With the simultaneous launch of the 5-series Gran Turismo and the Panamera, BMW and Porsche have created a new vehicle category. No, the segment doesn't require the vehicles be ugly, that's just a side effect. Instead, the new breed is characterized by sporty driving dynamics, luxury equipment, rear-seat opulence, and a slanted back that is as much about style as it is about functionality.
In addition to their physical and philosophical similarities, the BMW 550i GT and the Porsche Panamera S also have a lot in common on their spec sheets. Both cars boast V-8 engines, rear-wheel drive, 400 hp, four seats, and hefty price tags. Looking at these cars raises plenty of questions, so we got behind the wheel for a day of driving through cities, down highways, and over rural back roads in search of some understanding.
Before we can move on though, we've got to address our insecurities, so we park the two hunchbacks side-by-side. The BMW, with its tall roofline and slightly raised ground clearance, looks a bit truckish when standing alone. But next to the Panamera, the 5-series GT looks natural and even somewhat pleasing. The truncated hatch hardly looks controversial. Instead, the GT seems merely to wear BMW's design du jour and if you're into the 5- or 7-series sedans, accepting the Gran Turismo is easy.
Unfortunately, the Panamera doesn't provide the same sense of resolution. The front end's broad, low hood and oval headlights establish the Porsche identity, but it's also rather bland. Boring, however, would be an improvement for the rear end. The awkward interplay of the fenders and hatch present an ungainly growth. Viewing the Panamera from a low front three-quarters angle allows you to hide the massive rear end behind the windshield and side glass, but that mass is lurking every time you look back at your parked Panamera.
These two hatchbacks show some differences when it comes to price, with a 550i Gran Turismo starting at $63,725 and a Panamera S beginning at $90,775 (both cars have cheaper, V-6 variants, as well). However, BMW narrowed the gap by providing us with a test car optioned up to $90,875, while our Porsche had a sticker of $106,210. Some of the main items helping to boost the BMW's price were night vision ($2600), a rear-seat entertainment system ($2200), head-up display ($1300), and a sport package with 20-inch wheels ($5200). There was less equipment added to the Panamera, although there were some extra-cost items that we might have expected to find on the standard equipment list, such as Bluetooth ($695), front and rear parking sensors ($600), ventilated front seats ($800), 19-inch wheels ($1950), and a heated steering wheel ($210).