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It turns out the station wagon isn't dead. As a result of being bludgeoned and crushed by the weight of SUVs currently flattening the planet, it’s just mutated.
It’s far easier to sell one if you don’t call it a wagon, of course, and even easier if you put a Porsche badge on it.
Theoretically, a wagon, with its lower centre of gravity and reduced ugliness, should be more appealing to driving enthusiasts than an SUV, because it will corner and handle better, and yet still offer much of the practicality and space of a giant, stilted truck.
But such a theory assumes that a station wagon will always look better than a comparable faux by four, and in the case of the new Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, launched in sunny Canada this week, that was far from a given.
This wagon, of course, is based on the Panamera, a car not so much visually arresting as in need of being arrested, or its designers at least.
The original, launched to open-mouthed gasps at the Shanghai motor show in 2009, was a mystifying move for the former sports car company (today, it’s mainly an SUV brand), creating a kind of swift limousine for people with no sense of style at all, who mainly like to sit in the back of their cars. Which might be why it was launched in China.
Best viewed with your eyes closed, it looked a bit like a 911 had been impaled by a whale, and given birth to a mutant. So when, in 2012, Porsche announced it would make a station wagon version of what was already a hatchback – thus adding further mystery to the mysterious – the portents were not promising.
Miraculously, however, the concept car it wheeled out that year in Paris was actually a vast improvement on the first Panamera and now, finally, five years later, we have the production Sport Turismo, which the Europeans like to call a “shooting brake”, and which we like to call the only Panamera you should seriously consider buying (genuine enthusiasts might want to wait until it’s fitted with the stonking hybrid/V8 twin-turbo package from the range-topping Turbo S E-Hybrid, which Porsche tells us will happen, eventually).
Of course, the first steps towards making this car actually attractive were made with the facelift – and buttock implants – given to the second-generation car, which was revealed in 2016. While giving that vehicle the back end of a genuinely sexy one, the 911, was a genius move, it still looked proportionally porpoise-like.
Somehow, though, by making it bigger, and empowering its shoulders, the hardworking designers at Porsche have finally turned it into something you can look at in direct sunlight without flinching, and indeed, it’s actually quite attractive.
All new from the b-pillar back, the Sport Turismo offers even more space for the rear passengers, at least when it comes to headroom, who still get their own, individual seats, which are basically clones of the front ones and thus excellent.
But you can now choose to spec the car with a '4+1' seating package, which turns the central armrest into something you could use as a perching pew for small children, but only if you didn’t like them very much.
To be fair, it’s a practical move, because the fact you could never carry five people, legally or even physically, in a Panamera has always been a bit of a bugbear. You can always distract this child from how much their butt hurts by playing with the very fabulous and cleverly designed 12.3-inch touch screen in the centre of the dash, which really does bring Porsche into line with the likes of Mercedes-Benz's S-Class.
Generally speaking, the cabin quality, and the feel and smell of all the materials, is of that very high level as well, although the Panamera obviously feels more purposeful than other executive expresses.
Porsche says the Sport Turismo’s fastback design makes it unique in its segment, but this seems like the sort of thing a dealer might try and put past you in the showroom, hoping you’d never seen, or heard of, say, an Audi RS6.
One genuinely unique feature that forms part of that new rear end, however, is its adaptive roof spoiler, which shifts positions based on your speed, and whether your giant panoramic sunroof is open. If you are driving with the wind in your cabin, the clever spoiler adopts a position that counteracts the negative lift caused by silly, roary sunroofs.
Other than that, its main job is to provide downforce to the rear wheels, up to 50kg of it, thus improving the road-holding, and power-down, of this very large (5m long and 2.1m wide) vehicle.
Amusingly, its final point of adjustment only kicks in at 170km/h, so well-informed highway patrol officers will be able to judge that it’s time to burn your licence and throw you in jail, based on the angle of your Panamera’s roof spoiler. Handy.
In terms of space and practicality, you’d expect to get plenty more from a redesign like the Sport Turismo, yet it only delivers 20 litres more luggage room with the rear seats in place, rising to 520 litres, and 50 more when they’re folded down (1390L) compared to the standard Panamera limousine.
