First Drive: 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S
Just like the original — in name only.
MUNICH, Germany - Half an hour into my blast down the autobahn, the speedo needle dancing to 150 mph, I'm ready to confirm what my eyes had told me the moment I saw it: the new 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S is the super sports four-door the original never was. From exterior styling to cabin design to engine and chassis performance, the new one gets it all right. There's nothing else quite like it.
I've never been a fan of the original Panamera, Porsche's first foray into the world of four-door, all-wheel-drive sports cars. Yes, it drives well enough, and its cockpit is a dramatic, switches-filled riff on a Learjet's, but (how to put this gently?) the bodywork is about as pulse-raising as an afternoon at the fabrics store. Uh, is that a Porsche or a Honda Crosstour? I get more revved up reading my cholesterol scores.
Though the first-gen Panamera sold well, Porsche knew it had left a lot of its best moves back in Stuttgart. The 2017 model is clearly a Panamera—the two cars share an unmistakable bloodline—but the new edition represents an astute rethink, one that addresses every one of the original's shortcomings, and then some.
Compared with the first-gen car, the 2017 Panamera is fractionally longer, wider, and taller. It rides on a wheelbase stretched by roughly 1.2 inches—shortening the overhangs front and rear. The body is also considerably more rakish than before. "We've extended the flyline, [the rear roofline]" says Dr. Gernot Dollner, vice president of the Panamera product line, "so the car now shares a stylistic affinity to the 911." The rear of the roof is lowered almost an inch, yet thanks to clever packaging, rear headroom isn't sacrificed. Rear side windows have been lengthened (another nod to the 911), while the rear end has been slightly raised. Also, the car's stance has been energized by essentially moving the entire passenger compartment rearward. Now it's ready to pounce.
Other notable design refinements: the rear end features a side-to-side LED light bar (like the 911 C4) with four-point brake lights, the rear spoiler (which automatically deploys at 62 mph) has been moved backward to the rear lip, the rear end sports a new Porsche logotype, a new front end and hood are bolder than before, and the car's sides are far more aggressively sculptured. The 911 references pay off: the new Panamera radiates athleticism, looking lower, longer, and way meaner than its predecessor. Despite having four doors, Porsche's new Panamera is a sports coupe that's now going to turn heads on looks alone.
As noted above, the Panamera's cabin was never lacking, but one look at the new cockpit is enough to make you forget all about the inside of the original car. Essentially, Porsche has removed almost every button and switch in favor of touchscreens and touch surfaces. On either side of the tach sit 7-inch screens that can display everything from engine info to navigation instructions. The center of the dash sports a high-resolution, 12.3-inch color display for controlling navigation, multimedia systems (the car is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), apps (everything from weather to Twitter), vehicle setup, and more. The nav system uses data piped-in from Google and can be operated via voice commands. The screen itself is a thing of beauty.
The center console is a clutter-free sheet of "glass look" black with haptic-feedback touch surfaces for adjusting the climate-control system, shock stiffness, and more. About the only actual buttons are handsome knurled-silver switches for individually raising or lowering the climate temperature for each front-seat occupant. Overall, it's a clean, effective interface — and it looks cutting-edge cool. Rear-seat passengers have a similar center console interface so they aren't out of touch.
Three new engines, more powerful and efficient than their predecessors, debut in the 2017 Panamera. The first, in the Panamera 4S, is a twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 (designed by Audi) making a rousing 440 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque; it's capable of gunning the car from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 180 mph. Cutting 0-to-60 mph acceleration by a half second (and pushing top speed to 190 mph) is a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, good for 550 horsepower and 568 pound-feet. Finally, for "frugal" Panamera owners, there's a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter diesel V-8 rated at 422 horsepower and a massive 627 pound-feet, and can propel the car to 60 mph in a mere 4.3 seconds (making it the world's fastest diesel sedan). Equipped with the optional 24-gallon fuel tank, the Panamera 4S Diesel has a range of around 900 miles (you'll need to run dry way before the car does).
