► Third-generation Porsche Panamera prototype driven
► Introduces new, clever Active Ride suspension tech
► We compare Turbo E-Hybrid models with and without it
Porsche’s new Panamera four-door has arrived. As well as being revealed in full, we’ve also had an opportunity to drive a prototype around Porsche’s Leipzig facility.
The four-door executive has become a bit of a stalwart of the range now, with the previous generation even introducing the longer-wheelbase Executive model and the Sport Turismo estate.
We got an intimate preview of the new third-generation model, giving us the chance to poke and prod at the new car, and get behind the wheel. Want the full design, specs and performance debrief? Click here for our coverage of the official reveal. Otherwise, keep reading for our experiences driving the latest third-gen Panamera.
So, what’s the big deal with the new Panamera anyway?
If you’ve seen our other story, you’ll already know that the design and interior are both only gentle evolutions of the previous car – even if Thomas Friemuth, Porsche’s vice president for the Panamera product line, says during our press conference that this generation is ‘a totally new Panamera.’
Even so, Friemuth adds that the brand is putting more focus on separating the high-end variants of its range. ‘Turbo differentiation,’ as Friemuth calls it, is designed to ensure those most exclusive (and heavier-walleted) buyers know they’re getting something serious. ‘Our Turbo customers are special customers, and we now offer them differentiation which is not available to others,’ he says during our presentation. As well as a gentle evolution of its design, the interior look and feel (as well as the technology on board) has been heavily inspired by the Taycan EV.
The confirmed range for now includes Panamera and Panamera 4, which both use a 349bhp 2.9-litre V6 with rear or all-wheel drive respectively, as well as a Turbo E-Hybrid that uses a V8 and electric motor assistance. Friemuth also confirmed to us the return of a high-power flagship Turbo S E-Hybrid model that will launch later.
So far, so predictable for Porsche, then, but there have been quite a few upgrades beneath the bodywork. The Panamera boasts a new V8 that’s designed to comply with the latest emissions regulations as well as provide potent power outputs, with its first application being in that Turbo E-Hybrid plug-in hybrid model. Though, in this case, ‘new’ means the V8 has the same basic block as the one recently introduced in the Cayenne, but with different internals that apply bespoke torque curves compared to the SUV.
Elsewhere, the brand’s PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox has also evolved to work better with electrified powertrains. ‘We now have a new electrical motor which is fully integrated into the gearbox, so it’s a direct, oil-cooled electric machine which is much more efficient. We have more power available at up to 140kW [188bhp], and we save weight through the construction,’ says Friemuth.
Other updates to the E-Hybrid system include a larger battery pack – now 25.9kWh – and reduced charging times. Porsche says the Turbo E-Hybrid is capable of up to 56 miles of pure-electric driving under EAER City measurements, compared to 33 miles for the previous model.
The biggest news, though, is the introduction of Porsche’s new Active Ride, which is designed to set the Panamera even further apart from almost every other four-door executive on the market.
Tell me more about Porsche’s new Active Ride system…
As you can probably tell by the name, it’s an active suspension system that will be available (but not standard) on the Panamera when it launches next year. Christoph Bittner, Porsche’s director for vehicle dynamic systems, also tells us that the system will likely make it onto other models in Porsche’s range in the future.
‘It started with the idea of: what could be the next step above PDCC [Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control]? This was roughly six years ago,’ Bittner tells us. ‘We knew about the weaknesses of the PDCC or semi-active system, and the target was to find a way to eliminate this.’
The system comprises a single-chamber air suspension unit and a two-valve damper that’s connected to an electro-hydraulic pump (compared to the new Panamera’s regular PDCC semi-active two-chamber air suspension). The system reacts to changes in the road surface and what the driver is doing, allowing suspension to tilt the car into bends (like a Pendolino train, or a motorcyclist) and it even combats hard acceleration or braking by applying extra pressure to the front or rear wheels to level the car out. The hydraulics also instantly raise the car by 550mm when you pull the door handle for easier access, and lightly raises the body if the road is particularly bumpy. And Bittner tells us the engineers are still working future developments of the engineering: ‘it always happens. You find new ideas and maybe you find out what the customer expects more so you’re able to react.’
‘It’s a game changer,’ Friemuth tells CAR. ‘The basis for the system is getting rid of all things that make [the car] stiff. Stabilisers [i.e. anti-roll bars] always make the car stiff – now we have a basis which is smooth and as soft as possible,’ he adds.
It also reminds us at CAR of Audi’s Predictive Active Suspension system seen on the high-power S8 saloon, which performs a lot of similar actions but can also prepare for oncoming speed bumps using cameras that look ahead. Bittner is quick to respond to our comparison: ‘We do predict what happens, we just predict it differently,’ he tells us, also implying that the Active Ride system has a lower chance of false positives compared to Audi’s tech: ‘If you think of camera systems, when the road is wet, they see it differently to when the road is dry. Or when it’s dark, the camera sees nothing. For us, it’s very, very, very important to have it be reproducible in every situation – the car has to react to the same situation always in the same way.’ Instead, Active Ride relies on data it has in that moment – almost like it’s feeling the road and the driver’s inputs rather than pre-empting anything.
How does the new Panamera drive with Active Ride?
From the off, the car really does leap to attention when you pull on the door handle, making access easier; the Panamera’s sleek shape means a low body height, which can make it tricky to climb in and out of. Once the door’s shut, the car lowers back to its regular ride height.
Where Active Ride is at its most fluid is regarding lateral forces; the way the car leans into corners (the right wheels lower and the left wheels raise when you steer right, for example) is impressively natural and reacts quickly to changes of direction, too. It’s also remarkably difficult to catch off guard, reacting near-instantaneously to our steering inputs.
The system is at its most surreal, however, when you accelerate or brake hard. To combat those longitudinal G-forces, Active Ride pumps up the rear suspension when you floor it and pumps up the front under hard braking. However, accelerating almost feels like how a helicopter tilts forward as it picks up pace, while braking provides a similar sensation to completely letting off the throttle while on a boat. It’s just a bit weird to experience these sensations in a car, and perhaps means the system needs a little more refining – especially when a similar sensation is less abrupt with Audi’s Predictive Active Suspension system by comparison.
Acceleration from the Turbo E-Hybrid model is like controlled ferocity; the power is accompanied by a deep and bassy rumble as the V8 builds its revs, while the e-motor fills in the (extremely slim) torque blanks while the PDK changes gears with impeccable timing.
How does the Panamera feel without Active Ride?
Even without the technology applied, the Panamera is still an impressive handler – as it arguably always has been over its three generations.
The steering remains fluid, accurate and predictable and the body control remains taut. Lateral roll is neatly held in without any head-toss or jerkiness even when sharp changes of direction are applied and, frankly, we preferred how the car reacted to hard acceleration and braking here than with Active Ride applied. The more noticeable difference is when you drive over ruts and potholes; these cars aren’t uncomfortable per se, but there’s noticeably less jolting being transmitted into the cabin with Active Ride applied.
Porsche Panamera: first impressions
Porsche’s grand four-door has always been one of the best handling cars of its type, delivering near-sports-car dynamism in something that can comfortably fit adults in its back seats and carry plenty of stuff, too. This new generation is, by enlarge, already shaping up to be even more of a better handler than ever before, while carefully evolving and updating its look and interior interface.
The Active Ride tech is a truly interesting addition to the mix and possibly the biggest technological leap this new Panamera offers. While the system feels natural when it comes to keeping the car controlled through the bends, we’d say it needs a little extra work to feel entirely natural when accelerating or braking. We’re keen to see and feel how the technology develops between now and the Panamera’s expected market launch in 2024.