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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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MUNICH–What else can we tell you about Porsche's new Panamera?

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.

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.

So what's left to know about Porsche's first all-new model since the introduction of the Cayenne SUV in 2003?

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?

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?

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.

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.

Current 911 owners 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.

But then you crank your head back and the 911 fantasies fade fast when you see the Panamera's two full-sized seats.

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.

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.

At least packing light is not a requirement for four travelling in the Panamera.

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.

Whatever side 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

And without the Turbo's $370 variable assist power steering, responses from the helm were more consistent and linear as well.

The Panamera S also doesn't get the Turbo's standard adaptive air springs (a $2,720 option on other models).

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.

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.

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.

But what exactly is the Panamera? Luxury sedan? Sports hatchback? The love child of a late-night tryst between a Cayenne and a 911?

In the end, Porsche hasn't created a four-door 911; with its size and generous accommodations, the Panamera can't defy physics.

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.

Your chauffeur may want to trade in the S-class sooner, rather than later.

Travel was provided to freelance writer John LeBlanc by the automaker. editors@straight-six.com

Related links:

Video: Driving the Porsche Panamera

Story: The Panamera's Porsche predecessors

Photos: Unveiling the Porsche Panamera

Video: The design of the Panamera