Sharp-Suited Sharp-Shooters

We sample the updated Panamera range.

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October 29, 2020

Porsche updated its second-generation Panamera (Porsche prefers to call this ‘G2 II’, rather than ‘971.2’) for the 2021 model year, bringing subtly enhanced exterior looks and additional interior connectivity tech to its large, executive, sporting sedan. However, the big news is a series of power gains across the board for various models, plus the addition of new derivatives. Still available in regular sedan, stretched wheelbase (122 inches) Executive and shooting-brake Sport Turismo body styles, we’ve sampled three of the new models to see just how good, or otherwise, this program of changes has made the Panamera.

Quick Tech Rundown

Visually, it’s hard to differentiate a pre-facelift 971 and the post-facelift models, unless you’re a diehard Porsche fan. The main alteration is that all versions now wear the Sport Design front end, which was previously a cost option on the Panamera. This sees larger cooling openings to the sides of the front bumper, as well as distinctive intake grilles and, on almost all models, a single-bar front-light module; one type of Panamera G2 II, though, gains a twin-bar detail here, and that’s the Turbo S. At the back, the contours of the 971’s trademark full-width light strip have been reshaped so that the illuminated bar runs seamlessly across the trunk lid. There are now ten designs of alloy wheels, with new 20 and 21-inch designs added to the portfolio.

Within, the Porsche Communication Management has additional digital functions and services, such as an improved Voice Pilot control system, Risk Radar (for up-to-date hazard and road sign warnings), wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity, and further software under the Porsche Connect banner. Physically, though, the passenger compartment of the updated 971 Panamera remains fundamentally unchanged. That means it is uniformly excellent, with a perfect driving position, wonderful-quality materials used and an ergonomic correctness that speaks of the Germans’ meticulous attention to the finest details.

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It is therefore under the hood where the major changes come into play. Porsche is still homologating various models of the updated Panamera 971, which will lead to two tranches of derivatives coming onto the market. In this first wave, some familiar nameplates continue but with significant alterations. You can opt for the basic Panamera, this car utilizing a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 delivering 325 horsepower and 331 lb-ft, and you can have the sedan with drive going to the rear axle alone; otherwise, Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive is fitted for Panamera 4 badging.

A plug-in hybrid version is among the launch models of the improved Panamera, although it’s not the fire-breathing 680-hp Turbo S E-Hybrid that capped the pre-facelift range. It is, however, an ‘all-new’ model: the 4S E-Hybrid. Although this might look like an uprated 4 E-Hybrid, Porsche insists both the 462-hp 4 E-Hybrid and the mighty Turbo S E-Hybrid (that car’s outputs are still to be confirmed) will return to the line-up in due course, raising the intriguing possibility of three hybrids in a single Porsche model family. Until then, the 4S E-Hybrid is the gasoline-electric choice for Panamera buyers.

Instead of teaming the regular Panamera’s 2.9-liter V6 rated at 325 hp to a 100-kW (136-hp) electric motor, as its alphanumeric now suggests, the new hybrid runs the brawnier 443-hp 2.9 V6 and the same electric motor, resulting in peak figures of 552 hp and 553 lb-ft from the drivetrain. That makes it marginally more powerful and ever so slightly less torquey than the V8-powered Turbo model of the pre-facelift Panamera, which is a quite incredible consideration for a hybrid whose primary aim ought to be reduced tailpipe emissions.

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Speaking of which, the Turbo model is no more. It is unlikely it will return for the facelift, because now there’s a Panamera Turbo S that is powered by an evolved version of its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. This has a tremendous peak output of 620 hp, allied to a fulsome 604 lb-ft of torque. Despite a curb weight of over 4,500 lbs, this monster Panamera can run 0-60 mph in less than three seconds, giving an indication of its phenomenal potency.

The final model in the revised launch line-up is the GTS, largely unchanged from its previous incarnation. It uses the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 as before, a unit it shares with the Turbo/Turbo S models, and its horsepower has risen by 20 hp to a new peak of 473 hp. Torque stands the same as previously, at 457 lb-ft. It can comfortably achieve 0-60 mph in less than four seconds and reach a top speed in excess of 180 mph, but thanks to the arrival of the 4S E-Hybrid, the GTS—supposedly the most driver-focused, sportiest model in the range—is now only the third-quickest Panamera of four available. But does that necessarily mean you should ignore it? Time to find out.

The Drive

4S E-Hybrid

Our test day with the revised Panamera allowed us road-driving time in Sport Turismo versions of the GTS and the Turbo S, as well as a sedan 4S E-Hybrid, while there was a chance to have a go round the fearsome Bilster Berg circuit, located in the north-west corner of Germany, in a Panamera Turbo S running behind an instructor in a 992-generation 911 Turbo S.

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We’ll start with the 4S E-Hybrid, which is technically astounding but perhaps not the most sophisticated driver’s car of the three. There’s little doubting the veracity of its performance claims, as the electric part of its powertrain fills in any low-revs torque gaps there might be in the delivery of the 2.9 V6; this means it is (if you’ll pardon the pun) electrifyingly fast when you depress the throttle, even if the car is in its most sedate ‘Normal’ mode. There’s a pleasingly aggressive snarl from the six-cylinder engine that overlays everything the 4S E-Hybrid does, which only augments the sensation of speed it gives to its driver, and the general standard of refinement in the package is exceptional!

