The Porsche Panamera has finally come of age. The liftback grand tourer brings new tech, new power and new style – but is it a true four-door 911?
Back in 1988, Porsche developed a concept car, which was essentially a four-door 996 911. This was the 989, and the precursor to the Panamera.
When the first production ready Panamera grand touring saloon was revealed in 2009, there were definite links to the 989 concept and even the 997 911 of the day… but some of the simplicity in the brief seemed to have been lost and the Panamera’s shape, especially at the rear, ended up being just that little bit awkward.
That is a sin forgotten with the all-new 2017 Porsche Panamera however, as the design, along with everything else, has been revised. The awkwardness has gone, and it is a much more mature machine.
Case in point, one styling change, however, subtle it may be, was to place the tighter radius curve of the rear quarter window close to the car’s wide rear hips like it is on the 911. The previous Panamera had this higher up, near the roof line, visually amplifying the bulbous rear end.
It may seem like a tiny detail, but this car and its myriad revisions is an exercise in multiple micro-changes, where every facet has been analysed and improved to save weight, increase efficiency, space, style or comfort.
The result, from every angle, is an even purer grand touring 911-sedan than the 989 concept ever intended.
Tail-light styling is a cross combination of 911 C4 and 718 Cayman. The car has grown longer, wider and taller. Porsche’s signature four-point LED running lamps cut the night like laser beams. It’s a Panamera, but different.
Unique and yet immediately identifiable as a Porsche, the Panamera has come of age.
Porsche has not held back on technology either, with the new Panny now somewhat of a tech showpiece for the brand. Wondering what the next-generation Macan might have in store? The Panamera is a window to the future.
Tri-chamber air suspension, four-wheel steering, all-new engines, plus the science-fiction interior throws the new Porsche GT to the top of the state-of-the-art pile in terms of its most obvious competitors from Aston Martin, Mercedes-AMG, BMW M and Maserati.
A diverse line-up will arrive throughout 2017, offering a variety of petrol, diesel and hybrid powertrains. At launch, though, the range-topping Turbo and mid-range Panamera 4S will be the first to grace showrooms. We drove both on an approximate 200km loop through country New South Wales.
Side by side, you need to be on your best game to spot the difference, especially considering many of the thirteen paint choices and nine wheel designs will cross pollinate the range.
From the front, the Turbo’s hunger for air is satisfied by larger side intakes, identified by an angled divider from the central air dam, and further split by horizontal LED indicators. The 4S still offers a trio of air-holes but is slightly less aggressive in its design.
Heat extraction vents on the front arches are black on the 4S and body coloured on the Turbo, where at the rear the Turbo features four trapezoidal exhaust tips, as opposed to the oval pipes on the 4S.
Train spotter’s guide updated? Great!
Here’s a handy cheat for you too, the rear decklid spoiler on the Panamera turbo is split down the middle, allowing for the most theatrical aero deployment on the market. The three piece unit rises at speed (or from a button in the cabin) and spreads wider than the hatch, scoring extra downforce from the wind rushing over those iconic Zuffenhausen arches.
The car looks best with the spoiler retracted, though, and in profile is balanced and aggressive, a purposeful GT.
Inside, the style improvements continue, where the console of infinite buttons has been replaced by smooth, haptic-feedback surfaces and deliciously milled alloy switches, giving the Porsche a modern yet luxurious feel from the outset.
It really is a ‘wow’ interior. The plush and comfortable sports seats offer a low but still clear driving position. The centre stack, more Gaggenau cooktop than a clumsy console is supported by a crisp, 12.3-inch LCD infotainment display.
This configurable interface is akin to a consumer tablet, in the way you can drag, swipe and click components to control every facet of both the Porsche and your journey at hand. It’s reasonably fast and responsive, but we noted some graphics pixelisation and the swipe and scroll functions can be tricky on the move.
The system has a predictive proximity sensor and has the option to run Apple Carplay as standard. Although, in a car like this, why would you.
Both areas are susceptible to glare when in direct sun, and if you have a penchant for polarised sunglasses (Carreras of course!), things can be a little hard to read in some conditions.
