Hot hatch meets limo
Porsche’s overhauled five-door channels 911 sportster and challenges the supreme sedans. John Carey reports
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?