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.
Although others in this class have ventured far down the mouse-and-menu road for cockpit control, the Panamera takes the alternative fork with a sloped flight deck festooned with a button for every task. The polished aluminum shifter is surrounded by nearly three dozen switches in a fully optioned Panamera. Thankfully, they’re sensibly arranged and clearly labeled, so adjusting cabin temperature or firming the three-stage dampers while cruising at 170 mph in the Turbo posed no challenge. With approximately fifty buttons and knobs located in the overhead console, center stack, and shifter surround–plus at least that many controls mounted to the steering wheel, door panels, rear console, and rear seats–the Panamera is the uncontested king of electrical switchgear.
The range of cabin materials and trim options is equally astounding. Double-stitched leather upholstery is offered in two grades, six colors, and four two-tone arrangements. Accent panels are available in four wood grains plus carbon fiber and brushed aluminum. The nongrip portions of the steering-wheel rim can be finished in three wood or carbon-fiber treatments. Both regular and adaptive sport front bucket seats with firmer cushioning and stiffer bolstering are available. As always, Porsche expects you to pay dearly for optional equipment. The full-leather, fourteen-way power front seats cost $5360 in the S and 4S editions; eighteen-way full-leather front thrones for the Turbo run $1505. A Burmester sixteen-channel, 1300-watt surround-sound system adds $5690 to the S and 4S tabs and $3990 to the Turbo’s price.
The Panamera lives to impress back-seat passengers. The squeeze beneath the descending roofline, ahead of the wheel well, and behind the top-front corner of the door frame is tight, but once you’re past that bottleneck, the rear cabin is all sweetness and light. There’s ample room for every body part, substantial bolstering, a comfortably elevated bottom cushion, and an accommodating center console. Optional extras include a sunscreen, seat heating and ventilation, plus power backrest, under-thigh, and lumbar adjustments. The rear seatbacks split and fold flat to nearly triple the luggage space. Hard and soft covers are available to hide precious cargo from prying eyes.
Thankfully, the lavish furnishings don’t inhibit the Panamera’s driving charisma. The low-mounted front seats, three-spoke steering wheel, left-side ignition switch, and five-dial instrument cluster follow 911 traditions to the letter, posting notice that a chauffeur is unwelcome. Shift controls inset into the top wheel spokes deliver an upshift when pressed, a downshift when pulled. The console shift lever provides automatic gear changing in its right position and manual operation when clicked to the left.
A special treat for gimmick hounds is the redundant 4.8-inch-diameter color display screen positioned to the right of the 8000-rpm tachometer. By rolling a small dial in the steering wheel, the Panamera’s driver can display trip data or a navigation map in this handy location. Digital readouts for road speed and gear position are provided at the bottom of the tachometer. Dial backgrounds are silver in the S and 4S and black in the Turbo.
Both Panamera V-8 engines are the strong, silent types that produce maximum forward thrust with minimal commotion even when the optional sport exhaust switch is pressed, opening a shortcut through the mufflers. The most noticeable fuss occurs at stoplights when the engine shuts down to save fuel. During restarts, cued by movement of the driver’s foot off the brake pedal and onto the throttle, there’s a momentary shake and a soft rumble. Porsche claims that this system can improve city mileage by ten percent. Since the automatic stop/start function defaults off with each twist of the ignition switch, the driver has authority over the peace-and-quiet versus extra-mileage trade-off.
With the throttle matted for a run through the gears, the Panamera snarls like a lion hungry for lunch. In the Turbo’s case, the whoosh of the intake system pressurized to a maximum 16 psi combined with 500 horses stampeding through eight combustion chambers overwhelms the roar of two exhaust streams relinquishing energy to the turbochargers.
The difference in thrust between 400- and 500-hp versions of the Panamera is not so noticeable in part because the S model is 375 pounds lighter than a base Turbo. Less than half of that weight difference is attributable to the four-wheel-drive system; the rest comes from the long plumbing runs, the twin intercoolers and turbochargers, and the meatier chassis gear (brakes, wheels, tires) added to the Turbo’s equipment list.
During our two days shaking down all three Panameras, we had no chance to verify the factory acceleration figures listed in our data panel. But based on the deep depressions left in the seats every time a throttle was indulged, we’re convinced that the seemingly preposterous feats of accelerating the Panamera’s two-plus tons of mass from rest to 60 mph in five seconds or less–in the Turbo’s case, a lot less–are realistic possibilities.
Porsche attacks the laws of physics with a three-pronged spear. The center prong is ample torque produced at reasonable rpm (see data panel). Prong two is the excellent traction provided by the Panamera’s all-wheel drive, while prong three is the proficient way the PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission delivers engine output to the drive wheels.
