Under the skin
Nice car, shame about the looks
The oddest thing about getting old is that you lose interest in style. You look at a pair of zip-up slippers in a shop and think: “Mmmm, they look comfy, I’ll have them.” It never occurs to you that they are even more hideous than the tartan shopping trolley you bought the previous week.
Old people have a similar attitude to everything they buy – and fundamentally it’s because they are not very interested in sex. When a young person examines a new pair of shoes, they don’t really care how much they cost or whether they were made in a sweatshop, as long as they look good. Because looking good is an essential first step on the road to procreation. Sex is behind every single thing we buy.
And this brings me to the door of Porsche’s new Panamera. (Yes, I know I’ve reviewed it before, but that was written after a 3km drive in Mallorca while I was suffering from pneumonia. This, then, is the proper review.) You open the Panamera and are immediately consumed by a desperate need to buy one. You feel less cocooned than you were in the previous model, but you still have a sense of being hemmed in place by the extremely light door and the enormous transmission tunnel.
And it isn’t enormous just for show. It’s big because it houses all sorts of interesting buttons, all of which operate with the satisfying sense that they are fully German. There’s also a big screen that operates all the things that can’t be controlled with the buttons. You feel, as you sit there pressing stuff, that you are Sulu on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Except your hands are hotter. Much hotter.
This is because you’ve turned on the heated steering wheel. You don’t know how you’ve done this, but you know that if you don’t turn it off quickly all the skin on your hands will melt. You search the cockpit for a switch that shuts it down; you go into all the control system menus; you put on your reading glasses and crawl about in the footwell. There seems to be nothing. And finally you resort to Google, where you discover that the button is... actually, I’m not going to tell you where it is.
Eventually, the steering wheel had cooled down sufficiently for me to drive the car, and I won’t beat about the bush, it was sublime. There are three engines on offer, including a diesel that will give you an astonishing range of 1280km between fill-ups, and the one I’m driving, a bloody great V8 turbo. Strangely, it is not the fabulous V8 that Porsche’s parent company, Volkswagen, uses in the Audi A8 and the Bentley Continental. It’s a completely different V8, with its turbos between the cylinder banks. And it’s also fabulous. It’s quiet and unruffled most of the time, but when you poke it it makes a deep, growly noise like a dog having a dream.
Naturally there is a great deal of power, all of which is fed to all four wheels by an ingenious arsenal of algorithms that makes sure no matter what you do, the car always feels planted and secure. It also feels sprightly, because much of it is now made from aluminium. All of which make the gigantic brakes look like overkill. These discs look like something from an Airbus A380.
Make no mistake: this is a wonderful car to drive. And it doesn’t feel even remotely like a large five-door hatchback with a boot big enough for a trip to the garden centre, folding rear seats and (just) enough room in the back for two adults. It even rides properly, so everyone is always comfortable.
But there is a problem. Yes, it’s better-looking than its predecessor, but that’s like saying it’s betterlooking than a gaping wound. It’s still a long way from being even remotely handsome or appealing. So no one is going to buy this car for its looks, which means it will just be bought by people for whom sex is no longer important. Which makes a change from the usual Porsche customer, I suppose.