Like most things Porsche, the 2010 Porsche Panamera 4S isn't easy to classify. At first, we were tempted to call it a squashed Cayenne, but the driving characteristics took that comparison out of the running. And although we were reminded of the 911 4S while behind the wheel, we just couldn't bring ourselves to call it a stretched 911.
No, Porsche came up with a unique new car that stands on its own in the model lineup. In broad strokes it takes its place among German flagship sedans such as the BMW 750i, the Mercedes-Benz S550, and the Audi A8, but the Panamera 4S's sport handling makes those other cars look like stately luxo-barges.
Of course, the fastback design of the Panamera also puts it in its own class. Yes, that is a full hatchback at the rear providing a tall luggage area--a strange hint of practicality in such a pricey vehicle. The first spy shots of the Panamera produced quite a bit of negative reaction towards its styling and, though that was mostly undeserved, the long cabin does give it an odd proportion. After spending some time with it, we've come to like the rear quarter and the nose section quite a bit.
Luxury interior, sports car ride
Sitting in the cabin, the fine leather, woodwork, and metal components led us to expect a luxury ride. But the seats were surprisingly hard, and the suspension didn't exactly smooth out the timeworn asphalt of city streets. Instead, the car let us feel the road as a sports car would, communicating changes in the pavement so we could react accordingly.
The button marked with a shock absorber cycles through the three suspension settings.
The Panamera 4S comes standard with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), adjustable with one of the many buttons running down the console. By default, PASM is set to Comfort, although that is not really the adjective we would use. Its two other modes, Sport and Sport Plus, are designed for more enthusiastic driving, but we found that only Sport Plus kept the car screwed down tight enough for satisfying cornering.
PASM works by continually adjusting the shock absorber response based on driving sensor data. Porsche also offers an air suspension with the Panamera, which can change the ride height by an inch, but we didn't have that option on our car.
The car let us cycle through the various suspension modes with a single button, or we could choose to push the Sport or Sport Plus buttons, which not only activate the appropriate suspension mode, but also sharpen throttle response and adjust the transmission programming.
Porsche powers the Panamera with a 4.8-liter V-8 using direct injection and variable-valve timing to achieve 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Power was immediate and the engine made a delightful roar as it brought us to 60 mph in a Porsche-claimed 4.8 seconds. Actually, our car shaved .2 seconds off that time due to the optional Sports Chrono Package Plus. More than a nice-looking timepiece set into the dash, this package gives the car an extra power boost for fast starts.
We were also impressed by fuel economy from such a big and powerful engine. EPA numbers put it at 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, whereas our mixed city, mountain, and freeway driving produced 18.2 mpg.
This spoiler deploys automatically to generate downforce at speed.
Part of that decent fuel economy number is due to the standard Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK), Porsche's relatively new dual-clutch, automated, manual transmission. With seven gears, it lets the engine maintain around 2,000rpm at freeway speeds. A low curb weight of only 4,101 pounds contributes to fuel economy and performance.
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.
The instrument cluster display shows route guidance, maps, audio, 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 iPod interface shows the number of items in each music library category.
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|