Great performance and, finally, great looks to match

The Porsche Panamera Turbo is a big, luxurious sedan, but the automaker backs up its claim of "track-tuned" performance with truly exhilarating acceleration and tech.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Tim Stevens
Antuan Goodwin
18 min read

According to Porsche, the new 2017 Porsche Panamera shares only three things with the previous generation: the Panamera name, the Porsche crest on the hood and the goal of being the fastest luxury sedan in the world. The automaker also claims that a new mostly stock Panamera Turbo will lap the Nurburgring Nordschleife in just 7 minutes, 38 seconds -- for perspective, that's 2 seconds faster than the Porsche 911 GT3 997 lapped in 2009 and 4 seconds faster than a Porsche Cayman GT4 tested at just last year -- so it's pretty safe to assume that third claim is covered for now.

With so little carryover to the new model, there's a lot that's different. Below, we're going to take you deep into all the new tech and innovations in the new Panamera. But first, we're going to tell you how it drives.

Buckle up; we've got a lot of ground to cover.

Porsche's new Panamera chilling in Bavaria

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On the road in Bavaria

Bavaria may be better-known as the home of a certain other manufacturer of high-performance German sports sedans, but it also makes a great place to test out the new Panamera. There's a healthy stretch of unrestricted Autobahn running from Munich, where you can go as fast as conditions permit, and then no shortage of twisty, curvy country roads to explore once you arrive in the southern state.

This mix of conditions is exactly what the Panamera is built for, a combination of ballistic speed and stellar handling, and this is where I was set loose to explore the capabilities of a brand-new Panamera Turbo. The Turbo the higher-spec of the two Panameras we'll be getting, with 550 horsepower from a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8. (The other is the Panamera 4S, with 440 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged six.)

Those 550 horses allow the new Panamera to giddyup to 190 mph. That's plenty quick enough to get you and three friends to work on time, and I can attest that this number is not for show. Even when cruising at speeds that would have your license revoked anywhere in the US of A, the Panamera leaps forward with a light brush on the accelerator and immediately starts picking up speed like a very heavy thing dropped out of a very high window.

Here in the States you'll have few opportunities to really let the car stretch its legs, but if and when you do, know that the car stays immensely stable and planted, even at speeds high enough to make your passengers rather fidgety.

Few cars do it better at these velocities, and while there are certainly other (generally smaller) cars better-suited to tackling narrow, twisty mountain roads, the Panamera still manages to deliver an enticing experience here. The new suspension and improved all-wheel drive system, which we'll dive into in just a moment, helps the car keep its poise, and the new rear-steer system creates a far more nimble package than a vehicle of this size and weight should has any right being..

Just to put things in context, the Panamera's overall length of 198.8 inches means it's longer than a Ford Explorer, and while it is lighter, a curb weight just north of 4,100 pounds is hardly dainty. But, I assure you, it's far more fun to drive than those numbers might suggest. The immense grip and AWD system add confidence, while the deft turn-in and response means this is a big brute that is happy to dance towards the apex.

And, once you get there and hop back on the accelerator, the power will plant you deep back in the plush yet supportive seats. It's a thrilling drive. But, there's more to it than that.

Luxury meets safety

2017 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid

While the performance of the Panamera takes a big step forward, its credentials as a proper competitor to cars like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class do as well. It starts with a wholly new interior built around a central 12-inch touchscreen. Porsche's new infotainment system is clean to look at and easy to use, and while it's still lacking Android Auto, does at least offer Apple CarPlay like the new 911.

Below that display is a center console almost entirely bereft of physical buttons, a sweeping slab of piano-black with capacitive areas that click like a mouse-button. It is an odd way of interacting with a car, but it strikes a happy balance between clean design and genuine tactility, and it's a big step forward over the button-mad interiors of Porsches past.

The comfortable yet supportive seats offer heating and air conditioning -- you can even get both simultaneously if you like, and you can also vary the temperature of the upper of the seat vs. the bottom individually. Handy if you have a sensitive backside.

A comprehensive massage system is on offer, and a touchscreen for rear passengers, which allows them to pick a playlist, control the nav system, or even operate CarPlay. Legroom is plenty generous in the back, as is the headroom. It's a quite nice place to be.

