NY TIMES CONTRIBUTOR | EMMY WINNER

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo

April 24, 2017

 

The second generation Porsche Panamera was in my possession for less than 24 hours and in that short time saw three enthusiasts locked eyes onto it and beelined to the back.

 

Each said the same thing- “It looks so much better!” I witnessed this unfold a dozen times in a week.

 

You see, while Porsche describes Panamera as “the sports car among luxury sedans”, the first generation’s awkward roofline was considered “the hunchback of luxury sedans” to many.

 

In Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” Quasimodo’s disfigurement is a birth defect. The original Panamera’s hump was dictated by the very tall Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche’s former Chief Executive Officer who insisted that the back seat accommodate his frame.

 

So, yes, the all-new four-seat sequel is much sleeker with a rear flyline cribbed from the 911 (an element I heard a Bugatti designer praise as a work of art). Overall, the aluminum body panels form classic organic Porsche design, without superfluous fins, gills and wings. The rear spoiler emerges when aerodynamics dictate purpose (around 56 miles an hour or when manually deployed). The Optimus Prime maneuver is a crowd pleaser.

 

Until the E-Hybrid comes on line there are two engine choices- a 440 horsepower V6 and the one I’m exercising, the Turbo model’s 4-liter V8 with 550 horses and 567 pound feet of torque. All Panameras, even the E-Hybrid, are twin-turbocharged.

 

A new crisp 8-speed dual clutch transmission snicks through cog changes like finger snaps. Its electronic controller requires deliberate action when selecting drive or reverse. There’s the requisite manual mode with steering wheel paddles plus drive modes. Optional air suspension changes ride height. The available adjustable and active suspension changes ride quality.

 

Panamera was never a lumbering church dweller. The new Turbo with all-wheel drive is now sinfully quicker. Porsche claims the 0-60 mile-an-hour sprint is a blistering 3.4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 190 miles an hour. It’s very easy to drive very fast… uh, so I hear.

 

Dressed in luxury livery, even inexperienced drivers will sense the sports car in its bones. On Germany’s famed Nürburgring, Frank Wiesmann with Porsche Cars North America says Panamera Turbo’s lap time of 7:38 squeaks out a victory over the very capable Cayman GT4. The chance of motion sickness in the back seat is high.

 

Still, the Panamera is docile during everyday tasks. Optional rear axle steering parallels the front wheel’s aim at high-speed and does the opposite in parking lot maneuvers to provide a tidy turning radius. I drove 400 miles in a day and was refreshed at the end of it. Could be the optional massaging seats (I prefer the “shiatsu” setting) or the don’t-miss Burmester audiophile sound system. Either way, it’s a great way to eat up miles.

 

On start up, Panamera defaults to a fuel saving auto engine start/stop mode that can switch off the engine before the car comes to a complete stop. Those who find that disconcerting can disable it. The standard drive mode perceptively grabs the highest gear ratio possible, earnestly reaching for the E.P.A. rating of 18 city / 25 highway. I saw 20 miles-per-gallon.

 

Panamera’s cabin has become a calm space that’s no longer a recruiting tool for Air Force pilots. Replacing a blizzard of buttons on the center console is a haptic touch surface. The center air vent is adjusted on the 12.3- inch LCD screen. A clever show, but sometimes you just want to grab a knob.

 

The snappy touchscreen interface is significantly improved over the outgoing system. Still, I’ll give the edge to Volvo’s layout for now. Porsche provides redundant menu options below the display.

 

In the gauge bin, the rev counter is a real needle-wielding thing, flanked by configurable 7-inch LCD screens. Two entertaining options are the G-force meter and night vision that graphically and audibly points out pedestrians and cyclists.

 

Rear quarters are supremely comfortable for two. Optioned up with a climate zone and touch screen interface of its own, passengers will be happy to ride in back. Well, maybe not on the Nürburgring. I’m uncertain if Mr. Wiedeking has adequate headroom but the Executive model with 5.9 inches of wheelbase stretch should cure any legroom issues.

 

While Porsche call Panamera a sedan, it has a hatchback. Despite its trimmer silhouette, the cargo area has become more spacious. The seats split and fold too. There’s a strong argument for selling this as a practical purchase to your spouse.

 

Frugal mates will put the kibosh on those plans. A base Panamera with rear-wheel drive begins at $86,050. The tested Turbo model starts at about $148,000 before winding up at 181K. Look at it this way, that’s less than a 911 Turbo S and it holds four comfortably. This second generation Panamera offers a no compromise attitude toward luxury. The sleeker design has Porsche’s back.



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