Though Porsche is best known for two-door sport coupes like the 911, it's the more practical Porsche -- the Cayenne SUV -- that puts dinner on the executive's tables. 2010 sees the introduction of the second Porsche designed for sensibility as well as sportiness, the four-door Panamera. How does the 2010 Porsche Panamera stack up against other sport sedans -- and other Porsches? Read on. Price range $90,775 - $200,275, EPA fuel economy estimates 15-16 MPG city, 23-24 MPG highway.
First Glance: Cut to the chase
My first draft of this review opened with a well-constructed three-paragraph discourse on whether building a four-door Porsche was the right thing to do. But then I figured, why beat around the bush? You're not reading this review to find out what I think of Porsche's business decisions. You're reading because you want to know if I think the Panamera is any good.So I'll tell you: Yes, I think the Panamera is good. In fact, I think it's great -- and not just because I love Porsches. I think it's great because, well, for one thing, it is great; and for another, it's one of the most original cars I've ever driven.
The Panamera's styling tells a lot of the story. You know how the Panamera doesn't really look like anything else on the road? Well, the whole car is like that. It's as if Porsche's engineers started with no pre-conceived notion of what a sport sedan should be. They seemed to ignore the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and Mercedes S-Class -- the cars against which the Panamera is supposed to compete -- and just did their own thing. And it worked. Big time.
This is a big car -- wider than a Mercedes S-Class and almost as long as a BMW 7-series. The Panamera is priced in more or less the same range as its rivals, from $90,775 for the base-model 400 hp rear-drive Panamera S up to $133,575 for the 500 hp all-wheel-drive Panamera Turbo. But options are expensive -- check off enough boxes on the order form and you can add up to $75,000 worth of extras.
In the Driver's Seat: British elegance
Inside the Panamera I found the sort of low-ceiling wood-and-leather old-boys-club elegance I'm used to seeing in British cars. The Panamera exhibits a level of luxury that surpasses Audi and BMW and gives Mercedes and Jaguar a run for their money. There are several levels of opulence on offer, but even the cheapie bare-bones $91,000 base model comes with power leather-trimmed seats, navigation, and a fantastic stereo.
Porsche designed the Panamera's driving position to echo the 911, and while the low-slung front seats (link goes to photo) feel sporty, the resulting view makes it tough to maneuver the bulky Panamera in tight spaces. Over-the-shoulder visibility isn't great, although the big side mirrors compensate nicely.
The button-laden center console looks frightfully complex at first glance, but the layout is actually brilliant in its simplicity -- climate controls up top, chassis controls down below -- and I had it down pat within minutes. Dual-zone climate control is standard, and the driver and passenger can set their own individual fan speed, which is very cool (no pun intended).
The back seat is comprised of low-set twin buckets, which provide plenty of headroom and easy entry and exit. Legroom is decent, though you don't get the same stretch-out space as a Mercedes S-Class, and I thought the backrest angle was a bit too laid back for comfort. The trunk is respectably big -- 15.7 cubic feet -- and the Panamera's hatchback body means it'll swallow bulky cargo that won't fit into a sedan.
On the Road: A four-door 911?
The question everyone seems to be asking is "Does the Panamera drive like a 911?" Porsche brought us out to the Road America racetrack in Wisconson to find the answer -- and the answer is "Of course not." The Panamera is a two-ton family car, not a purpose-built rear-engine performance car. That said, it comes surprisingly close. The Panamera seems to occupy the no-man's-land between really good sports sedans and proper sports cars. I drove all three models: The 400 hp, rear-drive Panamera S, the all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S, and the lightning-fast 500 hp AWD Panamera Turbo, all of which come with PDK, Porsche's 7-speed twin-clutch transmission. Out on the track, it became clear that all three versions of the Panamera had more traction than I had nerve. It was only on the slowest, sharpest corners that I was able to break the tires' grip on the pavement -- and even then, not much.
The Panamera's steering feel is top notch and the brakes are excellent, although the pad material didn't seem to cope well with repeated hard use -- bits of the pads were chunking off and sticking to the discs, causing the front end to judder like crazy under hard braking, although the problem went away once we returned to the public roads.
And it was out on the public roads that I discovered the true magic of the Panamera. Thanks to its four-corner air suspension, the Panamera's superior handling doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort -- it's as smooth, quiet and composed as a Mercedes. The most difficult thing about driving the Panamera is sticking to the speed limit.
Journey's End: I'm a fan!
I'm a big fan of the Panamera, and not just because it goes fast and handles well. No, I love the Panamera because it shows what talented engineers and designers can do when given a clean sheet of paper, a clearly-defined set of goals, and no restrictions. Yes, it's a little expensive and a little ugly, but man, does it drive well -- and it drives well no matter what kind of driving you're doing, be it a run down to the store, a run around a racetrack, or a run across the country.
In writing this review, I've left a few things out -- the optional SportChrono package, which adds a lap timer and a no-holds-barred "Sport Plus" mode for the transmission, suspension and stability control system; the auto-stop feature, which shuts off the engine at stoplights, just like a hybrid; and the excellent EPA fuel economy figures (16 MPG city/24 MPG highway for the S and 4S and 15/23 for the Turbo, both high enough to avoid a gas guzzler tax) -- all the more evidence that the Panamera is well worth the lofty asking prices.
Even so, the Panamera isn't the answer for everyone. If you want interior space, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-series and Audi A8 all do the job better. If you want four doors and raw power, the Cadillac CTS-V offers up an extra 56 horsepower for less than half the price of a Panamera Turbo. And if you want the true Porsche experience, there's no substitute for a good ol' 911. So no, it isn't perfect -- but it is one of the best sports sedans I've ever driven. -- Aaron Gold