Monday, 9 May 2011

Porsche Panamera S - almost as pretty as a 911, and just about as good to drive

I didn’t know Porsche made a four door,” said a friend after gazing at our Panamera S.
With a 400-hp V-8 under the long nose and a 7-speed, dual-clutch Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe automatic transmission hooked to wide 20-inch rear rubber, it’s the most different Porsche since the Stuttgart company’s four-wheel-drive Cayenne SUV. But in a city where one of the most legendary Porsche dealerships exists, and races (Brumos), you’d think folks would know the new 4-door sedan.

Some did a few months ago, when Brumos showed off all three Panamera models in an art gallery, with Porsche Cars North America president and CEO Detlev von Platen and legendary multi-time Le Mans and Daytona endurance race champ Hurley Haywood in the house.

Von Platen said Porsche’s desire was to build a car with space, where one could take wives along “without any complaints,” but also “without any kind of compromise; a really true Porsche.”

“I have driven this car and it is amazing,” he said. “You are not sitting on a car; you are sitting in a Porsche, and this car, I believe, is absolutely unique.”
“I love the way it looks; I love the way the interior set-up is; I love everything about this car,” Haywood added. “This is truly a 4-door 911.”
The Panamera is in rare company - a true sports sedan like the Cadillac CTS-V, BMW 7-series, Mercedes-Benz S-class, Maserati Quattroporte and the Aston Martin Rapide. Porsche expects to sell up to 20,000 worldwide in the first full year of production, which started Oct. 17. So far, all three versions – our rear-wheel drive Panamera S or all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S, and the 500-hp, twin-turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Panamera Turbo – have more than 4,000 U.S. owners.

*Panamera panache - Porsche’s fourth model behind the 911, Boxster, Cayman and Cayenne SUV, the is the company’s first four-door car in its 60-year history, the result of five years of design and engineering work. The end result – well – looks like a 4-door 911 of sorts. You have a familiar low, sporty silhouette, albeit a 195.6-inch-long version, with a long, almost 115 inches of low-hung wheelbase. The sweeping headlights, rounded bumper and low air intake instead of a traditional grille say “911,” then you see the long bonnet with power bulge and curved front long fenders framing that familiar Porsche face. White LED running lights enhance the look over the black double bars in the side air intakes above the lower air dam. Two long doors get the classic 911 roundness around the door handles, while the lower door sill visually lowers the car, a fender vent and lower door accent line with a chrome side vent with marker lights. The rear roofline’s curving contour and rounded rear fenders flow into the rear hatchback with an E-type window with big 911-style LED taillights framing its chrome accent strip. This is the only place the Panamera’s design looks a bit awkward, a bit fat-bottom. But as it tapers to a rounded rear, we get a bit of the familiar 911 tail, plus dual tailpipes in brushed stainless steel in a black lower fascia. Those who peeked underneath found a large undertray, combining with the sleek shape into a wind-quiet .29 drag coefficient, aided by an adaptive spoiler that rises at 56 mph and adjusts at speed. And the optional 14-spoke Spyder Design 20-inch alloy wheels, with Michelin P255/40ZR20’s in front and P295/35ZR20’s in back, finished the look, while sunny days really made the Mahogany Metallic stand out. We got thumbs up, swiveling heads and lots of looks on the road. And when we parked at a hot rod cruise-in, we got more looks than a line of custom Camaros, including more than one “awesome.”

*Porsche portage – Hop into the form-fitting driver’s bucket, with 14-way power adjustments, twin memory presets and heating/cooling, and you find great comfort and firm support with power lower thigh and height-adjustable lumbar support. The Panamera-shaped key fob fits the ignition on the left, a Porsche historical note from its endurance racing days, when drivers ran to parked racers and started the car with the left hand as they buckled with the right. The entire interior is covered in Luxor Beige leather, stitched beautifully at the edges, with polished black accents on doors, dash and center console. Straight ahead, a big central 8,000-rpm tach with configurable display underneath – we liked a big digital speedometer. To the left, a 200-mph analog speedometer with odometer/trip odometer or clock, overlapping oil pressure and temp gauges. To the tach’s right, a 4.8-inch LCD color screen that displays trip computer information from tire inflation or radio stations to a repeater navigation map, with water and gas to the right of that. The screen also shows the speed limit on the road you are driving on, plus radio stations and telephone numbers. All functions are controlled via a rubberized thumbwheel on the flat-bottom power tilt/telescope steering wheel, which has a thick leather-padded rim. Bluetooth telephone controls are there as well as the elegant alloy PDK transmission paddle shifters. The big 7-inch touch-sensitive Panamera Command Center has a navigation map, plus weather, stocks and traffic information, and also displays the park assist. You can access a superb BOSE Surround Sound 14-speaker, 585-watt AM-FM-XM Satellite-CD-audio/video DVD system with Bluetooth connection for cellphones and music, plus an interface in the center console for iPod or a USB hookup. Overhead controls handle ParkAssist sensors and Homelink. The center console extends aft to the rear bucket seats, where my 185-lb., 6-foot frame fit either side just fine, and surprised friends with the space. Behind, a power hatchback opens to reveal a flat, wide 15.7-cubic-foot trunk with netted nooks on either side. The rear backrests split and fold to open up a bigger 44.6 cu. ft. of space. We had a padded ski-bag that fits through the center section folding separately between the rear seats. Cup-holders – two fold from the aluminum trim strip in front of the passenger, and another is somewhat usable aft of the gearshift.

