When Porsche first confirmed the production of its first-ever four-door car last year, many scoffed at the German automaker for even thinking about creating a sedan. These people were undoubtedly the same who questioned the need for the company's first-ever SUV, the Porsche Cayenne, back in 2003, which as it turns out is now Porsche's best-selling model. After attending an unveiling ceremony back in October hosted by Brumos Porsche in Jacksonville, Fla. for the 2010 Porsche Panamera, I recently had the opportunity to drive one of the first models to hit the showroom of the storied Porsche dealership (and race team).
Competing against full-size luxury sedans such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and even the Maserati Quattroporte, the Porsche Panamera is available in three trim levels with a starting MSRP of $89,800 ranging from the naturally aspirated, rear-wheel drive Panamera S up to the turbocharged and all-wheel drive Panamera Turbo. The model I drove was the mid-level Panamera 4S that has a starting price of $93,800, but with a laundry list of high-dollar options, the bottom-line price for this car swelled to $118,485. The Porsche Panamera may be one of the most polarizing Porsche models of all time, but that isn't slowing down its sales or production following Porsche's announcement last month that it has already built 10,000 units after just three months on the market.
Porsche has been toying with the idea of a four-door model for some time, but past ideas were based largely on adding an extra set of doors to a 911. While this might work for Aston Martin and its upcoming 2011 Rapide (essentially the four-door version of the Aston Marin DB9), Porsche thankfully went with a larger model using the iconic 911 only for styling inspiration. Looking very similar to a stretched 911, the Panamera's design incorporates many of the 911's signature lines including the oval-shaped greenhouse and the sloped hatchback rear end. For a true hatchback look, the Panamera is even available with a rear windshield wiper.
Since official pictures were released last April, the Panamera's bulky hindquarters seem to be getting most of the attention, but Porsche designers nailed the styling from the C-pillar forward. The large headlamps, big front air intakes and long hood are all shared with current Porsche models, and the sculpted side body lines really give the car an attractive stance. Like the 911, the rear of the Panamera features a retractable spoiler for better stability at higher speeds. Finally, this test car featured a set of 19-inch wheels used on the Panamera Turbo (adding the colored Porsche crest to each center cap adds another $185), which gave a good view at the massive ceramic composite brakes with the bright yellow calipers split-spoke wheels borrowed from the
Once inside the Panamera, the plethora of controls and buttons on the center console is noticeable even above the impressive headroom and legroom available to all the passengers. With an overall length of 195.6 inches, the Porsche Panamera is bigger than the Porsche Cayenne SUV and only seven inches shorter than a Chevrolet Tahoe, but that big size was needed to make the interior more spacious and accommodating.
As expected from an automaker that balances high levels of luxury with impressive performance, the Panamera's cabin is covered in exquisite materials without overlooking the sporty nature of the car. The four-passenger cabin of this test vehicle was covered in soft, rich leather with dark mahogany wood accents (for additional $4,250) on the instrument panel, door panels, center stack and center console. All four seating positions get supportive bucket seats, but only the front passengers get the eight-way power seats and, more importantly, the commanding view of the road. The small window openings for the rear doors could leave back seat passengers a little queasy (you alright back there, Carlos?) when testing the car's nimble handling and maneuverability.
Powering the Porsche Panamera 4S is a 4.8-liter V-8 that, unlike the 911, is positioned in the front of the car and produces 400 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. This engine, which features a dry-sump oiling system, is the same that is used in the Panamera S, but the 4S adds all-wheel drive for better handling and acceleration. All Panamera models use Porsche's seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK transmission that allows for either automatic shifting or manual shifting via steering wheel paddles - both taking place within a few hundredths of a second. Not that fuel economy is a major factor, but this transmission helps give the Porsche Panamera 4S respectable EPA estimates of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, which is also good enough to avoid the dreaded gas-guzzler tax.
Sitting about four inches taller and around 20 inches longer than a 911 Carrera, the Panamera 4S weighs almost 1,000 pounds more than the sport coupe, but you wouldn't be able to tell this from its handling and acceleration. In base form, the Panamera can run from 0-60 miles per hour in just 4.8 seconds, but the optional Sport Chrono Plus package shaves another 0.2 seconds off this time (compared to 4.5 seconds for the fastest version of the base 911 Carrera).
The Sport Chrono Plus Package tightens up shifting points (both up and down) and the suspension tuning of the Active Suspension system, but more importantly the $1,320 package adds the automatic Launch Control for smile-inducing, neck-snapping takeoffs. Inside, this package is easily identifiable by the timer mounted atop the dash to easily display acceleration and lap times. Other options added to this test car for improved ride and handling include the $1,990 adaptive air suspension system and an $8,150 ceramic composite brake system.
Porsche made extensive attempts to keep the weight as low as possible right down to the smallest details such as the use of motor mount bolts made from magnesium rather steel to help trim precious pounds. At 4,101 pounds, the Panamera is significantly lighter than its Mercedes-Benz and BMW competitors and the end result is a product that feels quick and nimble despite its size.
Vehicle courtesy of Brumos Porsche in Jacksonville, Fla. Special thanks to Ray Shaffer and Tom Levander. Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross.