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Driven: New Porsche Panamera in SA

2017-01-30 07:43

NEW PANAMERA: 'Let’s put it this way; Porsche don’t gamble. They do. And they did this one brilliantly,' writes Egmont Sippel as he drives the new Porsche Panamera in Cape Town. Image: Wheels24 / Sergio Davids

  Video

Motoring journalist Calvin Fisher drives the new Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. It's clever and frugal, but does it still drive like a Porsche should?

Egmont Sippel

Cape Town - First, we had the locomobile, that crazy machine on wheels that not only made a helluva racket, but transported itself – from here to there – whilst huffing and puffing along in a cloud of dust and smoke. 

That was a century ago. Then came the luxmobile. 

“In the pre-WW2-period,” much maligned ex-BMW-designer Chris Bangle once said, “it was like sitting on your stoep (the car’s cabin), overlooking the front garden of your specific piece of real estate (the car’s hood), with the backyard (the car’s trunk) tucked onto the rear end of the mansion.”

And a big piece of real estate it was, that hood, when you found yourself seated in a Duesenberg, Packard, Rolls-Royce or Bugatti, even if it happened to be a roadster or coupé version of whichever model.

Sporty, then, in terms of a flat roof (i.e. a low canopy over the front porch) – but just as difficult to drive as its limo brethren, as the “sportier” types were equally as big, brash, heavy, powerful, thirsty and clumsy, which happened to be the complete antithesis of small, light, short and agile; the sports car.

And never the twain shall meet – although Maserati and Jaguar tried, at various points and with mixed results, to infuse high-end four-door luxury with a discernibly sporty gene, the first genuine example being the Trident’s original V8 Quattroporte (1963).

Even Ferrari had a one-off go in the extremely lovely and low-slung Pinin concept car.

Yet, the modern high-performance four-door sports saloon only took off, in all seriousness, with the introduction of Maserati’s fifth generation Quattroporte, (2003’s Tipo M139) and to a lesser extent Merc’s CLS shorter-than-5-meter four door coupé (2004), followed by what, in the rarefied air of this sparsely inhabited universe, can only be described as an explosion: 2009’s Porsche Panamera and 2010’s Aston Martin Rapide.

Since then we’ve also seen the launch of Audi’s A7 (2010), BMW’s 6 series Gran Coupé (2012) and Aston Martin’s exclusive Lagonda Taraf super-saloon (2015).

The Taraf is decidedly more saloon than the Rapide, which, in turn, boasted a far more dynamic flyline than the original Panamera. Sleek, svelte and beautiful the 2010 Aston was, compared to the bloated Rubenesque dullness of 2009’s Panamera.

Yet, under the skin, the latter shone, and not only mechanically and dynamically. The cabin was a work of art, as well.

So, how could Porsche possibly improve on this, apart from fixing the blatantly obvious? 

Enter Zuffenhausen’s second-genaration Panamera, internally coded as G2. 
From the same family they are, G1 and G2. That’s clear from the word go.
Yet, all that remains from G1 is the car’s name, the Porsche crest and the basic idea of a four-door luxury limo with the performance and roof line of a sports car.

Oh yes, and a couple of screws.

The rest are all new, which adds up to a massive gamble in the automotive world, to build a car from scratch, from the floor up: chassis, engines, gearbox, infotainment, electronic architecture, electronic driver aid systems, infotainment, connectivity, styling, dash, materials, assembly techniques...

Yet, Porsche even went further and built the G2’s body-in-white in a new plant as well, the latter erected – at a cost of €500-million – on empty land adjacent to the already established Leipzig facility.

What’s more, is that G2’s outer aluminium skin, including the roof and floor, is glued to the body-in-white’s steel structure by a special – and, yes, new – bonding process.

Did the gamble pay off?

Let’s put it this way: Porsche don’t gamble. They do.
And they did this one brilliantly.
Let’s take a look.

Styling

Michael Mauer was the man who designed Panamera G1, although some of the groundwork for the car had already been laid by Harm Lagaay when Mauer arrived at Porsche, from Saab, in 2004.

By that time, the young designer had already acquainted himself with somewhat blunt and bland metal-dominated front ends plus wagon-like rooflines at the rear, having designed the Saab 9-X, the 9-3 Sport Hatch, the 9-2X and before that, at Mercedes, the V-Class and first A-Class.

Even the first SLK, also designed by Mauer, had a slightly uptight little snout.

However, for Panamera G1 Mauer encountered a problem in the shape of Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking. The boss was a big man, literally and figuratively. He insisted on enough headroom to accommodate his own towering frame.

The result was a flyline with a bulge at the back, as if G1’s rear had been hit by a Mack truck, pushing the metal forwards and upwards to form an ungainly kink in the roof, right above the rear axle.

