Two dozen Porsche Panameras are mustered in the shadows of the Wetterstein Mountains to challenge that most sacred of all design philosophies--form follows function.
The function part we get. The Panamera's mission is to transport four adults in supreme comfort at whatever speed its driver deems appropriate. Less obvious is the unnerving mix of 911 and Cayenne design cues that constitute the Panamera's form. The raised hood, large rear passenger compartment, and tailgate all serve worthwhile purposes, but they undermine Porsche's long-standing truth and beauty. We've got two days of driving Panameras over some of the most gorgeous roads in Germany and Austria to resolve this conflict.
Porsche began taking cautious steps toward this day a quarter century ago. In 1984, founder Ferry Porsche was presented with a special three-door 928S on his seventy-fifth birthday. Three years later, Porsche and ASC collaborated on the construction of three 928s with a pair of rear-hinged back doors. (Ferry Porsche's reaction: "I know I asked for it, but it isn't what I expected.") Later, Porsche spent millions developing a four-door conceived as a Learjet for the road, but that project was terminated in 1992. When Porsche finally made its first four-door move with the Cayenne in 2003, the faithful howled.
The Panamera name pays homage to racing driver Hans Herrmann's third-place finish in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana, but this car could just as well have been called the Porsche Precedent-Buster. The Panamera is not only the first Porsche car with four doors, it's also the brand's first car without a transaxle and the first nameplate to bow as a family of three distinct models with broad-ranging variations and options. The $90,700 Panamera S combines a 400-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 with rear-wheel drive; the $94,700 4S edition adds all-wheel drive; and the $133,500 Turbo tops the range with a 4.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 that also routes its 500 hp to all four wheels. Next year, a 300-hp V-6 Panamera will follow, and a hybrid edition is due in 2011.
The most complex and comprehensive product line in Porsche's six-decade history is warranted by the Panamera's dive into the deep end of the super-sport-sedan pool where the Audi A8, the BMW 7-series, the Maserati Quattroporte, and the Mercedes-Benz S-class lurk like hungry sharks keen to attack intruders. Arriving late to the party, the Panamera strives for best-dressed status with dimensions that are shorter, wider, and lower than those of its rivals; gung-ho power-to-weight ratios; and several distinctive features. The Panamera's tailgated two-box design is highly versatile, its rear seats are fit for royalty, and exclusive attributes such as a dual-clutch transmission and a stop/start system stretch existing fuel-efficiency boundaries. Standard or optional active controls regulate two dozen powertrain, chassis, cruise control, headlamp, and aero-dynamic functions.