BMW 550i Gran Turismo vs. Porsche Panamera S

On the road
Equipped with the $1320 Sport Chrono Package Plus, the Panamera offers three dynamic modes (normal, sport, and sport plus) to modify the engine, transmission, stability control, and suspension character. BMW's Driving Dynamics Control adds a fourth setting, comfort mode, and offers a broader bandwidth in varying the ride character. Despite that, with the BMW in its stiffest setting and the Porsche set to its normal mode, the Panamera is significantly more buttoned down. Body roll in the Gran Turismo is present in any quick turn, regardless of the setting, while the Panamera always remains flat and poised.

While both engines are rated at 400 hp, they're not quite equals. With two turbochargers mounted to its V-8, BMW's 4.4-liter musters 450 lb-ft of torque. Seamless, authoritative thrust is cushioned by the silky yet responsive eight-speed automatic transmission. With a wide plateau of torque available, shifting up early or neglecting to drop down that final gear isn't cause for concern.

Porsche's normally aspirated 4.8-liter makes 369 lb-ft of torque and pulls just as smoothly but issues a fierce bass growl in place of the BMW's subdued mechanical symphony. The raw vocals of the Porsche V-8 reiterate that this engine wants to be worked hard, with the revs kept as close to redline as possible. Hammering down the winding roads, we're glad to have the steering wheel shift buttons to manage Porsche's seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Even if they're a bit clumsy to learn, at least they allow you to keep your hands on the wheel. By contrast, manual shifting in the BMW is only available via the console-mounted shift lever.

While the Porsche lacks the BMW's grunt, its greater body control and more capable handling would likely make it faster around a track. Still, the BMW surprised us because it's no less engaging than the Porsche. Part of that, though is a weakness of the Panamera, which has a minor case of Nissan GT-R Syndrome. This is the phenomenon that afflicts incredible performance cars boasting uncanny 0-to-60-mph sprints, lateral grip, and lap times, yet failing to engage the driver the way we expect from a sports car. In the Panamera, the steering lacks the satisfying feedback cherished in Boxsters and 911s. The wheel still offers good feel, but the heavy weight masks some of the communication.

Returning to more relaxed settings and backing off the throttle, we rolled through rural downtowns and flowed with highway traffic to get a better feel for how these cars perform as luxury cruisers. Porsche's dual-clutch transmission is gentle when swapping gears, but a friction disc doesn't leave the line as gracefully as a torque-converter automatic. To compensate, the Panamera's transmission starts in second gear as long as the selector is left in automatic and you haven't activated sport plus mode. While its ride isn't harsh, the Panamera also transmits smaller impacts with more frequency and road noise than the BMW. For relaxed cruising, we'd pick the BMW hands down.

Somehow this article seems quite biased!. I used to own 2008 535i, was in market for luxury sports sedan. Took 550i for spin - it felt like benz, no where it felt like BMW I used to own - in fact my 535i would beat today's 550i hands down in terms of handling.  Then I decided to take panamera turbo for a spin. What a car. Agreed it is not apples to apples comparison, but when you are reaching close 100k price range, line blurs off. Porsche handles way better than 550i, has excellent seating for 4. Porsche got that right, didnot go in for 5 seats as sedans tend to be. Engine is amazing, PDK is fantastic - In my opinion if car wants to compete in sports category, dual clutch is must. Handling is far better than any car in the market. Burmester audio is far better than what BMW providers (I believe it is HK).  Overall if you are in for luxury, go for benz or those japanese cars, but if you are in for sports and luxury combined, Panamera is what you want.
As a new 4s owner, I'm not sure I understand some of the criticism of the Panamera; while you find this new Porsche "more buttoned down" in every setting and highly capable as a 4 door sports car, it is not the sedan you expect: what sedan did you expect from Porsche? And as for the back seat being a "cave": look again at article's photos; my guests are dumbfounded at the modern and spacious design (the BMW interior looks so 1989). As for the "look" of the Panemera; its look is its own, and it stems from delivering on every one of its remarkable marketing promises; 4 six foot plus adults and their luggage comfortable at 175 mph (not that I'd ever, etc.,) with huge range (25 gal tank), great mileage and ultra low emissions. The BMW trucklet doesn't seem to me to be in the same decade OR league as my magnificent machine.
Have had a Panamera S for six months. It may be the most capable car, I've ever owned. It is more fun to drive than my 911. It replaced a Cayenne that replaced a MB S430. On two recent trips through Smoky Mountains, S.C., Ga, Al, and back to TN it averaged 28 mpg @80 miles per hour. There is a learning curve in that it has so much power. To compare this to the BMW GT doesn't seem to make sense and I've never seen a more biased report except maybe by Consumer's Report.

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