We were quick to question its “unique” styling at the Shanghai Motor Show in 2009, but all doubts were dashed upon sitting behind the wheel – Panamera was undeniably Porsche. As it turns out, the Panamera created an all-new segment for four-seat executive hatchbacks, and BMW 5-Series GT and [soon-to-be] Audi A7 have both stepped in for a piece of the pie.
True to the marque’s top-down approach at marketing its cars, the first Panameras to hit the road were the most powerful models: the S, 4S and the flagship Turbo. Now, a year later, the little brother has come to market with 300 horsepower V6. But make no mistake, starting at more than $74,000, this is anything but a “base” model.
The Panamera is unmistakably Porsche in design, and its exterior styling fits in nicely with the rest of the lineup. The front fenders sweep up and outward like strong shoulders, and the hood is long and wide, with two thoughtfully-placed creases that hint to the powerful engine below. LED daytime running lights are swiftly becoming a standard in the industry, and Porsche isn’t an exception. Looking beyond the front wheels, Panamera is a long, wide machine. Its doors are large and open for easy entry and exit for all passengers, and the car sits low on its wheels, giving it real sports car curb appeal.
The question of style with the Panamera has always been its rear, which slopes off quickly into a rounded rump. In much the same fashion that Porsche enthusiasts called for the apocalypse in 2003 with the launch of the Cayenne, the Panamera has received more negative attention for its design than it deserves. The shape of the car’s hips don’t look too unlike the Porsche 911, only the Panamera is larger. It even has a speed-sensitive electronic spoiler that deploys with spirited driving. In this case, form follows function, and the shape of the rear is what makes the practical storage space and cavernous rear legroom possible. Interestingly enough, the Panamera receives an inordinate amount of attention from passers-by. We were questioned at stop lights, gas stations and even boxed in for photo opportunities while cruising on the highway. And, not a single one of the brave souls who approached us had a negative comment about the styling.
Porsche and “Spartan” are not Synonyms
Inside, the materials used to craft the cabin are sheer perfection. Watch out, Maserati Quattroporte, the Panamera has raised the stakes. Our car had the $3,300 leather package, and we think it’s a bargain for twice the price. If there’s a surface you can touch, it’s covered in leather. Seats, dash, door handles, speaker covers, heated steering wheel, everything.
The front seats are spacious and their pyramid design stays true to the traditional sports car seating arrangements. And what’s more, they are exceptionally comfortable. They’re bolstered in all the right places for tossing the car around a bend, but they’re soft and supple, and make for perfect riding companions on a long haul.
The infotainment system in the car, dubbed Porsche Command Module (PCM), is run through a high-resolution screen stacked at the top of the button-laden console. PCM is not the most intuitive system to learn how to use, but once figured out, its features compare to any other luxury sedan. Perhaps one of our favorite features on the car was the inclusion of a full-color information display built into the dash and controlled by the steering wheel.
However, the real magic in the Panamera is what happens behind the front seats. Two full-size bucket seats are separated by a rear console, giving the passengers of the car the same luxurious, yet sporty, ride the driver experiences. And, oh, the legroom. We stacked four men, all more than 6’2” in the car, and not a single knee touched a seatback.
As for cargo space, the power lift gate opens to reveal enough room to store luggage for four, and the seats fold down in case you have a larger load.
Even with the smallest power plant available, the front-engine Panamera V6 never feels wanton for added gusto. Rated at 300 horsepower, we estimate that the 0-60 time is somewhere under six seconds, and that’s plenty fast enough for us. If you’re in the market for a vehicle with truly blistering speed, you may want to consider the 400 HP S or 500 HP Turbo models, though.
The engine is mated with Porsche’s seven-speed dual-clutch PDK system, which delivers both a fun and fuel-efficient drive. The car also comes standard with Start-Stop technology, which turns the engine off to cut emissions at stop lights and in heavy traffic. As soon as your foot comes back off the brake, the engine revs back to life. This system can be easily disabled by switching the setting to “off” on the console or by placing the car into Sport mode. Fuel economy lines up with other cars in the 300 HP range, and we averaged just over 23 mpg during our week-long demo.
When it comes to handling, there are few brands that do it as well as Porsche. Despite its extended wheelbase and added weight, Panamera is no exception. During spirited driving, the Panamera feels like a larger version of the 911. It’s responsive, quick and body roll is limited. On the highway, the car is a silent, comfortable ride that rivals any of the competition in the executive sedan segment.
Priced like a Porsche
The Panamera V6 starts at $74,400, excluding destination, and the AWD model can be purchased for an additional $4,500. Porsche offers an extensive range of options, as well as a full paint and interior customization program called “Porsche Exclusive,” all of which can grow the total cost of the car pretty quickly. However, the Panamera V6 is intended to compete with the base Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series and Audi A8, making the Porsche an attractive option in the highline sedan segment.
The 2011 Panamera V6 adds greater affordability to an already exceptional product. It’s fun, luxurious, and carries with it all the road presence of the Italian brands, which is sure to make the driver feel like a celebrity behind the wheel. And, with recent quality studies putting Porsche at the top of the list, the Panamera is a great choice for any willing garage.