Perfecting the Panamera

For its third act, the Type 971 Porsche sedan looks set to offer more poise and refinement than ever before—all without losing its edge.

Photo: Perfecting the Panamera 1
October 26, 2023

The second-generation (Type 971) Panamera introduced in 2016 fixed the first-gen (Type 970) Panamera’s frumpy aesthetics and brought the driving performance to the next level. The facelifted 971.2 Panamera was introduced for 2021 and brought an increase in performance, most notably in the Turbo S E-Hybrid, which got a remarkable 690 horsepower. Now, for the second 971 facelift, Porsche is focusing on something else: refinement.

For the Type 971.3 Panamera of 2024, Porsche has improved ride quality and reduced cabin noise while decreasing emissions and increasing range for the E-Hybrid models. Along the way, the new Panamera picked up a Taycan-inspired interior and a wild new suspension system to boot. How is it all coming together? Well, it’s not quite finished yet, but join me for a drive of a camouflage-clad, near-final prototype.

Tech Brief

For the upcoming Panamera, Porsche is still keeping a lot of cards close to its chest. The company’s engineers weren’t quite ready to divulge final power nor efficiency figures, other than vague allusions to “more” and “better,” with significant revisions made largely in the name of fending off Europe’s ever-tightening emissions standards.

The base Panamera’s current 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 has seen limited tweaks, meaning it should still deliver something close to today’s 325 horsepower and 331 pound-feet figures. However, Porsche says the Panamera Turbo’s 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 has been “extensively revised”—not in search of more power, though. Power from the V8 will remain the same, but its emissions will be cleaner.

The exact extent of those revisions remains to be seen, but a new set of turbochargers and associated plumbing seems to be the most significant change. Gone are the fast-spooling, twin-scroll units in the current Panamera, replaced by a pair of mono-scroll turbochargers that, per Porsche, help improve emissions by enabling higher exhaust gas temperatures. This should also result in better fuel economy than the current Turbo’s 19 mpg. But, again, no details there just yet.

Photo: Perfecting the Panamera 2

I was, however, able to get full details on the revised E-Hybrid system, which is substantially new. There’s a new electric motor offering 140 kW (188 horsepower) of power, up from 100 in the outgoing car. That motor is now integrated directly into the transmission, simplifying the packaging and saving 11 pounds of weight while still enabling the E-Hybrid system to select from any of the PDK transmission’s eight gears. Driving that motor is a new battery pack, up from 17.9 kWh to 25.9. Impressively, a new battery chemistry and construction enabled that increase in capacity without increasing volume. The new pack does, however, weigh roughly 50 pounds more.

Porsche will now offer this electrified powertrain in a new Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid trim. Sadly, there is no comment on whether the Sport Turismo wagon version of the Panamera will survive into the 971.3 generation, but the fact that none of the four prototype machines gathered for my drive featured the longer roof may be a bad omen.

Opt for an E-Hybrid, and that opens the door to a compelling new option: a new, high-performance, single-valve active air suspension. Driven by the E-Hybrid’s 700-volt system, this enables a series of neat tricks, like increasing its ride height by two inches in less than a second to ease ingress and egress, or maintaining a perfectly flat body through the corners (more on how all that feels in just a moment). That suspension won’t be for everybody, but air suspension will.

There are no more steel springs for the Panamera, as even base models will get a revision of the current dual-chamber air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), now offering even more compliance on the softer side of the spectrum. The rest of the suspension hardware, as well as the Panamera’s prodigious chassis, have also seen refinement, including reprofiling of the rear lower wishbones and a new crossmember made of steel rather than aluminum, all in the name of increasing not performance, but smoothness.

The Drive

None of the many development engineers involved in the Panamera project made any bones about the primary goal of this new car: refinement. Porsche delivered 79,260 cars in North America last year. In China, that number was 93,286. An increasing focus on growing that market has driven many of the more characterful changes for the 971.3 Panamera.

Photo: Perfecting the Panamera 3

But, I was told repeatedly, changes to make the Panamera more compliant, more comfortable, and more quiet didn’t have any impact on the car’s legendary, physics-defying handling. True facts? I was given time behind the wheel of both a base, largely options-free Panamera 4 and a top-shelf Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid to find out.

Though 19-inch wheels will be available on the V6 Panameras, the Panamera 4 I drove had a set of 20-inch shoes on, with 275/40ZR20 front and 315/35ZR20 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires. That, though, was one of the few options. There is no hybrid system, rear-axle steering, or much else. It also lacked the Sport exhaust, which meant a near-silent start-up for the V6. Even under hard acceleration its presence was barely heard, but certainly felt. Making somewhere around the 325 horsepower, it provides plenty of shove for hard acceleration.

