What is it?
This is the new Porsche Panamera, the second-generation incarnation of the German car maker's four-door coupé. And when Porsche says new, it means it: this is no facelift nor even a largely redeveloped car worthy of being described as effectively new. This Panamera has a brand new architecture, brand new engines, a brand new transmission and a brand new operating system.
And, of course, a brand new look. Few are likely to miss the shape of the old Panamera, especially as the new car, while still some distance removed from gorgeousness, is such an improvement: bigger in every dimension, it contrives to appear sleeker and more like the 911 that so many Panamera owners would drive if only it were suited to their domestic or professional lives.
The range at launch will comprise a 2.9-litre twin turbo V6 and a 4-litre V8 diesel, with a V6 diesel to come, but the first car we have been allowed to drive is the full-fat, maxed-out Turbo complete with four-wheel steering, carbon ceramic brakes, 21in rims and a Sport Chrono pack.
Its 4.0-litre V8 is unrelated to Audi’s 4.0-litre V8 and has its turbos buried inside the vee, all the better for response and fast warming. It may have lost eight-tenths of a litre of capacity over its predecessor, but it has gained 30bhp to reach 542bhp and comes with a healthy additional slug of torque, too, achieved at somewhat lower revs.
What's it like?
Instantly impressive. The moment you sink down into the Panamera’s stoutly bolstered front seat, you find yourself looking out over an interior seemingly an entire generation removed from any other Porsche save the 918 Spyder. This is a world where touch-sensitive surfaces have almost entirely replaced fusty old buttons, where ultra-high-definition screens (three of them) present an extraordinary amount of information and options in such a way as not to bewilder or intimidate the first-time user.
It is not just beautiful (at least until it becomes covered in fingerprints) but it works brilliantly, too. Porsche has allowed just one look over its shoulder, in the form of the central analogue rev-counter: part of the Porsche furniture for better than 60 years, it seems that someone high up couldn’t bear to lose it.
You start it by turning a switch rather than pushing a button. The engine doesn’t thunder or roar but just burbles into life with far less theatre than, for instance, Mercedes’ own 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 or, I should say, Porsche’s old V8.
The Turbo is the only Panamera to ride on air springs as standard and it glides away from rest as might a large luxury saloon, which should come as no surprise once you realise it’s less than 5cm shorter than the brand new BMW 7-series and 35mm wider. It may still look like a coupé but this is a vast car, with all the good and bad that implies.
I drove it in southern Germany so job one was to fling it down an unrestricted autobahn. Yet when I pinned the throttle to the floor I was slightly disappointed. The engine tone hardens as the gearbox instantly selects the ideal ratio, but it doesn’t feel quite as stupidly rapid as I’d hoped. Then I looked at the readout and was shocked to see what it said: it’s not the speed that’s been removed, merely the sensation.
Indeed, I can’t recall another car more skilled at acquiring speed without its driver noticing. The roads were busy and I only found enough safe space for a short squirt up to 165mph, at which point it was still head down and charging hard enough to suggest its claimed 190mph top speed is conservative even by Porsche’s notoriously conservative standards.
So far so reasonably predictable. The more interesting question in search of an answer would come in the countryside. This is where you discover that if the Panamera has the space to do its thing, it is phenomenally quick from one place to the next. Using its four-wheel steering, active roll bars, air springs, torque vectoring, four-wheel drive and colossal Pirellis to full effect, the Turbo can generate levels of lateral acceleration you’d simply not credit for a car of this size. And the quicker the corner, the more planted it feels. Were it not for the fact that this is a Porsche, you might think there was some witchcraft at work here.
But space it needs. If the roads are narrow, and we have more of those in Britain than Bavaria, the size of the car will limit your progress far more than the grip of its tyres. The problem is compounded by a lack of steering feel you might feel barely worthy of a mention in another big, powerful German continent crusher, but in a Porsche - even a two tonne Porsche like this - the omission stands out a mile. No one is expecting a Panamera to handle like a Cayman, but it will be interesting to drive one of the lighter, lower-powered, coil-sprung, rear-wheel-drive Panameras that are in the pipeline to see how different they feel in this regard.
Otherwise, the car presents a near flawless display of dynamic fluency. No amount of torture appeared able to trouble the brakes, while the Sport, Sport Plus, Normal and Individual modes allow you to configure the car to react how you wish. I found, as I have with other Porsches with the selectable dial on the steering wheel, that leaving it in Sport struck the best compromise between comfort and response.
Time constraints meant there was no time to ride in the back, but I was able at least to climb in and discover that all 6ft 4in of me could sit in comfort behind my unchanged driving position. However it may appear in the flesh and unlike the old Panamera, this is a car that will carry four adults of above-average height an unlimited distance in great comfort and quiet and at enormous speed.
Should I buy one?
It may look more like a 911 than the last Panamera, but that merely serves to cloak the fact that the new Panamera behaves less like a 911. Forget for a moment its abilities and consider instead its priorities, which, to me, appear changed subtly but significantly. This is the first Porsche more concerned with providing the feel of a luxury car than that of a Porsche, and it’ll take more than an analogue tacho to disguise the fact.
For its likely customers, this will be almost entirely good news: no Porsche in history has ever ridden like this, been as quiet as this nor boasted an interior anything like as lovely as this. To one of Porsche’s traditionally slower sellers (the company sold more SUVs in 2015 alone than it sold in seven years of Panamera production), Porsche has provided a clear positioning and sense of purpose, not to mention a raw ability its predecessor would not recognise.
There are a couple things I lament, namely the sheer weight of the thing, because despite its hybrid steel and aluminium structure, it’s actually gained a few kilos over its predecessor, and its always accurate but hardly garrulous steering. But you have to see such flaws in the context of the job the car is trying to do. What might be awful in a 911 and fatal to a Cayman here proves merely a mild disappointment.
The bigger picture is one of a Panamera grown not just in size but also stature. For the truth is that while the name remains, the job description has changed and what you’re looking at here is less the next Panamerara and more the first true luxury car in Porsche history. And by those standards rather than those more traditionally associated with the brand, the new Panamera doesn’t merely do well, it does brilliantly.
Porsche Panamera Turbo
Location: Munich; On sale: Now; Price: £113,075; Engine: V8, 3996cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power: 542bhp at 5750-6000rpm; Torque: 567lb ft at 1960-4500rpm; Kerb weight: 1995kg; Gearbox: 8-spd dual-clutch automatic; 0-62mph: 3.8sec (3.6 sec with Sport Plus); Top speed: 190mph; Economy: 30.1mpg (combined); CO2/BIK tax band: 214g/km, 37%