But only the driver will get to enjoy what is probably the biggest step forward for the car: Innodrive. This is Porsche's term for the autonomous functionality that has been added here, thanks to a suite of radar, sonar and imaging sensors. Innodrive takes a typical adaptive cruise-control system, which adjusts speed based on traffic, and turns it up to 11 by adding in speed-limit recognition, terrain detection and even weather processing, ensuring the car maintains a safe speed, accelerating and decelerating as needed.

Innodrive also includes some self-steering functionality, which will nudge you back into your lane at highway speeds and can fully take over when you're stuck in traffic. This kind of assistance is a true modern luxury, and a nice bit of boosted safety, too.

The overall improvements to the interior and safety really do elevate the Panamera to a point where it's a legitimate alternative to choices like the 7 Series and S-Class. Yes, those cars are still more comfortable and more quiet in the back seat than the Porsche, but neither holds a candle to the driving prowess on display here.

They are, however, a fair bit more affordable. Starting price on a Panamera 4S is $99,900 in the US, which is about $15,000 more than the starting price of either of those two luxury sedans mentioned above. Meanwhile, the 550-horsepower Panamera Turbo will cost you $146,900. Far from cheap, but trust me when I tell you that money buys you a whole lot of performance -- and a whole lot of innovation, as we'll now explain.

MSB modular platform, weight-neutral body design

Let's start with the sedan's new bones. Underpinning the 2017 Panamera is a new front-engine, rear-drive vehicle platform shared with the VW Group. The MSB or Modularer Standardantriebsbaukasten, or "modular standard drive train system," supports up to four different wheelbases including the new Panamera's 116.1-inch axle-to-axle length, which is a little over an inch longer (30 mm) than the previous model. When Porsche says MSB is modular, it means that the length can be customized for other vehicles by changing just three floorpan parts at the platform level. Even the trunk is modular, consisting of a composite drop-in that supports different storage and battery configurations.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

MSB will ultimately find its way beneath six different silhouettes for the Porsche and the VW Group, likely including a long-wheelbase Panamera Executive model, a Panamera Wagon and future Bentley models. It hasn't been confirmed, but I speculate that we may even find the platform beneath a future Cayenne SUV.

The new MSB platform is lightweight, making increased use of aluminum and ultrahigh-strength steels, and atop that platform are equally lightweight aluminum body panels and bits that are robotically attached with laser precision using aeronautical-grade industrial adhesives and welds. The new materials also imbue the Panamera with increased stiffness, which will pay off in a moment when we talk suspension changes.

The body in white -- the bare bones of the unibody -- is now 70 kg (154 pounds) lighter. However, the new Panamera gains about 70 kg elsewhere thanks to new equipment and amenities, so it should remain weight-neutral when compared with the previous generation with an unladen weight "below 2,000 kilos."

4D Chassis Control

Underpinning the MSB platform body are a new double wishbone suspension at the front axle and a four-link suspension at the rear.

The new front end features a new geometry that allows Porsche's engineers to affix the stabilizer bar to the pivot bearing which, in turn, allows the use of a lighter monotube damper. The new suspension also features forged aluminum links for increased strength and lightness. If none of that makes any sense, just know that a lighter, stronger suspension can react faster and more precisely to changes to the road's surface.

The Panamera can be had with a conventional spring suspension with the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) adaptive dampers, but the showpiece is the new Active Air Suspension, which replaces the coils with a three-chamber air spring that allows the suspension to be softened or firmed up as the driving conditions or any of the three drive modes dictate. In its Comfort mode, all three chambers of the air spring are in use and the suspension is at its softest and most comfortable. In the Sport Plus mode, only the last chamber fills with air and the suspension is at its firmest setting and lowest ride height. The Panamera sits 20mm closer to the ground in this mode. According to the automaker, the 2017 Panamera's comfort mode is softer than before while the Sport Plus is firmer, giving it a much larger range of adjustability.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Out back, the Panny is also augmented with rear-axle steering, which allows up to 2.8 degrees of toe steer at maximum or about twice the freedom of the 911's rear-steer system. At low speeds, the rear wheels steer counter to the fronts, virtually shortening the wheelbase, allowing a tighter turning radius and more responsive handling. At highway speeds, the wheelbase is virtually lengthened by steering the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts and at shallower angles. This allows for more stable lateral direction changes when, for example, switching lanes or passing.

The PDCC or Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system also gets an overhaul for the second generation. The system actively applies and releases torque to the stabilizer bars on the front and rear axles to counter unwanted body movement when driving with spirit while not compromising the independent suspension movement that helps the car feel comfortable over bumps. The new system uses an electromechanical motor rather than the previous generation's hydraulic setup. The new arrangement is said to be lighter and more precise, but the big benefit is that the electric motor is a better match for the inevitable future Panamera Hybrid model.

