2011 Porsche Panamera
Base price: $74,400 – $173,200
As tested: $86,690
MPG: 18 city/26 highway (V-6, Premium fuel)
- Luxury, speed, handling
- Gorgeous, roomy interior for fou
- Available hybrid, engine choices and all-wheel drive
- Expensive options
- Rear visibility, small mirrors
- No manual transmission
By Jim Prueter
Impressive Panamera is Genuine Porsche
WMuch like Porsche’s introduction of the Cayenne sport utility vehicle eight years ago, controversy also surrounds the introduction of its first four-door car, the Panamera.
At the time of its launch 18 months ago, most critics criticized the styling, calling it awkward and bulbous. They predicted that the high-priced sedan would have a tough time during the recession. But, in its first full year, U.S. sales totaled 7,741 Panameras — almost a third of Porsche’s total — making it the best-selling car in its product portfolio.
According to David Pryor, vice president of marketing for Porsche Cars North America, the Panamera was built to fill the void of four-passenger sports cars. The goal was to create a sports car with the size and luxury to compete with such competitors as the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 sedan and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While that may be true from a pricing position, Panamera is definitely a completely different type of vehicle. While those competing models are focused on comfort first and performance second, Panamera is an amazing performance sedan that also happens to be exceptionally comfortable.
Even more surprising is the sheer size of this car: 76 inches wide on a 115-inch wheelbase, it’s 16.3 feet long (which is just 5 inches short of a minivan), weighs between 3,968 and 4,344 pounds, and carries 1,159 lbs. to 1,334 lbs. of cargo and people, depending on the model.
The Panamera also comes with a big price tag — $74,400 up to $173,200 — spread across seven different models that includes a 380-horsepower hybrid option.
For testing, Porsche provided the new 2011 V-6 powered Panamera 4 (all-wheel drive version), a lower-priced alternative to the more powerful V-8 models that were introduced in October 2009 as 2010 models.
The base Panamera is powered by a 300-horsepower V-6, and the Panamera S has a 400-horsepower V-8 that also comes in a 500-horsepower turbo or 550-horsepower turbo model.
We found the V-6 to be more than enough power and anything more rendered as bragging-rights puffery. The 300-horsepower V-6 is a derivation of the existing 4.8-liter V-8 with two fewer cylinders and reaches a zero to 60 speed in just 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 160 mph, according to Porsche. If you want quicker still, the optional Sport Chrono Package provides a launch-control feature that shaves another two-tenths by allowing the engine to rev high before it dumps the clutch.
All Panamera models come with Porsche’s 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission — a real, clutch-based, manual transmission that delivers quick and decisive upshifts and downshifts without a clutch pedal.
But for such a large vehicle, it’s easily the best-handling sedan we’ve ever driven. While it doesn’t handle like a 911, its limits are amazingly spectacular. There’s a “sport” setting on the center console that, when selected, quickens throttle response and the transmission holds engine revs higher with sharper shifts. The optional (standard on the Turbo model) adjustable suspension raises and lowers the car one inch to keep from scraping a steep driveway.
The Panamera also has a standard Auto Start Stop feature whereby the engine turns off when you come to a complete stop. With a slight but noticeable shudder, it starts again, seamlessly lifting your foot off the brake pedal.
What has been most polarizing about the Panamera is its exterior styling. The design engineers essentially took the front and rear of a 911 and stretched it to accommodate an extra set of seats and doors. This automotive trend is consistent with brands like BMW and Audi — heck even Chevrolet does it with its bowtie grille branding continuity.
But for many, the styling comes off as either quirky or gorgeous and the Panamera definitely looks better in person than in photos. Like it or not, the look is unmistakably Porsche and won’t be confused for anything else.
To save weight, the body parts are made of aluminum, magnesium and boron steel. The underbody is smooth for more efficient aerodynamics, and a movable spoiler rises up from behind the rear window to create downforce at high speed.
Cargo hold has good room for gear or luggage, and rear seatbacks fold flat if more is needed. The rear hatch opens high and wide for easy access, and operates automatically from the key, which has the same shape as the car. The sloping coupe-roof style, however, comes at the expense of visibility out the rear window. Porsche offers a roof rack for things like skis and snowboards.
Inside, all agree the design execution is nothing short of fantastic. There’s a huge cabin, a wide, purposeful cabin-through center console that terminates in the limousine-sized rear seat that’s built for two, and as much legroom as there is upfront. There are also rear seat reading lights as part of the ambient lighting package. Additionally, there’s a large navigation screen in the center of the dash and a smaller one in the instrument panel for when the larger screen is occupied.
Noticeably absent is a traditional center stack replete with knobs and buttons. Instead, there’s a color display screen in the center of the dash and most of the controls stretch down either side of the center console. A smaller set of switches on the ceiling controls the moon roof and parking assist.
Panamera includes all expected standard safety equipment and even a few pleasant surprises, such as standard knee airbags for the front seats. But outside rearview mirrors are exceptionally small and a blind spot warning system, which Porsche doesn’t offer, would be a welcomed addition.
Nice touches include the extremely comfortable heated and ventilated seats, and headlamps that move in the direction of any turn, even if you turn the wheel when parked to see what's on either side before exiting.
Overall the Panamera is a magnificent automobile and one we would love to have parked in our garage. Regardless of Porsche purists opinion, Panamera is genuine Porsche. What it isn’t is a 911 — nor is it intended to be. If you like the styling and have the wherewithal financially, there isn’t much to dislike.