The unwanted by-product was an overly short rear overhang, which sat uncomfortably with an overly long front overhang, the subconscious always associating the latter with front wheel drive.

So, Mauer’s first move when he designed Panamera G2 was to sit down with engineers to request new hard point locations. 

Stretching the wheelbase by 30 mm firstly created the proportions to design and fit bigger wheels – G1 rode on 18-, 19- and 20” alloys; G2 upped this to 19-, 20- and 21” – and it all looks terrifically good.

The great advantage, however, is a flyline that now sweeps in a flowingly fast and dynamically clean arc – with a 20 mm reduction in height above the rear passenger compartment – presenting a vastly improved side-on aesthetic, especially on the truly elegant Executive model which extends the standard wheelbase by 150mm; 140mm for extra leg room and the other 10 mm to recline rear seats even more than in standard-length cars; the Panamera measures 5049mm, the Executive 5199mm.  

The rest of Panamera’s dimensions also grew even though weight has been pegged at about 1.85 tons, depending on model, as the 50kg gain in lighter materials have been offset by a 50kg loss in extra equipment.

G2 is nevertheless longer (5049 vs 4970mm), wider (1937 vs 1931mm) and higher (1423 vs 1418mm) than G1.
Visually, though, the new car looks a lot lighter on its feet. Whereas the somewhat podgy G1 could overwhelm its wheels at times, G2’s lithe and lean body is carried with ease and grace.
And lots of pace, as we will discover, shortly.

Gearbox 

The second packaging issue that received full engineering attention was the need for a compact new gearbox. 
As a grand turismo, the Panamera G2 was never destined to carry a bigger mill than the Turbo’s new 4.0-litre V8, even though one can fully imagine access, if Porsche so wished, to Audi/Lamborghini’s 449 kW 5.2-litre V10.

That’s not to say that the good folk from Zuffenhausen ain’t interested in supercar power. They are.

But the Panamera solution will be to tap into the future; V8 delivery will be augmented by the use of electric motors.

For this reason, the old 7-speed PDK had to go, to create enough space for electric components between the gearbox and new longitudinally mounted six and eight cylinder mills.

Given a newly developed group platform called MSB (Modularer Standardantriebsbaukasten, or modular standard drive train system), the Panamera is clearly not slated to ever serve as a pure electric vehicle (EV). The latter requires a bespoke platform to carry the battery pack in the belly of the beast, under the floor – like Porsche’s Mission E concept.

ZF, in the meantime, was not only tasked to supply a shorter box. Porsche also stipulated the need for an extra ratio, to improve consumption, plus the ability to handle 1000Nm.

No easy task, then, but the solution was an elegant one: four shafts instead of two, so that 5th and 7th, and 6th and 8th, could share the same gear seats, resulting in a 8-speed PDK that’s 142mm shorter than its 7-speed predecessor, albeit 7kg heavier, courtesy of the two extra shafts.

The two top gears, by the way, have overdrive ratios, meaning that all Panameras reach top speed in 6th, whilst average fuel consumption is cut by 1.7%.

Contributing to this improvement, and ensuring optimal traction at all times, is an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch optimising the distribution of engine torque fore and aft in terms of latitudinal en longitudinal forces as measured by PTM (Porsche Traction Management) sensors.

PTV Plus (Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus) optimizes distribution of the rear axle’s power to secure maximum traction from the rear wheels, as a set.

And traction, believe me, is phenomenal. G2’s rear end might be so much prettier than before, but it’s all business down under when the power is laid on; the Panamera launches like a rocket ship, no doubt helped along by 315/35-ZR20’s on the Turbo’s rear (295/40-ZR19’s on the 4S) plus the permanent, fully variable all-wheel drive system governed by PTV. 

And some mighty engines.

Engines

These are the five criteria in terms of which new engines for G2 had to be developed: They had to be lighter, more efficient, better packaged and more powerful, with better consumption and hence lower emissions.
Pretty straightforward. Every single motor manufacturer targets these objectives.

But few get it as right as Porsche.

The two petrol mills slated for SA, as an example: the Panamera 4S gets a 2.9-litre V6 (324kW, 550Nm; 0-100 in 4.2 s with Sport Chrono; 289 km/h top speed; 8.1 litre/100km) and the Panamera Turbo is fired by a 4.0-litre-V8 (404kW, 770Nm; 0-100 in 3.6 s with Sport Chrono; 306 km/h top speed; …. litre/100 km).

Or how about the Panamera 4S Diesel’s 4.0-litre V8 (a first for Porsche; up to now, it has always been a V6 diesel): 310 kW, 850 Nm; injection pressure of 2500 bar; 0-100 in 4.1 s; an optional 90 litre tank good for 1 500 km?
That’s pretty impressive, every single statistic, in mills where Audi took the lead in diesel van V6 development, whilst Porsche took care of the V8.

