It's not easy being the middle child, unless you're the 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S. Slotting between the base Panamera and the potent GTS, the 4S does a great job striking a balance between sport and luxury.
Having also spent time in the Panamera's 4S E-Hybrid variant, which brings a lithium-ion battery and an electric motor into the mix, I believe the 4S is just as good without all that electro-frippery. The engine under the hood is the same in both cars: a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 producing 443 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. My tester's optional Sport Package ($5,450) brings Porsche's excellent sport exhaust into the equation, making every cold start and hard press of the throttle that much more exciting. A V6 isn't the most sonorous cylinder arrangement, but the upgraded pipes give this one a bass-heavy rumble that never gets so loud it annoys the neighbors.
Of course, you're not going to be listening to that sound from outside the car. You'll be listening to it from the cabin as you throw the Panamera around curvy backroads, which is where this thing belongs. 4S models with the Sport Package don't include the adaptive air suspension found on Panamera and Panamera 4 variants, but that's OK, because the standard adaptive dampers are still very capable. In their default mode, there's very little body roll but a suitable amount of softness over crappier parts of the pavement. Throw the car into Sport or Sport Plus and that smidgeon of lean gets Thanos snapped into the ether, leaving a car that wants to get chucked around at every opportunity. Add in the Sport Package's rear-axle steering and it's easy to forget how large this car actually is.
Every other part of the driving experience blends together effortlessly. The electric power steering is direct and the right amount of heavy. The Panamera 4S' lack of a hybrid system means those wonky brakes aren't present, leaving stoppers that are easy to modulate and capable of friction-welding the seatbelt to my chest in a hurry. The eight-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission moves its way up and down the gears as snappily as any 'box out there, and it knows how to hold the engine in its sweet spot as I exit one curve and immediately approach the next. It all just… works.
Fuel economy is decent, but I wouldn't say there's much to write home about here. The feds rate the Panamera 4S at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, which are not easy to hit when you're having way too much fun. However, keep the foot light and the engine out of the boost and the highway figure should reach about 25 or 26 mpg without too much effort.
In slower situations, you'll want to take some time to appreciate the Panamera 4S' cabin, which like so many other Porsche models, is just peachy. Build quality is top-notch and the materials are nice, even if you don't opt to spend thousands on a leather-lined dashboard. The 14-way power seats ($1,780) are supportive without being constricting, and you can get them ventilated for an extra $840. The rest of the cabin hasn't changed that much in the last couple years, save for 2021's redesigned steering wheel. The illuminated haptic switches on the center console are still covered in smudge-magnet gloss black, which is the sole sore spot in an otherwise fabulous design.
The Panamera 4S's cargo area may not carry as much as the boot in the station-wagon Sport Turismo variant, but it's not like you'll miss it. At 17.6 cubic feet, it's just 0.7 cubes smaller than the wagon, which is still plenty for a family's worth of groceries, suitcases or a couple sets of golf clubs. There really isn't a space to put your Nalgene, either, because the cup holders are on the small side, as are the door pockets, and no options package will make them more capacious.
Another bright spot in the Panamera 4S is its infotainment system. Porsche Communication Management resides on the dashboard's 12.3-inch screen, and it's a good'un. It's easy to hop between various menus by way of a dock on the left side of the screen or haptic buttons just below, but a configurable home screen lets you see pretty much everything without the need to swap around. Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto remains absent, although an update in 2022 should eliminate this gripe once and for all. If that's not enough screen for you, the tachometer is flanked by two additional displays that put basic information closer to the horizon.
The safety tech is a little bleaker, in the sense that it's paywalled pretty heavily. Standard kit includes parking sensors and lane-keep assist. If you want automatic braking, you'll have to shell out $2,250 to get it plus adaptive cruise control. Lane-change assist is an additional $1,060, while a surround-view camera requires an extra $920. Porsche InnoDrive, which combines the aforementioned systems to match pace with traffic on the highway, asks for $3,290. Porsche could at least make automatic braking standard, sheesh.
Finally, there are a couple of small upgrades to the Panamera's exterior for 2021. The SportDesign front fascia used to be an option, but now it's standard, adding a bit more visual flair on that side. Out back, a new taillight design incorporates an LED strip that bridges the gap across the hatchback, and a new rear diffuser looks a little more aggressive than before. It's a good look, especially with my tester's $840 Mamba Green paint job, which is a real conversation-starter in parking lots and drive-thrus.
As you might expect, the 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S is not a cheap proposition. My tester sports a base price of $106,350 (including $1,350 for destination), and with a relatively small smattering of aforementioned options, that price swells up like a bad bee sting to $128,040. Competitors abound in this space. If you want something equally as sporty, Mercedes-Benz offers the GT 4-Door or CLS-Class, while those opting for something more luxurious may gravitate toward a BMW 7 Series. Porsche also offers a plug-in hybrid variant for those not wanting to go full green, but forward-thinkers may want to consider something like a Mercedes-Benz EQS, Porsche Taycan or Tesla Model S.
Whether alone or in comparison, though, the 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S is a winner. Its large dimensions belie just how agile it is, offering a good blend of comfort and precision with few, if any drawbacks.