The Turbo’s engine, however, is the biggest charmer — it’s smooth and unobtrusive at low speed, yet it also offers seamless torque almost anywhere in the rev range. Turbo lag is present but minimal, and triple-digit thrust is simply epic. Regardless of which shift mode you choose, the Panamera’s PDK calibration is essentially spot-on, grabbing the right gear at the right time with minimal delay.
The Panamera 4S and S are essentially the same experience, minus a bit of curb weight (the Turbo weighs 4,344 pounds; the 4S, 4,101; the S, 3,969) and with a small amount of added steering feel. All three cars boast quick turn-in, monstrous rear grip, and a danceable, tossable feel that belies their size. Predictably, the S’s steering feel is the best of the lot, its chassis the most nimble and responsive. Regardless of which model you choose, braking ability is fantastic, with the standard iron-rotor brakes hauling the car down repeatedly from absurd speeds with excellent retardation, progressive ABS intervention, and a rock-solid pedal. The $8,840 PCCB option is, as you’d expect, mind-blowingly, impossibly capable, and perhaps the best set of luxury-sedan brakes currently on the market.
Unfortunately, and especially when driven back-to-back with the Turbo, the S and 4S are mildly disappointing when it comes to straight-line speed. Both cars boast respectable 0-62 mph times — 5.4 seconds for the S, 5.0 for the 4S — but neither one feels as fast as it is. The naturally aspirated eight sounds throatier and more burbly than its forced-induction sibling, and it revs a bit freer, but it’s saddled with too much weight to provide impressive acceleration.
For all intents and purposes, the Panamera competes in a model niche that barely exists. Consider the facts: The base Panamera S costs $89,800 and produces 400 bhp. The 4S? $93,800 and 400 bhp, but you get all-wheel-drive. The range-topper, the Panamera Turbo, costs $132,600, produces 500 bhp, and also offers four driven wheels. And no matter what anyone says, none of them have any real competition.
Porsche sees the Panamera’s opposition as the usual suspects: Mercedes-Benz’s AMG sedans, the BMW M5, the Audi A6/S6/A8/S8, and the Maserati Quattroporte. This is all well and good, but quite frankly — and we say this having tens of thousands of combined miles in each of the models mentioned above — none of them even come close. The AMG offerings? They’re either far less refined or far too refined, and most of them don’t qualify as truly sporting cars, focusing too little on driver feedback. The Audis? Wonderful cars, all, but somewhat lacking in build quality and steering feel, and their cabins are too isolated. The Quattroporte? The naturally aspirated Panamera S and 4S may not sound as good, but they’re more involving to drive. And the M5, while a worthy effort, simply comes across as a wonderful engine in a staid, complex shell.
That, then, is the point. With the Panamera, Porsche may not have designed and built a perfect car, but it did do something that none of its competition could do: build, in the best sense of the phrase, a luxury-oriented, four-door sports car. That car may not be perfect — and indeed, from a standpoint of driver involvement and styling, the Panamera is still in need of a bit of fine-tuning — but it’s nevertheless worthy of the badge on its hood. And that, pretty car or not, is all that matters.