All three engines mate with a new, Porsche-designed eight-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission with paddle shifters. Also new as part of the optional Sport Chrono package is a knob on the lower-right of the steering wheel for selecting any of four driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual (Porsche first introduced a similar control on the 918). The two sport modes offer increasingly sharp throttle, transmission, and steering response while also firming-up the suspension; Individual mode allows the driver to mix and match settings to his or her taste. Also on the knob is a clever and useful Sport Response "push to pass" button that instantly drops the transmission down several gears while quickening the throttle and steering for 20 seconds, allowing you to blow right past that lumbering pickup in your lane with hardly any effort on your part. The best news: unlike an IndyCar driver, you can hit push to pass as much as you want.
A new, lightweight suspension front and rear optionally adds three adaptive air chambers to each corner (they're standard on the Turbo). The total volume of the chambers is larger than the previous two-chamber setup, allowing for vastly improved ride comfort. Moving the driving mode to Sport drains the air from one of the chambers (firming-up the ride); moving it to Sport+ empties the air from two. Standard wheels are now 19 inches, with 20s optional. Also available is rear-wheel steering that moves the rear wheels opposite the fronts by up to 2.8 degrees at speeds lower than 32 mph, resulting in a decreased turning radius. Finally, a new 4-D Chassis Control system networks all of the car's previously independent electronic suspension systems—such as Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), torque vectoring, and new electromechanical steering—so they work together for maximum responsiveness and stability.
The 2017 Panamera boasts so many standard and optional safety systems it's almost a four-wheeled rubber room. In addition to eight standard air bags, the car offers lane-change assist (to warn you beforehand of cars lurking in your blind spot), lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, and a surround-view camera for an overhead perspective while you're reversing. Newly available is Night Vision Assist, which uses thermal imaging to warn of people and animals in your path (when the car is outfitted with the optional LED matrix headlights, the system will warn you of objects it detects even beyond the range of the beams). Also new is InnoDrive, which enhances the adaptive cruise-control system by "reading" navigation data up to two miles ahead and then proactively modulating acceleration, shifting, braking, and steering for maximum efficiency and safety. The system also incorporates video and radar sensors that monitor everything from the traffic ahead to road signs, automatically adjusting your speed to the current posted limit. (InnoDrive will be available in the U.S. starting early next year.)
Perhaps the new Panamera 4S's greatest asset is its remarkable versatility. It's an electrifying machine to run hard: the car handles brilliantly, with tons of poise and grip; optional carbon-ceramic brakes haul you down easily from prodigious velocities; and the new biturbo V-6 is a beauty — smooth, strong, and easily capable of producing hair-raising speeds (albeit with the aid of considerable turbo boost). It makes an exciting whine near redline, yet the engine note is never strained or loud, never tires you out with raging decibels. Add to that refined power a chassis that, in Comfort mode, rides with amazing cushiness, and you also have an extremely relaxed cruiser. In fact, Comfort mode acquits itself well when driving aggressively, too — never does the car feel sloppy or under-damped, so I found myself using Comfort most of the time. Especially in a place like Germany, with its sections of unlimited-speed autobahn, you could use a Panamera like a light aircraft, swiftly and luxuriously eating up hundreds of miles in a day, your back soothed by optional massaging seats, your ears relaxing to the strains of optional Bose or Burmeister premium audio systems. The luggage compartment has even been increased by nearly two cubic feet, the better to stow your and your passengers' cargo.
In a place like L.A. that loves the original Panamera, this new and vastly improved 2017 Porsche is going to cause dealership gridlock. It's that good-looking, that fast, that accommodating, that desirable. The base V-6 4S makes no apologies—it's not lacking in anything—while the Turbo ups the game with truly stunning speed (it's the fastest-ever production four-door around the Nordschleife) and the 4S Diesel checks in for the long haul. With the possible exception of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, no other vehicle in this segment offers the Panamera's alluring combo of comfort, convenience, and effortless performance—and of course nothing else does it with Porsche's signature prowess.
Job well done. I'll never associate "Panamera" and "fabrics store" again.
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S Specifications
|Engine:||2.9L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/440 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 1,750|
|Transmission:||8-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback|
|EPA Mileage:||23/35 mpg (city/hwy, est)|
|L x W x H:||198.8 x 76.3 x 56.0 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.2 sec|
|Top Speed:||180 mph|