Notorious Panamera driven
4.8l V8, turbocharged
294kW @ 6 500r/min, 368kW @ 6 000r/min
500nM @ 3 500r/min, 700Nm @ 2 250r/min
Zero To Hundred
5-, 4 seconds
1 800kg, 1 970kg
Let’s get some fundamental facts out of the way first. The Panamera, despite rampant disapproval regarding its styling (and concept), will be a wildly successful car for Porsche.
By the time I got to drive Porsche’s four-door sedan around the Western Cape’s finest mountain passes yesterday, more than 10 000 Panemeras had been shipped to customers world-wide.
Despite its proportions and detailing (not to mention the sheer blasphemy of its configuration within the Porsche product portfolio) Panamera is set for rampant sales success for much the same reason as its Cayenne SUV sibling.
The reason for this is simple. Porsche’s badge cachet and redoubtable engineering integrity, which guarantees peerless image appreciation dovetailed by an unmatched (and hugely rewarding) driving experience, have an appeal which transcends (or, simply, outweighs) all other considerations.
So, after a day of toiling behind the wheel of both naturally aspirated and turbocharged Panameras, what is the case to be made for ownership of the most controversial car on sale with a Stuttgart coat of arms since the Cayenne?
S' models (in the background), thanks to stop/start technology, PDK transmission efficiency and Panamera's slippery shape returned 14.8l/100km on our very demanding evaluation run - try to replicate that in a S63 AMG. Turbo's consumption apocalyptic.
It’s not pretty, is it?
Well, no, not really. You knew that already, though.
Ever since the first rendering leaked out, the automotive world at large was preparing itself for a damage control exercise with regards to Panamera.
If you’re seeking an apt metaphor, think Mickey Rourke cast to his Oscar nominate role in The Wrestler. Rourke’s appearance was a plastic surgery catastrophe, yet his performance was singularly epic and powerful.
Isolating Panamera’s styling issues you can easily deduce the car’s aft styling (in fact everything behind the rear axle-line) is where the quandary resides.
Porsche tried to weave 911/Cayman DNA into the rear light cluster treatment and it went awfully wrong, with the lights having the appearance of being mounted upside down – completely at odds with the bulbous rear hatch’s surfacing.
The horizontal chrome strip running through the centre of the hatch tries to break the sheer volume of Panamera’s rear corpulence, yet it fails wholesale – ending up as tacky styling detail at best.
So, the Panamera’s rear styling is a bit of a disaster (at worst finished in white, which really shows off the bulk), yet I think there are some extenuating circumstances to be explored.
All models have a self-adjusting rear wing. On the Turbo it splits to increase in width at high speeds too. Don't really see than on M5s or AMGs now do you?
Firstly, Panamera was Porsche’s new design boss Micheal Mauer’s first big job and obviously he wanted to do something radical and make a suitable impression. Mauer’s predecessor, indomitable Ducthman Harm Lagaay, was in his position as design chief for a decade and a half – quite a tenure in the vogue world of automotive design.
Mauer came to Zuffenhausen from Saab in 2004, and make no mistake - he could draw. A portfolio which included the original SLK, and widely lauded fifth generation SL, meant much was expected of Mauer. So where did it go wrong?
I think the sheer scale of Panamera is problematic. With a city car the dimensions are so truncated that inconsequential surfacing and detail foibles can be interpreted as ‘cuteness factor’ mistakes. With something as massive as the Panamera, any design idiosyncrasy is multiplied mercilessly in terms of scale.
A happy place to be though
Perhaps Panamera’s most peculiarly vexing design characteristic is the sheer magnificence of its cabin architecture – especially in comparison to the aesthetically challenged exterior surfacing.
Even in a world of fashionable Audi S8 ambience, Maserati Quattroporte detailing or retro Aston Martin Rapide charm the Panamera’s cabin is simply otherworldly. The materials, ergonomics, textures and lack of digitised functions cosset all four occupants, yet still prioritises the driver without debiting design harmony.
Despite a slightly truncated field of view through the front windscreen for rear passengers (due to the width of those sculptured front seats) the Panamera cabin is essentially faultless.
Cabin is devoid of a digital driver interface - and all the better for it. Two rows of logically arranged buttons control all functionality. Driving position faultless.
A car built for driving
When you’ve adjusted the purposefully shaped driver’s seat to perfection, taken in the cabin’s sumptuous detailing you’re a world away from worrying about the ghastly view slower road users will have of the Panamera when you pass them.
I optioned to drive the Panamera S first, leaving the rapid Turbo for last.
From the moment you settle into the driver’s seat you realise a fundamental difference between the Panamera and every other four-door performance car out there - the Leipzig built car’s raison d'être is driving bliss.
You sit low, almost abnormally low for a four-door sedan. Explore the footwell with your driving shoes and you’ll find the pedal offset is perfectly arranged to your right. Stare dead-ahead and the engine speed dial takes pride of place in the centre of the instrument binnacle.
Panamera’s ergonomics are singularly arranged to the notion of a driver being the narcissistic centre of the universe. I like it.