Dialed over to Sport mode, the suspension is just a bit firmer than before. As such, the Panamera 4S dove and swung through the corners with its usual, surprising alacrity. Though certainly a car better suited for sweepers than hairpins, the Panamera never felt off-guard, even on the gnarliest of decreasing-radius turns. Despite a new electronic brake booster, the pedal felt sharp and firm.

It was only when we got into town that I really felt the difference in this new generation. Rumble strips, speed bumps, cobbles…nothing unsettled the car and all passed by underneath without fuss. We’re not talking Rolls-Royce levels of ride quality here, mind you. But for a big performance sedan on 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires, the feel was impressive.

The Turbo E-Hybrid, though, would prove more impressive yet. This one had many options checked, including the aforementioned Porsche Active Ride air suspension with PASM, the Sport Chrono Package, rear-axle steering, and a set of 21-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin’s new Pilot Sport S 5 tires, 275/35ZR21 at the front and 325/30ZR21 out back. That’s a big wheel and tiny sidewall to put on a car promising improved ride quality, but somehow it all works.

Photo: Perfecting the Panamera 4

The Turbo E-Hybrid was just as plush, calm, and quiet in Normal mode as you’d want it to be. But things changed dramatically with a twist of the wheel-mounted mode selector (now standard on all Panameras). Here, the Sport exhaust meant the V8 was free to sing, and it carries quite a tune. Low and brash, it does receive a little augmentation from the Burmester sound system, but not so much that anything feels harsh or digital. It’s just pleasantly present.

Rear-axle steering meant this even heavier Panamera felt lighter than the non-hybrid V6 upon turn-in, and those new tires offered more grip than I was willing to challenge in this priceless prototype on narrow, Spanish roads. And the power was prodigious. Again, no specific figures were given, but Porsche engineers told me that the total system output of the Turbo E-Hybrid will be greater than that of the outgoing Turbo S E-Hybrid, so we’re talking at 690+ horsepower and 641+ pound-feet of torque. Even in electric-only mode, the Turbo E-Hybrid is still surprisingly fun to drive. Maximum speed here is 89 mph before the engine kicks in, but around town, the throttle response from the 140 kW electric motor is addictive—and emissions free.

The Active Ride suspension, for now, feels as much novelty as anything, but it is very interesting. The system will optionally spring the car upwards to its full height, a lift of two inches, in less than a second to make it so that the driver and passengers have a little less far to go when getting in. More interesting, though, is the ability for the car to counter roll in corners, dive in braking, and squat in acceleration. This isn’t done for performance reasons, as the effective stiffening of the dampers in this mode would negatively impact outright grip. Instead, the goal here is to again increase comfort, keeping passengers from being slung around quite so much in the corners.

Indeed, this mode is best felt from the passenger seat, and even then, it’s subtle. It is noticeable, though G-forces now coming laterally instead of at an angle as the car pitches and yaws. I don’t think everyone will like it, but those back-seat occupants prone to motion sickness will, I think, find the most value.

If there’s one fly in the ointment, it’s the brake pedal feel. Like so many hybrids, there’s a sort of awkward handoff between the electric recuperation phase of braking and the engagement of the physical brakes—in this case, Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes. That made for some jerky stops. While I’m sure more time behind the wheel would minimize that, I’m also sure that Porsche’s engineers aren’t through refining things just yet.

The interior, however, looks entirely finished. It also looks familiar, as much of it is from the Taycan. The gauge cluster is now fully digital and curved, offering different modes with varying levels of information and numbers of gauges. That’s paired with an improved heads-up display, which likewise can be configured to show as much or as little data as you like. In the middle is a new, 11.9-inch touchscreen that can optionally be paired with a second one to the right, exclusively for passenger use. Thanks to privacy technology, that display simply looks black from the driver’s seat, which means passengers can stream movies distraction free.

Porsche’s twist ignition found on the outgoing Panamera, featuring a vestigial key affixed to the dash, is now gone, replaced by a more modern Engine Start button. (Yes, it’s still on the left.) The stubby little shifter has moved up to the dash, and virtually all the buttons on the center console are now gone, moved into the touchscreen. Thankfully, HVAC controls are still tactile buttons and knobs, but to adjust things like suspension, the Sport Exhaust, or the pop-up spoiler, you’ll have to go digging through touchscreens.

The Verdict

The focus on refinement has created an interesting machine, a Panamera that feels significantly different to drive around town in Normal mode yet still offers the almost perplexing poise in Sport and Sport Plus that drivers have come to know and love over the past 14 years. It’s an important lesson that getting older and more refined doesn’t have to mean getting more boring, and indeed the new Panamera feels like it will be every bit the charmer it ever was.

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