2012 Porsche Panamera

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First Drive Review: 2010 Porsche Panamera S / 4S / Turbo

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2014.
By Jens Meiners of Car and Driver

The Panamera, Porsche's fourth model line after the 911, Boxster/Cayman, and Cayenne, has arrived after years of rumor, innuendo, announcements, and buzz. A four-door fastback sedan positioned at the top of the lineup, the Panamera was officially unveiled at the Shanghai auto show in April, and Porsche chose to host the first official drive at the picturesque Schloß Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, under the shadow of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain. The ritzy castle hotel is separated from the Munich airport by two hours of twisty country roads and several stretches of unlimited autobahn, and we explored it all from behind the wheels of the entry-level, rear-wheel-drive, 400-hp Panamera S and the 500-hp, all-wheel-drive Turbo. (There's also an all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S.)

Looks Less Controversial in the Flesh, Turbo Is Wicked Quick
The shape of the Panamera has been controversial, but we think it looks better on the road than in photos. Porsche's designers have done their best to mask the Panamera's size, but at 195.7 inches long and 55.8 inches tall, there is no way to hide that this is a large car. Outside, the S and 4S models are differentiated from the Turbo mostly by their front bumper and specific headlights, but those so inclined can spot a few minor differences, too.

With its 400-hp engine, the Panamera S boasts impressive performance claims: 0 to 60 mph is reached in 4.8 seconds, and 0 to 100 takes 11.5. Top speed is 175 mph. Sadly, it doesn't feel that quick. There is no masking the Panamera's weight; the Panamera S weighs more than 3900 pounds, and all-wheel drive adds a couple hundred more pounds. The Panamera's heft means that you have to keep the pedal firmly to the floor and keep the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission busy to put a comfortable distance between you and plebs piloting shockingly quick turbo-diesels on the autobahn.

Unless, of course, you are driving the Turbo. The Turbo tips the scales at 4300-plus pounds, but the acceleration is almost surreal. According to Porsche, 0 to 60 mph takes 4.0 seconds, the sprint to 100 mph takes just 9.0 seconds, and top speed is a lofty 188 mph. Running full tilt in this car is an exquisite experience that would seem to justify every penny of the Turbo's $132,600 asking price.

The differing experiences between the S and Turbo seem a bit strange, considering that the 100-hp gap between the two doesn't sound like much. But the addition of two turbochargers increases the available torque from 369 lb-ft in the Panamera S and 4S to a maximum of 516 lb-ft in the Turbo — or 568 lb-ft if you order the optional Sport Chrono package. The naturally aspirated Panamera S is smooth and builds up speed in a linear way; the Turbo moves with a nonchalant effortlessness that is almost unparalleled. It takes a second for its turbos to spool up, but if you dare to stay on the gas, you're basically catapulted forward into another dimension.

PDK Is the Only Way
Panameras that come to the U.S. will utilize the ZF-supplied, seven-speed PDK (Porsche Doppel-Kupplungsgetriebe) dual-clutch transmission. The seventh gear is so tall you cruise at 2800 rpm at 125 mph in the Turbo. First gear, on the other hand, is extremely short, and the shift from first to the preselected second occurs virtually unnoticed. If you hit the "sport plus" button that comes with the Sport Chrono package, the transmission will blip the throttle during downshifts. Nice.

All Panameras emit a pleasant and distant growl. There is an optional sport exhaust with flaps that can be activated at the push of a button. We still wish it were louder, but Porsche insists Panamera buyers have matured beyond our juvenile state of mind.

A standard stop/start system will turn off the engine every time you stop, with the engine then reignited as soon as you touch the gas. This device will up fuel economy in the city, but it takes some getting used to. In Europe, the Panamera was governmentally certified with the system in operation, and therefore, you need to turn it off with a button if you don't care for it. In the U.S., however, Porsche was unsure about customer reaction, so therefore, the process is reversed. The stop/start system is off every time you start a journey, and you need to push a button to engage it.

More significant, U.S. buyers will not have the option of the six-speed manual transmission that comes standard in Europe on the rear-wheel drive Panamera S. We couldn't resist taking it for a spin — it's the same ZF box as found in the Cayenne GTS. It shifts smoothly, and the gears are well spaced.

Given BMW's experience with M5 and M6 customers in the U.S. — many of whom howled when the cars were first offered without a row-your-own manual — one might think that Porsche would offer the manual here as well. If buyers insist, Porsche is ready to bring the manual to the U.S., but the take rate would be minimal almost automatically, since the box will only fit the rear-wheel-drive Panamera. Adapting it to the all-wheel-drive system would require extensive changes to the drivetrain, so a manual 4S or Turbo is out of the question.

Brakes and Chassis Prove Capable
Taming the Panamera is a braking system with six-piston calipers in the front and four-piston calipers in the rear. The standard brakes are excellent, but the ultra-quick response of the optional, $8840 ceramic brakes is awe inspiring.

The chassis has no problem coping with even the Turbo's level of power, and the Panamera stays neutral well beyond the limits of other luxury cars. Indeed, the sport setting supposedly completely eliminates body roll up to 1.00 g of lateral force. The Turbo's acrobatic rear spoiler, which unfolds in a rather artistic way, positions itself to improve aerodynamics for speed and fuel economy up to 127 mph. Above those speeds, its position changes to generate downforce. And even though the Panamera does indeed offer fine handling and is at ease bombing down the autobahn at warp speed, it's also surprisingly comfortable and well isolated. We'd actually call the driving experience closer to that of an Audi A8 than a Porsche 911.

The Panamera was engineered to seat four passengers in comfort, and that goal has been reached with flying colors. The driver and the front passenger are seated deep between an elevated center console and high door sills. Rear-seat comfort, including headroom and legroom, is on par with that of other regular-wheelbase luxury cars. You just have to get used to sitting lower than in most cars surrounding you. There won't be any looking down on the lesser people; if you plan to be chauffeured around — we're looking your way, Asian market — you'll probably want to order the power shades for the rear glass and rear side windows.

Stylish, Well-Appointed Cabin
The design and materials of the interior ensure that you travel not only in comfort but also in style. Slim, glossy buttons on the center console speak the styling language of expensive Vertu cell phones, and the instrumentation is clearly Porsche, with four gauges clustered around a large central tachometer. The touch-screen infotainment system is shared with the 911. The highlight of the interior may be the optional audio system, co-developed with Burmester, one of the most renowned manufacturers of top-level audio systems in Europe. In our test cars, the system sounded amazing, although we'd like some time to compare it side by side with other high-end car audio systems. Unlike most Porsches, the Panamera is equipped so well that you don't need to spend a small fortune beyond the base price. The Panamera S starts at $89,800, the Panamera 4S at $93,800, and the Turbo at $132,600.

With its fastback shape and rear hatch, the Panamera is currently an oddity in the luxury-car world, but that is due to change quickly with the arrival of the Aston Martin Rapide, BMW 5-series GT, and Audi A7. The Panamera family will grow, too. A 300-ish-hp, V-6-powered Panamera is due in the 2010 calendar year, and a hybrid version will come to market about a year after that. The latter will share the upcoming Cayenne hybrid's V-6 engine and electric motor, which together combine to deliver output nearly on par with the Panamera's naturally aspirated V-8. A diesel Panamera is technically doable but is not in the works yet. A Turbo S version is possible as well. Stay tuned.

Performance Data
PERFORMANCE (MFR'S EST):

Zero to 60 mph: 4.0-5.2 sec
Top speed (drag limited): 175-188 mph

PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA city/highway driving: 13-19/16-23 mpg

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BB04 - 8/22/2014 4:52:28 PM