The new Panamera is the most dynamically capable car in its class, but is that reason enough to buy it?
The second-generation Porsche Panamera is undoubtedly the sportiest car in its segment, yet despite its dynamic abilities, it’s aimed at those that value comfort and refinement equally.
Since the launch of the first-generation in 2010, Porsche has sold over 150,000 Panameras worldwide, with around 100 per year in Australia. With the introduction of the 2017 Porsche Panamera, the German sportscar maker has taken sporty DNA of a 911 and set out to match rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class for pure comfort factor.
Porsche says the new Panamera was not designed just for outright performance, but a mixture of sportiness and comfort. It has achieved this with a solid improvement to the three engines on offer, a revised chassis, new eight-speed PDK transmission as well as an innovative suspension systems that allows for a far greater diversity between comfort and sport.
From launch (arriving in Australia around February of 2017) three Panamera models with differing engines will be on offer, all equipped with all-wheel drive. The line up will eventually be expanded with a wagon and rear-wheel drive variants in the future.
The entry model will start from $304,200 (plus on-road costs) for the Panamera 4S, rising to $312,100 for the 4S Diesel, and topping out at $376,900 for the Turbo.
The petrol 4S is powered by a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 that delivers 324kW (5650rpm), and 550Nm (1750-5500rpm). It will do the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.2 seconds when optioned with Sport Chrono (4.4 otherwise).
The 4S diesel, at just $7900 more, is powered by a 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 diesel that pumps out 301kW (3500rpm) and a massive 850Nm of torque (1000-3250rpm). It will taken just 0.1 second more than the petrol S to hit 100km/h.
The pick of the bunch, though, remains the Panamera Turbo which has seen its engine downsized to a 4.0-litre turbocharged petrol V8, now with 404kW (5750rpm) and 770Nm (1,960-4,500 rpm) and a 0-100km/h time of just 3.6 seconds (add 0.2 seconds without Sport Chrono). The petrol V8 can also switch off one bank of its cylinders to run as a four-cylinder in order to save up to 30 per cent more fuel when cruising.
Full details and specifications of the 2017 Porsche Panamera can be found here.
From the outside the new Panamera is a far better looking car than the one it replaces. Essentially, it is now a 911 that has been stretched out to accommodate two additional doors. It’s easy to mistake it from the rear for its sporty sibling and in many ways, that’s exactly what Porsche is aiming for.
The extended rear-wheel arches, more coupe-like shape and three-dimensional taillights are the highlights of the new design, as the car now measures 5049 millimetres long (34 mm more than before), 1937 millimetres wide (+6 mm wider) and 1423 millimetres high (+5 mm taller).
But while it’s now finally easy on the eye, it's when you jump inside the new Panamera that things get rather interesting. Porsche says the Panamera competes against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Maserati Quattroporte, and as such the four-door sportscar has had to match and, in our opinion, outdo its German and Italian rivals when it comes to interior design.
It’s not as grand or ostentatious as the S-Class interior, but its new 12.3-inch display alongside two additional 7-inch LCDs in the instrument cluster usher in a new era of Porsche cockpits, which will launch here with the Panamera and then trickle down to new models.
The infotainment system is crystal clear with a high resolution screen that works well even in direct sunlight. It has Apple CarPlay as well, though we found the standard PCM system worked a treat for basic navigation and telephony.
Some interesting aspects of the new interior are that, unlike nearly all its competitors, Porsche has opted to fully integrate the wide screen display, instead of simply having it sit on top of the dash. This has meant the aircon vents (which close automatically when not in use) have been moved from either side to below the screen.
The German company admits it has removed 40 per cent of the buttons that previously clogged the central instrument cluster, having replaced them with easily accessible options on the touch screen. Those buttons that remain, such as the suspension mode selector, air-con and seat heating controls, have changed from mechanical to capacitive.
In the back, the two seats are designed to house two 193cm tall adults and, though this tester only measures 179cm, we found the seat position and general comfort to be rather good. Now, is it as good as the super comfortable seats with goose down neck pillows as the S-Class? Probably not. But you certainly won't complain. There's also a standard 7-inch screen for rear passengers that controls climate and seat heating.
