What’s the German word for “chutzpah”? Whatever the translation, it took freighters full of the stuff to launch the Panamera on an unsuspecting world. Porsche executives, no doubt emboldened by the runaway success of the Porsche Cayenne sport-ute—an actor playing against type if there ever was one—decided that sports cars needn’t only be pure two-seaters, nor 2+2s with vestigial squab-seating for kids in back a la 911, 944 and 928. No, roofline be damned, the company was going to build a four-door, four-seat Gran Turismo, a car that could deliver 911-caliber dynamic thrills yet still accommodate 6-foot-2-inch Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche president and CEO at the time, in the rear seating area.
And not in some semi-fetal crouch; think noble and relaxed, like Lincoln seated at his monument. The company delivered, unveiling the Panamera at the Shanghai Motor Show in April 2009—a calculated move, as Chinese captains of industry are typically chauffeured rather than drive themselves, a preference aligning perfectly with this latest Porsche’s four-door (plus a hatch) configuration.
That was 100,000 Panameras ago and counting. In the past year alone, more than 29,000 were delivered worldwide, 25 percent going to the U.S. (China and Europe are larger markets, each claiming roughly one-third of production). We’re here today in Upper Bavaria, where the original Panamera was first shown to a curious press in the summer of 2009. But now there are a total of nine Panamera models to sample, with varying combinations of cylinder count, turbocharging, drivetrain configurations, wheelbases and price, including the Panamera S E-Hybrid (Excellence, Sept. ’13), now a plug-in with significant electric-only range thanks to a lithium-ion battery pack. Each variant makes more power than its 2013 counterpart yet consumes less fuel.
Aside from this, the common thread running through all 2014 Panameras is a subtle styling makeover, many elements of which try to better integrate and soften that controversial roofline. Most notable is the rear hatch—now power-actuated as standard on all models—that incorporates wider glass tilted at a slightly faster angle. Along with the license plate cutout relocated lower in the bumper and a smoothed transition to the LED taillights, the changes also help to visually lower the car. Up front, the fascia is more aggressive with larger openings and is model-specific as well—the nose of both the GTS and Turbo has larger openings still, with turn signal/running light modules set within the straked side intakes. The aluminum hood has a slightly more prominent power bulge, with more sharply etched creases. Bi-xenon headlights are now standard across the range, but LED headlights are an option ($2,130) on every model, their distinctive rectangular stair-stepped housings visible through the headlight lenses. At first glance, it’s hard to notice any one change, but in concert they make the GT simply look more svelte and low-slung.
For Panamera-spotters in the U.S., color coding of the massive aluminum monobloc calipers (six-piston front and four-piston rear across the range) give away the model—black for the base Panamera, silver for the S variants with the new twin-turbo V-6, Acid Green for the S E-Hybrid, and red for the GTS and Turbo models. The photos of European-spec cars in this story may not reflect the U.S. color coding, however.
With the complexity of a staggering nine-car lineup, digesting the Panamera range is best done in small bites, model by model.