Trackside with the 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo

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In the past, the suspension, engine, rear steering, differential and power steering systems all operated as discrete systems. The new 4D Chassis Control setup ties all of the individual vehicle dynamics systems into one driving organism, allowing them to better work together for comfort or sporty driving. The new Panamera's electronic brain is now much more complex, with over 100 million more lines of code than before, bumping the total to a whopping 200 million lines of logic.

When it comes to rolling stock, things are bit simpler: Bigger is usually better. The new wheels range from 19 to 21 inches depending on trim, and options checked and are larger and wider than before for each trim level. All Panamera models use staggered wheel-and-tire sets that are slightly wider in the rear.

Peek behind the spokes and you'll spy larger 410mm rotors with six-piston calipers on front, 380mm rotors and four-piston grabbers on rear for Turbo models. (The base 4S model's stoppers are only slightly smaller.) Check the box for the optional Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes and they swap in 420mm ceramic plates and with ten-piston (yeah, ten!) calipers up front.

Spoiler alert!

One of the coolest-looking changes for the 2017 Panamera is the new two-stage spoiler that first lifts up out of the liftback and then folds out to provide a larger, wider surface area. Beyond its deployment, the new spoiler features two modes: an Eco mode that reduces rear-end lift when driving under normal conditions and a Performance mode that increases the angle of attack to actively provide downforce during performance driving.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The spoiler is aided by a mostly smooth underbody that reduces the sort of undercar air turbulence and lift that makes some cars feel squirrely at high speeds, with active shutters at the front end that open and close depending on the Panamera's thermal needs, balancing cooling with a low coefficient of drag.

Like the rest of the 4D Chassis Control systems, the aerodynamic elements are tied into the drive mode. So when Sport Plus mode is activated, the spoiler deploys into its performance angle of attack, the active shutters open to better cool the engine and brakes and the suspension lowers by 20mm, both putting the center of mass closer to the ground and reducing the aerodynamic silhouette.

A trio of new modular power trains

Technically, every 2017 Porsche Panamera is a Panamera turbo, because the new engine family consists of a twin-turbo V-6, a twin-turbo V8 and a turbodiesel V8.

Let's start with the most exhilarating motor in the trio. The Panamera Turbo's new 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 tucks its two twin-scroll turbos between the V-shaped cylinder bank. Each bank gets its own turbocharger, and they meet each other at the crank at a 90-degree angle. Peak power is stated at 550 horsepower and 567 pound-feet of torque, but Porsche has no doubt left a bit of room at the top for a more powerful Turbo S model to follow later.

The V8 is able to take advantage of cylinder deactivation technology to drop down to V4 operation under light load and cruising, which helps it with fuel economy.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine in the Panamera 4S has a more modest (heh) 440 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. It's based on the same modular design as the V8, so it's essentially the same block with two fewer cylinders. The displacement math works out to 2.9 liters rather than the expected 3.0, due to differences in the cylinder lining material, compression ratio and sleeves. The V8 uses an exotic plasma-coated cylinder lining that's just 150 micrometers thin. Both engines use advanced variable valve timing systems, but the V6 lacks cylinder deactivation technology.

In some markets, the Panny will also be available with a 4.0-liter turbodiesel V8 beneath its aluminum hood. The diesel places its two turbos in a sequential configuration rather than parallel like the petrol models, which allows faster-building higher boost pressures without turbo lag. The Panamera Diesel will have the lowest horsepower (422 ponies) but the most torque (627 pound-feet of torque) of the lineup.

Model Panamera 4SPanamera Turbo Panamera Diesel
Engine 2.9L twin-turbo V6 4.0L twin-turbo V8 4.oL turbodiesel V8
Power train 8-spd PDK, AWD8-spd PDK, AWD8-spd PDK, AWD
Power 440 hp550 hp422 hp
Torque 405 lb-ft567 lb-ft627 lb-ft
0-60 4.2 sec.3.6 sec.4.3 sec.
0-60 with Sport Plus 4 sec.3.4 sec.4.1 sec.
Top speed 179 mph190 mph177 mph

