Just because something’s not morally sound doesn’t mean that you can’t objectively enjoy it. Just ask Hannibal Lecter. Sure, he was a psychopath with a penchant for the finer things in life; things like illegally poached Beluga Caviar, authentic Paté du Foie Gras and well conditioned human livers. But at least he knew why he was going to hell, and he had fun along the way. And that’s what the all-new 2017 Porsche Panamera is all about.
Don’t tell the force-fed geese, but that’s the category I’m placing this Porsche in. Because even though I might spend the next few minutes telling you that this Porsche is a four-door tour de force, or that it’s the best engineered car this side of a 991 Turbo S (which, by the way, is the ultimate sports car ever), the truth is that there’s a certain proportion of us who will never, ever, consider buying one. Because it’s not a “real” Porsche, and it’s just not exciting enough to ever be a real Porsche.
Dumb, right? Well, I’m one of them. So welcome, dear Jalop reader, to the most emotionally confusing road test I’ve ever written.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: Porsche needed us to drive the Panamera so much that they flew us to Munich, wined us, dined us, and even attempted to overtly bribe us with very classy branded baseball caps. But I lost mine.)
It starts, oddly enough, in the middle of Munich airport. Like a gigantic middle-finger to the Bavarian Motor Works, the Stuttgart brand has taken over the central courtyard of Germany’s second largest airport.
We’re ushered into the type of shiny alloy-and-wood temporary event building that Porsche build for a two-week gig but that you or I would proudly hand down to our grandchildren. An earnest doctor of engineering then gives us the full eye-wateringly dull technical rundown.
“The only thing that we kept from the old Panamera is the badge, the name and silhouette,” he promised the assembled editors. For me, that was already keeping a little too much. Even though I spent some nice time with a black Panamera GTS, I didn’t really enjoy the car. And the looks, I think, are still hideous. An over-inflated hatchback, left in the sun.
Maybe, just maybe, I could concede the looks are less hideous in this Panamera 2.0. A stronger shoulder line, the extension of the rear window into the body, and a family resemblance to the 718 and 918 models in the hood line all help.
But I think it’s still lardy, doe-eyed and utterly unintimidating, especially if you compare it to an Audi RS7, AMG CLS, or M6 Gran Coupe. All three of which scare small children and can’t be shown on TV before 9 p.m. at night.
At launch, there are only three Pannys rolling off the line. The Panamera Diesel, which is phenomenally fast but you Americans won’t get because reasons, the 4S, and the Turbo. All are turbocharged, all of them are “hot-vees” with their exhausts and turbos in the middle of the Vee. Alas! All of them are eight-speed PDKs, not a stick in sight, and all of them are all-wheel-drive too.
A few more technical details: this car debuts the Volkswagen Group’s new MSB platform, which will be used on a variety of larger cars moving forward. While it uses a blend of materials, with a starting weight of 4,123 pounds in the 4S, it’s not actually lighter than the old car. It is, however, quite quick: the Turbo does a 0-60 run in 3.4 seconds.
Design-wise, a bit Carrera 4-style, with a full width rear light bar. The gasoline-powered cars can use VarioCam Plus to deactivate cylinders on part load. Don’t feign excitement over this ecological wonder, just be happy you’re saving fuel, I guess.
Enough of the technical rundown. Let’s drive.
We’re let loose on the Autobahns, and pointed south into deep Alpine Bavaria by the wonderfully crisp wide-screen sat nav that’s probably got more pixels than a 50-inch TV. Off the ‘bahn and the roads become epically undulating ribbons of awesome, but they are eaten up and processed by the Panamera 4S with all the excitement and efficiency of an auditor’s Olympics. Don’t even get me started on the ‘intelligent’ cruise-control, which uses GPS data to plan up to 4 miles ahead and suck the joy out of even the finest roads.
Sure, the “basic” $101,470 4S is a worthy enough sports car with four adult seats. Yet with its 2.9 litre 90-degree V6 and 440 horsepower, it’s still thoroughly uninspiring. I don’t know how an all-wheel-drive 440 HP car became uninspiring, but somehow Porsche did it.
The torque vectoring, the active air suspension, all of this makes the Porsche fast, but not much of it makes the car fun. The V6 unfortunately has a dull soundtrack, plenty of weight to dampen the acceleration, and such a capable chassis that at no point this side of “lifetime behind bars for speeding offences” does it ever feel dangerous.
A massive, huge, amazing positive for the new car is the steering. The old Panamera was actually a rolling testbed for Porsche’s first-ever electrically boosted steering rack, and it sucked. It was so light and vague, it made you wonder if Porsche had secretly invented the first fly-by-wire steering, or if they’d just stolen a recirculating ball system off a Jeep.
