But what we liked best about the PDK was its readiness to downshift. A slight push of the gas pedal while on the freeway, and the gear immediately drops from seven to six. Further pressure on the gas pedal encourages lower gear shifts, resulting in exhilarating power. The combination of engine and transmission makes passing other cars an enjoyable pastime.
Putting the Panamera 4S into the corners, it showed that a five-door hatchback could perform like a two-seater. In Sport mode, the PDK showed a willingness to get the engine speed up for power, but we felt a little too much suspension travel. For maximum fun, Sport Plus was just the thing. While cornering, it kept the engine speed up to ridiculous levels, with the tachometer needle continually brushing up against the 7,000rpm mark. Meanwhile, the car stayed flat on the pavement, resisting bounciness, and swinging quickly through the turns.
The PDK does have a manual mode, and Porsche mounts shift buttons on the steering wheel, but the design is terrible. With both hands on the wheel, just above the spokes, it was impossible to push the shift buttons. Instead, we had to let go and move a hand lower on the spoke, which pretty much defeats the purpose of steering wheel-mounted shifters.
LCD, meet instrument panel
Porsche puts the tachometer front and center in the instrument cluster, the speedometer off to the left in good sports car style. We relied on the digital speed readout at the bottom of the tachometer. But immediately to the right of the tachometer sits a gauge ring housing a round LCD. This auxiliary display is very cool, giving access to route guidance, navigation map, music selections, phone, and trip information.
While this auxiliary interface is nice, the main interface is a typical touch screen in the center of the dashboard. Porsche completely modernized its cabin tech for the Panamera; the centerpiece of this redesign is the hard drive-stored maps with 3D rendered buildings in specific cities. These maps also feature nicely textured topographical elements to rival anything we've seen from BMW or Audi.
Porsche doesn't fiddle around with indirect controllers, relying on the touch screen for address entry. We found route calculation to be quick and route guidance graphics very readable. Voice prompts also do text-to-speech, reading out street names. The system includes traffic data, and though an advisory screen told us it wouldn't dynamically route around traffic jams, we were pleased to see a traffic warning screen pop up while out driving one day, complete with a detour button.
Our car came with an optional Bluetooth phone system, something that should probably be standard at the Panamera's price. This system proved to be full-featured, downloading our phone's contact list and making it available on the touch screen. Missing in the Panamera is a voice command system.
The touch screen also serves as the interface for the stereo's iPod integration. We like that the buttons for album, artist, and genre show how many items are under each category. We found this interface straightforward to use. For USB drives and MP3 CDs, the interface is pared down to show folders and files. Although the car has an onboard hard drive, Porsche does not include music storage on it.
Audio comes through a 585-watt Bose system with 14 speakers. Most automotive Bose systems we listen to are good, but not stellar. For Porsche, Bose seems to have put in extra effort, because this system sounds almost as good as Mark Levinson and THX audio. It is well-balanced, with a powerful undercurrent. There is no rattle as it reproduces bass with a satisfying depth, and highs and mids come through clearly.
More sports car than luxury barge, the 2010 Porsche Panamera combines an excellently tuned engine, dynamic suspension, and smart dual clutch transmission to deliver a thoroughly satisfying driving experience. More surprising is that all of this comes in a longish fastback sedan.
Although the cabin tech is very good, this suite is also the Panamera's weak point. Navigation and stereo keep up with luxury competitors, but don't push any boundaries. The lack of a voice command system also rules out dial-by-name for the Bluetooth phone system.
The car's exterior design will leave a lot of people cold, but it is certainly unique. We particularly like the hatchback look and practicality. Inside the cabin, the touch screen proves usable, and we give the Panamera extra credit for the secondary LCD in the instrument cluster. But the shift buttons on the steering wheel were a surprisingly poor choice on Porsche's part.
|Model||2010 Porsche Panamera|
|Powertrain||Direct injection 4.8-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/24 mpg higway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, Satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 585 watt 14 speaker system|
|Driver aids||Park distance sensors, rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$107,040|