Hot hatch meets limo

Porsche’s over­hauled five-door chan­nels 911 sport­ster and chal­lenges the supreme sedans. John Carey re­ports

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE -

HATCH­BACKS are Aus­tralia’s favourite kind of car yet the Panamera is eas­ily the coun­try’s least pop­u­lar Porsche.

Five-door ver­sions of the Hyundai i30, Mazda3 and Toy­ota Corolla pro­pel this trio to the top end of the sales charts but hav­ing the same num­ber of doors seems a hand­i­cap for the big luxury car from one of Ger­many’s most re­spected and de­sir­able brands.

But Porsche is not giv­ing up on its high-class hatch, even though it’s vastly out­sold here by large and lux­u­ri­ous four­door sedan ri­vals also from Ger­many, the BMW 7 Se­ries and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

The Panamera is a suc­cess in other parts of the world, no­tably China and the US. Seven years after the Panamera first ap­peared in the Porsche line-up, an all-new model is on the way.

Sched­uled to ar­rive in Aus­tralia in Fe­bru­ary, the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Panamera sticks faith­fully to the con­cept of the orig­i­nal while chang­ing ev­ery­thing.

“When it comes to styling, the Panamera has made great strides for­ward,” Ger­not Doell­ner told me­dia as­sem­bled for the car’s in­ter­na­tional launch in Ger­many. The boss of the new Panamera pro­gram ex­plained why: “It more re­sem­bles the 911.”

This isn’t just ex­ec­u­tive­g­rade hype. The re­sem­blance to Porsche’s iconic sports car is strong­est around the taut and ta­pered rear, a big im­prove­ment over the fat and flabby be­hind of the first Panamera. The rest isn’t bad, ei­ther.

In­side, Porsche’s de­sign­ers have cre­ated a much more mod­ern en­vi­ron­ment. Many but­tons have been ban­ished, their func­tions moved to menus dis­played on a big and bright 12.3-inch cen­tral touch­screen or the smooth, glassy sur­face of the con­sole around the gear lever.

The pre­vi­ous Panamera had an ar­ray of phys­i­cal switches here that looked like some­thing from Nokia (re­mem­ber them?) but the new model is a car for the iPhone age. The in­te­rior is also no­table for its classy ma­te­ri­als, neat lay­out and flaw­less assem­bly.

In­te­rior space is in­creased, even though the ex­te­rior restyle brings a swoop­ier rear roofline. With Ger­man pre­ci­sion, Porsche says the car will seat four giants ex­actly 193cm tall. Lug­gage space is also in­creased a lit­tle, to 495L.

At first, the Panamera will have three en­gine op­tions, all teamed with a new eight-speed ver­sion of Porsche’s dou­ble­clutch auto and all-wheel drive, then the fam­ily will grow quickly. The maker is work­ing on rear-drive ver­sions and two hy­brid driv­e­trains. A wagon is ru­moured to be in the works.

The $304,200 4S will come with a 324kW 2.9-litre V6 twin­turbo and the $312,100 4S Diesel with a 310kW 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo.

Top­ping the range will be the $376,900 Turbo, with a 404kW V8 twin-turbo.

The diesel, sup­plied by Audi (Porsche and Audi be­long to the Volkswagen Group), is closely re­lated to that in the Audi SQ7 per­for­mance SUV. The com­pletely new twin-turbo V6 and V8 petrol en­gines, the fruit of a joint ef­fort by Porsche and Audi, share some key di­men­sions and tech.

Porsche was in charge of the V8 side of the project, so Cars­guide fo­cused on the Turbo flag­ship. The test drive mixed au­to­bahn with nar­row roads snaking through the Alps be­tween Bavaria and Aus­tria.

Though the new V8 has less ca­pac­ity than the 4.8-litre of the pre­vi­ous Panamera Turbo, per­for­mance is bet­ter than ever. Plant the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal and the new Panamera Turbo’s nose rises with the surg­ing strength of the shove. The brassy blare from the ex­haust adds to the im­pres­sion of be­ing at the helm of a rac­ing power­boat.

Han­dling is any­thing but boat-like — no car five me­tres long and weigh­ing two tonnes has any right to be so ag­ile. The steer­ing is pre­cise and di­rect and the Turbo’s big tyres have oo­dles of grip. This is a car that goes where it’s pointed, no ques­tions asked.

This bril­liant han­dling is ex­actly what Porsche en­gi­neers were aim­ing for. There are three-cham­ber air springs and vari­able dampers all-round. On the move, the car can con­stantly al­ter the stiff­ness of springs and shock ab­sorbers, in any one of the four driv­ing modes.

The Turbo’s Nur­bur­gring lap time — 7 min­utes and 38 sec­onds — shows its spec­tac­u­lar cor­ner­ing prow­ess and power.

Com­fort is another mat­ter. Chas­sis chief Michael Shae­fer be­lieves the Panamera comes close to match­ing the ride smooth­ness of its sedan com­peti­tors from BMW and Mercedes-Benz when they’re wear­ing sim­i­lar-size rub­ber.

How­ever, the Porsche, even in most comfy Nor­mal mode set­ting, can’t match the mag­ic­car­pet seren­ity of the S-Class limo. Those few wealthy cus­tomers who choose the Panamera in­stead of a staid sedan prob­a­bly won’t be wor­ried by the frac­tion­ally firmer ride — don’t all hot hatch­backs, even those wear­ing Porsche badges, pri­ori­tise speed over com­fort?

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