The Porsche Traction Management system in the Panamera 4S and Turbo models consists of permanent drive to the rear wheels augmented by computer-controlled and clutch-delivered variable drive to the front wheels. Milliseconds after rear-wheel spin is detected, the front wheels pitch in to sustain forward momentum.
PDK’s role is multifaceted. Like all automatics, it provides an uninterrupted flow of power during shifts. The launch control mode included with the optional Sport Chrono Package allows the engine – both turbo and normally aspirated versions – to rev to 5500 rpm before the clutch is engaged to hurtle the Panamera off the mark most expeditiously.
The third attribute built into the PDK transmission is a remarkable 10.1 ratio spread between first and seventh gears (compared with a 6.0 spread in both BMW’s six-speed automatic and Mercedes-Benz’s seven-speed automatic). The result is quiet and fuel-efficient highway cruising joined with extra torque multiplication in first gear. The overall ratio at launch is 18.8:1 in the Turbo and a helpful 21.2:1 in S and 4S Panameras. These high multiplication ratios more than make up for the PDK’s lack of a torque converter.
Regrettably, there are no plans to offer the six-speed manual that’s available in European Panamera S models. Those who lament the lack of a clutch pedal in Panameras destined for sale here can take solace in the more mechanical feel and the consistent control provided by this transmission versus the typical luxury-class, torque-converter-equipped automatic.
During our forty-eight-hour exposure to the Panamera, we enjoyed a variety of wet and dry German road conditions. Steering effort is light at around-town speeds, presumably to avoid parking-maneuver complaints. Unfortunately, there’s little road feel conveyed to the driver’s hands through the rigidly mounted front subframe and the rubber-isolated rack-and-pinion steering gear. The presence of all-wheel drive also diminishes the driver’s ability to sense what’s happening up front. But at highway speeds, a miraculous transformation takes place. The steering effort rises to the point of perfection and the Panamera feels divinely guided; no corrections are needed to maintain a laser-straight path.
Cornering grip is also impressive. There’s no hint of front or rear scrub on dry pavement, and the optional Dynamic Chassis Control system eliminates cornering lean by actively manipulating the antiroll bars. Only by charging headlong into one tight, wet bend were we able to drive a Panamera to terminal understeer.
Porsche engineers developed four braking systems to provide a choice between cast-iron or ceramic-composite rotors for all three Panamera models. In every case, color-coded monobloc calipers have six pistons in front, four in back. The massive brakes have no difficulty dealing with this car’s considerable momentum without a trace of fade. Our only gripe is that the composite brakes can be touchy during moderate applications.
The Panamera exceeds our loftiest driving and functionality expectations, but warming to its silhouette is a mountain we’ve barely begun to climb. In a perfect future, Porsche would supplement the Panamera range with a looker in the four-door-coupe mold. We’d willingly trade room for top hats and designer luggage for a form that sincerely flatters the Panamera’s far-reaching function.
Weight is the enemy
The normally aspirated and twin-turbo V-8s powering the Panamera are close kin to the Porsche Cayenne‘s M48 engines. New weight-saving measures include magnesium head and cam-chain covers retained by aluminum fasteners, aluminum intake-cam adjusters, and turbocharger housings cast integrally with the exhaust manifolds.
The Panamera’s PDK seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is a claimed 33 pounds lighter than a conventional six-speed automatic. A computer-controlled multiplate clutch, beveloid gears, and a hollow driveshaft (running at an eleven-degree angle from horizontal) route power to the front differential, which is bolted to the right side of the engine block. A shaft passing through the crankcase just below the fourth main-bearing cap drives the left front wheel.
The Panamera’s unibody is a well-engineered mix of high-strength steel and aluminum. The lighter metal is used for the front longitudinal rails, front and rear subframes, front fenders, all hinged body components, and nearly all of the steering and suspension parts. Window frames are cast magnesium.
These exhaustive weight-saving measures allowed Porsche to pile in all those creature comforts without seriously deteriorating the Panamera’s driving performance.
- Panamera S
- Panamera 4S
- Panamera Turbo
- Base Price
- 4.8L DOHC V-8
- 4.8L DOHC V-8
- 4.8L DOHC turbo V-8
- 400 hp @ 6500 rpm
- 400 hp @ 6500 rpm
- 500 hp @ 6000 rpm
- 369 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
- 369 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
- 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
- L x W x H
- 195.6 x 76.0 x 55.8 in
- 195.6 x 76.0 x 55.8 in
- 195.6 x 76.0 x 55.8 in
- 115.0 in
- 115.0 in
- 115.0 in
- 3968 lb
- 4101 lb
- 4343 lb
- 0-60 mph
- 5.0 sec
- 4.6 sec
- 3.8 sec
- 0-100 mph
- TOP SPEED
- 175 mph
- 175 mph
- 188 mph
- SPEED IN GEARS 1)