To be honest, the Panamera’s interior is better experienced at night, when it can light up, unhindered from any such solar distractions.
Don’t let that take anything away from the implementation, though, it works well and is a lot neater to use than the previous ‘button for all seasons’ approach.
The tech continues to the instrument display, where the five-pod cluster is actually a single analogue tachometer, flanked by a pair of configurable LCD screens. Here too the display is crystal clear and can be configured using the rolling ball devices on the steering wheel pads.
Step into the executive rear seats, which share a central storage cubby fitted with a pair of USB charge points, as well as an armrest and cup holders, and you can operate the rear section of the quad-zone climate control, media, navigation, even the sunroof blinds from a seven-inch LCD touch screen, recessed on the centre tunnel.
Again, this works in concert with a haptic-feedback panel and machined alloy buttons. In the grand scheme of things, selecting a menu to drag your finger around to position an air vent is decidedly more complicated than just manually moving the vent, to begin with, but that’s not really the point.
You sit low, with reasonable room, and feel important in the back of the Panamera. It’s not an ideal place to read the Financial Times if your driver is in a hurry, but as a cross-town VIP express, it’s hard to beat.
It can feel a bit dark, particularly with the sunroof and window blinds drawn, our saddle-brown interior trim didn’t help either, so we’d suggest sitting in there when in the showroom, to get a feel for the space.
As a package, though, the luxury nature of the Panny is supremely evident.
It’s almost sad to think many Panamera owners will pile the children back there too, and that lovely screen and those hand-milled switches will be smooshed with sticky fingers and errant foodstuffs before the car is ready for its first service.
The four-seat four-door isn’t impractical either. That large liftback hatch can be raised and lowered from within the cabin, the seats can even fold, expanding the 495-litre boot to over 1300-litres of cargo space.
Equipment levels are generously high for a Porsche too. Adaptive cruise control, twin-pane panoramic sunroof and ventilated front seats, are all part of the standard trim in both tested models.
Good to know, considering the $376,900 before options and on road costs, and at a shade over $407-grand as tested, Panamera Turbo, is actually a little bit more affordable than its two-door, $384,600 911 Turbo counterpart.
You want for very little, though, the options on offer letting you create a more personalised road statement, rather than a more functional one.
To work up the power tree, we sampled the $304,200 (list price) 2.9-litre V6 twin-turbo Panamera 4S first. This all new engine, co-developed within the ‘group’ will likely find its way onto an Audi branded product in due course.
Power of 324kW peaks at a scorching 5650rpm where all 550Nm of torque is on offer from just 1750rpm. This gives the 4S a wonderfully flexible driving characteristic, docile and tractable around town in its standard drive setting, and punchy when dialled up to Sports-plus for open road touring.
Porsche claims a 4.4-second run to 100km/h, a smidge less with the optional Sport Chrono package fitted. It’s likely, though, that most P4S drivers will keep this up their sleeve, as the big GT is perhaps more comfortable as a relaxed cruiser than a starting line sprinter.
That’s not to say you can’t change things up, though.
Progress from your effortless urban running, and upgrade to Sport mode, by twisting the dial on the steering wheel or tapping the setting on the central infotainment screen.
Now, the eight-speed PDK gearbox holds ratios for longer, response is sharper, PASM active suspension firmer.
The 4S responds well at all speeds, there’s a sweet spot at around 3500rpm when you feel the car really gathering pace. Shift it all up to Sport Plus, and the edges focus just that little bit more.
The optional four-wheel steering system works to help stabilise the car, the counter steering wheels that offer just under three degrees of manoeuvring assistance at low speeds, now move the same as the front to keep the car balanced at pace.
Wash off some speed with the big 360mm brakes and six-piston calipers (330mm and four-piston on the rear), tip the big saloon (1870kg) into a bend and the family heritage jumps right out at you. The balance, steering weight, and even cornering behaviour are predictable and communicative.
The constant all-wheel drive platform keeps the power where it needs to be as you pile on the revs out the other side and rocket away into the distance.
Ride compliance over the sometimes rough and undulating roads on our test route was good, but disappointingly the tyre noise from the large 21-inch Pirelli P-Zeros was bordering on uncomfortable over some coarse-chip road surfaces.
