What is it?
Loads of manufacturers claim they’ve invented market segments. The Panamera is Porsche's attempt at the same.
It's a four-door, four-seat, fastback sports car which it says creates "the Panamera class." I can't see the tag catching on but there's merit to the concept, along which lines Aston Martin has developed the Rapide.
Really the Panamera is a grand tourer and is offered initially with V8 engines derived from the Cayenne SUV, giving fast-sports performance in naturally-aspirated S tune (with 2 or 4wd), or supercar-baiting pace in the 4wd Turbo flavour tested here. In 2010 there’ll be a hybrid and, probably, later a diesel and a faster GTS/Turbo S too.
The Panamera’s natural rivals are top-end versions of existing luxury cars like the AMG S-Class and Maserati Quattroporte, but given the Panamera’s latent dynamism don’t discount the challenge from smaller but overtly sporting cars like the BMW M5, Mercedes CLS63 AMG and Jaguar XFR.
What’s it like?
Let’s first deal with the boring stuff. The Panamera easily seats four in comfort. Its seats – front and rear – neither look nor feel as wide as in traditional luxury cars and you’ll find more room in the back of a ‘proper’ saloon, but the seats are comfortable and very supportive.
It’s a low-set cabin; the driver’s seat position is similar to a 911’s in relation to the front wheels. The cockpit architecture is cosseting too, with a high transmission tunnel running the length of the passenger space, a high-set gearlever and excellently clear switchgear and dials.
The rear seats are set slightly inboard (to afford passengers a decent view out), and they split/fold giving up to 1263 litres of boot space. You can even have a towbar.
But is it like a Porsche to drive? For the most part, yes. Porsche says the Panamera sits somewhere between a 911 and a Cayenne but, by dint of having a front-mounted engine and weighing all-but two tonnes, it’s more like the SUV than the rear-engined sports car.
There’s no denying its pace though. The Turbo has a twin-turbocharged 4.8-litre V8 and makes 493bhp and 517lb ft. If equipped with the Sports Chrono package of our test car, which includes a launch control function on the standard seven-sped PDK twin-clutch transmission, it’ll hit 62mph from rest in four seconds dead (4.2sec otherwise).
The Turbo’s top whack is claimed at 188mph and I’ve no doubt it’ll hit it with ease. The Panamera Turbo feels an indecently fast car. Its turbos take a little time to spool from lower revs and it never makes a particularly thrilling sound, but keep it in the right gear and you’ll want a true supercar to keep in touch with it.
Air-springs are standard on the Turbo and they have three modes of stiffness. As standard it’s compliant, though there’s a little ‘sproing’ and a slightly hollow noise over smaller bumps. It cossets, say, ninety percent as well as an S-Class or 7-series.
Moving the suspension settings through Sport and into Sport Plus it firms itself up to the extent that Sport Plus might prove too harsh for some British B-roads.
I can’t help thinking a Jaguar XFR would glide across surfaces the Panamera would bounce over, but on decent German blacktop it feels utterly planted, settling quickly over crests and lumps.
Sure, the Panamera never totally shakes off its weight, but it goes down the road at a proper lick and it steers very well, with good precision and a rack whose speed increases further away from straight-ahead. As in other Porsches you don’t really notice this lack of linearity, and while there’s not so much feel as in a 911, there’s more than you’ll find in any other luxury saloon.
With Sport Plus engaged active anti-roll bars all but eliminate roll. It’s impressive but, as with most air-suspended cars, not a totally natural feeling. Porsche engineering chiefs admitted to me they like the “honesty” of steel springs, as fitted to the normally-aspirated model, which I’m intrigued to try.
On the road the high grip limit is sounded by a squeal from the outside front tyre, though the electronically-controlled rear differential (which brakes a lightly loaded inside rear tyre) can help straighten the car on corner exit. I’m not yet in a position to say what happens when the whole lot starts sliding though.
Our test car was fitted with carbon ceramic brakes: I’d like less initial pedal travel, but the stopping power is beyond reproach.
Should I buy one?
Tough call. If you want most of the comfort of a luxury car with a heady dose of dynamism and world-beating pace, then the Panamera has few peers. But it is not, as a 7-Series or S-Class is, a car for rear passengers, it is a car for drivers.
As such, it needs to be convincingly dynamically better, and feel far higher in quality, than a Jaguar XFR, Mercedes CLS63 AMG or BMW M5 to justify the Turbo’s price tag which is – wait for it – around £95,000.
The fastest Panamera can’t quite do that. The Turbo is a very impressive machine and a fine luxury performance flagship, and for plenty of people that’ll be enough. But the Panamera’s sweet spot probably comes lower down the range.