Air Sprung

The Panamera’s new Active Ride suspension is a game-changer.

Photo: Air Sprung 1
May 23, 2024

When a car has been warping our perception of the laws of physics for 15 years, it’s hard to know what to expect from the new version. The Type 970 Panamera dropped in 2009 and, despite its ungainly shape, immediately earned its place in the Porsche lineup as an eminently practical, surprisingly high-performing sedan. The 971 generation of 2017 and follow-on versions raised the styling bar exponentially and pushed that performance envelope further and further to create a proper no-compromise high-speed missile.

The Panamera has earned its respect, and with nothing left to prove, the third-generation version of the Panamera is free to swing for the fences. Meet the Type 972, which packs some radical new tricks. While the refreshed interior is pushing more tech than ever, and the styling is the cleanest, most refined Panamera yet, Porsche has chosen this car as the debut platform for its new Active Ride suspension.

With that option box ticked, you have a sedan that can literally leap to attention when you open the door, showing its readiness to play like an overeager labrador. This quick-change suspension looks absolutely ridiculous the first time you see it, and it’s easy to write it all off as a gimmick. But after a full day behind the wheel of a few different flavors of Panamera, on track and off, I am here to tell you that this new suspension, and this new sedan, are the real deal.

Tech Brief

While there will undoubtedly be a plethora of Panamera trim levels to come, Porsche’s keeping it simple with just three available at launch: Panamera, Panamera 4, and Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid.

Photo: Air Sprung 2

The first two offer Porsche’s 2.9-liter turbocharged V6, offering 348 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. That runs through its eight-speed PDK transmission to two or four wheels, depending on whether your car has a number or just a name on the back.

These cars get a new adaptive air suspension system as standard, one that’s not quite as trick as Active Ride but is no slouch in its own department. These dual-chamber, dual-valve air dampers can do the usual air tricks of adjusting ride height dynamically and stiffness to boot. These, though, can adjust both compression and rebound damping, bringing their capabilities much closer to that of a proper race damper.

And yes, this is the standard suspension, meaning no more steel springs. But if you want the fancy new Active Ride suspension, with its high-speed ride-height adjustment and numerous other tricks, you’ll need to step up to something with Porsche’s updated E-Hybrid system.

Currently, that means the Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid, with the 512 hp / 568 lb-ft 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 paired with Porsche’s updated plug-in hybrid system. This new shot of electrification has been better integrated into the PDK transmission housing, offering more power and less weight (specifically, 187 hp and 331 lb-ft from the electric motor and an 11-pound reduction in weight from the drivetrain package).

Photo: Air Sprung 3

That’s paired with a 25.9-kilowatt-hour battery, up from 17.9 in the outgoing Panamera E-Hybrids. On the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure cycle, Porsche estimates up to 55 miles of emissions-free range, up more than 50 percent on what the outgoing Turbo E-Hybrid can manage on a charge. That could mean covering a lengthy commute before the V8 needs to spin up.

And, since the car can go 87 mph on electrons alone, you could get a lot of use out of this Panamera without needing gas. That’s also helped by a higher-speed, 12 kW onboard charger that comes standard, meaning that despite the increased capacity, the E-Hybrid Panamera charges from empty to full faster than before—assuming your Level 2 charger can keep up.

The high-voltage system powering the hybrid enables the Active Ride suspension. It powers a set of four pumps—one per corner—that can dynamically and instantly adjust damping and effective spring rate. The system is so comprehensive that cars equipped with Active Ride don’t have anti-roll bars. How does it work in practice? Remarkably well.

The Drive

When I first got a spin in a prototype of the 972 Panamera last summer, it was still wrapped in camouflage, all stickered up to try and hide the revised lines and shapes. Now that its sheet metal has been laid bare to the world, I’m left wondering why there was any attempt at hiding things. Other than the pronounced vent at the nose above the license plate and the more dramatic headlights, there’s not much new here. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. I was thoroughly impressed by how good the 971 Panamera looked when it debuted in 2016, and in the years since, it’s only gotten better looking.

Photo: Air Sprung 4

More highlights here include optional 21-inch center-lock wheels, available for the first time on the Panamera, and some additional styling details exclusive to the Turbo E-Hybrid trim. A more aggressive rear diffuser is body-painted here, fronting a quad-pipe exhaust, and if you look closely, you’ll spot numerous design details that use Porsche’s new Turbonite hue. The dark, subtly bronze color can be spotted on the side intakes, steering wheel badge, and the rear Turbo script.

That’s all good stuff, but there is some bad news. In my eye, the pinnacle of 971 design was the Sport Turismo wagon. Sadly, that is no more. Never say never about a potential comeback down the road, but at least for now, it’s not an option. That stings a little, but Porsche’s softened the blow by upping the cargo capacity of the 972. At 17.4 cubic feet with the seats up or 46.9 with them down, that’s close to what the outgoing Sport Turismo offered. A Type 972 Sport Turismo would have provided even more cargo room, but there’s no point in crying over spilled milk or dead wagons.