The rough, patchy tarmac provided a constant booming noise through the cabin, that started and stopped as quickly as the road surface changed. Will you notice this in town? Not likely, so if doing big touring miles in your Panamera is key to its role, perhaps downsize to the 20-inch wheels (which have Michelin tyres) for a bit of extra rubber insulation.
Despite this, the Panamera 4S is an excellent exercise in rapid, luxury transport. We saw around 9L/100km for our run in the 4S. Up slightly on the claim of 8.2L/100km, but I’ll chalk that one up to the weather.
But as fast and capable as the 4S is, its straight line hustle isn’t a patch on the Turbo.
Fire up the freshly designed and Panamera specific 4.0-litre V8 and there’s a distinctive ‘whump’, hinting at the more ferocious ability beneath.
This engine has been developed for this car, and Porsche has thrown the book at it in terms of performance and efficiency engineering. Twin-scroll turbochargers, direct fuel injection, cylinder on demand functionality, all working to offer a 10 per cent improvement in fuel consumption, while being able to supply an output of 250kW from just 3000rpm.
When cruising, the V8 shuts down half of its cylinders using a sliding cam system, dropping fuel use by up to 30 per cent.
But we’re not really here to try hypermiling in the Turbo.
In typical Porsche fashion, the uber-Panamera is again very easy to doddle about in. Squeeze the throttle in the standard drive setting, and the big four-door trots around like a racehorse at pony club.
Short bursts of acceleration cover big gaps, and while the full might of the 404kW isn’t online until 5750rpm, the 770Nm torque package is all yours from just under 2000rpm.
This gives the Turbo a sense of urgency, heightened in its Sport and Sport Plus settings.
And yes, you can like the Turbo by just zipping and zapping around in traffic, but you’ll love it on the open road.
Midrange response is what you’ll be mentioning to all your friends who ask why you chose this car. Need to pass someone? No problem.
Hit the ‘push to pass’ Sport Response button on the steering wheel control to prepare the car for immediate departure. Nail the throttle and in the 2.4 seconds it takes to zap from 80 to 120km/h, you’ll travel upwards of 60m.
The tachometer needle passes 4000rpm, there’s a deep, guttural snarl from the quad pipes and everything goes blurry. Bridge to engine room; warp, factor-nine.
Before you register that you’ve passed that slower moving anything, you’ll be straying deep into licence-losing territory and will find it takes much longer to coast back to legality than it took to step outside the law in the first place. It’s all too easy. The Pirate Bay of cars.
Put simply, this is too much car for our restrictive speed limits.
Even touring in full readiness mode, the Turbo has barely woken up at 100km/h. Shorter bursts inside the permissible envelope are all over too quickly. Throttle movements become twitches as you know that any longer will see you ending up on an episode of Highway Patrol.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments, places, gaps that can be sought, where the full wrath of the Turbo can be unleashed upon the road. Here the Panny is both thrilling and capable.
A winding, turning ribbon of asphalt, changing all too soon for the smooth, traffic lined dual carriageways of urban sprawl. The Turbo retracting its trick spoiler as you slow, a signal to all that the fun is over, for now.
Porsche claims a combined consumption cycle of 9.4L/100km and our run was just a smidge higher, at 11.2L/100km. But I’ll level with you and suggest there wasn’t a whole lot of ‘combined’ driving done.
There’s another week of review content we could include about the new gearbox design, super-capacitor powered, active suspension adjustment system, even the optional torque vectoring function and overarching 4D-Chassis control program. There is simply too much to talk about for this one car.
Whichever way you look at it, the 2017 Porsche Panamera is a sensational machine. As stylish, luxurious, comfortable and fast as the best of them, attributes that arguably push the Porsche to the top of the luxury, executive, grand tourer tree. The 4S is all you ever need, but if you can spring for the Turbo, just do it.
With that fabulous interior, catalogue of technology and finally a stylish design, Porsche’s GT might be set to make even bigger inroads to what is a very specific market.
And as a platform for what we may expect from Porsche in the future, by the look of the Panamera, we simply can't wait.
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