After months of teaser shots, passenger rides and tantalising details, we’ve finally driven the most anticipated car of the year, the Porsche Panamera. We tested the five-door gran turismo in base-model S trim, meaning rear-wheel drive and a naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 – based on the same unit you’ll find in the Cayenne S and GTS – that churns out 394bhp and 369lb ft.
Go on then, how does the Porsche Panamera drive?
It’s a highly impressive car. The ride is Mercedes S-class smooth in the softest of three suspension settings; the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox manages to be both silky smooth at car park speeds and engagingly direct – with no loss of refinement – at faster speeds; and the V8 is a peach. For the most part you’ll barely hear the engine, but accelerate hard and a dramatic V8 hammering seeps into the cabin as the power builds with a lovely, creamy linearity to the 6500rpm redline.
What’s it like in the back?
The Panamera is strictly a four-seater, with a layout the Porsche PRs called ‘four front seats’. Access is easy despite the very low seating position, and the ambience is lounge-like with comfortable seats and high quality materials – leather, suedey rooflining, aluminium and wood trim. The scalloped rooflining also meant that I – at six feet two inches – had a solid inch of headroom when practising my best posture, and a whole lot more at a slouch.
However, legroom was only adequate when I sat behind myself, my knees just rubbing the seat backs. The view was also of the seat backs – an S-class would feel roomier and less claustrophobic – and the boot, too, is simply adequate rather than capacious. The figures (445 litres is more 3-series Coupe than S-class) back this up, though the hatch and relatively high floor do make loading your matching leather luggage easy.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Porsche Panamera first drive
How about up front?
There’s no mistaking you’re in a Porsche – the steering wheel, indicator stalks, dials, electric seat controllers and even the slim, firm seatbacks are very 911. We were expecting the Panamera to pull off the same witchcraft as the Cayenne SUV, a car that somehow transposed 911 driving characteristics to an entirely different category. However, this S model wasn’t as sporty as we expected and it’s actually quite hard to place on smaller roads – partly because it’s wider than the Cayenne and you sit lower, yes, but also because it’s hard to judge the offside’s extremities.
The lack of sportiness was perhaps because our test car’s spec was about as oriented to comfort as it’s possible to get – servotronic steering, air suspension, no Sport Chrono pack. The steering is incredibly light and lacks the feedback you get from the top dead centre position of any other Porsche. And this was the only car I can think of where I consistently reverted to the hardest setting of the three suspension modes available – though the second strikes the best balance between dynamics and comfort with passengers aboard.
So, if you’re looking for a 911 driving experience in a four-door body, look elsewhere, but as a refined GT the Panamera is a highly appealing proposition.
The Panamera is a very good car indeed – it’s smooth, refined, luxurious and extremely well-built. However, we did expect a little more driver engagement from a car bearing the Porsche badge, so it’s our guess that it’s the Panamera Turbo that will show the Panamera in its best light.
>> Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know what you think of the new Porsche Panamera
To read the full drive of Porsche's Panamera, make sure you buy the new August 2009 issue of CAR Magazine