Once you've been wowed enough by the new Panamera's interior, it's time to take it for a drive. As is traditional with Porsche, the fixed key is positioned to the right of the steering wheel (for Australian models) and a quick turn engages the car's powertrain.
The same rotary dial that came with the latest 911 is now also present on the Panamera's steering wheel. You have Individual, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. Around town Normal is where you'd leave it but if the going gets good, Sport is the ideal choice with Sport Plus really for only track or really enthusiastic driving.
We started our journey in the top-spec Turbo, which for a car that measures more than five metres long, is ridiculously agile and nimble. It's not so much that it's just outright fast - which it is - but push it hard into some tight corners and it certainly doesn't feel its size. Being all-wheel drive, it's also confidence-inspiring coming out corners, with so much torque on tap, you can basically line it up and accelerate hard out of a bend without fear of oversteer.
Despite our best attempts, we didn't manage to induce any form of understeer, a testament to the balance and poise of the car's myriad of chassis control systems.
Our car was optioned with the rear-wheel steering system (which can turn the rear wheels by 2.8 degrees to aid in the desired direction change) which will be an additional $4990 for Australian cars. We didn't get a chance to sample a Panamera that didn't have the system fitted, so if dynamic ability is of serious importance to you, we would recommend negotiating that in.
On the open road the Turbo is a weapon. It feels slow travelling at 180km/h, and only when we got it to 260km/h on the Autobahns that it felt like it was actually working. A little. It would be a terrible car to be stuck in traffic in, however, as despite its high levels of refinement, it's always begging to go fast. Thankfully though, in all modes, the new eight-speed transmission worked wonderfully with its big powerful V8 engine.
In terms of ride comfort, the Turbo on its optional 21-inch wheels (20s standard on turbo, 19s on other models) felt a little bumpy, even on smooth roads. Porsche's three chamber air suspension system is meant to give more ride comfort that its previous two chamber systems - by allowing more travel and a softer setup - however while it does indeed do that, it's not on S-Class or 7 Series levels when it comes to outright smoothness over bumps. That's not to say it's uncomfortable, not by any measure, but just not S-Class comfortable. You will likely find opting for smaller wheels on the non Turbo variants will aid in providing a more comfortable ride around town.
Overall the new Turbo is faster, better and even cheaper than its predecessor, so if you want the absolute best and can't wait for the Turbo S, don't hesitate.
We also managed to sample the new diesel, with its monstrous 850Nm of torque and while it certainly got up and went, it's hard to say that it felt remarkably quick. Weirdly, though, it did sound rather good, especially for a diesel. Unfortunately as is the Porsche way, the two S models don't get the full leather interior package (standard on Turbo), which is an additional $4,280.
The new eight-speed transmission goes through the gears in rapid succession, no doubt optimised to deliver the maximum torque of the big V8 diesel at all times, however we felt that it somewhat sucked the life out of driving the car enthusiastically. In saying that, with a 90L fuel tank and a claimed 6.8L of fuel use per 100km, you will get well over 1000km a tank even when driving hard, so it's certainly justifiable if you love long commutes.
We did also experience some issues with the diesel car's active cruise control accelerating and decelerating over and over again, though we put that down to our test car being pre-production.
Having not had a chance to drive the 2.9-litre V6 turbo, it's hard to say whether it would be the pick over the diesel, however considering the general characteristics of a petrol over a diesel - not to mention the factor acceleration of the petrol - if you intend to have some fun in your Porsche, go with the petrol and suck up the fuel bill.
Overall, the new Porsche Panamera is a significantly better car than that which it replaces. It's also the most dynamically capable car in its class and while it goes a long way to matching the ride and cabin comfort of rivals such as the S-Class, it's not quite there. Even so, it probably doesn't need to be.
If you thoroughly enjoy driving and want a super luxury and practical four-door sporty sedan, there's really no other choice.