The Porsche Panamera Turbo wasn't designed to be pretty. It was designed to be the performance superstar of luxury sedans.
Porsche lists a bunch of objectives in the press materials for the Panamera but doesn't once mention elegance, style, or grace. No, the Panamera isn't supposed to be comely - it's meant to be fast as hell, surprisingly efficient, and very, very practical.
And it is all of those things. First, look at the data panel on page 82 for some unbelievable test results. The Porsche reaches 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and pulls almost 1 g on the skid pad. Its top speed is 188 mph. These are among the most impressive figures we've ever printed - and certainly the best numbers from any car with four doors, a huge trunk, and a spacious, well-appointed cabin. Where the other two cars post sports car numbers, the Panamera posts supercar numbers.
In that precious data panel, the Turbo wins every single category, including the best results in EPA fuel economy testing. These are especially laudable achievements given that the Panamera is Porsche's first-ever sedan.
The Panamera is a very different machine from the two other sharpshooters in this gunfight. First of all, it wasn't initially designed as a luxury tourer and then retrofitted with serious power, suspension, and brakes. As such, it's much shorter and lighter than the other cars, but it still offers a back seat large enough for a long trip. And unlike in the other two cars, that back seat can fold down and play dead. The Panamera's hunchback hatchback may not be beautiful, but it'll swallow cargo that would need to be strapped onto the roof of the BMW and the Mercedes. (And hauling your wares home from the general store on your roof is never pretty.) The Panamera Turbo's four-wheel-drive system means it'll go places, in bad weather conditions, when the remaining two would be relegated to the stable.
Because it wasn't conceived as a luxury sedan first, the Panamera falls short of the other two Germans in cushy creature comfort. The seats are, relatively speaking, hard and narrow. The interior is dressed in high-quality materials but lacks the glamour of the Mercedes or the plushness of the BMW. The instrument cluster houses concentric round gauges, and one pod is a circular LCD screen that can display any number of things, including a full-color map. It's très cool - and enough to make up for any other interior shortcoming.
In normal driving conditions, the Panamera isn't quite as supple as the other luxury sedans. Despite Porsche's adaptive suspension, the ride is a bit busy - although body control is outstanding - and road noise creeps in where it's absent from the BMW and the Merc. Of course, unlike those heavy beasts, the Porsche doesn't have double-glazed windows, and surely some of that weight savings comes from less sound-deadening material. The optional Burmester sound system, however, is among the best we've ever heard in an automobile - it turns ordinary music into what sounds like a live performance in a recording studio. Road noise? Who cares?