What is it?
Until the Panamera E-Hybrid arrives later in the year, the 4S Diesel is the fuel-sipping economy champion of Porsche’s brand new super-saloon range. Of course, these things are relative; you’re not going to find a 2.0-litre four-pot oil burner under the bonnet.
In fact, you get twice as much capacity and twice as many cylinders – a 3956cc twin-turbocharged V8 with variable turbine geometry (VTG). The headline numbers are an impressive 416bhp and a staggering 627Ib ft of torque. Thanks to those clever VTG snails, you only need 1000rpm on the dial to get all that twist. A brand new eight-speed PDK gearbox sends power to all four wheels.
Underneath is a new mixed-material MSB platform that will also be used for the next-gen Bentley Continental GT. This is not only more rigid, but is also usefully lighter to boot. Optional extras include a new three-chamber air suspension, all-wheel steer and a clever cruise control system that takes into account speed limits, bends and inclines to provide the most efficient cross-country transit.
What's it like?
That MSB platform may have trimmed a few kilos from the kerb weight, but the Panamera is still a hefty piece of kit. Regardless, the 4S Diesel is capable of building speed like few other four-doors. It never feels quite as fast as it actually is – a trait shared with every other model in the range. But still, few cars could keep up with a 4S Diesel driven hard.
While the massive reserves of torque allow rapid acceleration, they also make for effortlessly relaxed cruising. Driven sensibly in normal traffic conditions, we were amazed at how often the V8 was spinning at 1000rpm or less. In those situations, the engine is barely audible although a little tickle does reveal a slightly gritty, diesel edge. At least it’s unmistakably a V8 when you squeeze it harder.
More relevant in the real world is the economy the 4S Diesel is capable of. With plenty of self-restraint and a light right foot, you’ll be able to get more than 30mpg. Enjoy yourself a little, and this soon drops into the 20s.
Not only does the new ‘box allow hushed progress, it also offers buttery shifts while mooching and exceedingly swift ones when you’re in one of the racier modes. Even mashing the throttle unexpectedly in normal didn’t phase it; the transmission just drops a brace of ratios without fuss.
To avoid vaporising your rear tyres regularly, this engine only comes with a rear-biased all-wheel drive system. Unlike nose led rivals from within the Group (yes, we’re looking at you Audi), the Panamera feels much less keen to send drive to the front wheels.
With the stability control in Sport or off, the rear axle can be made to step out in an entertainingly controlled manner. Drive is soon shuffled to the front tyres to help pull you out, but not before a big silly grin has been plastered over your face.
You certainly know when torque reaches the front axle with the steering against the lockstops. Pulling out of a turning briskly, the steering starts to unwind itself hard as soon as the torque hits. It’s not something you’re likely to experience much, but it is off-putting. If you’re hoping this means you’ll be feeling subtle messages through the rim, forget it. While there is enough information to confidently know what the nose is up to and good weighting, more subtle messages are filtered out.
Even so, the way the Panamera can completely obliterate a road is nothing sort of sensational. The optional air suspension may give a soothing ride in comfort mode, but it gets more agile and progressively better at resisting roll as you switch up to Sport and then Sport Plus modes.
Unlike many similar systems, the Panamera never becomes bouncy or uncomfortable, even over a particularly scabby stretch of B-road. Even potholes and expansion joints fail to make the suspension crash, thump or feel out of its depth. Naturally, an S-Class or 7 Series is even more cosseting regardless of mode, but then neither can get around a corner anywhere near as competently.
Moving inside, there’s been something of a revolution. Although you still get the traditional analogue rev counter in the centre of the instrument cluster, a pair of configurable 7.0in screens now flanks it. There are elements of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, although, to be honest, it can’t quite match that system’s adaptability and ease of use.
In the centre of the dash is a large 12.3in touchscreen to control the PCM infotainment system. It looks good, but can lag slightly when you zoom in or twist a Google Map view of your surroundings and some of the icons are a touch small. We also found that the steering wheel obstructed the left-hand side of the display if you’re particularly short.
This touchscreen now controls a lot more, removing many of the buttons from the gearstick area. There’s also a touch-sensitive black panel that controls items such as the suspension, heated seats and screen demisters.
It certainly looks much cleaner and more futuristic, but it can be tricky to find the function you need without diverting your attention from the road. As for practicality, you can now easily squeeze four six-foot adults inside along with their suitcases.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the market for a big, comfy limo, then the Panamera probably isn’t for you. Look at it as a four-door GT car, however, and we’d argue that there are few cars with such a broad range of capabilities. No one could ever say it was uncomfortable, yet it can demolish a winding road with consummate ease.
While the potential economy (and more to the point, 600+ mile cruising range) makes the 4S Diesel seem like the best version in the range, we would seriously consider the cheaper petrol 4S. Not only is it a little faster, its lighter engine allows it to handle even more sharply. Besides, if you’re spending around £90k on a new Porsche, fuel economy is unlikely to be your first concern.
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel
Location West Sussex; On sale November; Price £91,788; Engine V8, 3956cc, twin-turbocharged, diesel; Power 416bhp at 3500-5000rpm Torque 627lb ft at 1000-3250rpm Gearbox eight-speed dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 2050kg; Top speed 177mph; 0-62mph 4.5sec (4.3sec with launch control); Economy 42.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 176g/km, 35% Rivals BMW 640d Gran Coupe, Tesla Model S