REVIEW DATE: 13 Mar 2009
The four-door Porsche is here. Steve Walker checks out a Panamera range that continues to improve.
Porsche has branched out. Given the manufacturer's past record, that little nugget of information will have already caused worried looks across the some of automotive industry's longest and shiniest boardroom tables. The last time the chaps at Weissach ventured outside their cosy sports car comfort zone, the world was treated to the Cayenne luxury 4x4, the profits from which were instrumental in propelling Porsche to its current position of strength. Now the range has grown again and it's the market for luxury grand touring cars on to which the marque has lowered its crosshairs. The Panamera is Porsche's four-door.
It's not the first time Porsche has had a dip at the GT market. The 928 coupe of the late 70s, 80s and early 90s was an attempt to blend V8 power and sports car sensibilities with the comfort and composure that drivers value on longer journeys. There was even a 928-4 long wheelbase version and a couple of models were built in collaboration with tuning firm AMG that featured rear suicide doors but the Panamera is the real deal when we're talking four-door Porsches.
The backbone of the range is a 4.8-litre V8 engine as found in the Cayenne but there's also a 3.6-litre 300bhp petrol V6: diesel and hybrid models will flesh-out the line-up in due course. The V8 uses direct injection technology to develop 400bhp in the Panamera S. This gives the car a 5.4s 0-62mph sprint and a top speed of 176mph. Both V6 and V8 models offer buyers the choice of either two wheel drive or the all-wheel drive Panamera 4S that distributes power to all its wheels and uses the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe gearbox that's substantially snappier in its shifting than in its title. This twin clutch gearbox is optional on 2WD Panameras but standard on the 4S. You also get it on the range-topping Turbo, an all-wheel drive model which attaches twin turbochargers to the V8 and packs 500bhp as a result. Performance is measured at 188mph and a fearsome 4.2s for the 0-62mph sprint. If that's not enough, an optional Powerkit boosts output to 540bhp. Porsche hasn't gone soft in its quest for four-door comfort.
With the Panamera, Porsche has worked to retain the low slung seating position of its sports cars while adding an extra dimension in comfort. The centre console extends from the dash right through the car to the rear seats, dividing the cabin into four individual cockpits. The standard front seating comes with eight-way electrical adjustment while the Turbo model gets memory settings and an electrically adjustable steering column to help drivers attain the perfect position. There are also optional adaptive sports seats to cushion you through quickly taken corners and powered rear seats which can be tweaked into various different positions.
"When Porsche expands its model range, we've learned to sit up and take notice"
The four-door concept might be a groundbreaking one for Porsche but you didn't expect a startling new styling direction to go with it did you? The marque that has slowly evolved the classic looks of its 911 since the 60s was never about to axe all that heritage in favour of a clean sheet of paper. Shut your eyes, picture what a four-door 911 might look like and you won't be a million miles away from the reality of the Panamera. Suffice to say, it looks very special with its drawn-out rear end counteracting the high roof and keeping the shape suitably low and lean. Typically aggressive Porsche air-intakes dominate the front with beautiful LED fog lights and four squared-off exhaust pipes beneath the rounded rear. In all, there's little to upset the Porsche purists.
The boot is crucial to a car's long distance capabilities. If you wanted to take a 911 on a week's holiday in the South of France, you'd need a trailer for your bags but the Panamera has an impressive 432 litres at its disposal which is comparable to your average compact executive saloon. Fold the rear seats down and the Panamera can offer a full 1,250 litres of capacity beneath its hatchback. The luggage bay itself is designed to be deep so that it can take suitcases in the upright position for easy access.
All Panamera models get a luxurious specification and there's plenty of potential for customers to upgrade and personalise their own cars. There are 13 different leathers and seven interior finishes to select from including carbon fibre and natural Olive wood. There is also an optional DVD player with screens in the seat backs and a surround sound stereo system from Burmester which includes 16 speakers and a 16-channel amplifier packing 1,000 watts.
The Panamera doesn't have too many direct rivals. The Aston Martin Rapide is another four-door GT car but will come at quite a premium over even the top spec versions of the Porsche. Maserati's Quattroporte is a better match though. Otherwise, there are the models at the top end of the executive car market. The Mercedes-Benz CLS is a four-door coupe that will go up against the Porsche in its higher performance guises and the Panamera will also provide an interesting alternative to super saloons like BMW's M5 and the Audi RS6.
Even Porsche is forced to pay more than lip service to running costs and environmental concerns in this day and age. The Panamera's Direct Fuel Injection engines couple with low friction drive systems and lightweight design, so all focus on boosting economy. Still, there's only so much you can do in the 400bhp four-door. The V8 Panamera S achieves 26.2 mpg and 253g/km emissions while the 4S model gets 25.4mpg and 260g/km. This is assisted by the PDK gearbox which has an integrated Porsche Auto Start Stop system that turns the engine off when the car is stationary. Go for the V6 model and you can expect 30.4mpg for the Panamera S with CO2 emissions of 218g/km.
Those choosing the Panamera Turbo won't be too worried about such niceties, which is just as well because the economy figure drops off to 23.2mpg with emissions pegged at 286g/km. This is still a respectable showing though, for a car with this kind of firepower. All models come with the Porsche Vehicle Tracking System and a Thatcham Category 5 alarm but don't expect insurance to nudge much below group 20.
When Porsche expands its model range, we've learned to sit up and take notice. The Boxster, Cayenne and Cayman all arrived to supplement the 911 and all have made a significant impact both to their individual market sectors and Porsche's bottom line. Is the Panamera equipped to do the same? Only time will tell but at this stage, it will be a brave person who bets against it.
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