Munich -- Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller admits that "there certainly were doubts" when the first Panamera launched in 2009. Critics didn't like the hunchback styling and were skeptical whether a sedan fit the Porsche brand. Yet in the four years since, Panamera sales have outpaced Porsche's predictions by 25 percent. Based on that success, it's no wonder Porsche made only small changes for the Panamera's first facelift.
Identifying the visual tweaks is as tough as a spot-the-difference puzzle. From the front, look for headlights that are rounded rather than angular, a revised "power dome" hood bulge, a flatter fascia, reshaped lower air intakes, new side skirts, and relocated LED running lights. Bi-xenon headlights become standard with full-LED illumination optional. Drivers in slower cars will note new taillights, a different fascia that places the license plate lower and visually widens the rump, a wider and flatter rear window, and a minutely changed curvature to the roofline.
More extensive changes await beneath the skin, beginning with a new plug-in hybrid model called the S E-Hybrid. It replaces the S Hybrid, which currently accounts for about ten percent of all Panamera sales, and announces itself with acid green brake calipers, badges, and gauge needles. A 9.4-kWh lithium-ion battery stores a greater charge than the old car's nickel metal-hydride unit; although the new pack is the same size as before, it weighs 110 pounds more. Better windings and magnets in the drive motor allow Porsche to use a higher voltage and boost electric-drive power to 95 hp and 229 lb-ft, increases of 49 hp and 8 lb-ft compared to the outgoing version. The 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission are mostly unchanged, the former producing 333 hp and 325 lb-ft. When the motor and engine work together, they can knock off a 5.2-second 0-to-60-mph time and reach a 168-mph top speed.
The improved motor and battery mean drivers will be able to go a claimed 20 miles on battery power alone. They also should produce better fuel economy ratings than the 2013 S Hybrid's 22/30 mpg (city/highway). We averaged an indicated 2.2 L/100km over about 30 miles of mixed driving, equivalent to an astonishing 107 mpg, but only because the majority of those miles were covered in E-Power mode with the engine switched off.
Recharging the Panamera's battery from a 120-volt outlet will take at least four hours, or just 2.5 hours if you use a 240-volt charger. Unlike most other plug-in hybrids, however, the Porsche can fully recharge its battery on the move. Pushing the E-Charge button diverts some of the engine's power to rejuvenate the battery, although it somewhat numbs throttle response and impacts overall economy. But it's designed so that you could, for instance, recharge on a long highway journey in order to drive electrically on the urban streets at your destination. We still managed 6.7 L/100km (35 mpg) in E-Charge mode, an impressive figure for a car with a combined 416 hp and a curb weight of 4619 pounds. The battery pack was also fully recharged after about 35 miles of driving with E-Charge enabled.
The trade-off for all this efficiency is less refinement than in other Panameras. Because the electric motor drives through the eight-speed automatic, it changes gears where other plug-in cars simply accelerate smoothly in a single "gear." The gasoline engine thrums and moans, especially in E-Charge mode, and the automatic transmission never shifts as sweetly as the PDK dual-clutch in other Panameras. Fortunately, the brakes feel natural and the hand-off between regenerative and mechanical braking is almost impossible to discern. Acceleration is still brisk when running only on battery power, although the car's top speed is reduced to 84 mph.
Twin-Turbo Six Replaces V-8
The other new engine is a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 that replaces the 4.8-liter V-8 in the Panamera S, 4S, and 4S Executive. At 420 hp and 384 lb-ft, the six-cylinder is more powerful than the V-8 it replaces (by 20 hp and 15 lb-ft), yet Porsche expects an 18-percent fuel economy improvement. More importantly, a displacement of 2997 cubic centimeters will avoid taxes levied in places like China on engines larger than 3.0 liters.
Power comes on early and the engine pulls hard across the rev range with a determined, predictable shove. There are no peaks or valleys in the turbocharger's output, and the V-6 responds to the accelerator about as linearly as a naturally aspirated one. Porsche claims 0-to-60-mph times ranging from 4.3 to 4.9 seconds depending on model, and the Panamera 4S Executive we drove had no trouble keeping up with and rushing past autobahn traffic. Too bad the engine's quiet, purposeful demeanor is less exciting than the old V-8. Customers who want a truly sporty Panamera can buy the louder, lower, and stiffer GTS, or the supremely powerful Turbo.