Starting the Panamera reconfirms its refusal to pander to contemporary design trends, you turn a keyfob slotted into a traditional ignition all halfway round clockwise to ignite the V8. None of this start-button pseudo racecar rubbish.
Setting off on an outstanding test and evaluation route (taking in the best of the Boland and Overberg’s mountain passes) I had a preconception concerning the naturally aspirated Panamera. I though it would be good, certainly swift, but not engagingly fast. I was monumentally wrong…
Rear-wheel drive 'S' model is delightfully balanced, tucking its nose in keenly through medium radius corners at speed.
Standard ‘S’ quite sufficient, actually
On paper the Panamera S’s 4.8l V8 might be 6 units short of the magic 300kW figure (and weigh close to 2t fuelled-up with driver in command), yet any statistical tale of tape in no way translates to anything but dynamic excellence in the real world.
When you happen upon a choice driving road, take it from me, just bypass the ascending ‘Sport’ setting and press the ‘Sports plus’ button. This urgently remaps the PDK transmission’s shift regime, throttle response and firms up the adaptive dampers to a level offering the least rebound (reducing ride height by 25mm) and optimal steering feedback. In ‘Sport plus’ mode, succinctly – the Panamera shows off its valid Porsche 911 DNA.
You can be unbelievably (almost irresponsibly) late on the brakes, the rear end (that phat, oddly styled aft axle mass of magnesium) will not be unsettled. Bodyroll is not a word familiar to Panamera engineers. Nor is understeer.
The result is a 2t four-door sedan which corners as flatly as the 911. In fact, the only sense of lateral forces possibly broaching Panamera’s nearly limitless mechanical grip levels comes from its telepathically gifted steering, which twitches millimetre perfect circumference messages of contact patch grip reduction through the wheel rim.
Panamera simply compresses time and space in a way no four-door sedan should, it devours distances at seemingly treacherous pace with aplomb. On the more rural roads of our evaluation route (around the Caledon area) it refused, doggedly, to be unsettled – even when encountering alarmingly dimensioned bumps mid-corner at express velocities.
It’s that good then? Really? In a word – absolutely. It's unspeakably good in fact.
Whereas S8s, M5s and all AMGs are fine cars, they are, in some way or another based on existing sedan platforms – with inevitable (some would say negligible in the M5’s case) compromises. Panamera was designed from its tyre tread contact surface to roofline to be a no compromise driving machine.
See those metal inserts where your thumbs meet the wheel? Those are the PDK shift selectors, and sometimes, they are unhappily called into action - mid-corner...
PDK – a curious doppelgänger?
Is the Panamera dynamically perfect? No.
The PDK transmission is practically un-driveable in ‘Sport plus’ mode around an urban environment. So, remember to disengage ‘Sport plus’ when entering quiet little hamlets connecting those challenging mountain passes Panamera so excels at navigating..
The steering wheel is disappointingly plastic too (especially the wheel boss) and those ambidextrous shift manipulators are terrible.
You push away to shift up, and pull towards you to go a ratio down. The positioning is dreadful though, with the dual selectors mounted where the horizontal steering wheel spokes meet the wheel rim.
Consequently, when you are at speed mid-corner with your thumb wrapping around the rim to tighten your grip on the steering wheel, you sometimes inadvertently engage a ratio up or down.
Traditional left-down/right-up shift paddles are infinitely superior. That said, Porsche’s engineers would tell you the PDK shifts better than you could when simply left to its own devices anyhow…
No current four-door car touch the Turbo. Odd shape makes sense at speed where delicate aerodynamic balance brings itself to bear. Yellow calipers denote optional carbon ceramic brakes - able to stop time, never mind the car.
Oh yes, about the Turbo – nearly forgot about that.
Well, I drove it along the last stretch, the incomparable (and quite tight) R44 Clarence drive and trust me - you don’t really want to know about it.
It kept engaging the rear differential lock (attempting to quell some hooliganesque tyre chirping) in third gear with 770Nm’s worth of peak rotational force on overboost in ‘Sport plus’ mode. This proved quite challenging, for lack of a blasphemous term...
Of course the Turbo does not have a conventional centre-diff aligned all-wheel drive system, employing an cleverly designed clutch pack instead, which I think allowed for the third gear rear-wheel biased high-jinks.
It’s a silly car then. Way too fast for most public roads, yet disarmingly engaging too - due to its relentless power delivery and demanding nature.
In a Panamera Turbo you don’t second guess yourself, it commands the fullest attention of all your driving faculties. It's hugely accomplished, but, the question is: how about you?
Firstly, are you willing to accept the consequences of its stupefying acceleration (0-100km/h in less than four seconds) courtesy of overboost afflicted fuel atomisation?
Secondly, are you spatially aware enough to manage the radically truncated deceleration distances due to its savage acceleration? Then, thirdly, could you tame the apparently suicidal corner entry speeds with deftly managed steering angle input?
If you can’t answer yes to all three those questions, just get a neat rear-wheel drive Panamera S instead, it’s all the four-door 911 you’ll ever need.
Porsche’s Panamera then. Unsightly, but so capable you’ll never really care…
Panamera S R1 040 000
Panamera 4S R1 065 000
Panamera Turbo R1 665 000