Performance (engine and handling)
The 400 hp, 4.8 liter V8 in the Panamera S starts smoothly and is full of song. Its timbre announces itself as part of the experience. The sound is not a rumble or electric hum. It is a deep, luxurious readiness that says there will be no silent wafting from A to B. The driver will always know what the engine is capable of. In the case of the Panamera S at Albuquerque altitude, it can do plenty. This is a balanced machine where engine performance feels perfectly synchronized with its sophisticated suspension and steering.
It should be noted that it is near impossible to separate the performance of the engine from how it is enabled by the PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission. They are seamless partners in stoplight traffic, freeway merges and back road charges. Yes, the Panamera begs for back roads and the long way home.
As expected of sport luxury sedans in this class, the Panamera’s suspension employs sophisticated technology allowing both a sport luxury sedan ride and sports car handling. All of the acronyms such as DSC and ABS are present, but in this case it remarkable how subtle and effective they are. The Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) eliminates freeway hop upon request and limits body movement in its more sporting modes. The refinement is such that most drivers will likely pick a sport setting befitting the car’s balance and trust its sensors to soften the ride when the quality of the road take a turn for the worse.
Porsche’s precise steering feel has been transferred intact. Tar strips and rough pavement make themselves known, but only as information, never as an annoyance. The car tracks true at very high speeds and turns in with a precision that may startle new drivers. It is very easy to forget that a back seat and luggage area stretch behind you. As with most German cars in this class, the brakes feel limitless. Tip-in is a bit soft as a nod to luxury, but it is a sensitive pedal providing exactly the deceleration requested.
The German obsession with technology is ever present in the Panamera, but less pronounced than in the competition. The optional high resolution Porsche Communications Management (PCM) screen in the center of the console is relatively intuitive as a touch screen, but the menus can be a challenge to master and distracting from the road. The voice activation feature may help, but there will still be menus and commands to memorize. The optional rear entertainment screens have a similar add-on feel in this simple and focused cabin. None of these features are poorly executed; they are simply presented in a way that feels incongruous with the purpose of the car.
Most of Porsche’s technology investments are in the chassis and drivetrain. Not enough can be said about the PDK automated dual clutch transmission. While it can be shifted manually, the programming is such that it eerily anticipates the proper ratio before you even think to shift; especially in sport mode. The shift quality is seamless and yet precise in a way that no torque converter automatic can be.
The V8 is adorned with the latest efficiency and performance technologies such as direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. Its broad power band and quick throttle response belie its size.
Finally, the creative use of lightweight materials and innovative design techniques has produced a stiff body and chassis that feels lithe and full of purpose. It is decidedly different than the bank vault impression one gets from Mercedes and BMW which can weigh almost 500lbs more.
While the base price of the Panamera is closer to its peers than one might think, it does not offer the quite the same horsepower/torque or luxury per dollar. A few checkmarks on the options list or upgrading the model to make it competitive on paper stretches the pricing gap a little further. At the same time, if one limits the luxuries and focuses on the Panamera’s essence, the price point is in the hunt and there is an intrinsic value that simply cannot be bought in the other marques, even within the Alpinia and AMG brands derivatives. Those cars are sporting refinements of solid luxury sedans. The Panamera is a sports car with comfortable seating for four and plenty of space for today’s lifestyle. It’s a different solution with a different value equation.
The four-door Porsche is a reality. It can be your only car and you can honestly say that there is a sports car in the garage. The question for those looking at sport-luxury cars in this price range is will they find what they are looking for in the focused Panamera? Despite its utility, it simply is not as versatile a machine as its BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus competition. It cannot do full-on luxury the way others can. Kids can’t easily play in the back and grandmothers will always be awake and telling you to slow down. The best seat is the driver’s seat and perhaps that defeats the purpose of the cars in this class? Only the shopper knows the answer.
One lingering question is how does it compare to the much more expensive AMG, Alpina/M and S versions of the competition? As suggested above, the Panamera feels like a more cohesive solution than these cars. There is no question that the sporting versions of the BMW, Mercedes and Audi are thrilling, but not in the same fluid way that every model of the Panamera offers. It is, above all else, a performance car without compromise that happens to have four seats. Perhaps the best way to understand the Panamera is to drive a 911, then get in the Panamera and marvel at completeness of the DNA transfer. Large luxury sport sedan shoppers should think about the Panamera in view of its design brief. This car should not be sought for its specifications and badge alone. It deserves careful consideration and an extended test drive after which you will know which road to travel.
Many thanks to Don Schanning of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, & Porsche of Albuquerque for arranging this test drive.
|The official worldwide website of Porsche – www.porsche.com|
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