This situation seems all too familiar. A few years ago, when Porsche unveiled the first-generation Cayenne SUV, there were wails of despair and howls of protest. It's not a "real Porsche" they said and, mostly, this was followed by, "it looks funny". Now we have the first sedan (strictly speaking it is a hatch) and it's the same story all over.
Mostly, however, commentators have been convinced by the Cayenne that Porsche can stretch its brand presence into previously unimaginable market segments. This time round, the criticism has centred on the Panamera's awkward styling more than anything else. Will bizarre looks condemn the Porsche Panamera Turbo to failure, or actually help it?
Do you like big butts? Don't lie...The Panamera's exterior design is unlike any other super sedans. That is, mostly, because it is strictly speaking not a sedan. Fitted to its sloping, rounded derriere, Porsche has fitted a large tailgate... as to be found more commonly on a hatchback. This has practical benefits of course - utility space can be boosted when the rear seats are folded - but it does mean the profile of the Panamera, towards the rear, is particularly ovoid and, if we were to be unkind, rather "bloated".
The reason for the Panamera's initially awkward looks is primarily the rear end, because the rest is rather attractive, and certainly very imposing. With a width of 1 931 mm and a height of only 1 418 mm, the Panamera is a squat, imposing machine that looks significantly different to any other super saloon it competes with. It needs the optional 20-inch wheels to be aesthetically "complete", however.
Brilliant interiorThere are no such quibbles about the interior, because the facia design is quite superb. The cliff-like facia drops down onto a sloping centre console that seems to be inspired by a premium cellular phone design (Vertu, perhaps?). But it's the quality of it all that impresses most. There's a solidity to the Panamera's interior fittings, and an elegance and attention to detail that we have not yet seen from this manufacturer before, which is deeply impressive... even surprising. Porsche being Porsche, there are plenty of boxes to tick in terms of optional extras, including trim, audio systems and more serious mechanical hardware, but the standard features list is comprehensive enough for most... just.
A thick centre tunnel travels through the length of the cabin, essentially splitting the rear bench in two. As a result, there are two individual rear seats. But with the a wheelbase of more than 2.9 metres, rear legroom is actually surprisingly good, though nowhere as good as what is offered from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Similarly, the boot is big enough to accommodate a few golf bags, but quite shallow and certainly won't be able to accommodate a few larger suitcases. At least the rear seats can fold down to improve utility space.
Supercar performanceThe crowning jewel of this particular Panamera is undoubtedly its 4.8-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. Developing 368 kW and a colossal 700 Nm of torque (770 Nm on overboost), the performance figures are the stuff of supercar dreams - 0-100 km/h in 4.0 seconds and a 303 km/h top speed. Fire up the Panamera the first time and there are not too many clues to its performance potential - the rumble is distant... refined. Mash the throttle to the floor, however, and there is explosive, accompanied by an urgent, but not overbearing exhaust note. Perhaps for this reason Porsche offers an optional exhaust system that adds some volume to the V8's rumble.
The engine is paired with Porsche's seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, sending power to the wheels that can best utilise the grunt, whether they're on the front, or the rear axle. A raft of dynamics fine-tuning systems are available, including PDCC stability control and, primarily Comfort and Sport settings for the suspension.
The latter sees the Porsche's ride height dropped by 25 mm and the dampers firmed up noticeably, virtually eliminating body roll. There's also the optional Sports Chrono package, which includes a launch control function that makes precise and lightning fast launches a mere formality.
But what's the big Porsche like on the road? Superb, to be brief... The ride is firm, perhaps too firm for a car that competes with the 7 Series and S-Class, but it is not jarring either. And while the Panamera weighs nearly two tonnes, it never feels so heavy on to go.
The agility is astounding, similar to a 911 in fact, and the all-wheel drive gives it prodigious grip. As is to be expected of Porsche, the steering is excellent, too, being light around town but precise, fast and with nice feel when pushing on. 911 owners that are forced into something more practical, but can't quite stomach a Cayenne, will be very pleasantly surprised. The Panamera is by the far most entertaining large luxury "sedan" to drive.
VerdictTake the subjective topic of aesthetics out of the equation, and the Panamera will impress almost everyone. The entertaining dynamics are phenomenal and certainly true to the Porsche brand ethos. At the same time the cabin will take most by surprise, arguably boasting class-blest design and quality, if not rear accommodation. Son. those looks. Judging by initial sales, it seems as if Porsche has judged the cars unique appeal perfectly. The Panamera is no normal fast luxury sedan. Then why should it look like one?
We don't like:
Looks somewhat awkward, doesn't it?
Four seater only
Engine: 4.8-litre, V8, twin-turbopetrol
Power:368 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 700 Nm @ 2 250 rpm (770 Nm on overboost)
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch
Wheels: 19-inch alloy
Top speed: 303 km/h
0-100 km/h: 4.0 seconds
Fuel economy: 12.2 litres/100 km
Less expensive than the Porsche and offers a more spacious, practical cabin, yet packs more power. It can't match the Porsche's sprinting ability and dynamics, however.
With 400 kW and 750 Nm of torque, this 7 Series flagship is a ballistic cruise liner. Slightly more affordable than the Porsche and ultimately not as fast or as agile, but vastly more spacious, comfortable (in the back) and luxurious.
This Audi may be about half a million cheaper than the Porsche, but it doesn't feel it. The interior superb and build quality flawless. The Lamborghini-sourced engine develops less power and torque, but the performance will be sufficient for most.