- Neck-grabbing Turbo power
- Paddle-shifted gearbox
- Unaccustomed light touch
- Real rear-seat room
- Baby got back
- Busy, half-plastic cockpit
- Pervasive electronic controls
- Really, the ultimate Audi
The 2010 Porsche Panamera weds astonishing performance to remarkable interior space, but its styling doesn't quite gel.
High Gear Media accepted travel from Porsche to bring you this hands-on road test of the 2010 Panamera.
Porsche builds sports cars-but with the Cayenne SUV, the German automaker put the world on notice that it had more in mind. Now with the 2010 Panamera sedan, Porsche fills out its lineup with a truly spacious four-door that makes few compromises in its search for buyers seeking shattering power, great handling, and real room for four adults. It's no four-door coupe, like the Aston Martin Rapide or the Mercedes-Benz CLS, but a true "gran turismo." On sale in October 2009, the 2010 Panamera starts from a base price of $90,750 for the rear-drive Panamera S sedan, moving up to $94,750 for the all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S, and to $133,550 for the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Panamera Turbo.
Like no other Porsche before it, the Panamera aims for a traditional sedan silhouette, for better and for worse. As the unconfirmed story goes, former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking mandated the Panamera would have room in the backseat for his 6' 3" frame. It does-but the resulting roofline takes a compelling shape and knocks it off balance. The usual Porsche front and rear fenders frame the shape and help create a low drag coefficient, and rounded headlamps and tapered tail lamps render traditional details handsomely. The front end is low-but the rear roofline isn't, which makes the Panamera seem out of proportion, even in darker tones. As with the Bugatti Veyron, the rear end has a fastback feel that may take a few years to grow familiar. It's simply not as sleek as a Benz CLS or even four-doors like the new Jaguar XJ, and the proportions play much better on the Maserati Quattroporte.
The Panamera's cabin is a blend of leather, wood, and plastic, with a little too much of the last. Porsche's ignition sits to the left of the steering wheel, which itself comes from the 911, but most of the rest of the dash touches on new styling themes that aren't always successful. Wide flanks of buttons surround the console and overhead controls, giving them gills-a strange touch when the wood and leather lend an appealing 1970s flair that's executed even better in the console separating the rear seats. The control stalks on the column feel wiggly and out of touch with the rest of the quality pieces, too.
The Panamera's ignition sits to the left of the wheel-part of Porsche tradition-and it fires up direct-injection engines related to those in the Cayenne SUV. The 4.8-liter V-8 comes as is with 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, or with twin turbos, 500 hp and 516 lb-ft. There's scalding performance at hand-the base engine in the Panamera S and 4S vaults the sedan to 60 mph in either 5.2 or 4.8 seconds (better traction in the 4S shows up on the stopwatch). The Turbo charges to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds. With an optional Sport Chrono pack and its launch-control feature, acceleration times drop to a claimed 5.0 seconds, 4.6 seconds, and 3.8 seconds-and enthusiast magazines have clocked 3.3 seconds, equal to times in the Nissan GT-R or Porsche's own 911 Turbo. Top speed is a lofty 175 mph on non-Turbo cars, 188 mph on the Turbo.
A seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic is the sole transmission, and it has right and left paddles that act identically, allowing drivers to choose down- and upshifts by hand, if they prefer. Like the units in Audi and Volkswagen cars, it uses nested clutch packs to pre-select gears in alternating order, so shifts are quick and invisible. The Panamera will operate in manual mode with the Sport Chrono package, allowing drivers to push right to its 6,700-rpm redline and stay there through difficult corners. With the combination of the PDK gearbox and engines, Porsche says it avoids gas-guzzler taxes as it nets 16/24 mpg with non-Turbo cars, and 15/23 mpg in the Panamera Turbo. There's also a stop/start function that can be enabled to save a little more fuel. Winding around road courses at 140 mph, the Panamera doesn't generate the flat-six ripple of the 911; instead, it's more of a machined whir that's still distinctly Porsche.
