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Porsche Panamera. Embrace the moment.

by Bob Beck

Porsche likes to speak of its DNA.  Study the Porsche family of cars and you'll understand what Porsche's DNA is all about. It’s a family of technology, passion and proportion in motion. It is perhaps best said that nothing drives like a 911. If you are going to build the ultimate sports car it goes without saying that it will be compared to a 911. Introduced in 1964, the archetype 911 defines the sports car. 

On the other hand if you are going to build an ultimate sports sedan it would typically be compared to an Audi/Mercedes/BMW/Maserati-ish sort of thing. There are a lot of good choices in the luxury sports sedan category – A8, M5, CLS AMG, Quattroporte.  At one time it would have been hard to choose, but no longer.  Today there is really only one choice and it is unequivocally the Porsche Panamera. It’s that good. You simply need drive it to understand.

BOB BECK

As a born skeptic, I traveled off to sample the new Panamera as a 911 man.  On the roads of Milwaukee and the track at Road America, I would test the Panamera as a 911 devotee. Being a 911 man I really don't do automotive change well.  With apologies to Porsche, I haven't even completely accepted the Cayenne. I have owned or driven every type Porsche made and enjoyed them all but I'm a 911 man at heart. There is something intangible that gets in your blood with the 911. It is driving perfection.

Now, frankly, my automotive world order has been rocked. A middle age fog could be clouding my vision but I'm rethinking the whole 911 man thing. Maybe a Panamera could fit in my garage, too?  Maybe I’d like to take the wife and kids when I lap the Nürburgring.  No, my manhood is not withering as we speak.  I am still loyal to the 911 but the Panamera is an amazing car. Perhaps it’s even worthy of consideration as the perfect Porsche.  

The technology and numbers of the Panamera have been well documented by now. It brings a lot to the game with an efficient direct injection engine mated to a smooth 7-speed PDK transmission with all of the suspension and engine tuning buttons one could dream of located on the center console. S and 4S versions sport a 4.8-liter, 400 hp V8 engine, while the Turbo version pumps out a conservative 500 hp to all four wheels. When the launch control feature activates, it’s nothing short of amazing. Prices range from $90K to over $130K.

All this tech goodness delivers stunning performance. The performance is beyond the sports sedan expectations. It’s really a super sedan. The Panamera Turbo has a Porsche stated zero-to-sixty of 3.8 seconds, only three-tenths slower than the 911 Turbo. In usual Porsche fashion, these numbers are a bit conservative as the street times are rumored to be 3.5 for the Turbo Panamera. The 400 hp normally aspirated Panamera turns in a healthy 5.2 second zero-to-sixty. Tie this together with the legendary Porsche chassis and brakes and we're off to the races.

But numbers and factoids don't make a Porsche. (Heck, the Corvette has good numbers but it ain't no Porsche, my friend.) The roads and race tracks of the real world is where Porsche has earned its’ reputation. My Panamera test drive came with real world extremes.  Milwaukee has some of the worst weather rutted roads in the world. Contrast this with Road America, just outside of Milwaukee, one of the best driving, well-storied tracks in the country. So how does it drive? As expected in a six-figure car, the Panamera is prefect for a long haul drive in the city or country. The long wheelbase and sophisticated suspension tuning make for a perfect compromise of supple ride and top of the class handling.  With smooth PDK transmission, efficient direct injection power in the 400 or 500 hp range, it takes off like your favorite executive jet.  To complete the experience, Porsche adds to that what it calls an “executive class interior” (think Bentley meets Lear Jet).

Piloting an ark seemed more appropriate than a brand new Panamera in this weather.
BOB BECK

Porsche is very, very good at most things, but they have yet to master Mother Nature. So I tackled Road America in the wet... very wet.  An ark would have been more appropriate for the biblical proportions of rain.  Chassis dynamics and physics come to play much earlier in this kind of weather. Fortunately for me I had Porsche factory driver Patrick Long riding shotgun to help temper my driving skills.

Belted in a six-figure car with 500 horsepower on a very wet track I had never driven, Patrick and I paddled up to speed. Once settled into the cockpit, I would have sworn I had jumped into a 911.  It felt like home.  The IP and cockpit are designed to feel like home for the 911 driver.  The power and handling are world-class good.  The car feels completely neutral and begs to be pushed hard even in the wet.  The steering is precise, but a little numb on feedback compared to the 911, but this is understandable with the large engine up front.  The Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s offered amazing grip as I found out when I unleashed the 500 hp Turbo on the back straight. The thrust was astonishing. The only thing that felt out of sorts were the sweet engine sounds coming from the wrong end of car. Oh well, lots of Le Mans winning cars have had the engine up front.

A lot has been made of the exterior design. Some say it’s not the best looking car ever made. Certainly, the same was said of the original Beetle and even the first 911, the 901. The Panamera looks like a Porsche and one must see it in person to judge how well form follows function.  My experience is that when you see it in person and drive it at speed and the Panamera morphs into a thing of absolute beauty.  Form so very much follows function. The proportions of the car in motion define its beauty. Porsches are not static objects. Touch the Panamera, drive it, and you will see the beauty. Whether driving on Road America or up to your favorite valet parking event on Saturday night and you are front row material.

Patrick Long behind the wheel.
BOB BECK

The most important design feature of the Panamera is the interior. Fittingly this is the first Porsche that focuses on passengers as well as the driver. It is a unique interior synthesis between sports car and luxury sedan. It is a distinctly Porsche interior with a splash of English-like coachwork and luxury to boot. This the most luxurious interior seen from Stuttgart. Four things immediately stand out: first, the ascending center console, reminiscent of the Carrera GT; second, the four individual seats, all 911-style sport seats for great support; third, the amount of space in the rear, where even taller passengers will find plenty of legroom and headroom (with room for those well over 6 feet tall); and fourth, the versatility of the luggage compartment, thanks to the folding rear seats. The driver feels coddled by all the dynamic features of the Panamera interior - seat position, pedal placement, instrument panel and so on. Fortunately the dynamic luxury the driver feels is shared with all the passengers - the experience is indistinguishable from one seat to the next. The center console extends into the rear seats, so the rear passengers can access their individual gadgets for climate control and seating options. Every surface can be covered in the rich leather with wood and metal touches. In fact the only people who are not going to enjoy this interior are the folks at Mercedes or Bentley. It is stunning.

I sense a paradigm shift coming and it is the Panamera. Perhaps this is the first archetype for the super sedan. Porsche definitely built a better sedan and in the process they may have built one of the best Porsches ever. Sixty plus years ago, Dr. Ferry Porsche built the car he wanted and the world loved. Now Porsche has built the car you and your family will want. The Panamera has arrived.  Embrace the moment and take a trip to your local Porsche dealership.

 

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Panamera 4S Video courtesy Porsche AG