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Four-seat grand-tourer brings yet more performance and luxury to the business end of the market

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Porsche calls this new Panamera the G3. In other words, it’s supposedly the third entirely new generation of the big saloon.

You might say that’s overselling things, since it still builds on the one that came out in 2016. Evidently, Porsche disagrees, and says that there have been “significant modifications to the platform, body structure, drivetrains, chassis and software.

It doesn’t matter a great deal, though, because the outgoing Panamera was still a very compelling car and this updated one has some serious technical tricks up its sleeve that might make you think twice about ordering that Taycan.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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02 Porsche Panamera review 2024 rear driving

Visually, it’s still very obviously a Panamera, but the front bumper has been entirely redesigned, being given new air inlets, and the front wings have been raised to create a bigger height difference to the bonnet, giving the driver more of that 911-typical sensation of peering between the two headlight ‘tunnels’. The rear quarterlight has been made a bit more angular, almost gaining a kind of Hofmeister kink. And the rear light bar has become even more pronounced.

Powertrain-wise, Porsche has gone hybrid crazy. More variants are to join the range in due course (this is a Porsche, after all), but for the time being, the only versions without electric assistance are the entry-level rear-wheel-drive Panamera and four-wheel-drive Panamera 4. Both use the same 349bhp twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 engine that’s updated from the previous generation to deliver an extra 23bhp and 37lb ft of torque.

Ever wondered what the difference is between single-, two- and three-chamber air suspension? As a general rule, the more air that an air spring contains, the more it can compress and the softer it will be. Manufacturers then add chambers, because they can be opened or closed off in order to decrease or increase the spring rates. In other words, if you have three chambers, you can have three stiffness settings.

Moving up the range, there are 4 E-Hybrid and 4S E-Hybrid models that combine the same V6 with a 25.9kWh battery and a 188bhp electric motor inside the housing of the ZF-built PDK eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Finally, the Turbo E-Hybrid (which is badged simply ‘Turbo’) uses the same electric components but with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8. This engine has been significantly upgraded compared to the outgoing version, mainly so it can continue to comply with emissions demands. It swaps its twin-scroll turbos for single-scroll items, because the latter are physically smaller lumps of metal and thus warm up faster. In turn, they draw less heat from the exhaust system and allow the catalysts to warm up quicker – a requirement for Euro 7. Additional turbo lag is rendered moot by the hybrid system’s torque fill.

The big battery enables a company car tax-friendly electric-only range (47 to 59 miles, depending on the version), and thanks to advances in technology, it doesn’t take up any more space or weigh significantly more than the old unit.

Still, even the most basic rear-driven Panamera is quite a heavy car, at about 1.9 tonnes, and to manage that and make sure the Panamera drives like a Porsche, every version now features air suspension as standard.

The standard air suspension set-up now adaptive dampers with separate valves for the bump and rebound, so they can be independently adjusted. These more sophisticated dampers have allowed Porsche to change from three-chamber air springs to lighter, simpler two-chamber items.

The truly exciting advances are reserved for the hybrids, however, since the 400V system can be employed to do more than just drive the car. On the optional Porsche Active Ride (PAR) system, it powers four hydraulic pumps – one for each corner. These in turn provide the pressure for hydraulic actuators in the air suspension that can stiffen, soften, lift or lower each corner of the car independently, thus enabling all manner of magic tricks. The air springs themselves go down to one big chamber to make them very soft – most of the stiffness can come from the actuators. PAR also does away with anti-roll bars.

The system draws its data from the steering, accelerator, brakes, accelerometers and, most importantly, sensors in the suspension itself. It doesn’t use cameras to monitor the surface, because they’re unreliable when obscured. Given the suspension can adjust 13 times per second, it doesn’t need to be proactive anyway.

Porsche had a static demonstrator that could dance on its suspension like one of those American low-riders. More usefully, PAR can cancel out nearly all body roll, or even overcompensate and lean the car into corners, and counteract pitching under acceleration and braking. And on rough roads it can lift up the wheel for bumps and push it down into potholes.

INTERIOR

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08 Porsche Panamera review 2024 dashboard

While all of the mechanical stuff sounds rather enticing, the interior makeover gives some cause for concern, because it follows the trend of going very screen-heavy. The gauge cluster loses its analogue tachometer and becomes one large screen. You can make it display the classic five gauges and it remains nicely clear and configurable, but it does feel a little like replacing a grand piano with a high-end electronic keyboard.

The main multimedia screen is an updated version of the old one and generally works well. It looks out over a redesigned centre console, where the main change is the lack of a gear selector; it has moved to the dashboard. In its place is a lid for a fairly generously sized storage cubby containing a cooled phone-charging pad.

Unfortunately, the Panamera retains the touch-screen controlled air vents that were introduced on the previous generation. Unusually for Porsche, this really is tech for the sake of it.

Back on the surface, a good selection of buttons and switches remains, but when you press the buttons, you move the entire panel, which feels a bit cheap. The whole slab is gloss black, and even in our low-mileage test car it was already showing plenty of ugly scratches. There’s more gloss black on the passenger side, and the only way to get rid of it is to option in the secondary display for £1289.

The design is well proportioned and restrained overall, so it still sort of works, but there’s no doubt that the quality has taken a step back. One upgrade concerns the metal door handles, which are slimmer and more elegant than before.