All versions of the 2014 Panamera except the hybrid get an updated version of the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission that adopts tricks that debuted with the 2013 911. The stop-start system can now kill the engine before you reach a complete standstill, saving precious drops of fuel as you approach a red light. A coasting feature disconnects the engine on overrun, such as when you lift the throttle for an off-ramp, allowing the engine to idle and save more fuel. Finally, there's a feature called Virtual Intermediate Gears that creates half speeds between the transmission's real gear ratios. At low engine loads, the PDK engages two gears (5 and 6, for instance) and slips both wet clutches to create a midway gear. Doing so allows the engine to open the throttle wider but lower its overall running speed, a tactic that Porsche says will reduce consumption in low-load situations like steady driving on a flat road. These tricks improve fuel economy on all variants, although official EPA numbers have yet to be released.
Summon The Executives
In addition to engines, Porsche also launched a new body style for the 2014 Panamera. With a wheelbase 5.9 inches longer than normal cars, the 4S Executive and Turbo Executive provide an additional 4.7 inches of rear legroom and more standard equipment. It sounds like an odd product launch from a company focused on driver's cars -- until you learn that one third of all Panamera sales are in China, where the wealthy prefer not to drive themselves. Plus, Porsche needs to compete with long-wheelbase versions of the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series.
An added bonus of the increased length is that the Panamera's awkward silhouette improves slightly, as the roof remains flatter toward the rear of the car. The back seats are bisected by a full-length center console that has no fewer than 20 buttons and four rocker switches, as well as a fat armrest, a cup holder, and an ashtray. The seats are heated, cooled, and electrically operated; they are also mounted 1.2 inch farther forward from the C-pillar than in standard Panameras to permit more space for reclining. Air suspension and the PASM active damping system are standard, along with soft-close doors and special noise-insulating glass. Power sunshades for the rear windows and rear windshield complete the Executive experience.
We tested both the Panamera 4S Executive and the Turbo Executive, the latter of which has a twin-turbo 4.8-liter V-8 good for 520 hp and 516 lb-ft (or 568 lb-ft with the SportChrono option), an increase of 20 hp over the 2013 Panamera Turbo thanks to a new engine map. The Turbo is monstrously fast and sounds wicked in Sport or Spot Plus mode, when baffles open to let flutters, burbles, and barks erupt from the quad exhausts. The Turbo Executive will hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, just 0.1 second slower than the regular wheelbase version, and it pulls with a seemingly endless supply of torque. But the 4S Executive hardly wants for more power and is just as cosseting as the Turbo, yet is considerably more fuel efficient.
The remaining changes for the 2014 Porsche Panamera are subtle. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine in the base car and Panamera 4 is upgraded by 10 hp to 310 hp, and the 4.8-liter V-8 in the sporty Panamera GTS climbs from 430 hp to 440 hp, thanks to new engine programming. Lane departure warning, an automatic braking system, and a 360-degree camera system join the options list. All models also score new rubber suspension bushings and cars with air suspension get slightly different chassis tuning. Next year, Porsche will introduce Turbo S and Turbo S Executive variants, likely with 550 hp or more.
Though the updated Panamera is only a small step forward, that's no bad thing. The new hybrid and twin-turbo V-6 offer better fuel economy without sacrificing performance or refinement; Executive models will appeal to the more than 9000 Chinese customers who bought Panameras in 2012. In fact, the car's success makes the criticism from 2009 look downright laughable: Porsche sold 29,000 copies of the Panamera worldwide last year, and there's no reason to believe that pace will slow any time soon.
2014 Porsche Panamera
|On Sale:||September (S E-Hybrid: November)|
|Engines:||3.6L V-6, 310 hp, 295 lb-ft; twin-turbo 3.0L V-6, 420 hp, 384 lb-ft; supercharged 3.0L V-6 and electric motor, 416 hp, 435 lb-ft; 4.8L V-8, 440 hp, 384 lb-ft; twin-turbo 4.8L V-8, 520 hp, 516-568 lb-ft|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed dual-clutch, eight-speed automatic|
|Drive:||Rear- or four-wheel|
|Prices (including destination):||Panamera $79,075; Panamera 4 $83,775; Panamera S $94,175; Panamera 4S $99,275; Panamera S E-Hybrid $99,975; Panamera GTS $114,375; Panamera 4S Executive $126,575; Panamera Turbo $142,275; Panamera Turbo Executive $162,075|