Pros: Mid- and upper-end models offer astounding performance; surprising rear passenger and cargo volume; Hybrid version offers 30 mpg highway.
Cons: Bubble-back styling isn't for everyone; options costs accumulate quickly; segment offers compelling competitors
The Porsche Panamera hit the market in 2009 and was hailed as a novel-if controversial-sedan from the manufacturer who banked their reputation on sports cars. Although Porsche's gamble on the SUV market proved successful (and led to the recently announced Macan, a smaller spinoff of the Cayenne), the Panamera sedan received a mixed reception, largely due to its bulbous styling and unlikely launch amidst a global recession.
History, at least so far, has been kind to the Porsche Panamera. As of spring 2012, no fewer than eight variants of the high-end sedan have become available: base ($75,200), 4 ($79,800), S ($90,300), 4S ($95,200), GTS ($109,900), S Hybrid ($95,000), Turbo ($136,700), and Turbo S ($173,200). And while the Panamera's look barely differs between models, the specifications are staggeringly different: the base model can hit 60 mph in a respectable six seconds flat, while the quickest, the Turbo S, achieves that speed in a supercar-like 3.6 seconds.
It may be an affront to purists who believe the Porsche crest should only grace highly focused, two-seater sports cars, but the Panamera has succeeded by attracting new buyers to the marque and offering a benchmark in the hotly contested high-end sports sedan field.
Comfort & Utility
Porsche has long espoused a "form follows function" design philosophy, and the Panamera is no exception. With a greenhouse that is rounded to maximize interior volume, its exceptional headroom was reputedly ordained by former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, who demanded that the sedan's back seats accommodate his six-foot-two-inch frame. With a coupelike center console that bisects the length of the cabin, the rear quarters aren't exactly sprawling-and it only accommodates two-but there is an overall feeling of airiness thanks to the tall roofline.
Despite its sedan layout, the Panamera shares some elements with crossover vehicles that have elevated profiles for greater cargo capacity. An automatic liftgate is standard, and roof-mounted hinges enable a large aperture for loading large objects, making the Panamera more of a plus-size hatchback than a traditional three-box sedan. The trunk offers comparable storage volume to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series, but when the rear seats are folded down, an expansive 44.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity becomes available.
The seats are supportive and sporty but comfortable enough for long drives, and front occupants are treated to the cabin's focal point: a button-intensive console that has slowly made its way into the rest of the Porsche lineup. While it may not be the most pared down design, the feature is distinctive, stylish, and easy enough to acclimate to- and given the proclivities for Porsche customers to stray off the beaten path, that's certainly not a bad thing.
Porsche is an engineering-focused company, and in keeping with that, the Panamera offers a wide array of cutting edge features in unexpected places. For instance, optional bi-xenon headlights in black ($1,345) not only incorporate an auto-leveling and washing system, they have static and dynamic cornering abilities and speed-sensitive headlight range control. Auto start/stop engine technology works with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to optimize fuel economy, while adjustable suspension dampers are available for $1,990. Auto-leveling air suspension can be had for $3,980, while an active anti-roll system with torque vectoring adds $5,000 to the MSRP.
Available creature comforts are also tech-heavy. A 16-speaker, 1,000-plus watt Burmester sound system is one of the finest available in any production car, and runs a steep $5,890. Rear multimedia entertainment via two seven-inch color touchscreens is available for $2,990.
Each tier of engine is packed with techy features, from VarioCam Plus variable valve timing to the Turbo S's special titanium/aluminum turbine wheels, which allow for quicker response time and help produce 553 lb-ft of torque during brief periods of overboost. Ceramic brakes are also available for $8,520, offering fade-free, track-ready stopping capabilities for the most demanding (and deep pocketed) drivers.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Thanks to the extensive use of aluminum for weight savings, the Panamera lineup manages to walk the tightrope between high performance and relatively low fuel consumption. Not one Panamera model is subject to gas guzzler tax.
