Porsche Panamera Turbo review

Never mind its substantial girth, Porsche’s latest family saloon is blindingly fast. We drive it in Germany to see what’s what
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September 09, 2016
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The layout is cleaner and no longer a button fest like the first-gen Panamera.
The layout is cleaner and no longer a button fest like the first-gen Panamera.(4/18)
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The cabin is lavish but can be made lavisher if you spend Dh2,630 on a two-tone interior finish.
The cabin is lavish but can be made lavisher if you spend Dh2,630 on a two-tone interior finish.(9/18)
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With the bulbous rear gone, the Panamera really does look like a four-door 911 now. If you squint a little.
With the bulbous rear gone, the Panamera really does look like a four-door 911 now. If you squint a little.(13/18)
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The Porsche Panamera’s reputation for being somewhat aesthetically challenged is a topic that seems to be raised ad nauseam by, well, just about every car guy with an opinion. Personally, I’ve never ascribed to this notion. Sure, it wasn’t ever the prettiest Porsche on the forecourt but you can’t really apply normal sportscar design critique to a big four-door sporty luxury hatchback/saloon weighing about two tonnes. However, even I will admit that this new Panamera is a much more handsome car than its predecessor.

Porsche has been aware of the criticism directed at the previous-generation Panamera — specifically its rear end — and the time spent by the style department scribbling out redesigns with crayons has not been in vain. This new generation still unmistakably has the key Panamera DNA but it now sits wider, longer and a little taller. The wheelbase has also been extended and, even sitting still, it just looks planted and more purposeful. But it’s really the new sloping roofline, called the “flyline” in Porsche-speak, which has dramatically changed the silhouette of this slightly mad combination of sportscar and luxury saloon.

With that old awkward bulbous rear also gone and a modernised overall look, the new Panamera seems to have succeeded where the old model’s intentions fell slightly short. Namely, it looks like a proper sportscar now with more than a hint of four-door 911 about it. It also possesses an air of confidence and maturity, which give it a newly defined solidity. It’s not shouty or extrovert, the lines are clean and there’s not much chrome bling craving attention, but Joe Public and his wife both will strain their necks getting a good look as you drive by. The new Panamera definitely has something the old generation didn’t, it’s got a quiet presence about it and it feels more refined.

Despite Porsche’s ‘Evolution not Revolution’ mantra, everything about this Panamera is new. It’s based on the new Modular Standard Drive Train Platform (MSB), which Porsche is responsible for developing and will later be utilised in various models throughout the Volkswagen Group. The whole side section, the floor and the roof are now made from aluminium for weight reduction. It also debuts an updated transmission and a choice of three new engines on release.

The gearbox is a new eight-speed PDK but it’s easier to understand it as a ‘six + two’ as you can reach top speed in sixth. Seventh and eighth gears are there for fuel economy and designed as engine speed-reducing overdrive gears. As for the new engines, let’s forget about the diesel variant as — despite the fact that it has an absolutely monstrous-sounding 850Nm of torque — we are unlikely to see that in our region anytime soon. What we are getting is the Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo, and that’s good news because we have both at our disposal here in Bavaria.

The first revelation is the interior, which possesses a simplified approach with an enormous 12.3in touch display integrated into the dashboard architecture. Two 7.0in displays bookend the traditional analogue tachometer and the centre console is now a piano black touch-sensitive panel, which thankfully dispenses with the countless buttons and individual switches of the previous generation. And, when you’ve got an 18-way adjustable front seat underneath you, perfect driving position is almost guaranteed. Even the two individual rear seats are super-adjustable, and rear comfort and legroom for proper-sized tall adults is more than adequate. Thankfully, the new sloping ‘flyline’ doesn’t invade headroom space for passengers out back either like it does in the rear of the Audi RS 7.

It’s a pleasant place to be befitting its luxury saloon credentials but it isn’t all totally successful. The solidity of the exterior design finds its way into the cabin, but with a slightly less positive result. While nearly every surface is covered in extremely pleasant high-quality tactile leather, the hard plastic cladding on the A-pillar, B-pillar and, well, all the pillars further back (lots of pillars) feels excessively bulky. Chunky pillars reduce visibility and the new Panamera even has an extra chunky pre-C-pillar to allow the rear window to raise and lower. This has been necessitated by the new sweeping roof line and is barely noticeable from the outside. But yeah, seemingly unnecessarily chunky solid pillars abound.

