Un­der the skin

Nice car, shame about the looks

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE - Jeremy Clark­son

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.

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