Porsche test and development driver Lars Kern admits he was “a little bit confused” when his bosses told him they were planning a super-quick lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife in the new Panamera Turbo.
“Normally we do this kind of thing with the 911 or Boxster,” he says. “But the engineers were confident it was going to work.”
The first-generation Panamera Turbo S set a pretty swift benchmark of 7min 46sec, but Kern – who has been a Porsche driver for four years – wasn’t sure where he could make up more time.
Not least because the turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 in the new Panamera Turbo develops 542bhp, whereas the old Turbo S had 562bhp.
“The existing lap felt good and fast and to begin with I had no idea where to find another eight seconds. The Panamera Turbo has less power, too... I thought to myself ‘this is going to be interesting’,” he says.
The pressure ramped up even further when he saw the car’s number plate bore the number ‘738’, a reference to the 7min 38sec target time that Porsche’s engineers wanted him to achieve – and which he hit exactly. Kern set a new benchmark for luxury saloons - admittedly a fairly niche lap record to set, but fairly impressive for a car of this type.
The Panamera is fitted with a safety cage, a racing seat and telemetry equipment, but otherwise is in showroom specification, riding on Yokohama road tyres. Oh, and the headlights are taken out and replaced by those dummy ones that NASCAR uses. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it is a long, large car, with a lot of weight up at the front courtesy of that big V8 engine.
Kern says advances in suspension and tyre technology and the car's lighter weight were of a huge benefit, as was the new rear-wheel steer system that Porsche has fitted to the second-generation Panamera.
“In the slow and narrow parts of the track the car is really amazing,” he says. “With the rear-wheel steering, it turns well and is so agile. You sit in the driver’s seat and you know you have a lot of length of car behind you, but it just turns really well.”
For the fast lap, the car was switched into its most extreme driving mode, Sport+, and the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) was turned off.
Kern saw speeds of around 183mph on the Nordschleife’s long main straight. “It doesn’t feel scary in this car because it is so stable. When you have all the settings in Sport+ mode, everything is stiff and responsive but it remains comfortable to drive, so it isn’t bouncing around on the bumps.”
The Panamera Turbo, still smeared with flies and dirt straight from the Eifel mountains, was on display at the official reveal of the new Panamera in Berlin yesterday evening. It’s unlikely that many owners will charge around the Nürburgring in their £100k-plus luxo-saloon, but for Porsche it is important to prove that the car is at least capable of it.