Something New

Porsche’s latest four-door isn’t a dream, a prototype, or an SUV—it’s a low-slung, four-passenger production sedan. We head to Germany to find out how it drives.

September 30, 2009
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Let’s start off with the obvious: What we have here is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pretty car. The Porsche Panamera is an imposing car, a car that demands your attention, a heap of impossibly clever engineering stuffed inside a long, low, and unorthodox shape. But it is not pretty.

Predictably, this is how its maker seems to want things. Stuttgart views its one and only four-door sedan in the cold, hard light of economic reality, a light untinted by romantic concepts like beauty. If the words of company executives are to be believed, Porsche sees its latest four-wheeled wunder as one of the key links in its production-car chain, a balls-to-the-wall gift to the world that will both please the purists and open new demographic doors.

As you might expect, the details are fascinating: Stuttgart expects to sell roughly 20,000 Panameras a year worldwide, a figure that, depending on who you talk to, is either wildly optimistic or suspiciously modest. 60,000 people in the U.S. have expressed interest in buying a Panamera. And in the words of Klaus Berning, a member of Porsche AG’s board of directors, Por­sche believes that the Panamera “closes the gap between the 911 and the Cayenne.”

That last statement may seem a tad arrogant — after all, far more than a couple of doors and a basic layout separate Porsche’s most iconic product from its most controversial one — but surprisingly, it’s not far from the truth. The Pana­mera’s stretched, arching shape incorporates a great deal of Cayenne and 911 design DNA, and the car’s styling details are an odd mix of traditional Porsche touches and nods to current luxury-car fads. Elegant fender humps and a tongue-shaped hood are paired with seemingly tacked-on fender vents and garish rear badging. The interior is a medley of cleverly used company hallmarks (the four seats that ape the 911’s moderately bolstered buckets), odd ergonomic choices (the seemingly endless array of buttons on the front console), and wonderfully crafted materials. In short, from a purely superficial standpoint, the Panamera looks like the love child of a Cayenne and a 911.

Much of this effect is intentional. As Porsche designer Michael Mauer puts it, “designers love challenges, and the [Panamera’s] development goal was that the car be instantly recognizable as a Porsche.” Fittingly, Stuttgart officials make much of the fact that the Pana­mera’s five-door shape is “completely new,” a product of original thinking from one of the most focused marques on the planet, while simultaneously emphasizing the car’s inherent Porsche-ness. (An entire section of the press conference at the Panamera’s European launch was devoted to analyzing the car’s design and how it relates to that of earlier Por­sches.) Frankly, the juxtaposition of the two concepts seems a tad forced.

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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