Luxist Drives the Porsche Panamera... and Apologizes
When Luxist sat in the driver's seat of a Porsche Panamera 4S, before even turning the key there was a conflict: this car is tremendous to sit in. Brilliant. Wonderful even. Which is not exactly problematic, but it isn't the way we expected things to commence. This driver, a dedicated Porsche-phile, has been watching the Panamera nearing its destination on the retail showroom floor like the Black Lagoon visitors watched The Creature: "Oh my god, I think it's headed this way!"
But we gladly accepted the opportunity to drive it. And when we were finished, we knew we'd have to write this piece, which we'll call our "Panamerapology." It begins with this line: Porsche, please forgive us, we're sorry – your car is awesome.
Gallery: 2010 Porsche Panamera
The best way to do this first is just to tackle that menagerie in the room: the Panamera's looks. Little, if anything, remains to be said about the car's looks, so we will do our best to keep this concise. The gist of our argument, though, is that people feel that this is a different kind of Porsche, aesthetically, and we contend that it isn't – it is a front-engined Porsche, and placed among its front-engined siblings it carries on the genes as well as any that have come before.
Let's be more specific: this conversation is really about the Panamera's back end. If another automaker had produced the Panamera, like Jaguar or Mercedes, we can't believe it would have become a 4-door bellows blowing on the fire pit of car design that it has. And it has done this even after the Cayenne placed an IED under the notion of what a Porsche could be. Yet Porsche mavens used to the rear- and mid-engined coupes have – ignoring the 914 as an aberration – surgically connected the brand to the idea of svelte, curvy haunches. Exhibits A through C: 911, Boxster, Cayman. Yet the phrase we need here is: 'there's only one problem with that.'
There has never been a svelte, curvy-haunched front-engined Porsche.
Not the 924. Not the 944. Not the 968. Not the 928. Although by the time the 928 GTS rocked up in 1992 the model had gained a few arcs, it still could not be called svelte nor curvy. The tractors the company made in the 1930s didn't have curvy backsides. Nor does the Cayenne. At all.
Stuttgart's cars that place the engine up front have always wanted to make a little more room for people in back, except for those tractors, and that meant making a little more room in the brand's design language. It usually came off well – they were all good looking cars, even if the 924 was regrettable. And the Cayenne isn't hard on the eyes, either, it just remains a little odd to consider it a Porsche. From this other height, the Panamera's design begins to actually make sense.
One last detail, however. Does anyone remember when Porsche
Yes, this is where the production version of the 996-model-designated 911 would come from eleven years later, in 1999.
What you might notice about the 989 is that it had what looks like a much more Porsche-like rear end (even though when the 996 came out it was derided as not having enough curve). The Panamera's aft has, by comparison, been blunted, and that has been done in the name of your own backside. If you compare the back of the Panamera to the back of a 911, what happened is obvious.
Tales of the sedan's design brief state "it had to look like a Porsche," and former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, at 6' 2", "had to be able sit in the back seat comfortably." Those details should really be reversed, because the Porsche wrapping was added around his comfort. That is why the rear roofline takes a long near-horizontal detour behind the rear window, to make room for his head – and yours – and then it has to make a less-than-completely-graceful hump to the bumper.
Add a hefty amount of shoulder room for strapping Damen und Herren, and you've got the best Porsche you can get for the interior space.
Let's be clear, nonetheless: it is in every way a Porsche, and not just because it has Porsche badging everywhere.
The interior is roomy, something you don't often get to say about a Porsche, and it has every delicate touch you expect from the marque. It is five inches wider than a 911, giving those sport seats all the more space to hold you just like you like. Speaking of which, those seats also felt like had deeper buckets, perhaps an upping of the racy factor to counteract the fact that this is a sedan and you can see the hood – also something you don't often get to say about a Porsche.
Leather, great big welts of stitching, a recessed, dash-mounted chronograph, that overlapping cluster of dials, it's all here. So is that new interior that debuted on this car and will begin seeping into the rest of the line, with its piano black and chrome-highlighted buttons. It can appear intense at first glance – buttons everywhere will do that (there are some on the roof as well). Nevertheless, it is less awkward than the previous 911 interior that had nearly 50 buttons all clustered around the center console screen. As with most buttons in most cars, though, you'll only use a couple of them regularly, and the remainder dissolve into tastefully crafted oblivion after a few minutes of driving. It hasn't won over everyone, but we're fans.
Special mention goes to the back seats, which are excellent thrones. These do have remarkably deep buckets, but they only impart a feeling of snugness, not ill comfort. With the front seats set for our own driving and relaxing positions, there remained enough room in the rear to keep daylight between our knees and the front seatbacks. It's roomy.
Most importantly of all: the Panamera goes like a Porsche.
We drove the 4S trim, which gets all-wheel-drive, quad pipes and a slightly faster sprint to 60 mph at 4.6 seconds than the standard Panamera. Magically, though, the 911s perfect balance of everything – steering, sound, feedback, inputs – has been turned down just a tenth of a notch yet remains perfect for what this car is.
Urban duty is too easy. Knowing that owners are probably looking to do more sedate things with all those extra seats, the ambiance is likewise a little more mellow. Still plenty of low-level hum and feedback to keep an enthusiast's heart in the game, but the non-gearheads won't gather any sensation other than being in a really nice car.
Drive it hard, on the other hand, and you can make some roads really sweat. We took the Panamera over the same stretch of road, as fast as we could, that we had driven an Aston Martin DBS, a Mercedes SLS AMG, a Cadillac CTS, and a 700-horsepower Shelby Mustang, and the Panamera was the fastest and most composed of them all. There wasn't even a hint of doubt. It might be much heavier, wider, longer, bigger than a 911, but you drive it like a 911 and it doesn't appear to know that it's not a 911.
Short of an exotic, Porsche has the best steering in the business, and by that we mean that Porsche steering is as good as an exotic but with better low speed feel and without the exotic price. The Panamera carries the torch for the cause. If you know where the steering wheel is, then you know where your wheels are, and you can reflexively plot your line through any turn you can see.
In bumpy corners especially, perhaps the Panamera's superior girth is an asset over its smaller relatives: bumps come and go with less fuss. Those 400 horses up front do their bit with the all-wheel-drive and the Porsche Active Stability Management, so the car doesn't bother itself with anything other than figuring out how to get down the power to match your throttle requests.
In fact, in all the time we drove it we could not find one way in which it wasn't a Porsche. Not until we looked in the rearview mirror, or got out of the car, did we get back to, "Oh yeah, it's a Panamera."
And that is definitely why we've learned our lesson, so there's be no more of that. From now on whenever we refer to it, we'll do so properly, by saying "Oh yeah, it's a Porsche."