The Panamera's a hefty car at more than 4,000 pounds, but Porsche dials in electronics and light steering feel to give it a different, more nimble sensation than traditional Porsches. The basic setup has the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system to tailor the suspension from softer to firmer settings. Turbos also get air suspension (optional on other models) to further aid ride control. The Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) system has active anti-roll bars for handling prowess, and a rear differential lock that improves traction in wet weather. With the dynamic assists, the Panamera lowers itself 0.8 inch at speeds and deploys an active spoiler to boost its grip-and still, the suspension and electronics are configured to allow a little slip and to preserve the Panamera's sporty credentials. With the Sport Chrono package, the Panamera can be set up as a real track performer, with the tautest engine, transmission, and suspension settings-though the variable steering setup remains light and nicely weighted in all versions. The electronic systems feel less direct in non-AWD cars-there's a definite level of faith to be placed in them since they react more quickly than a driver can. In all-wheel-drive cars, the Panamera simply claws its way around corners with endless enthusiasm in a predictable, game-changing way. It may not be classically 911, but it is almost without equal in sedans unless Bugatti builds one. The Panamera wears massive six-piston front and four-piston rear brakes, with optional carbon ceramic rotors. To match, Porsche fits 245/50-ZR18s front and 275/45s on back in non-Turbo cars; the Turbo wears 255/45-ZR19 front tires, and 285/40-ZR19 rears, for awesome traction. Ride quality is comfortable in most modes, with a distinct sense of tire motion and reactions making its way through the steering. It's akin to the ride quality of the tightest BMWs, and it's well suited to the Panamera's stunning capabilities.
It sounds a bit unusual, but the rear seats are more comfortable than the front chairs in the 2010 Panamera. There's plenty of room and support in either set of buckets-and the driver's seat is the one you'll arm-wrestle for-but the rears have more width, thanks to the slimmer center console, and plenty of headroom and foot room, too. It's a little amazing to have more headroom in a Porsche rear seat than in a 2010 Ford Taurus, but it's true here. The front seats ride 4 inches above the ground and feel tightly cocooned, but the rear seats sit higher and have a great view of the road, thanks to narrow front seatbacks. The rear seats have power adjustments and ventilation like those in front, though on some versions leather is applied just to the seat surface, not the sides. Behind the backseats is a cargo area that's roomy enough for four roll-aboards, and it can be easily accessed from a power tailgate with a rear window shaped like those on Porsche sports cars. All four doors have unique holders that maintain a set position on any incline, for easy exits and entries. The backseats also flip down to expose 44.6 cubic feet of cargo space, enough for two bicycles with front wheels still attached, Porsche says.
Porsche goes to other extremes to guarantee the Panamera's performance in accidents. The four-door comes with standard dual front, side, knee, and curtain airbags, as well as an active hood that pops up to mitigate injuries in car-pedestrian accidents. Rear side airbags are an option. Rearview cameras assist when backing up, and the multifunction display in the gauges allows drivers to toggle through car functions and displays, including navigation, while keeping more focus on the road ahead. All-wheel drive is a safety benefit on its own, even more so in the ferociously powerful Panamera Turbo-and Porsche permits drivers to cycle through various traction and stability control modes for all kinds of driving situations. A hill-holder feature keeps the car from rolling back on inclines when starting.
The exhaustive list of features fitted to the Panamera include cruise control; dual-zone climate control; leather seating; a panoramic sunroof; a navigation system also used in the Cayenne that has crisp displays and customizable maps; Bluetooth control for hands-free phone operation; and roller controls on the steering wheel that set the standard for tuning audio and entertainment features on the go. Among the options are a choice of wood, carbon-fiber, aluminum, or piano-black trim (the matte wood finish is particularly fine); a rear-seat entertainment system; custom-fitted luggage; four-zone climate control; a 16-speaker, 1,000-watt Burmeister audio system; XM Satellite Radio; and the Sport Chrono package, which adds another dash-mounted gauge and lets drivers watch their cornering and speeds improve via a special display on the dash screen. Adaptive cruise control is available, as are sport seats and heating and ventilation for all seating positions. While other German car companies have moved to centralized functions and a balky controller, Porsche uses lots of buttons for vehicle functions-a decision to be applauded.