More significant changes are afoot on the interior, ones that will be familiar to anyone who’s taken a peek inside a Taycan or a Cayenne lately. The dominant theme here is displays, three of the things spanning the dashboard if you add the optional 10.9-inch passenger display. Thanks to some high-tech trickery, the passenger can watch a streaming video on that display without the driver being able to see it.

Despite that, the driver gets the best view in the house, including a 12.6-inch curved display standing slightly away from the dashboard and creating a striking, clean look. The visual contrast is off the charts, with true blacks creating a wonderful space for clean, high-definition graphics for everything from a big, central tach if you’re feeling traditional or full-screen navigation if you’re more worried about missing your next turn.

Photo: Air Sprung 5

At 12.3 inches, the central display has been called upon to do even more than before as the button culling continues. The 972 Panamera still offers physical controls for important HVAC features like changing temperatures, and blissfully there’s still a volume knob. Still, you’ll reach for the touchscreen for just about everything else. The integrated twist key has also been eliminated and replaced with a push-button start that is, at least, still located in the right place: on the left.

I started my day in a well-equipped Panamera 4, Volcano Gray Metallic, with $37,290 in options, bringing it up to a $145,840 sticker price, including the $1,650 destination. As a non-hybrid, this car was rolling on Porsche’s new base air suspension. Despite that, it does not feel like you’re slumming it. This system is remarkably good, soaking up the broken pavement and speed bumps on my test route around Seville, Spain.

The car never felt loose or disconnected, and when I dialed the mode knob over to Sport Plus, everything was just as firm and responsive as I wanted. Still, this Panamera did limousine duty commendably well. That’s doubly so when outfitted with the Comfort Pillows, a $230 option, which are indeed pillowy soft.

If there’s one fly in that ointment, it’s the surprising amount of road noise from the 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport S 5 tires. The Panamera itself cut through the wind silently, even at high speed, but the drone of the tires was surprising. And they got much louder when we hit the track.

Photo: Air Sprung 6

Circuito Monteblanco is a long, challenging circuit with a generous front straight and just enough elevation change to keep you guessing. To sample that, I was given the key to a Turbo E-Hybrid and pointed out of the pit lane.

The new Turbo E-Hybrid gets a healthy bump in horsepower and torque from its uprated electric motor alone, and even when pushing on the track, you can feel the power the electric system adds. Get hard on the right pedal, and there’s an instant, immediate reaction of acceleration. The electric system provides the torque to carry you through the moments it takes for the twin turbochargers to start doing their thing.

This duet of electrification and forced induction is nothing new, but the resulting harmony feels sweeter than before. Most performance hybrids have a dip in the middle when the electric motor runs out of steam before the engine comes up to full song, but the transition here is virtually seamless. It’s just brutal acceleration.

Brutal acceleration paired with an oddball suspension setup took me more than a few laps to get my head around. On the track, Porsche Active Ride is meant to keep the car flat and level, acting like the mother of all anti-roll bar systems mixed with an anti-dive system to keep the nose up under braking. But it goes even deeper than that.

Photo: Air Sprung 7

When the wheel is straight, the car rises to give good compliance for bumps and curbs. Hit the brakes, and the car instantly drops to the ground, lowering its center of gravity to help with braking while also stiffening the front to keep the nose from dropping. When you turn in, the car slams even lower, increasing the effective camber of the suspension for the corner. The outside dampers are also stiffened, keeping you level through the turn.

It’s an unusual sensation, feeling as if the G-forces are pulling you laterally towards the door. After years of testing street cars on the track, I’ve become accustomed to things leaning over in the turns and feeling like I’m getting pulled out the side windows. With Active Ride, it’s much more like being in a race car.

After my time on the track, I was given a few laps of a little autocross circuit, enabling and disabling the system, and the effect was very immediately apparent. You can hustle this big car more quickly through tight turns because you don’t have to wait for the suspension to settle. But when your mind is less focused on lap times and more concerned with keeping your passengers smiling, Active Ride can actually be set to overcompensate. Here, the car doesn’t try to stay flat and actually leans into the corners. Under braking, it lifts the nose, dropping it when you accelerate.

The idea here is to counteract that feeling of inertia, theoretically creating a more stable platform for your passengers and their weak stomachs. Honestly, it’s odd to see the nose climb when you tap the brakes or feel the car actively lean into a turn. Whether it’s effective in quelling turbulent tummies, I can’t say for sure, but it certainly does make a casual cruise down a twisty road much more interesting.

The Verdict

The 972 Panamera is evolutionary in many ways, particularly regarding exterior styling, but the new interior is a significant step forward, and the suspension systems are a revelation. The new standard suspension is excellent, but Active Ride takes it to another level. It’s almost mind-bending! But it’s also going to come at a cost.

The new 2025 Panamera starts at $102,800 for a base, rear-wheel drive model. Step up to a Panamera 4, and you’re spending at least $109,800. Meanwhile, the Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid starts at an eye-opening $191,000. That’s a significant premium as ever, but with all the upgrades this year, it feels worth it.

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2023-2024 Porsche Buyer’s Guide
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