The Panamera isn't Porsche's first attempt at straying away from the 911-range with a totally atypical model. It might not even be one of its most disastrous. On the contrary, considering the market today. For example, starting from the 1970s, Porsche has tried to either draw attention from or complement the 911 with cars like the 914, 924/944, 928, Boxster/Cayman and of course, the Cayenne. So far, the most atypical of them all, the Cayenne, has actually proved to also be the best-seller of the bunch.
The Panamera isn't Porsche's first attempt at making a fast and luxurious grand tourer either, since the ill-fated 928 took the cake for that one. Coincidentally, the 928 also had four bucket seats and a V8 engine disposed in the front, while the GTS version was smoking fast as well.
You'll probably laugh, but the Panamera doesn't win the prize for the first Porsche sedan either. Back in 1988, when Aston Martin's current CEO Urlich Bez was at the helm of Porsche engineering, a strange idea popped into his head. It may have sounded something like: “How about ve make a four-door 911, ja? A car mit 911 looks, 911 performance und four seats, vhat do you say guys?”
Apparently everybody said yes, and remember, this was in a time when the 928 grand tourer was having a blast in sales worldwide. A prototype called “989” was built. Sadly, just in a matter of a couple of years the 928 sales plummeted, Porsche entered some financial doo doo and Mr Bez left the company, so the project for a four-door 911 was scrapped. Coincidentally (or not), Ulrich Bez has now brought the Aston Martin Rapide straight into Panamera territory.
Twenty-something years later, the four-door 911/luxurious grand touring sedan was revived from the dead and the Panamera was born. Some like it, some don't, but the real questions revolve more around its handling, performance and comfort than its looks. We say this because at least 50% of the international motoring press has already lambasted the car's styling.
We managed to borrow a Panamera S with PDK and rear-wheel drive for us to test and give our opinion about. To see if we were impressed in either a good or a bad way, you might as well read on and find out. Is this a four-wheeled masterpiece or a rotten apple in the Porsche orchard?
Technically, designing a foor-door version of a Porsche 911 shouldn't be all that hard, especially when we're talking about a “foor-door coupe” à la Mercedes-Benz CLS or Aston Martin Rapide, right? Wrong. Given that Porsche didn't just want a longer version of the 911 but a regular gran tourer with more than two doors. That, they got.
They also wanted a car which can be acknowledged as a Porsche from miles away, not just from the badge. They got that also. When all were said and done – as in all the prerequisites for a “four-door grand tourer that looks like a Porsche” had been met – the Panamera was given the green light.
About a year before its official unveiling though, the increasing number of spy-shots began to reveal something that looked more and more like an abomination on wheels. With a lateral line that looked more like a flattened Cayenne than a graceful Mercedes-Benz CLS or Aston Martin Rapide, the Panamera began to attract quite a lot of negative reviews about its styling even before its official launch.
Honestly, the car doesn't look half-bad in the flesh, to us at least. The Porsche DNA can be seen and felt all around the car. Two frog-eye-looking headlights that sit a bit higher than the hood, beetle-looking side and a rear which could very well belong to a large 911.
Where did they go wrong in the “vox populis” area then? Well, for one thing, unlike on the 911, the engine doesn't sit in the rear but in the front, thing which kind of ruins the 911(ish) proportions. Secondly, since the Porsche wanted the Panamera to provide more than ample space for four adults inside, the roof line isn't as raked as on its competitors. This pretty much transforms the side view from looking like a four-door coupe to something that resembles a weird hatchback that has been stepped on by Godzilla.
Also, the oversized taillights don't actually help the way it looks from the rear. All in all, the general opinion on the Panamera's exterior design is pretty mixed, so we can't give it a very good mark. Most of us here like it, but only if we take it as it is. If we put it against its major competitors it would most definitely lose from the elegance point of view though.
Whatever critics could be made about the Panamera's exterior, every one of them should be silenced when talking about its interior. Some of us could actually classify it as a work of art, and remember we're not talking about a fully decked-out Panamera Turbo here, but about a lower-trimmed Panamera S.
The interior was designed from the start with the idea of giving pretty much the same personal space to each one of its occupants. Did we say space? We also meant options and gadgets. Apart from the obvious bits like steering wheel and pedals, the passenger from the front pretty much benefits from the same amenities as the driver himself.
Sadly, our test car wasn't equipped with none of the highly-touted four-zone automatic climate control, the top of the line Burmester audio system, or the rear-seat entertainment system. This means that the rear passengers could only share the same amount of space as the ones in the front, thanks to the individual rear seats.