Although the base V6 model achieves a decent 18/27 mpg, good numbers for a large sedan capable of 160 mph, the Panamera S Hybrid bests that by hitting 60 mph in 5.7 seconds-3/10 of a second quicker than the V6 model-and returning 22/30 mpg. The hybrid's win/win of performance and fuel economy may not justify its $19,800 premium, but it could be a no-brainer for many a spendy Porschephile, who will also likely fall for the plug-in hybrid when it reaches the U.S. market in 2014.
The GTS's 430-horsepower V8 enables a 4.3-second 0-to-60-mph time, but for truly blistering performance, look no further than the Turbo and Turbo S models, which produce 500 and 550 hp respectively and are capable of launching the four-seater to 60 mph in 4.0 and 3.6 seconds. Both models return 23 mpg on the highway.
The Porsche Panamera incorporates eight airbags for upper body, knee and side protection. Optional rear side airbags use a roll sensor that activates curtain airbags and belt latch tensioners.
The Panamera's body structure incorporates strong boron alloy and multiphase steel into the passenger cell for sturdiness. Up front, a longitudinal and crossbar structure absorbs energy using two different load paths, which helps protect the interior in the event of an accident. Also shielding the footwell is a stainless steel structure prepared using a special process involving high-pressure molding.
Other safety features include standard park assist, available adaptive headlights, traction control and stability control and active all-wheel drive.
It may be a large sedan with an imposing footprint, but twist the ignition key with your left hand in Porsche's Le Mans-inspired tradition, and the Panamera takes on the personality of a sports car.
Everything starts with the oversize centrally positioned tachometer. Its orange needle implicitly suggests that engine rpm is of more immediate concern than vehicle velocity. Get the thing going, and the steering feels direct and responsive, making the Panamera feel smaller than it should given its outside dimensions. Handling is intuitive and responsive-and grippier than any sedan has a right to be. It won't be confused with a Boxster, but the Panamera's ability to address the road belies its heft in a way that validates Porsche's reputation as an engineering company first and a car manufacturer second.
How fast will the Panamera take you? The answer varies dramatically depending on your budget: with a $98,000 price differential between the base V6 model and the Turbo S, acceleration ranges from adequate to breathtaking. Put this way, the top-tier Panamera model is a full second faster to 60 mph than the base model 911 Carrera. Now that's impressive.
Other Cars to Consider
Aston Martin Rapide - Starting at $207,895, the British-built Rapide is pricier than the Panamera, but it's also a rarer, more delicately appointed and more exotic 2+2 as well. And while the Panamera's back seat has coupelike styling affectations, it's considerably more spatially generous than the unapologetically snug rear quarters of the Rapide. The Aston Martin's V12 makes all the right sounds, and its sumptuous curves exude a far sexier flair, but die-hard drivers will prefer the Porsche's purposeful sense of function and performance.
Audi A8 - The Audi A8 4.2 Quattro starts at $78,750. The long-wheelbase L variant brings the price up to $84,700, and the $133,500 W12 6.3 model packs a 500-hp 12-cylinder engine for top-level performance. It may lack some of the feedback and feel of Porsche's bubbly sedan, but the Audi excels in interior design and high-end details. We expect the A8 to attract buyers more concerned about enjoying creature comforts and a lavish interior than the more driver-oriented Panamera.
Maserati Quattroporte - Propelled by a 4.7-liter V8 and available in S form with 434 hp ($127,250) or as a Sport GT S with 444 hp ($135,200), the Maserati Quattroporte is a more sensual choice that's philosophically closer to the Aston Martin Rapide than to the Panamera. A bit long in the tooth-the current model was first introduced in 2004-the Quattroporte may not come close to the Panamera's performance level or degree of tech savvy, but it does offer a style treatment that's arguably more elegant than the humpback Panamera.
The Porsche Panamera comes in so many variants, all good, that the choice is up to your appetite for speed and the amount you're willing to pay for it.