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2010 Porsche Panamera: Performance meets practical

At first glance, the Panamera's hump-backed shape can be a bit disorienting.

Published June 26, 2009
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<p>MUNICH—What else can we tell you about Porsche's new Panamera?</p><p>The German automaker has been tossing out Panamera details like bread crumbs to park pigeons since 2005 when it officially confirmed that production of a four-door Porsche was a go.</p><p>Over the years, there have been camouflaged Nurburgring spy shots, technical briefings, auto show debuts, pricing and availability announcements, final specs — heck, they even had media ride along in the car's two back seats. </p><p><strong>So what's left </strong>to know about Porsche's first all-new model since the introduction of the Cayenne SUV in 2003? </p><p>One: Can two adult humans really ride comfortably in the car's raison d'être — its two back seats — for longer than a Starbucks run? </p><p>Two: Despite competing in a luxury performance sedan class filled with the likes of the $127,000 Audi S8, $104,900 BMW 750i, $98,500 Jaguar XJR and $150,000 Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG, can the Panamera live up to Porsche's reputation of driving excellence from the chauffeur's seat?</p><p>Among such traditional company, at first glance, the Panamera's hump-backed shape can be a bit disorienting. From the side or rear — good or bad — it looks like nothing else on the road: "flattened Cayenne" comes to mind.</p><p>Just remember: the Panamera is a full-size sedan. At nearly five metres in length, it's only slightly shorter than an S-class. As wide as the Cayenne, Panamera's width forced us to retract its side-view mirrors a few times while negotiating through some of the Bavarian Alpine towns on our drive route.</p><p><strong>Current 911 owners </strong>will immediately feel right at home in the driver's seat, though: You sit almost as low, and the position of the steering wheel, pedals and driver's instrumentation mimic the iconic Porsche sports car as well.</p><p>But then you crank your head back and the 911 fantasies fade fast when you see the Panamera's two full-sized seats. </p><p>Seating in the back of the 2+2 911 can seem like punishment for anyone over the age of 10. But for my 5-foot-10 frame, there was enough room in the back of the new Porsche sedan to comfortably cross my legs and read my favourite weekly auto section. </p><p>Even with another writer in the back sharing a ride to the airport, elbow room was generous, with a large console separating us. And Porsche went out of its way to scoop and scallop every nook and cranny to further enhance the amount of light and space. </p><p>At least packing light is not a requirement for four travelling in the Panamera. </p><p>Its 450 litres of trunk space is more than the BMW 7-series sedan, or the BMW 550i Gran Turismo (due next spring), but the lower-profile Porsche can't match the more voluminous 5-series GT when you fold the rear seats: 1,250 L versus 1,770 L.</p><p><strong>Whatever side </strong>of the fence you sit on regarding the Panamera's looks, which seem to have forced a 911's appearance onto a very non-911 shape, dynamically it exceeded our expectations for such a large and spacious car. </p><p>All three Panamera models coming to Canada share the same 4.8-litre V8 engine derived from the Cayenne, mounted up front and matched to Porsche's PDK double-clutch seven-speed transmission.</p><p>If you fear a little snow on the roads, the mid-level $120,300 Panamera 4S combines the all-wheel-drive from the top-of-the-line $155,000 Turbo with the naturally aspirated engine from the base model S with 400 hp and 396 lb.-ft. of torque. </p><p>The top-rung Turbo is the hammer and tong model. The pair of turbochargers pumps out an additional 100 hp and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. It also comes with exclusive features that are optional on the lesser Panameras.</p><p>If you're looking for the real "Porsche of limousines" though, the rear-wheel-drive $115,100 Panamera S is the most satisfying of this trio to drive briskly with intent. </p><p>Taking 5.6 seconds to reach 100 km/h from zero, the S is about 1.4 seconds slower than the Turbo. But once up to speed, it makes up for it with an overall purer driving experience.</p><p>You have to work harder to ensure the V8 is at least more than 4200 r.p.m., but the non-blown V8 is better matched to the gear ratios in the Panamera S's seven-speed PDK, without the Turbo's natural lag.</p><p>Sans AWD hardware (amongst other bits and bites), the S weighs in about 200 kg less than the all-conquering Turbo. As such, its near-perfect 52:48 per cent front-to-rear weight distribution made it feel much more nimble and "smaller" on the road.</p><p>And without the Turbo's $370 variable assist power steering, responses from the helm were more consistent and linear as well. </p><p>The Panamera S also doesn't get the Turbo's standard adaptive air springs (a $2,720 option on other models). </p><p>But that's just fine.You lose the track-day Sport Plus suspension setting. However, the S's standard suspension with adjustable shocks delivers a much more natural, fluid ride and handling experience.</p><p>Lacking the Turbo's extendable rear spoiler, the S was still plenty stable at the up-to-260 km/h speeds we did in the rain on the A95 autobahn between Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany, near the Austrian border.</p><p>To be blunt: If you don't need the status, AWD or straight-line speed, the S is the Panamera of choice for those looking for a "Porsche" driving experience.</p><p><strong>But what exactly </strong>is the Panamera? Luxury sedan? Sports hatchback? The love child of a late-night tryst between a Cayenne and a 911?</p><p>In the end, Porsche hasn't created a four-door 911; with its size and generous accommodations, the Panamera can't defy physics. </p><p>As a driving tool for the enthusiast, though, the Panamera is at or near the top of its luxo-barge class, while its rear seat and cargo accommodations are first rate as well.</p><p>Your chauffeur may want to trade in the S-class sooner, rather than later.</p><p><em>Travel was provided to freelance writer John LeBlanc by the automaker. <strong>editors@straight-six.com</strong></em></p><p><strong>Related links:</strong></p><p> <a target="_blank" href="http://www.thestar.com/videozone/656562">Video: Driving the Porsche Panamera</a></p><p><a target="_blank" href="http://wheels.ca/reviews/article/715890">Story: The Panamera's Porsche predecessors </a><br /></p><p><a target="_blank" href="http://www.wheels.ca/photoPlayer/539765">Photos: Unveiling the Porsche Panamera </a></p><p><a href="http://www.thestar.com/fpLarge/video/623660" target="_blank">Video: The design of the Panamera</a><br /></p><p><br /></p>