If it wasn’t so much more attractive, you’d wonder why people would bother, unless they’re huge fans of adjustable roof spoilers, of course. On the plus side, the loading height of the rear sill has been lowered by a noticeable 15cm, which will make it easy to get all your ski gear in there.
Heading to the Alps with a few friends is exactly the kind of thing this Panamera is built for, of course, which is why the wagon version will come with all-wheel drive as standard, no matter which of the staggering five engine options you choose.
The base model is the $232,500 Panamera 4 Sport Turismo, which comes with a 3.0-litre single-turbo V6 that’s good for 243kW and 450Nm and will hit 100km/h in a reasonable 5.3 seconds.
Step up to the 4S, at $317,800 and your 2.9-litre V6 gets a more modern twin-turbo set-up , making 324kW and 550Nm, and cuts your 100km/h dash to 4.6 seconds.
While Europeans might well go for the 4.0-litre biturbo V8 diesel engine, it’s hard to imagine too many Australians slapping down $325,900 for one, even with its non-diesel-like 310kW and whopping 850Nm of torque. It is a smidge faster than the 4S, though, at 4.3 seconds to 100km/h.
And it could probably tow a Space Shuttle, if required.
Even more mysterious is the inclusion of the lesser E-Hybrid version, at least for now. The Turbo S E-Hybrid version of the standard Panamera was launched at the same time, and with its staggering 3.4-second sprint, 310km/h top speed and 2.9 litres per 100km fuel figure, it’s the one technophiles and tree huggers will be hanging out for.
The E-Hybrid PHEV you can buy makes do with the 2.9-litre biturbo V6 and makes 340kW and 700Nm with the help of Porsche E-machine batteries and motor. It’s a lot cheaper than the dirtier diesel, too, at $255,800 (but slower, at 4.4 sec).
We somehow managed to slide our way into the range-topping Turbo Sport Turismo, which will set you back $390,700, but will also push you back into your seat, with 404kW and 770Nm from its genuinely awesome 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8.
While it is the heaviest of these cars, at 2035kg, it has the power-to-weight ratio to make that a non-issue, hurling you to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds, and will crack the triple tonne, hitting 304km/h, if you’ve got enough road.
Driving it, as we were, on a Canadian island with the concerning name of Victoria, that wasn’t likely for us, but the way the Turbo gets up and goes, and particularly the way it can accelerate from 100km/h the way other cars shove off from about 20km/h, we were worried we might end up flying into the sea.
The V8 provides the kind of acceleration that makes you blink in wonder, shake your head, and then chortle as you do it again. It really is one of those cars that feels slightly incongruous, because a machine this plush and spacious inside, not to mention whisper quiet most of the time, feels slightly out of kilter when it bites into the road and smashes into the horizon.
Being a Porsche, it also manages to corner in a manner that belies its size and weight, and while it’s no 911, you can genuinely feel the DNA of that magical car seeping through in the areas of steering feel, and ride quality.
There’s never a moment where it feels as light or zippy as a a Cayman, of course, but there’s certainly no shortage of fun to be had on the right kind of winding road. Endless sharp switchbacks might eventually upset it, or your stomach, but in most situations it is hugely, delightfully, capable.
The only complaint would be it’s a bit too quiet and restrained inside, considering the potency of the engine, and it’s tempting to drive with the windows down at times, just to hear that cracking V8 doing its braying thing. Turbo whistle is admirably absent, however, and it all feels reassuringly old school.
On the road, of course, this thing is going to cost you $400,000-plus, and if I started listing the cars I’d rather spend that money on than a Panamera Sport Turismo with unnecessary yet hilarious amounts of power, the internet would run out of space.
But then I’m not a rich executive who already owns a fleet of sports cars and wants something a bit special for those rare occasions where he has to ferry three other people around, which is who the customer for this car must be.
And that customer will be very, very happy with this new and improved Panamera. And not just because it’s so much better to look at.
Porsche predicts the Sport Turismo will add around 20 per cent to global Panamera sales, but it could well be more than that, once people see it in the metal.