There was a time, in the mid-1990s, when Porsche was down to just two models in its lineup. This decade the company is showing new energy, coming out with an SUV, a new sports car, and now a hatchback sedan. The Panamera represents a new and potentially lucrative direction for Porsche as it competes with big luxury sedans from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.
The Panamera is uniquely styled, and some would say ugly. But after spending a week with the car, it grew on us. The front end is unmistakably Porsche design, whereas the rear hatch shows graceful curves. The only part that seems out of proportion is the stretched roofline over the cabin.
Porsche's direct-injection 4.8-liter V-8 is a tremendous powerplant, cranking out 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, getting the Panamera 4S to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
We found the front and rear seating areas spacious enough, although the Panamera does not have the cabin proportions for a chauffeur-driven car. Access to the rear seat is slightly compromised by the door sill's shape.
The Panamera comes standard with Porsche Active Suspension Management, an adjustable system that changes the shock absorber response to counteract body roll and improve handling.
Even with the suspension set in Comfort mode, the Panamera's ride is sports car hard. As the 4S model, this Panamera also has all-wheel drive.
This spoiler automatically deploys at speed, increasing downforce to the rear wheels.
The cabin is luxuriously appointed, but the Panamera is still a hatchback. The rear seats fold down to maximize luggage space.
Our car came with a special leather package that lined just about every available surface in the cabin with animal hide.
Instead of paddle shifters, the Panamera uses shift buttons. They are very poorly placed; you have to move your hand on the wheel to push them.
The tachometer sits front and center in Porsche's classic five-ring instrument cluster. The middle gauge on the right is actually an LCD showing a variety of useful information.
The Panamera comes with Porsche's Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, a seven-speed automated manual dual-clutch gearbox. We found its programming and response superb.
The hard-drive-based navigation system uses detailed maps for some downtown areas, showing 3D-rendered buildings.
The maps show in 3D or 2D, and have a traffic overlay for incidents and flow.
When the Panamera gets data about a traffic jam ahead on a programmed route, it pops up a warning screen, and offers to detour around the problem.
We found the iPod integration very easy to use, with full access to albums, artists, genres, and individual songs.
The Bluetooth phone system downloads contact lists, making them available on the car's LCD. But there is no voice command system for dialing by voice.
This distance sensor system is standard, and a rearview camera is optional.