Unchanged are the seats and the space on offer. Porsche calls this a four-door sports car, rather than a mere saloon, and that’s obvious in the low, outstretched driving position. The seats are superb and rear passengers get the sort of leg room they would expect in a car of this size.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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14 Porsche Panamera review 2024 performance

On the road, the standard Panamera feels unfailingly competent, if a little undramatic. Yes, 349bhp and 0-62mph in 4.8sec are very healthy numbers, but thanks to good noise isolation, even power delivery and seamlessly quick shifts from the PDK, it almost feels a little ordinary. I suppose that’s where the inevitable S and GTS versions will come in.

The V6 sounds nicely sporting and acquires more of a rasp when you open the optional sports exhaust. I would definitely recommend that, given the muffling effect of emissions demands.

The steering-mounted drive selector switches between Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, and in the hybrids, an e-Power and Hybrid mode. You can adjust the parameters separately using the touch screen, but there's no individual mode.

The V8 in the Turbo sounds bellowy and keen but, like the V6, it’s obviously muffled by all the emissions gear. The PDK gearbox is occasionally reluctant to slot a lower ratio, too.

RIDE & HANDLING

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15 Porsche Panamera review 2024 front cornering

Panamera

One thing that has always struck me about Porsches is that they all have an innate Porsche feel, regardless of whether you’re in a 911 or a Cayenne. I bet they could make a dump truck feel like a Porsche. The Panamera, despite its 1.9-tonne kerb weight and 2165mm width, is not a dump truck, but it does continue that legacy.

It starts with the suspension, which strikes a masterful balance between ride comfort on the one hand and retaining the connectedness you want from a Porsche on the other. You never get the ‘magic carpet’ feel of an air-sprung Mercedes-Benz, but all the movements are so well controlled and damped that there’s no harshness whatsoever.

We’ve always rated the air suspension on non-hybridised Panameras, so without driving the new car back to back with an older version, I wouldn’t want to claim a dramatic improvement, but it is very good.

So, too, the steering: it has that Porsche-typical weighty, unfiltered feel. Even though the heavens opened over our Spanish test route, I was never left in any doubt about whether the front end was going to bite or not.

Traction is impossibly strong as well, even in the rear-driven version on wet Tarmac. Most buyers opt for the 4, but unless you’re going to be frequently climbing snowy hills, there’s no real need.

Panamera Turbo

We only got to drive the Turbo on track, so we’ll need to try it on the road for a definitive verdict, particularly as Porsche says that the fancy suspension serves primarily to improve ride comfort rather than handling. Our limited experience still served to demonstrate that it’s a very impressive system.

In the demonstrations that Porsche set up, it was actually more spectacular to stand outside and see a car drive over an undulating surface with its wheels hopping up and down while its body remained nearly perfectly level.

We did some acceleration, braking and slalom tests, and the magical thing was that it all felt entirely undramatic. Swapping to a Turbo without PAR, it suddenly felt all at sea, even though it would probably compare quite favourably with conventional rivals.

At higher speeds, you truly can feel how the body movements (or lack thereof) are unlike anything else you might have driven, to the point where it messes with your sense of equilibrium. I would need some time on actual roads to figure out if I like it (hence the lack of a star rating), but the effect is spectacular.

Engaging Sport or Sport Plus mode changes the system’s logic so that it aims to make the Turbo as composed yet natural as possible for intuitive performance driving. While this is not as dramatic, it does serve to make the 2.4-tonne car feel far lighter than it is.

The weight still shows, though, especially under braking, and while Porsche has improved the brake feel in the hybrid Panameras, you can still clearly feel the transition from the mushy regenerative phase to the firm friction phase.

Nevertheless, the way the Turbo enters tight turns and negotiates direction changes is impressive – if not as impressive as the way that it appears to simply flatten big crests and compressions.

In extremis, I didn’t feel as connected as I might have done in a lighter, pure-ICE car without this system, but then that’s comparing apples to oranges. And anyway, the 400V hybrid system is necessary to power the hydraulic pumps.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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01 Porsche Panamera review 2024 front driving

Prices for the standard Panamera start at £79,500 before you get acquainted with Porsche’s famously extensive options list. It wouldn’t suit a typical Toyota Corolla buyer, but I love that Porsche still lets you spec your car exactly how you want it. After a bit of a play with the configurator, I ended up at £100,000, which isn’t a great deal more than what you will pay for a similarly equipped Audi S7 (which has a diesel V6) or BMW 840i (a petrol straight six).

The Turbo starts at £141,400 and you’ll need an extra £6978 for the Active Ride suspension. That’s quite a bit more than the Audi RS 7, but that’s due for replacement relatively soon. Mercedes and BMW have yet to reveal prices for the newly hybridised AMG E-Class and M5.

VERDICT

17 Porsche Panamera review 2024 static rainbow

We’ll reserve judgement on the Turbo until we’ve driven it on the road and had a bit more time with that wild new suspension system.

The standard Panamera, though, is an excellent sports saloon that still offers a six-cylinder petrol engine and manages to combine genuine driving engagement with impressive ride comfort. Does it matter that the interior has been cheapened slightly (but also made more practical)? A little, sure, but it’s easy to overlook on a car that has almost no serious rivals left, does everything else so well and would be hugely enjoyable every day.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.