The Porsche Panamera is one of the most polarising cars on the road today.
While many people don’t like the sedan’s fastback rear end, others swear by the car’s prowess on the road.
When the Panamera entered production in 2009, it became the first sedan in Porsche’s illustrious history to reach showrooms.
In June, Porsche unveiled the second generation Panamera in Berlin to universal acclaim.
The automotive world immediately became enthralled by the car. Mostly because Porsche had fixed the only thing that kept people from falling in love with the first generation Panamera — the tail.
Although I’ve driven several Porsche models, I never had a chance to spend any time behind the wheel of a Panamera. With the second generation Panamera still months away from reaching our shores, Porsche was gracious enough to lend me one of their final first-generation cars for a few days.
A few weeks ago, I made the trip down to Atlanta -- home of Porsche Cars North America's new $100 million corporate headquarters. (As a side note, the facility also served as The Avengers' home base in 'Captain America: Civil War'.)
There, I met up with a shiny new 2016 Porsche Panamera GTS clad in stylish silver metallic paint.
Even though the base Panamera starts at a fairly reasonable $US78,000, our medium grade GTS test car carries a base price of $US113,400. With options such as special metallic paint ($3,100), upgraded Bose surround sound system ($1,590), black high gloss sport wheels ($3,375), and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control ($5,000), our test car came in at $140,525. Then again, no one ever said Porsche magic comes cheap.
Although the Panamera was the first Porsche sedan to make it into production when it arrived in showrooms for the 2010 model year, the company had actually been mulling over the idea for some time. More than two decades ago, Porsche built the 989 prototype to be a sports car for the whole family. The 989 was powered by a 4.2-litre, 350-horsepower V8 engine, and Porsche claimed it could hit a top speed of 173 mph.
The car was scheduled to enter production by 1995 but never made it. During the early 90s, Porsche had fallen on hard times and was on the brink financial ruin. As a result, the 989 was axed. Instead, Porsche turned its attention to the Boxster and the 996 -- the first water-cooled version of its iconic 911 sports car. Not all was lost. As you can see, a lot of the 989's DNA made it into the 996.
At 16-and-a-half-feet long and tipping the scales at 4,400 pounds, Porsche took the thinking behind the 989 and scale it up for the modern consumer. Like every other model in the company's line up (including its SUVs), the Panamera must 'look like a Porsche.' This means that the car -- regardless of where its engine is located -- must be designed to resemble the company's iconic rear-engined 911. As a result, this precluded the front-engined Panamera from having a tradition trunk.
Instead of a conventional trunk, the Panamera has a rear hatch in a fastback design. Ergonomically, the Panamera's unconventional design works brilliantly. The high roof line affords the backseat passengers an incredible amount of head room compared to others cars of its type. At the same time, the rear hatch offers the Panamera much more utility than a traditional sedan. With the rear seats folded down, the Porsche has an SUV-like 44.6 cubic feet of cargo room.
And here's the controversy. While the rear-end design is successful in terms of creating space, the aesthetics still aren't great. Industry observers have complained for year's about the Panamera's odd proportions and unconventional rear end.
However, in my time with the car, no one said a bad word about the car's looks.
For 2017, Porsche redesigned the Panamera's rear end and, thus far, it's received rave reviews.
Stepping into the Panamera's cabin for the first time, it becomes abundantly clear that this car means business. The interior of our test was clad in rich marsala red leather and black alcantara with metallic accents to gives your eyes a change of pace. The Panamera's button-heavy center console is more fighter-jet cockpit than luxury car cabin. But every instrument is placed for easy, on-the-fly access by the driver.
As with every Porsche since the 356 more than a half century ago, the tachometer, which shows the car's engine speed, is placed front and center. This gives the driver clear indication of when and where to shift gears (if you're doing the shifting yourself -- the Panamera of course has a full automatic mode). It's also a reminder that above all else, every Porsche is still a sports car, even a 4,400-lb. luxury sedan.
Overall, the interior is pleasant and luxurious place to be. The Panamera's cabin proved to be surprisingly comfortable, for a car with sporting ambitions. The older-generation infotainment system could use some help. It wasn't intuitive to use and lacked such common modern features as voice control. However, the second generation model will have Porsche's new infotainment system, a significant upgrade over the one found in our test car.
What has never been a point of controversy is the Panamera's ability to handle itself on the road.
To drive, the Porsche Panamera GTS is a beast. It's 4.8 -litre, 44o-horsepower V8 engine is paired to Porsche's near-telepathic 7-speed PDK twin-clutch transmission and an all-wheel-drive system. According to Porsche, this combo is good enough to get the car to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 179 mph.
I don't doubt those claims.
Even though the big V8 is capable of supplying massive amounts of power with great immediacy, the Panamera GTS's electronics and all-wheel-drive system do a great job of harnessing the car's anger. The GTS launches very quickly off the line. With no turbos to wait for, the naturally aspirated V8 makes it way up to its peak power at 6,700 rpm very quickly.
But it is the Panamera's ability in the corners that is its greatest attribute. Porsche's Active Suspension Management system works with the car's air-filled shocks to keep the sedan firmly planted. There's no hint of body roll. And even with power going to all four wheels, the Panamera manages to conjure up a little bit of oversteer to keep things interesting.
As your ears monitor the engine revs, your hands are in constant communication with the car's wheels, while your feet manage the forward motion of the car. It becomes an enveloping experience. You quickly forget you're in a large luxury sedan, until the climate control and comfortable seats offers you a not-so-subtle reminder.
All in all, I get the Panamera. I don't think the back end looks very good. But then again, the only people looking at it are those whom I pass. Most of my time was spent in the Panamera's cabin, which was a wonderful place to be. Porsche needed to build a flagship sedan with the capabilities and the looks of the iconic 911. For better and for worse, the Panamera delivers on both.
As Porsche Cars North America CEO Klaus Zellmer reminded me a couple of months ago, every car Porsche builds is a sports car -- they just compete in different segments of the market. With the Panamera, Porsche has a sports car for the luxury sedan segment. And the successor, coming in a few months, has large shoes to fill.
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