EDGEWATER, New Jersey — The stagnant, humid summer air blasted my face as I exited my air-conditioned apartment in the wee hours of the morning. My watch ticked near 4 a.m. while the edge of the sun’s reach began to poke through the east sky silhouetting the George Washington Bridge. I tapped the remote fob to the 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo and its cool blue outer ambient LED lighting broke the parking lot’s darkness, the signature LED rear lightbar glimmering along with it. In a great effort to make the most of the last day of my week with the Panamera, I planned a mission: to beat the sun to High Point State Park, New Jersey for a morning golden-hour photoshoot of this fine Zuffenhausen thoroughbred.
I’d never thoroughly driven a Panamera before, minus a few short run-ins working at car dealerships or as a valet during my college years, so it was damn hard to contain my excitement when Porsche happily handed me the near-top-spec Panamera Turbo for a week to commemorate its stateside arrival and compare it to its spiritual predecessor, the 928.
With more than an hour and a half to beat the sunrise at 5:33 a.m. and everyone still asleep or crawling out of bed in time for their morning brew, I was confident I’d make it.
The remote key fob might be the simplest tool in the Panamera’s kit. Otherwise, it’s like entering a German interpretation of the Starship Enterprise on four wheels. Touch-sensitive surfaces simplify the last model’s button-fest, making the console slightly less of an ergonomic nightmare. Porsche reps claim engineers designed the infotainment system’s graphical user-interface (GUI) to mimic that of a smartphone, but it all still annoyingly requires you to take your eyes off the road a little too much, particularly for a driver’s car, and there’s a steep learning curve. The upside is it’s all beautifully displayed on the ginormous screen, entering the address for High Point State Park was modern-computing fast, and the touch response was impressive.
The hood and wide track of the front axle reach out to great expanses. Despite the Panamera’s huge footprint at 198.8 inches long, 85.2 inches wide, and 56.2 inches tall, the back seat still falls short on comfortable legroom if both the front and rear occupants surpass 6 feet and adjust positions accordingly. Should you want more space, you can opt for the new Sport Turismo variant or the long-wheelbase Executive model.
Twisting the quirky ignition tumbler, mounted leftward on the dashboard in classic Porsche fashion, summons the twin-turbocharged 4.0L V-8, which burbles as it awakens before settling in to a calm rumble as it high-idles through its warm-up phase. It proudly boasts its impressive potential of 550 hp and 567 lb-ft of torque from the get-go, but with the “Normal” profile set by default, it didn’t wake the neighbors with the exhaust and engine notes as I crept out of town.
The amber sodium lamps still gleamed overhead as I hopped onto an almost-deserted Route 4 West. The morning brew still hadn’t set in and the Panamera’s massage seats and serene cabin almost put me back to sleep. Bumps and imperfections never intruded into the cabin—impressive given the 21-inch wheels.
Because of this sports-luxo-barge smoothness, I initially found it hard to differentiate the Panamera’s around-town and highway feeling from the loaded BMW 650i Gran Coupe xDrive M Sport I recently tested. As my time behind the wheel grew, I realized that is part of its brilliance. Previous accounts of the old Panamera labeled it as too much of a sports car first and a luxury car second. Industry colleagues cited too harsh a ride and not enough refinement to make it a great luxury sedan. This new Panamera seems to have addressed those concerns. Like the BMW, the Panamera is quieter than a church and more comfortable than most living rooms when you too don’t feel like rushing anywhere—with an incredible Burmeister top-spec sound system, to boot.
The landscape became a dark blue while I hauled down I-287 to Route 23, the Panamera exemplifying the typical Germanic rock-solid driving experience—40 mph feels like a snail’s pace, 70 mph like crawling, and speeds beyond like walking. Once Route 23 reduced from a six-lane highway with traffic lights into a rural two-laner snaking its way up the mountainsides, the Panamera somehow found a way to shrink itself into a front-engine, four-door 911. With Sport Plus mode engaged, the active suspension stiffens considerably and the throttle becomes so precise, it feels like an extension of your right foot. Mash it from naught and the Panamera Turbo zips past sixty in just 3.4 seconds with the equipped Sport Chrono Package. Pace gathers effortlessly and the Panamera Turbo’s “go directly to jail” top speed of 190 mph seems easily accessible. Thankfully, the massive brakes—16.1-inch discs with six-piston calipers up front and 15.0-inch discs with four-piston calipers at rear—will quickly bring you back down to legal speeds.
You can choose your gears with Porsche’s first-ever eight-speed variant of its PDK dual-clutch automatic via metal steering-wheel-mounted paddles or the center selector. Or let the computer do the work; it’ll intelligently pick the right gear for the conditions, throttle match downshifts automatically, and hold a gear through a corner. Shift action is lightning quick and uncanny smooth and under normal operation, it feels as refined as a traditional torque converter-equipped automatic.
On paper, the numbers might boggle the mind, but the way the Panamera gathers speed without ever feeling like it’s in anyway bothered absolutely blows the mind. Showing off the Sport Response mode to friends and family, a 20-second heightened performance profile that maxes out every parameter in the computer to Sport Plus, yielded a “holy *insert profane word of choice*” expression from everyone who experienced it.
In the final stretch up the twisty inclines, the clock struck 5:27 a.m. as the sun began to rise over the horizon in the rear-view. I flicked the Panamera down into third and mashed the go pedal, catapulting up the final hill to High Point. It continued to beg me to push it harder and harder; the faster I went, the more I could feel the Panamera’s stunning stability, razor-sharp turn-in, and confidence-inspiring rear-end squat for a reassuring sling-shot power-out of a sharp bend—much like the experience of a 911 in a clean outside-inside-outside. It was as if the ghost of Ferdinand Porsche’s past himself sat on my shoulder, cheering me on into my ear, “Schneller! Schneller! Trust my engineers, ze car can do eet.”
I pulled into a closed High Point State Park at 5:31 a.m. with a few moments to spare, only to be confronted with the park’s disappointingly closed gate. After a long breakfast and a quick powernap, I returned to the park at opening at 8 a.m. and thus, you can say, mission partially accomplished. But missing the mark on my task didn’t put the Panamera at any fault nor lessen its ability to impress me in every respect.
The 2017 Panamera Turbo won’t have Ferdinand twisting in his grave, no matter how hard fanboys and purists cry wolf. It’s a car that he would be proud to put his name to, especially since it spiritually fulfills the mission of the 928. My week with the Panamera Turbo, up to the point when I reluctantly handed the keys back to the fleet manager, convinced me that it’s a proper thoroughbred from Zuffenhausen. It is 100% a Porsche in that its handling and dynamic potential are unrivaled in its class—a car you absolutely have to experience for yourself to truly grasp its capabilities. But not once did I feel as if there were too much sport and not enough luxury. It is an absolutely incredible machine, doing way more than you’d expect something of its size to do, setting the benchmark for all others to follow.
2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo Specifications
|PRICE||$183,585 (as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbocharged 32-valve V-8/550 hp @ 5,750-6,000 rpm, 567 lb-ft @ 1,960-4,500 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||18/25/21 mpg (city/hwy/combined)|
|L x W x H||198.8 x 85.2 (w/ mirrors out) x 56.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.4 sec (w/ Sport Chrono Pkg.)|
|TOP SPEED||190 MPH|