Speaking of which (interior space, ed), there is absolutely no way for someone to feel claustrophobic inside a Panamera. The space available is more than enough in all directions, even for taller passengers, though the Panamera is quite a bit lower than your average luxury sedan. We can't say the same for the luggage compartment, which doesn't excel nor does it disappoint at 445 liters (15.7 cubic feet). Thanks to the rear hatch the trunk is more accessible than your average sedan though.
All in all, the quality of the materials used and the fit and finish are as close to “top notch” as possible, starting from the softness of the leather trim to the aluminium and wood inserts on the dashboard. The only thing not of modern Porsche quality inside were probably the control knobs for the cruise control, the signals and the windshield wipers, but those stay out of sight most of the time thanks to the steering wheel.
Driving such a large behemoth on a congested city's streets can obviously become a pain pretty fast. It's not about the length of the car, which at 4970 mm (185.7 inches) is a bit lower than that of an S-Klasse for example, but about the width. The Panamera is almost two meters (about 79 inches) wide, making it pretty hard to squeeze between other cars in busy traffic. The poor visibility “thanks” to the rather small windows and rear windshield doesn't help either.
On top of it all, the “squashed beetle” look makes it harder for the driver to approximate the actual size of the car from inside, since all the vehicle's “corners” are hidden from his view. OK, enough with the bad-mouthing, what about the Panamera's high points?
Well, for one thing, parking is made quite easy for such a large car with poor visibility. Our test car was equipped with an army of front and rear parking sensors, while the decently-sized exterior rear view mirrors took care of the rest. If that's not enough to calm the spirits, you should learn that Porsche is also offering a rear-view camera as an option.
Fuel consumption, you ask? Hmm, we could go on about how high it is, but when you stop and take into account the fact that the Panamera S is a 400 horsepower luxo-barge that weighs 1875 kilograms (4133 pounds) without any passengers on board, things tend to change a little bit. During the short stint we had with the car in the city we averaged 19.6 liters per 100 kilometers (US 12 mpg).
Compared to the official 16 liters per 100 kilometers (US 14.7 mpg) it doesn't sound so bad, does it? Especially when thinking that we didn't actually “caress” the accelerator, while the standard “automatic stop start” system was switched off the whole time. By the way, it's the first automatic transmission-equipped car in the world which utilizes this system.
Another downside could be represented by the rather low ground clearance, which could make you scrape some of the undercarriage when entering/exiting underground garages. All in all, if you can get accustomed with the rather poor visibility (especially in the rear) and the fact that it's as wide as a truck, the Panamera can be used in the city just fine.
After our short stroll through the city we tested the Panamera S on its true turf: the open road. This is where the magic happens with a car like this. The 4.8-liter V8 using as much of its 400 horsepower as possible, the seven-speed double-clutch PDK transmission in sport (or manual) mode and a clear, police-free road. What more could you want? And to think that all this is now available for up to four whole passengers, unlike a maximum of two and a couple of midgets in a 911.
Still, it was not all fun and games though, since a couple of nuisances marred our drive. First of all, despite activating the stiffer mode for the standard electronically-controlled dampers (our test car wasn't equipped with the optional adaptive air suspension or the dynamic chassis control) the car didn't exactly behave like an all-out sports car on slightly bumpy roads. It actually gave a feeling of instability and a “floating” sensation over road imperfections at higher speeds.
After judging it a bit negatively we were reminded of the fact that the PASM
(Porsche Active Suspension Management
) can actually switch from Sport to Normal or Comfort on its own if it detects that you're driving on a not-so-smooth surface, despite the “Sport” mode being activated. The fuel consumption, if anybody would care, was situated around the 8-10 liters per 100 km mark (US 23.5-29.4 mpg) during a decent cruising speed, but for the heavy-right footers out there it can rise to over 14 liters per 100 km (US 16.8 mpg) or even more.
Our test car's pretty obvious tendency to go a bit sideways whenever a full-throttle launch was made is proof that this isn't exactly the right vehicle for a normal luxo-barge driver or a person who likes to be driven by a chauffeur. No less than 400 horsepower and a massive 500 Newton Meters (368.8 lb ft) of torque can catapult the leviathan from naught to 100 kilometers per our (62 mph) in a minimum of 5.4 seconds. After that it can go to an aerodynamic-limited top speed of 283 km/h (176 mph). Not a bad feat considering its sheer size and weight.
The steering is as precise as it gets while the braking system – without benefiting from the optional ceramic discs – is also deep down in Porsche territory (translation: horrifyingly good, especially for a beginner). All in all, even in its natural-aspirated V8 form and rear-wheel drive, the Porsche Panamera S is one hell of a sports grand tourer.