Panamera, Panamera 4
The Panamera without a suffix is the least expensive of the lineup at $78,100, but to call it “base” would be a grave injustice. Its 3.6-liter 90-degree V-6 utilizes direct injection, a variable-volume intake manifold and VarioCam valve timing/lift wizardry on the intake side to make 310 hp (10 more than the 2013 car thanks to revised ECU mapping) and a solid 295 lb-ft of torque. Essentially two-thirds of the 4.8-liter found in the GTS and Turbo models, the liner-less aluminum/silicon-block engine weighs 77 lb less, a difference you can feel in transitional agility when the road goes all snake-like on you. The chassis is tight and rewarding, making the most of nearly Corvette-width rubber: 245/50ZR-18s up front and 275/45ZR-18s in back. Steering-wheel paddles are large and easily reached, all the better to summon crisp, efficient shifts from the venerable 7-speed PDK transmission. The gearbox also offers better efficiency in all models except the GTS through its coasting mode, where the engine decouples from the gearbox on lift-throttle. Obviously this doesn’t happen mid-turn in aggressive driving where a direct connection is optimal for car control, but rather in highway driving scenarios where fuel-economy gains can be realized. Another innovation (again in all models except the GTS) is what Porsche calls virtual intermediate gears, in-between ratios that are created by engaging two gears simultaneously and allowing controlled slippage of the PDK’s oil bath clutches for the desired ratio. They’re used only in light-load conditions up to about 50 mph for improved fuel economy.
Step up to the Panamera 4($82,800 base), and PTM all-wheel drive is added, with an electronically controlled multi-plate center differential that apportions most of the torque to the rear wheels, channeling it forward incrementally to increase high-speed stability, or more urgently when it senses rear wheelspin.
Panamera S, Panamera 4S, Panamera 4S Executive
The “S” range, starting at $93,200, is where we dive headlong into significant changes. Power is provided not by last year’s normally aspirated 4.8-liter V-8 but a new 3.0-liter twin turbo V-6, an evolution of the 3.6-liter M46 engine family that uses the same 96.0mm bore but a short-throw crank for a stroke of 69.0mm. Two low-inertia turbos spool quickly to produce a maximum 17.4 psi of boost, and Porsche’s first-ever application of variable exhaust-cam timing in a V engine works with VarioCam on the intake side to give remarkable power and flexibility—420 hp and peak torque of 384 lb-ft available between 1,750 and 5,000 rpm.
It’s a smooth jewel of an engine, made smoother still by a sump-mounted balance shaft, but it lacks the soul and aural gravitas of the V-8. And the power delivery through middle revs, well, you can’t characterize it as laggy, but “elastic” fits the bill; the engine almost seems to surge ahead on bungee cords, waiting for the chassis to snap back in line. Still, a 20-bhp gain over the V-8 at a 500-rpm lower engine speed (peak power is at 6000 rpm), a significantly more usable torque curve, and fuel economy up to 18-percent better in European testing is the stuff of an engineer’s dreams.
The available Sport exhaust uncorks the muffler via a moveable internal flap at the press of a button, and what Porsche calls the “sound symposer” channels intake-tract pulses to the A-pillar through an eardrum-like membrane, funneling sportier sounds to the driver. It helps a little, with a gutsier low-rev rumble and nice bit of acoustic raggedness on the overrun.
Remember the Panamera’s Chinese unveiling in 2009? Well, the true Shanghai Surprise for 2014 is the 4S Executive model (offered for the Turbo as well), an all-wheel-drive Panamera whose body is stretched a full 5.9 in. behind the B-pillar to put rear legroom on par with a first-class airline seat. The rear seat actually is positioned forward relative to the rear axle by 1.2 in. to allow for six additional degrees of electrically adjusted rake, which makes the already generous rear footwells 4.7 in. longer. Of course, fore-aft movement is electrically adjustable, too, as is four-way lumbar support. But that just begins to describe the coddling—there are soft-close doors, electric roll-up blinds for the side windows, a special ambience lighting package, and two additional reading lights. The rear center console that separates the two individual buckets—leather-covered in one of five standard hues—has three-stage controls for seat heating and ventilation, and each rear-seat passenger has a dedicated group of climate controls. There are also storage bins aplenty, the largest containing a 120-volt accessory power point. Ride motions back here are not exactly Rolls-Royce compliant, but air suspension and Porsche’s PASM cockpit-adjustable active dampers are standard equipment. A comfortable ride and Porsche reflexes are certainly contradictory goals, but the Executive manages to pull it off.