Last month I characterized the first Panamera sedan as “ugly.” Any production Porsche is exceptionally well-made, even those poorly engineered, and even something as artless as the 911 can become an icon when great development triumphs over bad design. But those first hump-backed Panameras were conceived on the whim of the then Porsche chief executive so he could wear a hat in the backseat—not a solid start.
The Panamera here is a totally new design. It’s still far from beautiful but definitely no longer ugly. The upper structure is actually quite handsome, with a good profile and the necessary taper toward the back in plan view, but the lower body suffers from being too 911-like. That’s a mistake, one made all too often by powerful CEOs whose business acumen may be admirable but doesn’t remotely qualify them to assess, amend, or approve designers’ work any more than it qualifies them to tell the powertrain group that they want the crankshaft main bearing diameters increased because it “feels better” to them.
Keeping a look because it was once successful shows a pitiful lack of imagination and courage. Making all-new Camaros resemble those from the ’60s is silly, but many others have followed suit. For a long time BMW executives insisted on a boat-like prow because the company had commercial success with grilles leaning forward at the top, so designers’ propositions to reverse that inclination for better aerodynamics were systematically nixed. That a Porsche sedan would be shaped like a 911 is completely beside the point. I’ve seen photos of a Porsche-built four-door 911, changed in size and proportion but not a bit in the grand lines of its profile. That idea was happily round-filed, but vestiges remain in the 2017 Panamera, especially in the rear.
Every time I’ve driven a Panamera, I’ve enjoyed the experience whatever the engine, and I suspect this latest iteration will be even better. Certainly the cleaner, simpler cockpit with fewer switches and buttons will be more agreeable to live with, and, as always, once you’re behind the wheel you can’t see the exterior and don’t have to care whether it’s beautiful or not. But when you park and get out, it’s always nice to want to stop and look at your car before you go about your business. The year the Panamera first arrived, it didn’t win an All-Star award, despite its many virtues. This one’s not a shoo-in as an All-Star, but at least it has a chance.
1. Perhaps these clear covers are meant to resemble 911 headlamps. In fact, they are quite generic, without character or visual interest.
2. The twin character lines on the hood are pleasant …
3. … but the hood is too humped and visually shortens the car. The whole front end lacks clear identity, so it’s good the Porsche badge is prominent.
4. The headlamp covers are set into the blobby front surfaces, leaving these little walls inboard, which help the composition a lot.
5. A side daylight opening trimmed in bright metal is a positive element on an otherwise undecorated external envelope.
6. Breaking the Panamera’s side character line with an obtrusive door handle seems like a mistake.
7. Fairly broad rear shoulders and a radiused character line help eliminate the feeling that the car has an inflated or ballooned form.
8. The vertical edge of the engine compartment heat outlet aligns with the door leading edge, but might have been better at an angle to match the wheel opening.
9. This hard edge surrounding the grille gives the Porsche’s front end some definition.
10. Black air inlets, with hints of body color between them, seem to be desperately ordinary.
11. The front fender cross-section radius is almost as fat as that of the 356 model from the 1950s.
12. Porsche makes mirrors big enough to suit serious drivers who keep track of what’s happening behind them. These are very well placed, too.
13. This single tight radius saves the entire car from looking like something popped out of a jelly mold.
14. A wonderfully pure roof profile helps us forget the misbegotten shape of the first Panamera.
15. The backlight unfortunately limits rear visibility.
16. Notice the Mercedes-style ribbing of the taillight lenses, a trick that looks nice and helps keep the lamps clean.
17. Shaping black underbody into the bumper cuts visual height effectively.
18. Four big pipes, very nicely placed, confirm that the Panamera is a performance car.
19. Notice the clever little bend around the rear reflectors that help the rib transition from the rear face to the body sides.
20. So many spokes going in so many directions, this wheel look seems inappropriate for a sedan—or a four-door “coupe.”
21. The entire body is undergirded with inconspicuous black panels that make the car seem sleeker and slimmer than it really is. Nicely done.
22. Simple, fat-rimmed, and slightly dished, the steering wheel announces Porsche’s concern with the driver and his or her needs.
23. Properly clustered in front of the driver, classically round, and easy to read, the instruments are part of a long, proud heritage.
24. The large screen, on the other hand, is completely contemporary and extremely practical.
25. Clean, handsome, and intelligent, the simple design of the passenger’s side of the panel is appreciated.