Frank S. Washington, Thu, 19 Jan 2012 05:00:48 PST
DETROIT - I must be getting jaded. I had seen Porsche's Panamera at auto shows and such but it never elicited an 'oh wow look at that' response from me. However, it certainly elicited that sort of response from most who saw it during my one-week test drive. And before I was done driving the Panamera I had become an unabashed admirer.
The four seat sedan, yep, that's right, the Panamera is a four-passenger car, had a design that said Porsche all over it, yet it didn't look like any other Porsche on the road. It had the Porsche face with those distinctive round headlamps but it sported the roof line and rump of the long gone 928.
Porsche said with its compact overall length and short overhangs, low body height but wide muscular flanks, the Panamera clearly speaks the classic Porsche design language. I won't argue with that but still it's the biggest Porsche I've ever seen. However, the Panamera was low, rounded, wide and awesome.
The reason I said four-passenger versus four-seater is that the Panamera can carry four adults. There was plenty of rear seat head room, plus rear leg and hip room were abundant. In fact, each of the four seats had the feel of its own compartment. What's more the interior was sumptuous. It was filled with beige leather and a flat finished beige mahogany veneer.
But what makes a Porsche is not its interior but the motor under the bonnet. In the case of the Panamera S, it was an water-cooled direct fuel injection 4.8 liter aluminum V8 that made 400 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque. It was mated to a seven speed double clutch transmission.
I could talk about the soul of Porches like bores, strokes, displacement, compression ratios, etc. But the most important number is that the engine could move the Panamera S from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. The car could get to 99 mph from a standing start in 11.7 seconds and the top "track" speed was 175 mph. That was warp speed for a sedan that weighed almost two tons.
At $89,800 my rear-wheel-drive test car was the base model Panamera. There is an all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S that is quicker than the rear-wheel-drive Panamera S. And then there is the Panamera Turbo with 500 horsepower, 516 pound-feet of torque and a top speed of almost 190 mph.
Porsche is a car company that is driven by engineers. A few years ago Porsche's gear-heads were so focused on the mechanics of their cars that the volume of the audio systems was limited. The reason was that Porsche felt nothing should drown out the sound of its engines.
But even though the Panamera had its own chronograph to record track speeds, three different sport settings that stiffened the suspension, lowered the car and held gears longer and rear spoilers that deploy at multiple angles to increase down force, what I found really impressive was the audio system.
Not that the Bose system was head shoulders better than other premium audio systems. It had what you'd expect: CD player, satellite radio, surround sound, auxiliary and USB jacks, etc. But what impressed me about the system is that it signaled Porsche's ability to understand rather than be understood.
And what Porsche understands is that buyers of sedans that start at $90,000 expect luxurious creature comforts stem to stern. And Porsche has given it to them in the Panamera; there was nothing egalitarian in the cabin of the car. The uniquely styled equipment was flexible in terms of options and it was physically and emotionally comfortable. The Panamera had the ability to change its driver which is a hallmark of most extraordinary driving machines.
With options, and Porsche has plenty of them, my test car was priced at $105,235. That's big bucks for average people but Porsches, at least most of them, are not for average people.
But the other side of the coin is that like most Porsches, if you buy a Panamera, house it, follow scheduled maintenance and treat it with respect you can make plans to be interred with it when the time comes.