However, it is not hard to discern the additional mass of the 17.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and the electric motor when you’re asking serious questions of the hybrid Panamera’s chassis. It doesn’t quite have the unrelenting urgency of acceleration that the old 550-hp Turbo had, never mind the new 620-hp Turbo S, and in the corners you feel like you want to get the car truly settled on its suspension before you consider changing your line or opening the throttle; it’s more ‘point-and-shoot’ than the other cars we drove on the same day.

GTS Sport Turismo

This is a direct corollary of the fact the 4S E-Hybrid was the heaviest model of the three we tested: it’s 275 lbs heavier than the Turbo S and fully 403 lbs stockier than the GTS—and, remember, both of those Panameras have larger displacement, V8 engines and we drove them as the wagon Sport Turismo rather than as a comparable sedan, with the shooting-brake models around 40-120 lbs heavier than their four-door counterparts.

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It’s for this reason that we’d advocate you ignore the on-paper statistics and focus on the GTS as the sweet spot of the line-up. Assuming, once prices have been confirmed here in the States, that the 460-hp model will be considerably cheaper than the Turbo S, it’s hard to envision how you could want a more complete nor rewarding sports/executive car than this. With an optional sports exhaust fitted, the soundtrack of the Panamera GTS is fantastic, rich and bass-heavy at low range, hard-edged and metallic as the revs rise.

Porsche is also proud to say it has mapped the GTS’ power delivery to feel like it is a naturally aspirated engine, rather than a turbo unit, and we’re happy to report this is precisely what the Panamera GTS feels like: a big naturally aspirated engine, breathing in great lungfuls of air as it hauls hard for the horizon—and its redline in equal measure. In back-to-back comparison, it feels no slower at all than the heavier 4S E-Hybrid. If anything, it actually feels (and sounds) like the more rabid vehicle of the pair.

Where it comfortably shows its part-electric stablemate a clean pair of heels, however, is in corners, because there’s finer body control in the GTS, less of a sensation that the car is trying to wash wide on turn-in, more of an impression of being able to balance the car on the throttle. Throw in further chassis sharpeners from Porsche on our test model, including options like Rear-Axle Steering (RAS) and Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCBs), and you have here a large, cosseting station wagon that feels almost every bit as nimble and involving as a modern-day 911.

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Special praise should go to Porsche’s three-mode steering and damping (it’s standard-fit Porsche Active Suspension Management, or PASM, on the GTS), the former of which is replete with feel and nuanced across the settings, while the latter manages to blend sublime body control with decent ride comfort successfully in Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus. The crucial factor here is that each setting feels different from the last, an achievement that not all automakers manage with their variable steering systems and dampers.

Turbo S Sport Turismo

It’s hard to imagine a more cohesive and rewarding performance car than a G2 II Panamera GTS Sport Turismo, but then you sample the shocking brutality of the Turbo S model’s performance and you don’t want to imagine living without 620 rampaging German horses in your life. Make no mistake, this is easily among the most ferociously accelerative Porsches we’ve ever tried, and we’re not just talking Panameras here. It’s the way it nonchalantly, almost disdainfully hauls in 140 mph on track that marks it out from the old Turbo model, as it has that unrelenting top-end acceleration that separates the fast cars from the ones that are borderline terrifyingly rapid.

Enabled by PCCB as standard, you have the mega stopping power to time and again haul 4,700 lbs of Porsche in from the sort of insane speeds the Panamera Turbo S can attain, so there’s confidence in the left pedal, as much as there’s explosive violence to be swiftly accessed via the pedal sitting to its right.

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In terms of handling, the Turbo S gains an even more extensive armory of tuning to keep it all on the straight and narrow, yet its wider operating bandwidth means it never feels quite as focused nor as taut as the GTS. There’s just a hint more softness in the suspension and less of a sense of immediacy from the ultimate Panamera’s front end, although it too will move around significantly with marginal openings and closings of the gas pedal mid-bend.

The Verdict

One of the best sports sedans in the world just got that tiny bit better for the 2021 model year. As a technical achievement, the Panamera 4S E-Hybrid is remarkable and there’s a lot to be said for being able to travel 33.6 miles in the luxurious silence of electric power alone—not to mention the promise of up to 106.9 miles per gallon (combined). However, if you’re after the Panamera for its sporting credentials, this model’s weight gain somewhat blunts its on-the-limit responses. And if you just want ultimate comfort from your Porsche sedan, a Panamera 4 is probably a better bet.

It’s the two V8 models that linger longest in the memory. Neither of the pre-facelift GTS nor Turbo models of the Panamera were seriously wanting in any one department, but both have been notably improved by the program enacted upon them. And it’s so hard to choose between them. On the one hand, you drive the GTS and you wonder why you’d ever need the additional 150 horses of the Turbo S, and then you drive the Turbo S and think you cannot possibly survive without such profligate power at your every beck and call. Both of them drive superbly and offer real reward to keener drivers, while preserving the luxury side of the Panamera’s character that’s vital for it to compete with the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and Audi A8.

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If you put us on the spot right now and asked us to choose, we’d just (by the narrowest of margins) plump for the GTS over the Turbo S. But it’s clear that whichever of these two Panameras you go for, you’re getting the very best vehicle of its kind in the world right now. These are sports sedans from the absolute highest echelons of talent, suffused thoroughly with that special DNA that makes a Porsche such a highly desirable machine in the wider world of automotive choice.

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