With an almost endless choice of suspension and electronic trickery optional extras, rear-wheel steering, Sport package, active anti-roll systems, air-springs and torque vectoring available, the new Panamera certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to allowing the buyer to go crazy and tick all the boxes. We’ve seen most of these features rolled out in other models in Porsche’s range but the new three-chamber air suspension is certainly worth a mention. It delivers superb luxury-car ride quality while massively reducing transmitted road noise into the cabin. And, at higher speeds, it automatically stiffens the damping, and maintains an incredibly flat and neutral balance for such a large, heavy car.

The Panamera 4S comes with a smooth and responsive 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6. With 440 horsepower and 550Nm of torque available it certainly packs a hefty punch and delivers on Porsche’s promise of producing a ‘Sportscar and luxury saloon in one’. All new Panameras are currently all-wheel drive and just feel so planted on the road that crunching through the kilometres on the Bavarian autobahn at triple-digit speeds or on a quality B road can be done in equal comfort. It’s really all the car you would ever need and serves its dual purposes amply. The Panamera Turbo, however, just takes things to an almost absurd other level of craziness. And speed. And comfort.

Ladies and gentleman, we currently live in a slightly mad performance era where large, heavy, luxury four-door saloons can lap the Nürburgring in 7 minutes and 38 seconds. That’s faster than supercars were lapping the ’Ring just a few years ago. The Panamera Turbo is quite simply a monster of a car producing 550 horsepower and 770Nm of torque from its new 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo. With Porsche imbuing all its cars with its “sportscar DNA” it’s also the complete performance and handling package, and it does it so effortlessly.

Because of the luxury saloon element of the Panamera package, you feel safe, comfortable and slightly cocooned from the reality of doing warp speeds in a two-tonne car, which is slightly disorientating. Naturally, the assumption is that you’re going to feel all that momentum and weight under braking but the massive optional carbon ceramic brakes with 420mm discs and 10-piston callipers up front are more than secure in their job. Did I mention that it does everything effortlessly?

While the V6 in the Panamera 4S was developed by Audi and then heavily breathed on by Porsche, the four-litre V8 in the Panamera Turbo is all Porsche engine witchcraft. Both engines have the twin-turbos mounted in the ‘vee’, but the V6 is cranked up to 1.4 bar of boost whereas the purely Porsche V8 is only mildly boosted at 0.3 bar. There’s a lot more potential in this engine to be had, which, considering the rapidness of the Panamera Turbo, is mildly terrifying.

I don’t think I have ever travelled so fast in such comfort while feeling so at ease as when driving the Panamera Turbo. Fitted with the Sports Chrono Package, you can also engage Sport+ passing power via the controller on the wheel. Thumb the button and the transmission instantly drops down three or even four gears as the powertrain maps engage ultimate aggression mode. Press-to-pass is a slightly ludicrous option on a large luxury saloon, which obviously meant it got regularly used due to our childish nature. This thing hustles its mass with ease.

The only exception to genuine sportscar ability is on smaller roads where the Panamera just can’t hide its sheer size and it quite literally fills the width of the lane and sometimes a bit more. While autobahn and motorway sections afford you the space to explore the Panamera’s boundless limits in absolute confidence, it’s definitely not a car for back-road stages with a never-ending series of blind corners and oncoming traffic. This is unlikely to be a consideration in our region as there aren’t many winding, European-style country roads to contend with.

What should be a very real consideration for potential purchasers of the Panamera Turbo is holding on to your driving licence as we also don’t have the wonderful German Autobahn on our doorstep. That said, with limited driving time in Germany in both the Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo, we’re looking forward to spending some quality time behind the wheel on local roads in the coming months.

Specs and rating

Model:Panamera Turbo

Engine:4.0-litre V8 turbo

Transmission:Eight-speed auto, AWD

Max power:550bhp @ 5,750rpm

Max torque:770Nm @ 1,960

Top speed:306kph

0-100kph:3.6sec (With Sport Chrono package)

Length:5,049mm

Width:1,937mm

Height:1,427mm

Wheelbase:2,950mm

Weight:2,070kg

On sale:Now

Highs:Rabidly quick, much better looking.

Lows:Still feels like a big car on the move.