mentioned, there are a lot of buttons in the cockpit, but somehow Porsche has managed to organize them in a way that keeps the area looking clean. The use of individual buttons for every task, rather than a computerized system where you have to “drill-down” through menus to find what you are looking for, is the opposite of what most manufacturers are doing, but it’s part of Porsche’s philosophy of keeping drivers’ eyes on the road, and not on a computer screen. When done right, like it is on the Panamera, we couldn’t agree more.
An additional driver’s aid is a second LCD screen that has been built into the traditional five-gauge dash setup. Now, along with the easy to use touch-screen navigation system, drivers don’t have to look far at all to see their navigation map. Genius!
ACTUAL REAR SEAT ROOM, AND PLENTY OF TRUNK SPACE
As mentioned earlier, this is a four door, although it is not a five-seater. The rear compartment is in many ways identical to the front, with two sporty seats divided by a center console (fridge optional). Now, rather than three cramped seats, there are two spacious ones. Even the legroom is surprisingly generous, as I stepped out of the driver’s seat and into the sporty bucket behind, with more than enough room for my 6’1” frame.
Trunk space is even generous with 15.7 cubic feet (445 liters) available normally. That’s more than a Toyota Camry! With the rear seats folded the space expands to 44.6 cu.-ft., or 1,263 liters.
OPTIONAL SPORTS CHRONO PLUS PACKAGE A MUST HAVE
And while the suspension setup keeps the four-door well planted and neutral through the corners, it does an equally impressive job at soaking up road joints and pot-holes around town.
Optimum performance comes with the standard PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) and optional Sports Chrono Plus Package. Just push the “Sports Plus” button and the throttle response becomes even more immediate, the transmission shifts faster, the stability control is switched to a more aggressive program and the PASM suspension is engaged.
I had a chance to check out its damping abilities while hitting a big dip in the road at speed. I felt the car compress, but as I shot out the other side, rather than feel the Porsche pop back up, it was as though the suspension sucked the car back towards the asphalt.
Impressively the Sports Chrono Package actually increases the Panamera’s acceleration too, with the car’s 0-60 time dropping from a stock 5.2 seconds, to a flat five. (The sprint to 100 km/h decreases from 5.4 to 5.2). And at $1,320 ($1,800 CDN), you just won’t be able to resist.
Personally, I’d spent the extra dough on the sports exhaust too. It comes with a switch in the cabin that opens up extra baffles and really lets the V8 roar. Without it the engine sounds a bit too tame for my liking, and the ability to still be able to operate the car at normal volumes is an added bonus.
My only serious 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 what the designers were thinking.
There are two ways to look at the Panamera: the first is to think that it’s a shame 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.
The Panamera is, in everything but its design, a masterpiece. In fact, there’s really nothing like it on the market. Cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E and CLS Class just don’t compete, with the high-powered M and AMG rivals more fitting competition. Sure they make plenty more horsepower, but they also cost plenty more, with the Panamera starting at $89,800 ($115,100 CDN). And despite their added power, they still don’t deliver the same level of driving enjoyment.
Much of this has to do with the fact that while an M5 or E63 AMG is a hopped-up version of a 5 Series or E-Class, the Panamera is not. In fact, the Panamera S that we tested is about as basic as it comes – although an entry-level V6 model is in the pipes. Those who want to embarrass super-sedans from the other German automakers can spend an additional $40,000 on the 500hp Panamera Turbo.
There is, of course, the Maserati Quattroporte, but I’d wager the Panamera S could take it on the track. And you could use the $30,000 you’d save to, well… not use on overpriced dealer servicing.
Porsche’s last non-traditional model was the Cayenne, and the company did a great job with it. One could easily say that it drove amazing well, while adding the caveat… for an SUV. This is not true of the Panamera. It’s not good… for a four-door. It’d just damn good.