2011 Porsche Panamera Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 18, 2010

There's not much ordinary or traditional about this phenomenal fastback, and that's mostly a good thing.

Sports car handling, German engineering, Porsche styling and...four doors? The Panamera again has strayed well outside Porsche's well-trodden sports car heritage to become one of the world's best sports sedans.

The 2011 Porsche Panamera is no four-door coupe, like the Aston Martin Rapide or the Mercedes-Benz  CLS, but a true "gran turismo," with tremendous power, great handling, and ample room for four real-world adults.

But in an attempt at a traditional sedan silhouette, in combination with an actual fastback body style and the need for practicality, the design purity gets tainted just a little bit. Even the characteristically sleek Porsche front and rear fender styling can't distract from the lack of proportion; the imbalance is accentuated by the low nose, which draws attention to the awkward rear profile. The interior, on the other hand, is a stylish upgrade compared to dull, drab Porsche interiors of the past, with just enough warmth to win over those considering some of the more hot-blooded alternatives. And while the Panamera feels intimate and sports-car-like in front, the back seat is positively limo-like, with excellent space to sprawl out, as well as good ride comfort.

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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. A new base Panamera joins the lineup this year, with a 300-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that's built on the same line as the V-8; it's capable of getting to 60 mph in as little as 5.6 seconds, so performance isn't bad. 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, along with steering-wheel paddles.
 
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.

In addition to the seating room in back, the Panamera has the benefits of a hatchback, as 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. If you’re the passenger in front, looking back, the Panamera can also feel like two cars in one. From the front seats forward it doesn't take much imagination to think that you're in an exceptionally plush Porsche 911. Though the engine sound obviously isn't quite the same, the view out ahead is remarkably similar.

Porsche is missing some of the leading-edge features, such as night vision and accident-avoidance systems, that distinguish the 7-Series and S-Class flagships of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, respectively. But, that aside, the Panamera can also be had with nearly every option ever imagined for a production luxury sedan, 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; and Bluetooth control for hands-free phone operation.

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2011 Porsche Panamera

Styling

Depending on which angle you see first, and which angle you fixate on, the Panamera could be seen as a sexy sports car or a not-quite-svelte humpback-fastback—but it's undeniably a little bit of both.

Like no other Porsche before it, the Panamera aims for a traditional sedan silhouette, for better and for worse. Even the characteristically sleek Porsche front and rear fender styling can't distract from the lack of proportion; the imbalance is accentuated by the low nose, which draws attention to the awkward rear profile. The rear roofline extends upward and outward, which makes the Panamera seem out of proportion, even in darker tones. It's simply not as sleek as a Benz CLS or even four-doors like the new Jaguar XJ, nor does it pair a sports-car snout with a sedan body as well as the Maserati Quattroporte.

The interior, on the other hand, is a stylish upgrade compared to dull, drab Porsche interiors of the past, with just enough warmth to win over those considering some of the more hot-blooded alternatives. The wrap-around instrument-panel design, canted-back center console, and vertical vents altogether give it a rakish yet practical and luxurious feel, and though the cabin's materials are a tremendous upgrade, the combination of wood, leather and plastic comes out a bit heavy on plastic, especially considering the Panamera's price bracket. Borrowing a trait from the 911, the Panamera's ignition sits to the left of the steering wheel.

There's very little difference in appearance between the V-6 and V-8 models—only the standard smaller 18-inch wheels, different single-oval exhaust tips, and matte-black (instead of chrome) side-window trim.

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2011 Porsche Panamera

Performance

The driving experience is far less direct than in Porsche's sports cars, but while it doesn't have the feel and responsiveness of a 911 in spirited or track-day driving, the Panamera is at or near the pinnacle of modern sports sedans.

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.

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2011 Porsche Panamera

Comfort & Quality

Though the front seats in the 2011 Porsche Panamera provide the snug feel of a sports car, sit in back for long-legged comfort and a firm but supple ride.

You sure wouldn't expect to find the rear seats are more comfortable than the front chairs in a Porsche, but it's true here. 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. You’ll find way more backseat space in the Panamera than in the Quattroporte, the CLS, or nearly any other sporty four-door cars. The Panamera has lots of legroom for two tall passengers to feel really comfortable and sprawl their legs out with an average driver ahead. The back seat isn’t at all claustrophobic, and there’s an airiness that’s a bit unexpected—thanks to the Panamera’s bulged-out roofline (and headliner). And the seats fold forward; it's a hatchback, after all. In front, the lower positioning and tightly cocooned feel is very 911-like (they're great in their own right), but the rear seats sit higher and have a great view of the road, thanks to narrow front seatbacks.

