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The Porsche Panamera is offered in no less than 21 different models with starting prices that reach above $190,000. But you don't need to go big to get a great car. For this review I've got the $88,550 (including $1,350 for destination) base Panamera with rear-wheel drive. And honestly, even this entry-level Panamera packs a ton of punch.
The entire Panamera range gets a few enhancements for 2021. The sharp SportDesign front fascia is now standard across the board, but if you want to spend more money, you can option it with carbon fiber. The Panamera still has the cool four-pod headlights, but around back, the taillights have a more pronounced connecting light bar. The Panamera also gets new wheel designs and two new colors, cherry metallic and truffle brown metallic.
One thing is for sure, you won't be disappointed by the base Panamera's driving experience. The 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 doesn't provide holy-crap levels of power, but 325 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque are still plenty. If you're looking for a car in which to enjoy a lively drive on the occasional back road, you should be more than satisfied. I like that the power comes on quickly, and if I need an extra boost, there is a video game-like Sport Response button that provides 20 seconds of full-on power and torque. It's great for when I want to leave the car in Normal mode but have a short distance to make a pass. I don't use Sport Response all that often -- this car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds -- but it's nice to know it's there.
What really makes the Panamera fun is the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management system, which can quickly react to changing road conditions for a smooth ride. When I put the Panamera into Sport Plus mode, the dampers really bust a move, keeping the 4,222-pound car flat in the corners with the Michelin Pilot Super Sport 4S tires maintaining all the grip I need. My tester is equipped with the optional rear-axle steering which, at high speeds, turns the back wheels in the same direction as the front. At lower speeds they turn in the opposite direction, resulting in a tighter turning radius. It's a $1,650 option that probably isn't necessary for a lot of base Panamera buyers, but I appreciate it nonetheless.
Porsche's eight-speed PDK automatic transmission is a real dream, shifting smoothly and quickly. There are steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters but I don't feel like they make the driving experience any more enjoyable. Similarly, the brakes provide smooth and strong stopping power. At the end of my week with the Panamera, the onboard computer says I've averaged 24.5 mpg. That's way better than the EPA rating of 20 mpg combined and, frankly, I'm astonished I've done so well considering I've got a pretty heavy right foot.
As much as I love driving the Panamera, I wish more driver-assistance features were included for the price. Sure, this car has lane-keeping assist and traffic sign recognition standard, but it should also come with things like adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera system and blind-spot monitoring. Porsche continues to nickel-and-dime customers on safety features that are standard on many economy cars.
Moving inside, Porsche's infotainment system is housed on a 12.3-inch touchscreen. It's compatible with Apple CarPlay -- wirelessly, in fact -- but Android users are still out of luck (for now). The touchscreen can be operated by a series of flat buttons on the center console, just below the screen. This is the exact place I want to rest my hand for stability when using the touchscreen and the buttons are so sensitive that I switch up the screen when I don't mean to. It takes me forever to figure out why I'm suddenly looking at climate control when all I want to do is select a podcast.
Speaking of climate control, the only way to manipulate the two center vents is through the touchscreen. This is quite possibly the most distracting feature I've ever experienced in a car. There is no reason I should have to tap multiple icons to open these vents. The side vents have physical controls, why don't the central ones?
As for charging, the base Panamera has one USB-C and a 12-volt outlet in the armrest, and another 12-volt in the cargo area. The rear seats have no charging options. There is a wireless charger in the armrest but I find it to be hit or miss. I often have to slide my phone back and forth to get it to start charging and it gets so hot my phone overheats more than once.
Thankfully, the Panamera's interior is seriously luxurious, with plenty of leather, heated seats front and rear and optional ventilated front chairs. A two-pane sunroof brightens up the cabin and it's the only sunroof I've been able to tolerate having open while driving, thanks to buffeting that's kept to a minimum.
Rear seat passengers are treated to a very spacious seating area. I'm 5 feet, 9 inches tall, and have at least 8 inches between my knees and the driver's seat in front of me. If you want even more, go for a Panamera Executive model that has a 6-inch longer wheelbase. Even with the sloping roofline my head doesn't come close to touching the ceiling and I don't feel claustrophobic at all.
There isn't a ton of storage for little items -- the door pockets and center arm rest are pretty shallow -- but I've got to give it to the Panamera for it's cargo space. Behind the rear seats are 17.4 cubic feet of space, expanding to 47.1 cubes when folded down. After moving the passenger seat forward I am able to slide in a narrow, 6-foot-tall bookcase with no problem. In fact, that's what's great about the Panamera. It has all the on-road verve of a sports car with the practicality of a small crossover.
The Panamera isn't the only game in town, though. The Mercedes-AMG GT43 offers more power and torque and a better infotainment system. The Audi S7 uses the same 2.9-liter engine as the Porsche but has more power for roughly the same price. Both of those competitors are hatchbacks like the Panamera, and they have more standard safety equipment, too.
But none of them drive like a Porsche. The Panamera wows with its on-road manners, and with its intriguing balance of performance and practicality, even the base model has a lot to offer.