This is more like it. In one simple profile revision, from whalelike fastback four-door to tough-looking aerodynamic sport wagon, Porsche's Panamera has been transformed from a car I wouldn't want to be seen driving into something I actually could covet. The concept of a fastback four-door sedan is intriguing, but making one genuinely attractive is a difficult task. General Motors managed it from 1949-51 with Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile, basically because the roof tapered inward quite sharply in plan view and because, by our contemporary standards, they were pretty big cars, allowing a long roofline. But many other attempts, including the 1949 Lincoln, GM's late-'70s downsized four-doors, and Porsche's first sedan, have ranged from grotesque to ghastly.
The Panamera is wonderful in terms of driving qualities. It goes really fast without garnering a shameful gas-guzzler penalty, and it has a comfortable ride and sports-car-like handling. But it's an awkward-looking thing, with a humped roofline said to have been demanded by one of the long-gone chief executives from the company's roiled past so he could wear a hat inside. Shades of K. T. Keller and Chrysler in the '50s. This Sport Turismo concept, as shown last fall in Paris, fixed the Panamera's visual problems, appeared to improve its aerodynamics and luggage space, and made almost everyone who saw it happy. But it won't be built, Porsche says, because it would cost too much to add it to the line this close to production ending. Our German-industry guru, Georg Kacher, can probably give us the unveiling date for the next version ["2015 Frankfurt show," he says -- Ed.], but it's really too bad that this intelligent face-lift can't be integrated into the current model. It's really, really good, not as bulky as the Cayenne, not as gawky as the Panamera. In the words of Goldilocks, it's "just right."
I'm much less disturbed by the concept of a Porsche four-door sedan than I was, and am, about overweight, oversize SUVs carrying the badge, however good they may be dynamically (so long as you don't care about wasting fuel). There have been multiple in-house attempts at Porsche four-doors, even back during the time of Ferry Porsche. The wonderful 928 was probably the best base model, although there were some specific prototypes that looked like stretched 911s that were never considered ready for production. I know from direct experience that sports cars don't make good four-doors. I was charged, long ago, with making a four-seat Corvette on the 1953-62 C1 platform. No way, even with tiny rear-hinged half doors so people could crawl into the cramped back-seat area. No, if you're going to make an adequate four-seater, it needs four full doors and a roofline that allows rear passengers to sit up straight. And if you want people to want it, it needs to look a lot better than the current Panamera does. This concept ticks all the boxes.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1 Bold horizontal lamps inside the contour-following headlamp cover are a refreshing change from a cluster of round lights commonly seen these days.
2 Sharp ribs in the hood provide directionality and definition, giving this Porsche some distinction from, yet link to, the iconic 356/911 tapering front end.
3 Drooping centerline profile perfectly recapitulates the formal history of Porsche sports cars.
4 Large trapezoidal radiator opening is punctuated by a Ferrari-like grid of horizontal and vertical bars, blacked out so as to be almost invisible.
5 Light, but not bright, trim pieces in the lower front corner air inlets have nicely looped around at their outer ends, providing a perceptible surface continuity. The entire composition is elegantly simple and effective.
6 Low-lying slots under the nose impart a technical feel to the front end and presumably have underlying technical justification for their presence.
7 Giant wheels give the impression that there is almost no suspension flexibility; there is simply not much room in the fenders for movement.
8 Side indent is straightforward, its horizontal elements parallel to the ground plane, the angle of the outlet in the fender determined by the wheelhouse opening.
9 Another clean, simple, and satisfying design element is the straight lines of the door bottoms and the stiffening rib just above the cutline, derived from the flange around the wheelhouses.
10 Subtle bulge above the rear wheels keeps the long body from looking extruded and emphasizes that traction is primarily from the rear wheels.
11 Although it tapers downward slightly to the rear, the roofline is almost straight from the B-pillar to the black sunshield/spoiler at the aft end of the upper structure.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
12 Side profile of the upper body is a rigorously straight line, chopping off the form in an uncompromising manner and dynamically evoking some racing Porsche coupes of the 1950s.
13 The third side glass is just there, with a harmonious perimeter curve. It is not required to make a statement of identity, as in BMW and Infiniti models.
14 We're going to have to get used to double filler panels for plug-in hybrids. Liquid juice on one side, cable-carried electrons on the other.
15 Very slim rear lamps make the car look wider and, thanks to LEDs, provide ample illumination.
16 Rear overhang is reduced to a practical minimum. In fact, the luggage space in this wagon might well be less than in the production Panamera hatchback, but the back end looks great.
17 Four exhaust outlets are nicely integrated in a full-width grilled slot across the lower back panel.
18 Since there is an air-blocking grille between the ribs, this "diffuser" is likely a piece of contemporary styling decoration, not something functional. Well, it is just a station wagon.
19 Rather plain inner door panels, very much in keeping with the traditional sports car ethos of the brand.
20 Steering wheel is quite standard Porsche practice -- straightforward, thick rim, comfortable in your hands.
21 A navigation screen front and center instead of a tachometer. How the world has changed since Porsche began.
22 Swoopy center console is very "show car." It really separates driver and passenger and seems unnecessarily obtrusive.