Approaching the car, nausea comes in waves. My eyes! My eyes!
2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S, twin-turbo V8-cylinder, petrol, seven-speed DSG transmission
I haven’t been behind the wheel of a Porsche Panamera for more than two years. And for good reason, too, because following the international press launch in Germany I wrote about it for the Irish Times newspaper and the resulting road test meant Porsche didn’t speak to me for six whole months. Funny how being honest can get you into hot water sometimes, isn’t it?
It was a bit of an over-reaction as, in my defence, I did not say it was a bad car – in fact I admitted that, in many respects, it was quite excellent. It’s just that I’d grown tired of all the corporate claptrap and being told that the sporting DNA of every Porsche before it was flowing through its veins. I actually rounded up my report by saying that I felt the need to call in a forensics team to find said DNA because I couldn’t detect a single trace. Even in Turbo form, the Panamera is no sports car. Incredibly fast it may be, but sheer speed does not a sports car make.
And don’t get me started on its appearance. I could fill this entire website with an angry rant about the laziness of Porsche’s designers; about how the Panamera team had thrown every styling cue from the rest of the range into a tumble dryer and this is the result. From the front it’s just about ok but seriously, everywhere else it’s truly grotesque. It’s, and I’m toning things down here, a hunchbacked monkfish on wheels.
Yet it still sells in enormous numbers and, assuming that I’m being overly harsh and that this maligned Porsche deserves a second chance, I accepted the company’s offer of a drive in the latest Turbo S. Perhaps my heart will have softened; perhaps the car simply makes more sense after a couple of years. It was time to find out.
Approaching the car, nausea comes in waves. My eyes! My eyes! I speedily march past it to pick up the key, reminding myself that, at least if I’m inside it, I won’t have to look at it. And true enough, once the door is closed and the driver’s seat is adjusted, all is well. It’s a very stylish cabin and brilliantly constructed, oozing quality and opulent luxury from every pore of its supple leather upholstery.
It’s not perfect, though. While the switchgear is all very neatly laid out and symmetrical, it’s extremely confusing to have just so many buttons housed on the centre console either side of the gear shifter. Frankly, when a car travels as quick as this one promises to, I don’t want to have to take my eyes off the road to work out where the controls are – they really should be more obvious. After living with any car for a few weeks or months you get to know where everything is, though, so it’s probably not a deal breaker.
I don’t remember wanting the original Panamera Turbo to be any quicker. What I do recall is driving one (legally) at almost 300km/h on a German autobahn and being able to easily converse with my passenger without either of us raising our voices. I also remember him falling asleep at similar speeds while reclining in one of the back seats. The ballistic Turbo was easily fast enough for all but the criminally insane but when did that stop a car company from developing an even more powerful version? And Porsche hasn’t merely reprogrammed the car’s computers to liberate some extra grunt. Instead, it has redesigned the V8’s two turbochargers. The actual bodies are the same but the impellers (the turbine blades) in the S’s blowers are made from an aluminium and titanium alloy, which means they weigh half what the standard ones weigh. And this means they spin more easily.
They spin at 170,000rpm, reaching that velocity from rest in just 0.8 seconds instead of 1.2. Obviously this is engineering on a mind-boggling scale and shows the staggering attention to detail that Porsche employs when designing and building its cars – at least the oily bits. So where the standard Panamera Turbo could rocket from rest to 100km/h in four seconds flat, the S will do it in 3.8. An impressive figure, granted, but surely no one will be able to tell the difference from behind the wheel.
There’s an extra 37kW on tap, meaning the power total is up to 410kW. And when this car gets into its stride (literally in the blink of an eye), the way it keeps piling on speed is shocking. It’s unstoppable in a straight line, obliterating practically anything in its path. Power is delivered in computer controlled doses to all four wheels, which makes for confidence inspiring roadholding but the ride itself can be rather stiff (much the same as in the sensational 911 Turbo S) and it doesn’t feel involving on any level whatsoever.
Worse still, is the infuriating DSG transmission which Porsche insists on calling its “Doppelkupplung” or PDK. As DSG gearboxes go, it’s one of the world’s finest but the steering wheel-mounted toggle switches completely ruin it as they’re counter intuitive. Porsche has been hammered by the press all over the world for this and the company relented by fitting normal paddles to its Porsche 911 models but here nothing’s changed, which means there’s constantly the risk of selecting the wrong gear. You shouldn’t have to think about which hand to use for selecting the next gear and, unlike the switchgear positioning, I doubt this problem would go away after a few weeks of driving the car. I’ve experienced loads of Porsches with PDK and I still can’t get my head around it. So best leave it in Auto mode, letting the never ending tidal wave of torque catapult you towards your chosen horizon.
As a way for company executives to cross entire continents without having to take the LearJet, the Panamera Turbo, in normal or S guise, is about as good as it gets. It revels in speed; you point it, it goes. And goes. And goes. But in the real world it still makes little sense to me because it doesn’t seem to possess the slightest bit of character. At least in a real sports car with this sort of performance (like the aforementioned 911 Turbo S), you can spank it on a racetrack and have a bit of fun. Here, there is only one goal: speed. Lots and lots of speed. But the application of this does raise plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, because the way it devours a road never fails to leave driver and passenger alike in complete shock and awe.
It’ll sit all day at 305km/h without breaking a sweat, or breaking down. It’s comfortable, well equipped and there’s plenty of room inside for four adults with normal limbs, and there are plenty of toys to keep them entertained. Its brakes are incredible (the steels are superb but carbon ceramics are available if you want to spend even more money) and it feels utterly unbreakable. But as much as I admire the perfectionist engineering underneath its ungainly suit, I cannot fathom why anyone would actually go out and spend their own money on this thing. It might be a well worn motoring journalist cliché, but the Panamera Turbo S has no soul. It does everything you ask of it with almost contemptuous ease but you get the impression it’s just showing off. That it thinks it’s better than you. If it was my money on the table, a Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG would prove a much more tempting proposition.