*Panamera power – We had the base version, if you want to call it that, with a tad over 6,000 miles on the clock. Some thought 400-hp wasn’t enough until I told them the car weighs only 3,968 lbs. That water-cooled aluminum 32-valve V-8 has four overhead camshafts; valve timing and valve stroke variable on the intake side (VarioCam Plus), all new with tricks like a valve control box and valve cover made of magnesium and an intake manifold with extra-thin walls and lighter crankshaft. There’s a decent 369 lb-ft of torque.The dual-clutch PDK works via the gear shift or paddles on the steering wheel, one handling first, third, fifth and seventh gear, the other with second, fourth and sixth gear. One waits as one works, meaning instant shifts. Testing Porsche’s other models at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama recently with PDK, I was significantly smoother on its winding course, and faster than a 6-speed manual. You concentrate on driving, and leave the razor-sharp shifts to the PDK, which never caught me out and even blipped the throttle on downshifts like a racer for matching revs.

Set on our optional Sport Chrono’s “Sport Plus,” (comfort and sport settings too) electronic engine management gives the engine more aggressive response, upshift points moved to higher engine speeds, gears shifting up later when accelerating and down earlier when decelerating. The result – 60-mph in 5.3 seconds with precise shifts, and 100-mph in 13 seconds. There’s a switch to open up the exhaust a bit more, the snarl intoxicating but not intrusive. We averaged 16-mpg on premium.

Our car had Porsche Active Suspension Management with adaptive air suspension. On base setting, we enjoyed a fluid ride that was comfortable on all surfaces, but never too soft. Firming up on “Sport,” “Sport Plus” lowers the car almost one inch and switches to a harder spring rate as PSM backs off. The result is razor sharp steering, almost no body roll and a neutral feel when going into a turn, nice when you consider the engine is up front. PSM will kick in again if the front wheels reach the ABS control point. But you can power the tail a bit for better exits, all catchable, the suspension never beating you up. The chassis, tires and steering act in concert, very tossable for a 4-door, very precise and world-class fun – and it’s a 4-door! And with the dashboard stopwatch and another split timer the secondary display, you get lap times as well as the times required on individual routes, overall time required on a specific route or lap, the distance covered on the last lap, the total number of laps completed so far, and the driver’s individual lap times.

The PDK double-clutch transmission also gets an engine start-stop system like a hybrid for gas savings, the engine shutting down at stop lights, then firing quickly at launch, unless you are in a “Sport” mode. The PDK also has a launch control, although it was a bit cranky after some presumed abuse as a press car. Still, when you left-foot brake, tap the gas pedal, and the engine hits 5,000-rpm, Porsche Stability Management handles shifts and traction control. That resulted in a 0-60 time of 5 seconds – very fast and all under control. What goes fast also stops well - front six-piston aluminum monobloc brake calipers with 14.17-inch grooved and inner-vented discs, and four-piston aluminum monobloc brake calipers and 11.7-inch rear grooved and inner-vented discs meant flawless short stops with no fade time and time again. The supercharged Cadillac CTS-V is faster, and less expensive, if not as agile, a BMW 5-series almost as agile, but doesn’t feel like a 4-door 911. My only nit-pick – the rear window height and side sail panels conspired to limit side rear visibility when passing.

Haywood has spent extensive time behind the wheel of the Panamera, including lots of laps at tracks. He simply calls it “extraordinary.”

“It has the manners of both an S-Class Mercedes-Benz and a 911. And with the press of a few buttons, you can change the character from an S-Class to a 911,” Haywood told me. “Driven fast, it has supreme confidence, so you can drive this very fast and feel very in control all the time. I experienced that on the road to Bavaria from Munich at 180-mph with four people on board. It was like sitting in my living room.”
‘Nuff said.

*Porsche paymeister - The Panamera S starts at $89,800, with lots of options to take it up to $111,220, including $2,950 sport exhaust, $3,655 Luxor leather interior, $3,120 Spyder Design 20-inch wheels, $1,990 adaptive air suspension, $1,320 Sport Chrono, $1,794 14-way front power seats, $210 heated steering wheel and more. The all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S and Panamera Turbo retails for $93,800 and $132,600, respectively, while the just-introduced 300-hp V-6 version (3.6-liter that’s about 66 lbs. lighter than the V-8) starts at $74,000 and averages 18 mpg city/27 highway. FYI – eight airbags for driver and front passenger, plus knee airbags, two-chamber thorax/hip side airbags at the front, and rear side airbags as an option. No spare tire, just a repair kit with tire sealant and air compressor.

*Bottom line – This is an executive sports car transport or a ground-bound Citation commuter jet on wheels with cargo and human space – I loved it.
2010 Porsche Panamera S

Vehicle type - 4-door, 4-passenger sports sedan
Base price - $89,800 ($111,220 as tested)
Engine type – aluminum DOHC, 32-valve V-8
Displacement – 4.8-liter
Horsepower (net) – 400 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) – 369 @ 3,500 – 5,000 rpm
Transmission – 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic w/paddle shifters
Wheelbase – 114.9 inches
Overall length –195.6 inches
Overall width – 83.2 inches
Height – 55.8 inches
Front headroom – 38 inches
Front legroom – 41.9inches
Rear headroom – 38.2 inches
Rear legroom – 33.3 inches
Cargo capacity – 15.7-cu.ft./44.6 w/rear seats folded
Curb weight – 3,968 lbs.
Fuel capacity – 26.4 gallons
Mileage rating – 16-mpg city/24-mpg highway
Last word – Almost as pretty as a 911, and just about as good to drive

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