The back-seat battle
Both of these cars tout their rear seat appointments, aiming to offer the same comfort and luxury in the back as they do up front. Our 5-series GT was equipped with the $3650 luxury rear seating package, adding heated and ventilated rear seats, sunshades, and four-zone climate control. Inviting ivory leather and a panoramic sunroof create a spacious and airy cabin. By raising the rear seat cushions in relation to the front seats, BMW provides an excellent view out the windshield. The comfortable chairs, luxurious materials, and superior visibility make the Gran Turismo worthy of a chauffeur. The Panamera takes the opposite approach, tucking back-seat passengers into a dim, sequestered cave. The rear seats sit lower than the tall front chairs, allowing just a sliver of visibility out the windshield and requiring passengers to lower themselves into the car.
Comfort and space in the two cars are roughly equal but the ambiances are starkly different. The Gran Turismo is suited to carrying a pair of couples out to dinner or to a weekend destination, with conversation freely flowing. In the Panamera, the isolation of the rear seats imbues a sense of second-class citizenship despite the beautiful finishes. Instead of a true sedan, we think of the Panamera's back buckets as merely an opportunity to wow two additional friends with the Porsche's capability. The slight shortcomings in practicality also make us wonder if more than a few Panamera shoppers might just end up with Porsche's Cayenne SUV instead. Still, some of our editors preferred the Panamera's coddling sport bucket seats to the traditional bench-like feel in the Gran Turismo.
Up front, the cockpits are also distinctly different. The driver's position in the 5-series puts you high and upright, not unlike an SUV. The Panamera's steeply raked windshield is further from the driver creating a sleek, sports-car feel. Unfortunately, the Panamera's tiny rear window is made even smaller with an active spoiler that lifts at high speeds, compromising rearward visibility.
Buttons - or lack thereof - also define the cabins. BMW packages many of its controls in the ten-inch screen and rotary controller of its iDrive system, while Porsche has carpeted the entire console and center stack with buttons for climate, audio, navigation, and vehicle dynamics functions. Porsche's approach may be the more straightforward presentation, but we've become pretty familiar with iDrive and can easily navigate through the menus now. The sheer number of buttons in the Panamera means it will be some time before we feel comfortable making adjustments on the fly.
Defining the class
Despite their similarities, these two cars have unique personalities. BMW's Gran Turismo is a bastion of luxury and comfort. The Porsche is a sports car first and a luxury car second. That the Panamera is a credible four-door sports car may be a reason to buy for some, but the Panamera isn't the sedan that we expected. Against another competitor - say the Maserati Quattroporte - the Porsche may truly shine. But in this new segment, we expect luxury-sedan accommodations along with the sporting credentials.
The Gran Turismo perfectly fulfills that mission to carry four people - in fact, for passengers, the rear seat is better than the right front. The BMW also offers better driving comfort combined with the ability to make a dramatic transition to a capable sport mode. And with a smidge of self-restraint, any buyer can get a well-equipped Gran Turismo at a five-figure discount compared to a Panamera. For delivering sport, luxury, and comfort for four at a reasonable price, the 5-series Gran Turismo sets the standard in this new class.