The 2011 Panamera models for enthusiasts and true Porschephiles and track hounds remain the Panamera S, with its 400-horsepower, direct-injection 4.8-liter V-8 engine, making a peak 369 pound-feet, and the Panamera Turbo, which makes a stout 500 horsepower 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 or less.
The S and 4S models top out at 175 mph, while the Turbo can run all the way up to 188 mph. Despite the brutal power and acceleration, the Panamera evades the gas guzzler tax, as the non-turbo cars rate 16/24 mpg and the Turbo gets a 15/23 mpg rating, with the stop-start feature potentially saving even more fuel.
Power in this front-engine car is sent to either the rear wheels or all four wheels through a seven-speed, dual clutch PDK automatic transmission that uses Porsche's push-pull shift levers. Equip the Sport Chrono package and you'll be able to change gears in manual mode, running the car right up against its 6,700-rpm redline. Open the Panamera up on a road course at 140 mph and you'll find the 911's flat-six ripple replaced with a more industrial-sounding whir that's still distinctly Porsche.
A new base Panamera V6 model joins the lineup for 2011, and overall the V6 isn't the black sheep of the lineup that some hardcore enthusiasts might suspect. The new 300-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine that's used in the Panamera isn't the same VW-supplied VR6-derived) engine that's used in the Cayenne. It's a unique Porsche design; although this engine lacks the high-rev 'magic'—the tonal quality—of Porsche's flat-sixes and doesn't exactly overwhelm with low-rev torque, it's a satisfying engine in its own right in the Panamera. Altogether, the Panamera V6 can get to 60 mph in as little as 5.6 seconds (the Panamera 4 is actually slightly quicker to launch) and hit a top speed of 160 mph. On a nice open stretch of German autobahn we easily saw about 140 mph before the powertrain started feeling a little out of breath.
All U.S. Panameras come with the sweet seven-speed, ZF-supplied Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (that's PDK to the rest of us) double-clutch gearbox. Steering-wheel paddles—or button-levers, more precisely—manually command shifts with a seemingly instantaneous response, including a blip of the revs to match. And cars with Sport Chrono Plus come with Launch Control, which allows you to reap the full potential of the PDK transmission; from a standing start, it won't bog down, instead allowing a bit of wheelspin in back.
At more than 4,000 pounds for the V-8 models, the 2011 Porsche Panamera is a hefty car, but a host of electronics and a light steering feel give it a somewhat artificial feel that might lead you to call it more nimble and tossable. 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.
In all-wheel-drive cars, the Panamera simply claws its way around corners with endless enthusiasm and a tenacity and security that's unparalleled. 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. Panamera V6 models, since most of the chassis underpinnings are carried over unchanged from V-8 S models, can easily handle what's on tap and actually have a slightly better weight distribution, because of the V-6's slightly lighter weight and farther-rearward center of mass. And the electronic driver aids to leave a bit of fun to be had, and a bit of slip angle to play with, helping to keep the Panamera's sporty feel intact.