Then there were the brakes, which if you didn’t option the ceramics, died horribly within minutes of seeing even the slowest racetracks. The brakes on this 4S didn’t get much of a workout, but even so, they never felt that confident.
So let’s move on, before Porsche regrets putting me on that plane too much.
Indeed, let’s talk TURBO. Now things are picking up. With a 4.0-liter V8 and whopping 550 HP under foot, the excitement is building. The Turbo (big T) accelerates like something heavy being dropped off the top of something tall. A sense of unending acceleration. With a super-easy launch control (left foot brake when you’re in S or S+ mode) every red light is an eye-watering drag strip.
I’m a massive fan of the 991 Turbo S and genuinely believe it to be one of the engineering marvels of our age. Thankfully for Porsche, the new Panamera Turbo has channelled this sensation of speed and reliability and placed it into a four-door body.
It’s this car, albeit caged and in prototype form, that allegedly ran a 7 minute, 38 second full lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. And I can believe it. That time would place the big saloon car within firing distance of a 991 GT3 and a few seconds ahead of the Cayman GT4. (Unfortunately for Stuttgart, the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV just appeared on YouTube yesterday with an even quicker lap, 7 minutes and 32 seconds.) To top it off, the V8 Turbo does sound at least ten times better than the warbling fart of the V6-powered 4S.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts though, right?
Finally, let’s talk cockpits. Because here it doesn’t matter which model you’ve picked. It’s simply wonderful, with only a few anomalies. Where you’d stick the key, for example, there’s now a weird black plastic toggle reminiscent of an imagined alien sex organ. As previously mentioned above, the central screen is huge, and the quality obvious.
There’s a neat infrared camera too, which we were using to spot fake tailpipes, but the onboard safety systems can use to avoid pedestrians at night. Matrix LED lamps can even be directed by the IR system to ‘target’ potential darkly-clad pedestrians and illuminate them for our inferior none-machine eyes.
New, obligatory in every press car, but rarely bought in real-life, massaging seats provided little in the happy ending department. But they were comfy and gorgeous. Heated seats? Ha! Heated steering wheel. Rearseat touch-screen control for the media unit, Apple carplay, full wi-fi capabilities.
You get the idea: the Panny is a rolling hotbed of next-gen tech. Hell, I even let the car drive itself for a few miles of Alpine road until it got too close to an oncoming truck and I remembered I wasn’t YouTubing this press launch for a million hits and a wrongful death lawsuit.
Don’t forget though, these are all “options” in Porsche land. And options cost money, lots and lots and lots of money. Unfortunately for the commenters, and fortunately for Porsche, I don’t have those prices yet. But expect everything other than a steering wheel and two seats to cost something extra on top.
So which one should you buy? V6 or V8? First, don’t get too hung up on any dynamic differences between the two Panameras. Really, don’t. Because if you’re actually bothered, then you’re probably not going to buy a Panamera anyway.
Do I sound harsh? Yes. Am I rubbishing the hard work of a lot clever engineers? Not really.
Because even though the Panamera is class-leading in its performance and handling and will no doubt give the next-gen “G-series” BMW M5 a run for its money, this is not why people buy the big luxo-Porsches. They just think they’re buying them for that reason. You know, #becauseimportedgermansportscar.
If it was true, then the number of Cayennes, Macans and Panameras sold each year in the USA wouldn’t outnumber the 911s, Boxsters and Caymans nearly two-to-one. In 2015 Porsche North America sold a little over 47,000 new cars. And nearly 30,000 of those were the dirty, forbidden fruit of the Porsche family –Cayennes, Macans, and Panameras.
Think about that for a moment. The 911s, Caymans and Boxsters accounted for less than half of Porsches sales last year. Those are the cars that define the Porsche brand, that slay their opposition in every sports car category. But in many ways, you could argue that they’re now just a marketing operation for slinging the real money makers: the SUVs.
Back to the point, which Panamera would I recommend? Neither the 4S nor the Turbo. Not right now. Instead wait for the Turbo S, or even better, the inevitable GTS. Or, heaven forbid Porsche make one and break the internet, a Panamera GTS wagon.
Because if you’re going to go to hell for buying a non-sports car Porsche, you might as well do it for buying the craziest goddamn non-sports car Porsche you can find. And one that Hannibal Lecter would be proud of.
Dale Lomas is the man behind Bridge To Gantry. He lives at the Nürburgring where he drives the RingTaxi most days of the week. This year he’s racing a Fiesta ST in the VLN championship and has just finished the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.