Behind the backseats of the 2011 Porsche Panamera 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.

The Panamera has a beautiful, sumptuous interior that simultaneously has both an aggressive coupe-like feel and maintains an airy cabin. If you’re the passenger in front, looking back, the Panamera can also feel like two cars in one. From the front seats forward it doesn't take much imagination to think that you're in an exceptionally plush Porsche 911. Though the engine sound obviously isn't quite the same, the view out ahead is remarkably similar.

There’s no raked-back leisurely lux-sedan feel to the seats or driving position up front; as in Porsche’s sports cars it’s very easy to find comfortable, rather upright seating position with a commanding view ahead over a low hoodline. Some might find it cluttered, while others will think of it as sensible and less distracting. Though disorienting at first, even after a few hours it felt familiar and we found having dedicated buttons for nearly everything to be refreshing and, we believe, less cognitively involving than memorizing menu structures.

The available three-spoke sports steering wheel also adds a bit more coupe feel if you're the kind to pretend you're in a 911. Otherwise, as we’ve said in previous reviews of the Panamera, the switchgear—particularly the levers around the steering wheel—feels a little cut-rate, as does some of the door trim.

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.

Both of the Panamera models we drove were equipped with the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system, which smartly and quickly firms up the dampers only when needed; it can be set to Comfort, Sport, or Sport Plus modes. Base Panamera V6 models come with a steel-spring suspension, but Porsche didn't provide any cars for comparison.

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2011 Porsche Panamera

Safety

We won't get official crash tests for this prestige luxury car, but all the signs are here that Porsche hasn't taken safety lightly.

And as with all modern luxury cars, safety is a top priority for the Panamera. Standard passive safety features include dual front, side, knee and curtain airbags, an active pop-up hood to minimize pedestrian injury, and rear side airbags are optionally available. Active safety starts with Porsche's excellent stability and traction control features, but also includes rearview cameras to help when backing up, and hill-start control keep the car from rolling backwards on steep inclines.

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.

Meanwhile, the PTV (Porsche Torque Vectoring) Plus system works with the chassis and stability control and helps make the Panamera steer with greater security near the limit by gently modulating individual brakes in a way that will keep the vehicle more stable. The system works as a controlled rear differential on slippery surfaces.

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2011 Porsche Panamera

Features

You won't find techno-geek features such as automatic parking assistants and night-vision systems in the 2011 Porsche Panamera, but with the exception of the standard sound system, there are offers plenty of delightful features.

Porsche is missing some of the leading-edge features, such as night vision and accident-avoidance systems, that distinguish the 7-Series and S-Class flagships of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, respectively. But, that aside, the Panamera can also be had with nearly every option ever imagined for a production luxury sedan, 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; and Bluetooth control for hands-free phone operation.

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. Choices of interior trim include several kinds of wood, carbon fiber, aluminum or piano-black trim, though the matte-finish wood is especially attractive. A rear-seat entertainment system offers many possibilities, while XM satellite radio and four-zone climate control help keep everyone happy.

While other German car companies have moved to centralized functions and a balky controller, Porsche uses lots of buttons for vehicle functions—actually a decision to be applauded. Though perhaps less elegant from a design perspective, it's certainly welcome in terms of usability. And the roller controls on the steering wheel set the standard for tuning audio and entertainment features on the go.

The base sound system is one of the few disappointments we could find with the Panamera; while 100 watts should be enough, it seemed to lack proper bass support when we turned it up. We strongly recommend the available Burmester premium surround-sound system, as well as the nice, snug Adaptive Sport Seats, which have plenty of side support without feeling constraining. Dual-zone climate control is standard, but if you'll be carrying finicky passengers a four-zone system is available. Other options highlights include front and rear park assist, heated and ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control and, of course, a seemingly endless list of accessories, trims, and appearance packages.

The secret that you probably shouldn't spread too much word of is that prices are way more affordable for the V-6 model than for the V-8; the 2011 Porsche Panamera starts at $74,400, while the Panamera 4 starts at $78,900, not counting destination or the inevitable collection of options. Standard equipment isn't that much different between the two. There's a pretty big step up in price to the Panamera V-8 models, starting at around $91k, and the Turbo, at an entry point of $134k.

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8.2
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Styling 7
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 8
Fuel Economy 7
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