Porsche Doppelkupplung for a hybrid future

Hanging off of the back of each of those new engines is a new Porsche Doppelkupplung. Known as PDK for the rest of us, the revised dual-clutch unit transmission features eight forward gears -- two of which are overdrive ratios for highway efficiency -- with shift-by-wire operation via a console lever or paddle shifters.Porsche Doppelkupplung for a hybrid future

Inside, the new-generation PDK is, well, all new. It moves from a two-shaft design to a new configuration that splits its gears between four shafts. Then new design allows an "unlimited shift matrix," which is a short way of saying that you can now shift directly from any gear to any other gear. Other dual-clutch setups typically have to move more or less sequentially between their ratios.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Perhaps most importantly, the new PDK design allows the transmission to be physically shorter fore-to-aft than before. This leaves more room in the transmission tunnel for the addition of a hybridization e-motor between the engine and the PDK. In fact, the Panamera 4S and Turbo's transmission bell housings leave what I eyeballed as 8 inches of empty shaft space between the engine's flywheel and the PDK's dual clutches where a future e-motor can slot in while keeping the entire power train length-neutral.

Other changes to transmission lubrication and efficiency reduce power loss through the drivetrain by up to 28 percent, allowing more of the engine's power to reach the road rather than being lost to friction.

The engine and PDK are oriented to send power to the rear axle, but a Hang-On all-wheel-drive differential integrates with the dual-clutch gearbox, splitting off a portion of the available torque and sending it forward to the front wheels via a front differential that's tucked in beneath the engine block. One of the front axle shafts actually passes through the engine block, allowing tighter packaging, very close to equal-length half shafts, and better stability.

Ride along with launch control

So what's it like to drive all of that technology? Well, I don't know. Porsche flew me all the way to Germany to check out the new Panamera and didn't even let me into the driver's seat. Bummer...

However, I was given a few taxi laps of EuroSpeedway Lausitz in the passenger seat of a Panamera Turbo. Now, a taxi lap is no Sunday drive. These were tire-screeching, 10/10ths laps of a race track with a Porsche engineer -- for all intents and purposes, a trained racing driver -- behind the wheel.

From my perch on the passenger side, the Panamera seemed like all of the sports car that most drivers will ever need, which was amazing because it seated four comfortably, was equipped with an audiophile music system, and had a fairly large trunk. The way this large sedan tackled corners was unbelievable and the acceleration was...well, the word "puckering" comes first to mind.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo

After a warm-up lap, the Panamera was stopped briefly for a launch control test. I attempted to film the takeoff with my phone, but the g-forces were so violent that the handset was ripped from my grip and flung into my face. The Turbo does zero to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds in Sport Plus mode with launch control and 3.6 seconds without. That's on par with a Dodge Challenger Hellcat or a Jaguar F-Type R and just a tenth of a second shy of a McLaren F1.

During my second session in the passenger seat, the suspension and steering engineer was asked about the balance between comfort and performance for the Panamera's handling and, rather than telling us, he showed us by wordlessly and effortlessly tossing the big sedan into a controlled drift and then smoothly transitioning back to smooth, grippy cornering for the next bend. For now, I suppose that settles that.

Cabin tech and interior amenities

The new chassis and power train tech is both complemented and contrasted with by an overhaul of the Panny's cabin technology and amenities.

Ahead of the driver at front and center is the new instrument cluster. The setup uses a physical, analog tachometer in the center that is flanked by dual 7-inch displays with two virtual gauges each. The layout echoes the Porsche five-tube configuration that we've come to expect from the brand. The left screen is home to the speedometer and assist information. The right screen is customizable to display vehicle information, audio source, telephony, performance data or a large navigation map that occupies the entire 7-inch area.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Above the center console is a new 12-inch infotainment screen with capacitive sensitivity on the surface and Porsche's new PCM software inside. Honestly, I'd have been happy with a reskin of Audi's MMI, but this is a totally new interface with some very cool tricks that are unique to Porsche and the Panamera.

The design is crisp, dark and clean. Along the left edge of the display is a vertically oriented shortcut bar that is used to navigate the various functions, but just below the screen are redundant physical buttons with capacitive sensitivity and haptic feedback. Proximity detection allows parts of the interface to be hidden while driving and reappear when a hand approaches the touchscreen.

Two of the coolest features are a customizable home screen widgets and split-screen function for the subscreens. The split-screen feature means you can swipe in from the right side of the screen to quickly access a secondary display area. So you can devote most of the screen to the map, but have the audio source, a contacts list or performance data peeking in from the edge of the screen.

