Revealed at last: the Panamera, the next assault on the idea that a Porsche is a sports car. Of course, the four-door "space coupe" still looks a bit like a 911. Every Porsche must. That's the brief given to chief designer Michael Mauer, who, to his credit, was not yet on board when the Cayenne was conceived. But Mauer can't expect any slack for the Panamera, which looks OK from some angles and downright weird from others. From a practical standpoint, its strongest point is packaging. The accommodations up front are impressive, and there's decent headroom in the rear along with first-class legroom. That's as it should be. After all, the new Porsche is 196 inches long (that's within four inches of an Audi A8) and sits on a generous, 109-inch wheelbase.
Despite visual overtones of the 911, the Panamera engine is front-mounted. The other end of the vehicle, which also mimics the iconic sports car's silhouette, houses the cargo area. Accessible via a relatively narrow tailgate and over a tall loading lip, it holds 16 cubic feet with the rear seats in place or 41 cubic feet when they're folded. Although the Panamera's 76-inch width yields a large frontal area, engineers fine-tuned the exterior in the wind tunnel to achieve a commendable 0.29 drag coefficient. A motorized rear spoiler reduces lift at high speeds.
The top-spec Panamera Turbo borrows the 4.8-liter V-8 from the Cayenne; it's rated at 500 hp and manages 17 mpg on the E.U. cycle. The Panamera S uses a normally aspirated version of the same V-8 (400 hp, 21 mpg). There also will be a 300-hp, 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6 (a Volkswagen/Audi engine that might not be available here at launch) and, arriving later, a 350-hp, V-6 hybrid, said to achieve 28 mpg.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard; Porsche's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission costs extra. As in the 911, the Turbo comes standard with all-wheel drive; the other models will offer it as an option. The suspension layout features control arms, air springs, adjustable dampers, and three different suspension settings. New tricks include a choice of ride-height settings, a handling-oriented sport setup, and a comfort calibration. Variable torque split and a new limited-slip rear differential are on hand to aid traction, cornering grip, and stability. Extra money buys active antiroll bars (like those in the new BMW 7-series), bigger carbon-ceramic brakes, and twenty-inch wheels (replacing eighteens on all but the Turbo, which comes standard with nineteens).
Despite a high percentage of lightweight materials such as aluminum doors, hood, and deck lid, the top-of-the-line Panamera Turbo tips the scales at nearly 4400 pounds. But that doesn't prevent it from achieving a claimed 0-to-62-mph time of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of almost 190 mph. For the Panamera S, the numbers are 5.0 seconds and 175 mph.
The Panamera goes on sale this fall, with prices expected to come in just above those of the 911. (We estimate $90,000 for the S, $130,000 for the Turbo.) Although capacity for more than 30,000 units per year is in place, the official target is in the 20,000 range - which is still more than the Audi A8 and the VW Phaeton combined.
So what to make of the Panamera? After the transition from air- to water-cooled boxer engines, and after the atypical Cayenne, the shock effect this time is certainly less. But it remains to be seen whether the new "space coupe" is sufficiently intriguing and dynamically satisfying enough to earn its keep. Some of us certainly would not mind if the next all-new Porsche had only two doors.
Porsche is the latest German carmaker to erect a high-profile, modernist shrine to itself. The new Porsche Museum in Zuffenhausen was designed by Viennese architecture firm Delugan Meissl, which says that the edifice will "express the company's self-confident stance and high standards in architectural terms, while at the same time conveying the firm's dynamism and vitality. [It] was conceived as a gravity-defying, dynamically formed monolithic structure that seems to hover above the... topography." Wait, are they talking about the Porsche Museum or the Porsche Cayenne?
- Concept debuted at Paris in 2008
- Production version could appear in 2012
- Front-mounted engine, chassis an adaptation of the Audi A8's aluminum spaceframe
- Would use a more powerful (500-hp) version of the new A8's twin-turbocharged, 40-liter V-8
- All-wheel drive with electronically controlled torque distribution
- 1500 to 1700 units per year, nearly doubling Lamborghini's sales volume
Aston Martin Rapide
- Concept debuted at Detroit in 2006
- Production version in 2009, as a 2010 model
- Likely to usher in the return of the Lagonda nameplate
- Based on a stretched DB9 platform
- Built in Austria by Magna-Steyr
- One powertrain at launch: 500-hp, 5.9-liter V-12, six-speed automatic
- Later plans: a twin-turbo V-8, a hybrid, and a high-performance diesel
- 1000 to 2000 units per year
- Follow-up model, due only four years later, is a more traditional four-door based on the Mercedes-Benz S-class