Family Hauler

This article appeared in Elements Magazine in 2009.

We interrupt this issue of Elements for breaking news: the temperature in Hades is now 32 degrees Fahrenheit because Porsche has built a four-door sedan. A few years ago, the Stuttgart-based car manufacturer and current de facto owner of Volkswagen, set autodom on its ear when it introduced a truck, the Cayenne. Consequently, Porsche changed its image from a sports car company devoted to racing success to a full-range automotive manufacturer aimed at pleasing all members of a well-heeled North Shore family, with their new Panamera sedan.

From the front, the Panamera has all the familiar Porsche family cues.

The Porsche Panamera is a four-door car based on the underpinnings of the Cayenne SUV. Engines are either a 4.8-liter V8 with 400 horsepower, or a twin-turbo version of the same engine, developing 500 horses, mated to a 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. As with the 911 sports coupe, the Panamera is available in either two-wheel drive or as an all-wheel driver (on the 4S and Turbo models). While the technical bits are competitive with almost any luxury four-door on the planet, it’s the design of the vehicle that’s raising blood pressures.

Controversial Contours

From the side, things get more...interesting.

The Panamera’s face is perhaps the “cleanest” of all Porsches, bar the Boxster. The headlights are wind-shaped jewels, complimented by blades of LED running lights under each. Aft of the front wheels, the wheelarches end in a vent/side indicator light that’s distinctly un-Porschelike. The door/window shapes seem ungainly, with quarterlights in both the front windows and rears. It’s the rear door that seems to capture the viewer’s eye, as the upswept window visually accentuates the heavy doorframe. (Maybe that’s why the “baubles” near the front wheels were added—to take the eye away from such things.) The Panamera’s caboose is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the car in that the longish vehicle comes to a rather stubby end, with the main focal points being the shutlines of the enormous hatchback door. Incidentally, fitted on the hatch is an electrically-operated spoiler which deploys at speed, just like the ones on a 911 or a Boxster. The base Panamera S comes standard with 18-inch wheels, yet 19s and 20s are optional.

However, at the rear, things take a turn for the worse.

 Porsche enthusiasts will recall that most of the automaker’s interiors were quite austere up until, well, 1999—black vinyl, a tinny-sounding radio, and haphazard switchgear were the hallmarks of the 911 range since its inception. However, the Panamera boasts optional 8-way adjustable rear seats and optional front 18-way perches with adaptive air bladders that support occupants during exuberant cornering. Naturally, there’s a standard navigation system, a high-quality sound system, and if the buyer so chooses, leather absolutely everywhere. A 1,000-watt audio upgrade, sourced from Burmester (purveyor to sister brand Bugatti), is available for $5,700. Deviating from tradition, the center console that separates driver and passenger is festooned with buttons in such a way that the Space Shuttle’s bridge comes to mind. There are controls for stability management, traction control, and even for the air suspension’s ride quality. Yet, unlike a BMW M5 or a Mercedes S-class AMG, the Panamera is strictly a four-seater. The overall feel is that of a cockpit in front and another one in back.

The best part about the interior is that one doesn't have to view the exterior.

Pay (and Pay) to Play

 Speaking of options, this is a Porsche, and for the longest time, the German automaker has had a reputation of charging big bucks for almost every single option that would be standard on competitors’ offerings. While a rear wiper may be gratis on a Kia, the people from Stuttgart charge $360 for such a device. Partial leather seating is what your Pana comes with, at no charge, yet full-leather, 18-way thrones along with a leather dashboard and door covers is an eye-watering $7,000 option. (You can heat those seats for just $500 more.) Keyless entry and drive-away via a pocket transmitter is $1,000. Ceramic brakes? Only $8,000. Ticking “sport exhaust” on the options sheet incurs a $3,000 charge. Need a rear fridge? No problem—for $2,500. Will red seat belts scratch your itch for such an item? That’ll be $850. Those of you who want the headlight washer stems painted to match the body color will have to cough up $300 for this accoutrement. Enjoy talking on the phone in your car? A Bluetooth interface is but $700. Finally, you can have the air conditioning vents leather-wrapped for just $1,500. Using the online Porsche options configurator, I was able to add $74,000 worth of baubles on top of a Panamera S’ base price of $89,800. Sort of makes a Bentley Flying Spur seem like a bargain…

Unlike Porsches of the past, the Panny's perch pampers.

As for driving the Teutonic Titan, the overall feel is between a Maserati Quattroporte and the Benz S63 AMG. While the Panamera isn’t as rigid over road ruts as the Maser, it’s still more of a “driver’s car” than the behemoth Benz. One area where Porsche excels over its rivals is in weight management because the Panamera tips the scales at around the two-ton mark—surprisingly lightweight in this market segment. (The S63 weighs in at about a half-ton heavier.) The engine power is as expected of a Porsche—perhaps the only thing about the Panamera that isn’t a surprise. The S’ standard powerplant propels this four-door to 60 mph in just over five seconds, while the Turbo’s nuclear reactor can motivate the Panamera to the same velocity in under four seconds with the optional Sport Chrono Turbo package. To put things into perspective, that’s only slightly slower than the much smaller 911 Turbo..! However, the Panamera isn’t all about excess because it’s the first automatic-transmission car in the US to receive fuel-saving start/stop technology. When the Pana comes to a dead stop, the engine shuts off; release the brake, press the “go” pedal and the car roars to life immediately.

The Panamera Turbo S's corral...where 500 horsies reside.

The Panamera was created to fill a market niche for Porsche, pure and simple. BMW hot-rodded sedans (the M3 and M5) with sales success; Benz has a few fast four-doors with AMG badging; and even Maserati has a popular sedan, the Quattroporte. Porsche had to get in on the profits with its own high-tech executive express. Certainly, the timing for such a bold move could be better, yet die-hard Porschephiles will have their interest piqued by the Panamera. So will those on the road behind one.

 

2010 PORSCHE PANAMERA Specifications

  • 0 to 60 mph: 5.2 seconds (Panamera S); 4.8 seconds (Panamera 4S); 4 seconds (Panamera Turbo); 3.8 seconds (Turbo with Sport Chrono Turbo package)
  • Drivetrains: 4.8-liter V-8 either normally aspirated or twin-turbocharged, 400 horsepower or 500 horsepower (for Turbo); rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (on Panamera 4S and Turbo)
  • Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch, paddle-shift automatic
  • Top Speeds: 175 mph (Panamera and Panamera 4S); 188 mph (Panamera Turbo)
  • Base Prices: $89,800 (Panamera); $93,800 (Panamera 4S); $132,600 (Panamera Turbo)
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