Meanwhile, the PCM homescreen is totally customizable, letting you place widgets, shortcuts and quick-access toggles for commonly used features. So you can have a list of frequently accessed destinations, a toggle for your favorite driving mode, a small map and other features smartly organized and quickly accessible on the home display. The customizations to PCM are tied to the key, so spouses can have different homescreen layouts. This new organizational structure allows Porsche to reduce the number of physical buttons on the center console and create unique interfaces that make sense for the individual driver.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Also new for this second generation is Porsche Car Connect LTE remote services. This always-on data connection allows vehicle tracking and remote features when outside of the car, and in-dash apps -- such as a parking locator or flight-status monitoring at nearby airports -- and Wi-Fi hotspotting for passengers' devices while inside the car. A new Porsche Smartphone Connect app allows the driver to plan trips outside of the car and then access them later when behind the wheel, and smartwatch services enable remote locking and location from the owner's wrist.

The new-generation PCM will also feature Apple CarPlay compatibility at the Panamera's launch. No word has been given as to if or when Android Auto will join the feature list.

The engine isn't the only component that's more powerful. Optional for the 2017 Panamera is a new Burmester audio system that now features 21 speakers and 1,455 watts of amplification. Each individual driver in the Burmester system is lighter, but the entire audiophile-grade setup is physically heavier than before because there are just more speakers scattered around the cabin. New speakers in the A and B pillars are of particular note as they're factored into a new 3D surround algorithm that Porsche and Burmester claim elevates the virtual ceiling of the audio stage by adding the illusion of roof reflections.

During a parked listening test, I was able to sample these new 3D sound algorithms, which Porsche says are based on music profiles rather than movie industry profiles like some systems, and found that I really enjoyed the enhanced audio ambiance. I'm typically not a fan of virtual sound stages -- I find that most are gimmicky and only really sound good with genres of music that I don't typically listen to -- but I enjoyed the way this system simply made the audio sound like it was being played by a much larger audio system in a much larger room, rather than a cramped cabin where the speakers were mere inches from my body.

Interestingly, the new PCM seems to lack a CD slot. Presumably, Porsche expects that most of its drivers will be listening to digital audio on smartphones or piped in from streaming services. To that end, the Burmester system also features special tuning to enhance the sound of compressed audio such as MP3s. The Porsche rep even claimed after my audio test was complete that the digital tuning could make satellite radio sound good, something I'll have to hear with my own ears before I can believe.

InnoDrive cruise, LED Matrix headlamps

Being a luxury sedan, it's no surprise that the 2017 Panamera features a host of driver-aid technologies, including collision mitigation braking, lane-keeping assisted steering, blind-spot monitoring with lane-change assist and night vision. The Porsche InnoDrive adaptive cruise control is, however, new and noteworthy.

InnoDrive is basically adaptive cruise control with foresight. It uses maps with speed limit data, forward-looking cameras, GPS information, traffic data, the current drive mode, sensor data for vehicle load and topographic data to analyze the road for up to 3 km ahead and adjust the adaptive cruise control speed to best optimize speed. If you're adaptive-cruising at 85 mph and, for example, it detects a corner that's best tackled at 60, it may gradually lower your speed as you approach. If you're in Sport mode, rather than comfort, it may lower only to 65 mph. If you've got a full complement of passengers and cargo or perhaps it's raining, InnoDrive may drop to 55 mph or below. All of this happens with the bare minimum of driver intervention when the system is in adaptive-cruise-control mode.

2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Most of the advanced driver aid tech hides beneath the surface, but the last new feature shines brightly for all to see. The new Panamera features new LED Matrix headlamps up front and a 3D LED light bar out back. The headlights feature full LED illumination, including daytime running lights, cornering lights, turn signals, high beams and the LED Matrix main beams themselves. Inside each of the two main projectors is an array of 84 LEDs that, working with forward-looking cameras, allow the Panamera to customize its light pattern to bend around corners, dim specific spots in the beam to prevent dazzling oncoming traffic and customize the exposure of roadside signs. All in, there are more than 100 LEDs in each headlamp's housing with a maximum of 220 lux and 1,600 lumens. Panamera models sold in the US will be limited to 120 lux for the US due to federal regulations; basically the maximum burn on the high beams will be limited slightly.

We're looking forward to getting time in the driver's seat of the 2017 Porsche Panamera very soon with more extended on-road testing and touchscreen poking to follow. Stay tuned.

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