Something New

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Porsche chose to host the Panamera media drive at the stately Schloss Elmau castle near Garmisch-Parten­kirchen, in southern Bavaria, but our trip began on the outskirts of Munich, a few hours away. And even in seen-it-all southern Germany, a parked Panamera draws a lot of attention. Pedestrians stumble off of sidewalks, bus drivers do double-takes, and small children point from the inside of passing cars. For all the attention, you’d think that we were about to tool down the autobahn in the Space Shuttle.

Nevertheless, the technology-meets-astonishing-size-meets-spacecraft image is an appropriate one. If the Panamera looks ungainly and stilted in photographs, like a gorilla in an undersized, three-piece suit, then the effect is only amplified in person — the car appears far larger than it really is, a slightly awkward shape crafted with purpose, not aesthetics, at the fore.

At first glance, any number of styling details put you off: the overly heavy rear; the 911-mimicking nose; the awkward, bulging, roofline. The Panamera’s bodywork is seemingly consumed with cross purposes — it has the nose-heavy heft and presence that a front-engine sedan requires, and yet it also possesses the rear-biased proportions of a modern 911. The net effect is an odd, distinctly un-Porsche sense of largesse.

Happily, the interior is exactly the opposite. In traditional Stuttgart fashion, the Panamera’s insides offer not the slightest bit of wasted space, and apart from a slightly old-school console — the area surrounding the shift lever, with its million-and-one buttons, looks about as modern as the keypad on a Motorola StarTac — everything is contemporary, stylish, and incredibly well-made. The interior reeks of research and emotion, of intelligent thinking and obsessive attention to detail. Everything from the carpet to the headliner feels like the product of a small, dedicated team of engineers, as if someone handed five Weissachians the inside of a Bentley Continental and said, “Make this, but do it at half the price.”

The most interesting thing about the Panamera’s interior, however, is how much like a cockpit it feels, regardless of where you’re sitting. The rear seats boast substantial bolstering and tall headrests, and the chunky, full-length center console gives both front and rear passengers the feeling that they’re riding in something special. As you’d expect, given the car’s roofline, rear headroom is nothing short of stratospheric. You could cram an NBA star into the back seat, strap him down, and he’d still have room to wear a hat. A big hat.

Of course, none of this would matter if the Panamera drove like a Ford Pinto. Thankfully, it doesn’t. Our journey out of Munich began behind the wheel of a Panamera Turbo; within a few minutes of leaving Porsche’s car park, we were on the autobahn heading south. A few minutes after that, we entered a derestricted zone and sent the large, central tach needle spinning.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: The steering is a bit overboosted and numb at low speed. PDK is probably the single best twin-clutch gearbox on the market, but it’s no substitute for a good manual ’box and a clutch pedal. The Sport Plus damper setting produces a choppy, fidgety ride on anything other than glassy pavement. Engine and induction noise is a bit too subdued for our tastes; unless you have the windows down and the stereo off, you can barely hear the drivetrain. And the Turbo/4S all-wheel-drive system occasionally binds and clunks at low speed, but only if you crank in significant steering angle.

That’s it. Everything else is…well, everything else is fantastic.

Sound like hyperbole? It’s not. The Panamera Turbo is an astoundingly competent car, a silent cocoon of speed that launches itself from horizon to horizon with a happy mix of raw drama and stealthy composure. The steering weights up and comes alive at speed, and while it’s not as feelsome as the rack in a 911, it’s nevertheless far better than it has any right to be. Full-throttle starts on slippery surfaces produce a mildly violent launch, the power being shuttled back and forth between the front and rear axles (nominal torque split is a staggering 97-percent rear bias, but up to 100 percent of drive torque can be shuttled to either axle); there’s a bit of wheel hop, a little bit of tail-wagging, and then you’re simply gone. And below 150 mph on smooth pavement, you can safely tool down the road with little more than a pinky on the steering wheel.

Also from Issue 177

  • 996 GT3 vs. 997 GT3
  • Early short-stroke 911 shootout
  • Mille Miglia with Gijs van Lennep
  • Rare 964 Turbo S2 Driven
  • 930-powered 356
  • Interview: Paul Ritchie of PMNA
  • Market Update: 911 Turbo
  • Porsche Icon: 911 GT1-98
  • $0.79 911 Foggy Headlight Fix
  • Project 914 3.6: Details, and First Drive
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