All three engines use 90 degree architecture with two turbochargers in the aluminium block’s “hot V”, precisely for quick spool-up.

On the V8, both turbos (supplied by BorgWarner) are twin-scroll and boosted to 1.5 bar; on the V6, the two turbos (also supplied by BorgWarner) are both mono-scroll and boosted to 1.2 bar.

That’s in contrast to Audi’s 3.0-litre TFSI V6, which uses a single twin-scroll turbo.

So, why then 2.9-litre for the Panamera?

Well, in terms of basic structure, the Audi and Porsche V6’s are essentially identical – both run a bore of 84.5 mm – but Porsche has shortened the stroke to 86.0 mm, for a displacement of 2894 cc, versus the Audi’s 2995 cc.
Exhaust manifolds on both, however, are integrated into cylinder heads.

Both engines also run separate coolant circulation loops for the block and cylinder heads, the latter reducing exhaust gas temperatures to reduce fuel consumption, especially when driving enthusiastically.

Like the V8, both engines also utilize high-pressure injection valves centrally positioned in the combustion chambers, whilst injection pressure has been upped from 140 to 250 bar.

And both engines use a twin-profiled intake cam (what is essentially known in Audi-speak as Audi Valve Lift, or AVL, and in Porsche-speak as VarioCam Plus) to run variable cam phasing on the intake and exhaust valves, plus valve lift switching on intake, meaning short intake valve opening times at low or part-load, with a second camshaft contour securing longer opening times and larger valve stroke at higher loads, for more power.

The V8 uses VarioCam Plus with adaptive cylinder control, to deactivate four cylinders via two-stage sliding cams, during low-load engine phases, for a consumption gain of 30%.

The V8 (with 10.1:1 compression versus the V6’s 10.5:1 ratio) also runs a torque plateau, rather than a torque curve: 770 Nm from 1960-4500 rpm, with a red line at close to 8000 rpm! 

This type of thing needs good oil and good oil management, the engineers having succeeded during their endeavours to also reduce consumption by 50%.
By the same token, fuel consumption on the V8 has been reduced with 1.1 litre to 9.3 litre/100 km.

Chassis and steering

Panamera G2 has been built on the VW Group’s new MSB modular platform (see “Gearbox”), which is capable of accommodating up to three wheelbases.

In the process, the basic all-aluminium double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension lay-outs of G1 have, broadly speaking, been retained – which is not to say that the suspension has been left untouched. 
Links and pivot bearings have all been put on diet, whilst elasto and axle kinematics have all been improved in the name of a better ride quality plus agile and accurate road manners.

The biggest improvements, though, are (1) new three-chamber air springs from Continental (G1 carried two chambers) with an air volume increase of 60%; and (2) a redeveloped PDCC system (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, now known as Porsche 4D-Chassis Control) acting as master brain to control and co-ordinate all other chassis systems, whether they’re standard or optional.

For instance: on turn-in, PDCC will send a signal to, let’s say, the air springs, PTV Plus, PDCC Sport, the rear wheel steering motors and standard PASM (with electronic damping on each individual wheel) to prepare them as early as possible for a joint effort, in the pursuit of the best possible dynamic performance throughout the cornering phase.

Previously, most of the systems reacted to their own sensors only. Porsche 4D-Chassis Control integrates the data drawn from all three dimensions (longitudinal, lateral and vertical) to shape a cohesive overall response in real time, the fourth dimension – hence 4D. 

If necessary, PDCC will even limit the outer air springs, especially at the front, to a single chamber, if only for a second or two, to stabilize the car and improve control. So quick is it, that the driver, let alone passengers, will be completely unaware of this action.

Sach’s new mono-tube shock is also lighter than before, improving responses, whilst air springs offer the three obligatory body heights: normal; 20mm higher than normal; and 28mm lower in the front plus 20mm lower at the back, when travelling at speed – all in the name of a lower centre of gravity and better aerodynamics.

Handling is also improved via a stiffer body and structure, if not heavier; aluminium and high-strength Boron steel both represent more than 30% of the body, with virtually the entire outer skin from aluminium.

Panamera G2 also retains a ZF steering system, but a carry-over it is not, as G1 used hydraulic power assistance, whilst G2 gets a new electro-mechanical system which, by the way, is not carried over from the 911 either, as the latter’s steering gear is positioned north of the front axle and the Panamera’s south of the front axle, particularly because the tight packaging of the V8, and especially the V8’s oil pan plus the resulting ground clearance, leaves no space for the steering gear and cross link in front of the wheel center.

Feel, weighting, fluidity and accuracy are all to be commended, though; Porsche and ZF has created another great tiller.

Optional technical driver assistance systems

To minimize body roll through corners, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport (PDCC Sport) utilizes electric motors to tighten up active front and rear anti-roll bars, whilst Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus) sharpens the car’s rotation via braking inside wheels and distributing torque via the electronically controlled rear diff to the appropriate rear wheel. In the pursuit of better traction, the differential can also be locked by PTV Plus.

G2 also offers rear wheel steering, comprising of an electric motor on each rear wheel to turn it up to 2.8 degrees in the opposite direction than the steered wheels, for sharper rotation at low speeds, normally under 60 km/h.
Somewhere above 80 km/h rear wheel steering will start to ever so slightly turn the rear wheels in the same direction as the steered wheels, for greater stability at high speeds.

All these systems – plus satnav, LED Matrix headlights and InnoDrive (as a form of selfdriving) – are controlled and integrated via PDCC’s master brain to achieve the best, easiest and safest possible drive and handling experience.

The Panamera also boasts a host of active aero components – active grille shutters that close during start-up and at high speeds and an active rear spoiler that splits and extends outwards on the Turbo, making it twice as big. 
But these are standard, rather than optional.

All of this control, not to mention what’s happening with infotainment and the rest, requires rather a lot of computing. 

For this reason, the Panamera’s control module count has been raised from 70 (on G1) to 112.
But here’s a really mind boggling little factoid: the car’s total lines of code have increased from 2-million to, wait for it, a 100-million!

Cabin, connectivity and electronics

Quite a few of G2’s 100 million code lines would have to serve a plethora of cabin functions, of course, and the Panamera boasts an all-new electrical architecture to support connectivity and infotainment.

The instrument cluster features an analog rev counter, flanked by a pair of configurable 7” screens on either side, on whence the driver can choose to display info or gauges as the mood takes him or her.

To the left of the rev counter, the screens display speed and vehicle assist features; to the right vehicle or satnav info.

The Apple CarPlay compatible main screen, with haptic control, situates in the center of the dash. Using function icons to the left and right, it can be configured in a zillion ways, but serves best when you identify your favourites and store it by dragging and dropping, to be called up on demand by swiping, etcetera – you know the drill.

In the process, the cabin has been cleansed of so many buttons to effect a look of cool modern elegance, yet one with spirit and confidence emanating from the upright dash, clad in wonderful swathes of leather with the most beautiful stitching – a theme that’s extended, with great success, to the door panels, the seats and a truly classy, and relatively spacious, rear cabin.

Porsche has indeed nailed cockpit and cabin style plus ambience like no other manufacturer in the business of building expensive luxury cars, let alone one that can perform like a sports car as well but with a certain measure of inner strength and confidence 

Panamera G2 indeed boasts other marvellous tech features, too – 4G LTE connectivity enabling a WiFi hotspot, lots of in-car apps (including a Porsche Connect smart phone app), night vision assist, marvellous surround view reverse camera images, InnoDrive using satnav data to compute and activate optimal gear selections and the like.

It’s overwhelming, really.

Or it would have been, had the cabin not been so meticulously designed, with such an aura of calm, tranquil and relaxed modernity.

Which is just the space you want to be in, when the rest of the car gets scalded like a cat on a hot tin roof. 
And boy, can the new Panamera react to that rather well.

Hybrid

I’ll do an in-depth analysis of the Panamera and the 911 GTS, which have both been launched internationally in Cape Town over the past two weeks, at a later stage.

But one or two interesting titbits, in the meantime.

I took the Hybrid for a couple of outings in the Mother City and vicinity. The first drive covered just more than 40 km in the first hour, meaning an average speed of just under 40km/h (39km/h, to be exact).
During that time, fuel consumption averaged 1.2 litre/100 km.

Most of the time, the Hybrid was thus running on pure battery power alone, with the combustion engine only kicking in when the throttle was thrashed, after which the car had to be brought back to a standstill to activate pure electric force again.

It’s clear, though, that Porsche is now right at the cutting edge of PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) technology. Middle-2016, the Volvo XC90 PHEV – and yes, it’s a heavier vehicle – battled to reach 20 km on a single battery pack charge, even when driving extremely slowly and carefully.

The Panamera Hybird was driven in a vastly more spirited way.

On a second run down Cape Town’s famed Blue Route, the car easily reached 138km/h before I had to back off, with no sign yet at that stage, of the combustion engine preparing to kick in and take over from the electric motor.

One noticeable oddity about the Hybrid was an uneven pulse on the braking pedal, when used gently. The explanation is quite interesting. Watch this space if you want to find out why.

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