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.
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.
Some would say that elongating the midsection of an already controversial body style would produce a dachshund-esque abomination, but the 4S Executive takes on a sporty Autobahn limo personality of its own that’s more appealing than we might have thought possible. The premium on this sort of individuality? $125,600 to start.
Panamera S E-Hybrid
As we explored the Panamera S E-Hybrid in detail in the last issue, we’ll offer just a brief summary of this extensively reengineered parallel hybrid that can be externally recharged with either 240- or 120-volt household current. A 9.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack replaces the previous S Hybrid’s nickel-metal hydride batteries, offering more than five times the capacity and enabling an electric-only top speed of 84 mph and range estimated to be greater than 20 miles. In concert with the supercharged 3.0-liter gasoline engine, total system output is 416 hp, with 95 hp provided by the electric motor, more than double the previous motor’s 47 hp. With both gas and electric systems at full boil, the S E-Hybrid can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 sec. (0.5 sec. quicker than the previous model) and reach a top speed of 167 mph.
The driving experience is that of a seamless transition from electric to gasoline power. Three driver-selectable modes can be utilized: E-Power for full electric operation, which is the default mode on start-up; E-Charge mode where the battery can be completely recharged by the gasoline engine in roughly 28 to 37 miles of driving; and Sport mode, where both drive systems are used in concert for maximum performance.
The E-Power mode delivers a driving experience quite different than most other parallel hybrids that use a planetary CVT-type gearbox. The S E-Hybrid uses a more conventional Aisin-supplied 8-speed automatic (the only non-PDK transmission in the Panamera lineup) with the motor situated in the bell housing, engaged when needed with a dry clutch. So instead of what feels like a single-speed transmission of power with the CVT’s inherent motor-boating sensation of road speed trying to catch up with engine speed, the S E-Hybrid runs up through its gears in a conventional, linear and highly satisfying way.
Acid Green brake calipers that practically glow in the dark, like-hued exterior badging and a charge-port door in the left rear side panel announce the S E-Hybrid to the world. Pricing starts at $99,000.
Raw and visceral, at least within the framework of a polished Gran Turismo, the all-wheel-drive Panamera GTS ($113,400) is to its lineup what the GT3 is to the standard 911, and the true driver’s car of the lot. Its normally aspirated 4.8-liter V-8 gets a 10-bhp boost for 2014 to 440 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, the result of mapping tweaks to the engine’s ECU. Although not quite as quick as the Turbo (0 to 60 mph in 4.2 sec. versus the Turbo’s 3.9), the GTS delivers its performance with inspiring sounds and crisper reflexes. Steering calibrations feed just the right amount of road texture to your palms, and the sound symposer/sport exhaust liberate an extra dose of V-8 rumble, and a sublime cackle/pop/spit on the overrun that encourages letting off the throttle just to hear it. With this soundtrack, the PDK seems to shift faster than ever. Just leave it in Sport Plus mode and the gearbox nearly seems to read your mind, delivering silky near-instantaneous shifts, aggressively auto-blipping on the change-down and always exiting corners in the proper gear.
Inside, standard upholstery is smooth leather bolsters with pleated Alcantara inserts. The seats themselves are 18-way power adjustable, and with cornering forces provided by wider rubber (255/45R19 front, 285/40R-19 rear) and more aggressive PASM calibrations, the ability to clamp the side bolsters down on your thighs and torso is much appreciated. The Sport Chrono Package is GTS standard fare, as is the trick articulated four-way rear spoiler. Shared with the Turbo, its elements extend laterally as it rises from its recess at the top of the rear bumper.
Exterior touches provide just the extra bit of menace—blacked-out rocker panels and trim, smoked taillight lenses, dual twin-tube tailpipes, and a more aggressive front fascia show a slightly nasty side to the Panamera, which is fine by us.
Panamera Turbo, Panamera Turbo Executive
If you want to truly own the Autobahn, nothing less than the Panamera Turbo ($141,300) will do. Although last year’s 550-hp Panamera Turbo S takes what we hope is a short-lived hiatus, the standard 2014 Turbo makes 520 hp from its twin-intercooled twin-turbo 4.8-liter V-8, a 20-hp increase. And that translates to truly explosive acceleration: 3.9 sec. to 60 (3.7 if the Sport Chrono package is ordered, taking peak torque from 516 lb-ft to a staggering 568 lb-ft). Keep the throttle down long enough, and the Turbo will attain a top speed of 189 mph, 10 mph faster than the GTS.
But the contradiction here is the ease with which it attains rarefied speeds, without the angst and more tightly wound aggression of the GTS. In our experience with the car, touching 150 mph on the Autobahn en route to the Munich airport for our departure, the Turbo remained aerodynamically and mechanically planted to the road surface with virtual hands-off stability. (Remember back in 1986, when the 944 Turbo was granted supercar status after it achieved that speed mark as a terminal velocity?) It’s a ground-bound Learjet with turbo-muffled exhaust adding to the civility.
So it’s appropriate that the Turbo is also offered in a stretched-wheelbase Executive version for the ne plus ultra of Panameras, a $161,100 flagship statement of speed, spaciousness and luxury. The only thing to top it would be a revised Turbo S with, say, 570 hp—a possibility confirmed by a Porsche spokesman, albeit a little further along in the model cycle.
Whatever the variant, let’s celebrate that the Panamera exists at all. Porsche’s fully committed dive into uncharted waters has resulted in a distinctive, world-beating Gran Turismo that defies easy categorization and welcomes criticism of its unorthodox shape. Keep in mind that the 911 wasn’t universally loved at its 1964 introduction, yet it became the life-blood of this constantly tinkering company from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.