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2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S first drive review: Subtly better

This luxury performance sedan was already impossibly fun to drive for something so big, but magically, Porsche made it even better.

2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S - front end
This vibrant paint color is called Papaya Metallic and I love it.
Craig Cole/Roadshow

Honestly, the Panamera didn't need to be enhanced; the car was already a joy to drive. But like a straight-A student handing in extra credit, engineers and designers strove to do more.

For 2021, the new Turbo S model replaces the Turbo variant, gaining a significant performance boost in addition to that extra letter in its name. Visually, the car features a new front fascia with larger air intakes and a revised lighting signature. Inside, Turbo S models come with a new GT Sport steering wheel, standard 14-way adjustable front seats and a Bose premium sound system. Buckets that adjust in 18 directions are offered, and they're what my tester is fitted with. These chairs are firm, supportive and extremely comfortable, even on long drives. 

The new Panamera benefits from an updated steering system with calibration derived from the 911 Carrera and Taycan models, which means it provides greater responsiveness. Indeed, the Turbo S' steering is super sharp and millimeter-precise, but it's never nervous or jittery. The same can be said of this car's standard ceramic composite brakes, which provide immense stopping power. These binders are borderline grabby, but just easy enough to use without unintentionally giving passengers whiplash. The Porsche Active Suspension Management system, which is standard across the Panamera range, delivers a ride that ranges from taut to extra starchy, though even in its stiffest setting it's almost never harsh. Almost. The gummy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires provide loads of grip -- oh, and lots of noise, too. They're always singing as you drive, broadcasting a touch of ruckus into the Panamera's cabin, a small price to pay for incredible handling.

The Turbo S' engine is bonkers -- gross overkill in the best way possible. This Panamera features a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that is an unmitigated joy. Hands down, it's my favorite thing about this car. For 2021, engineers fanned the flames, extracting an additional 70 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque from this little dynamo, squeezing out 620 hp and 604 lb-ft in total. A host of internal changes were made to deliver those walloping figures. And, man, do these efforts pay off. 

Using launch control, the Turbo S can rocket from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 2.9 seconds, a face-distorting, organ-bruising sprint which is half a second quicker than the outgoing Panamera Turbo. Keep in mind, that's for a four-door luxury car that weighs 4,691 pounds and is nearly 200 inches long. Crazy, I know. If you're curious, top speed is a heady 196 mph. But what's truly nuts about this engine is the way it delivers that performance. Yes, it's incredibly smooth, and yes, its sounds good exhaling through the optional sport exhaust system, but it's also as linear as any naturally aspirated engine, pulling without hiccups, lurches or sags as it rockets to its 6,800-rpm redline. Unlike other force-fed engines, the Panamera's V8 doesn't sock you with an uppercut of torque just off idle, instead, it pulls evenly throughout the rev range building to crescendo.

This is where the magic happens, the corral that houses all of the Panamera Turbo S' 620 horses.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Acceleration is aided by standard all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and quickly, though like other dual-clutch gearboxes, it does feel a bit soft off the line, a tiny bit lazy as you apply throttle to take off from a standstill. For maximum driving refinement, old-fashioned torque converters are still king.

As for fuel economy, well, you shouldn't expect Prius-rivaling efficiency from this ultra-high-performance luxury sedan. Official EPA numbers for the 2021 Panamera have not been published yet, but the outgoing Turbo model is rated at 18 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. With its significant power boost, the new model could be slightly less economical. In mixed, heavy-footed driving I've averaged around 21.7 mpg according to the onboard computer, which is right in line with the outgoing Turbo. 

If you've ever sat in a Panamera before, the 2021 Turbo S' interior will be familiar. The broad, squared-off dashboard looks stern and purposeful and all the materials and controls are of exceptional quality. The part-analog, part-digital instrument cluster, with its large tachometer smack dab in the center, is a beautiful blend of classic and modern cues. Honestly, there's not much to complain about in this car's cabin. Some drivers might prefer physical switches to the touch-sensitive ones on the center console, and the backseat, which comfortably accommodates my 6-foot frame, could be a little more spacious, but that's about it. Motorists that want even friendlier passenger accommodations should consider a Panamera Executive. Its wheelbase is 5.9 inches longer, a stretch that provides significantly more backseat legroom.

The Panamera's interior is absolutely lovely. 

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The Panamera's in-car tech is excellent. Its infotainment system is super responsive and offers loads of functionality, yet it's still easy to use. It has a nicely customizable home screen and a small, vertical column of menu buttons on the left-hand side of the display, which are within easy reach of the driver. If you'd rather not use the touch-enabled display, a small rotary dial ahead of the shifter enables you to click through the menus using a physical control instead. Apple CarPlay is supported (make sure to remember your cable as it is not wireless), but Android Auto is not, though it's on Porsche's radar and may come to the car at some point in the future. 

My test Panamera is fitted with a range of driver aids including standard lane-keeping assist, parking sensors, a clear and helpful surround-view camera system and adaptive cruise control. That last item works as you'd expect, it's reasonably smooth and responsive, if not quite the best I've experienced. Lane-centering technology would be nice, so would blind-spot monitoring or lane-change assist. Strangely, my tester is not fitted with these ever-useful features, though they're offered as options. If you've got to have all the bells and whistles, you can also opt for night vision and a head-up display in this car.

So, what does all this automotive excellence cost? Well, just like the fuel economy, a final price tag has not been announced, but the outgoing Turbo model kicks off north of $150,000. Expect the 2021 model to be every bit as pricey and this optioned-up example even more. Hey, excellence costs money.

The Panamera drives remarkably well for something so big.

Craig Cole/Roadshow