Have you heard this one? Your Panamera’s so ugly the RTA fined you for public indecency.
Yeah sorry pal, no one’s laughing any more — there’s a new Porsche four-door out, and it is drop-dead gorgeous…
In Berlin at the global launch of the second-generation Panamera, straight-faced, Porsche design boss Michael Mauer tells wheels the concept of the original car (internal type number 970, or ‘The Blob’), was the right one all along. Remarkably, it took mere millimetres with this new design to prove him right, to turn an elephant seal into a barracuda.
Prodded, Mauer yields: “We knew as well that there were some weaknesses in that [previous-generation] car. The pure side view was a weakness, that was not a secret… But packaging and styling is always a big conflict, and it was a fight for each and every millimetre each and every day, here and there, and a lot of discussions, but in the end I think we did well.”
The Panamera is now slightly longer and a fraction wider, but crucially, even with an increased height of 5mm, the new car looks decidedly more fastback-like due to a 20mm lower rear roofline giving the car’s back end a much more graceful arch this time around. A stretched wheelbase by 30mm additionally tricks you, pushing the front wheels out into the corners and shortening the overhangs, which otherwise always add visual bulk. The roof follows the 911’s line down into the rear, the sign-off being a lightbar running across the rump influenced by all-wheel drive neun-elfers. Up front four-point headlights now illuminate the mark of every Porsche, what designers call ‘Down the road graphics’.
And the rest of it is pretty much perfect except for that jarring three-prong C-pillar. The sweeping greenhouse looks great and all, but the designers lost this argument to the engineers: the rear side window was too large to wind down into the door completely so it’s split with a clumsy third (count ’em) C-pillar spoke, visually cluttering up that whole area.
“With the first generation of the Panamera the great challenge was that there was no predecessor,” continues Mauer. “Now with the second generation there was a predecessor, so the challenge was to improve it but to make sure it’s still a Porsche.”
Look at the old and new profile views, and the hunchback is now thankfully gone. Basically, the new Panamera is the stunning Sport Turismo we saw at the 2012 Paris motor show.
But not quite, because there will be an actual upcoming Shooting Brake Panamera for select markets, and two performance hybrids to complete the line-up, which at launch includes two petrol-powered cars. It’s not just the butt of jokes any more — in its second coming the mighty Panamera is now a family of models all united under one theme: looking damn fine at frightfully illegal speeds.
Speaking of which, the 306kph Turbo currently heads the lot. It’s got an all-new V8 engine with a pair of turbos inside the cylinder banks displacing four litres and developing 550 horsepower and 770Nm of torque from 1,960rpm. So the figures are 30bhp and 70Nm over its predecessor, and 0-100kph in 3.6 seconds.
Head of the Panamera line Dr Gernot Döllner tells wheels this new engine is Porsche-developed and to be used across the top-tier of the VW Group — this Panamera is also technically the 2018 Bentley Continental GT. The 422bhp V6 engine serving the Panamera 4S is an Audi-designed unit with a specific Porsche application (unique manifolds and more…).
Underneath, the Panamera is all fresh, cooked up in Weissach with a new modular platform suitable for rear- and all-wheel drive applications, with Stuttgart crests, Flying Bs or raging bulls on the grilles. “It’s a 100 per cent Porsche, Weissach-engineered platform,” says Döllner.
As is the eight-speed PDK transmission, that extra gear and accompanying weight offset by increased efficiency across the Panamera line-up. The ’box integrates with all-wheel drive options on every model including the upcoming hybrids, so it’s a stroke of production genius.
Further frightening Mercedes and BMW and Maserati and Jaguar shareholders, the Panamera’s modular underpinnings host more gizmos, such as rear-axle steering from the latest 911s, active-roll compensation, and air suspension front and rear. The car premieres a 48V electrical system in the industry, which is too complicated to understand but basically runs the active-roll control system keeping the thing level through the corners at up to 0.8 g.
Although the very nature of a longer chassis puts strain on rigidity Porsche’s engineers have actually increased torsional stiffness and used a lot more aluminium in the construction of the car. Weight, however, remains largely unchanged (around 1.9-tonnes), but the new car adds a significant amount of equipment on board.
Connectivity and all its surrounding multimedia kit, for example, are big keywords in any conversation in Berlin, and the Panamera also strays from Porsche’s traditional ‘one switch, one command’ cockpit into a gorgeous piano-black surfaced future of infuriating paratha-stained fingerprints absolutely everywhere.
Classic buttons have largely been replaced by touch panels and configurable displays, including inside the shrouded, correct, five-pod driver’s binnacle with a large, analog (also correct) rev counter in the centre. Head- and legroom aren’t sacrificed for looks, and it’s a beautiful place to sit in — the 4S starts from Dh483,700 and at that money you’d feel like you were bumped up a class. The Turbo is from Dh679,800, leaving plenty of space for a nice, wide portfolio in between.
No one in Berlin would outright confirm a long-wheelbase car, but later on a factory tour in Leipzig (where Porsche produces its non-sportscars, so basically everything, which means trucks and saloons) we spotted an even sleeker-looking Panamera in the quality control bay. Our investigative reporting scooped an A4 sheet stuck to the windscreen with ‘LWB’ in 72-size font written on it. Also, ‘Executive’ on the side sills. China always gets what it wants. Well…
“In China,” says chairman of the Porsche board Dr Oliver Blume, “they ask me very often, will we ever build cars outside of Germany. Because a lot of our competition is producing overseas, but for us, our customers love Porsche because it’s a German car. We are not even thinking about it, and we don’t want to think about it.”
Nor do we — but now, about that 928…
Porsche design boss Michael Mauer on one of his mentors, the legendary Bruno Sacco, designer of the C111 cars:
“Your whole life is learning, and in my career, I learned a lot when I worked with Mercedes and for Bruno Sacco, a very strong character… What I learned from him was brand identity — to make sure that you really recognise the car, to recognise the cues, the elements that really create this brand. But over time you add your own cues, so what I learned is that your styling strategies should not be too narrow. You should define some major rules, but give the design team also enough freedom to explore new grounds. If your brand identity is too restrictive, you really stop any creativity…”
Porsche’s chairman of the board Dr Oliver Blume, on the conflict of Bentley and Porsche sharing platforms and engines:
“It’s very important that each VW Group brand has its own specific points, and that starts with design. You have to make brand differentiations in terms of design. As for the platform, for example, a Bentley, it has to react in a different way to a Porsche. What you can feel, as a customer, should be a specific solution for every brand…”
A platform for good
The new Porsche-developed MSB platform will have a ripple effect through the upper tiers of the Volkswagen Group. Currently, the most expensive Audi limos and Bentley Continental GTs utilise Ingolstadt underpinnings still related to the Volkswagen Phaeton platform. That means engines that sit ahead of the front axle for nose-heavy weight distributions. The new MSB platform from Weissach takes motors behind the front axle, which should greatly improve the handling and balance of the previously understeering Audis and Bentleys. The advancements made particularly in materials such as aluminium use and new bonding techniques, means investment had to be made to the tune of half a billion euros into the Leipzig plant with new technicians requiring two years of training to work the new frame. The MSB architecture could potentially form the basis for the upcoming baby-Bentayga as well as Lamborghini’s Urus, scheduled for 2018, as it supports rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive applications in varying wheelbases. Then there are the pervasive rumours of a 928 return.