It has four doors and isn’t svelte, but this redesigned sedan drives like a sports car

Regina Leader-Post - - DRIVING - BRIAN HARPER

When it comes to the business of test­ing vehicles, it’s as in­evitable as death and taxes that some­one will ask: “If you could own any new car, what would it be?”

For many rea­sons both per­sonal and prac­ti­cal, plus one unas­sail­able fact — to me, at least — I of­ten say the Porsche 911 Car­rera 4S. (The unas­sail­able fact be­ing that Porsche has con­tin­u­ously tweaked, fixed and re-en­gi­neered its sports car for more than 50 years to the point where it is as damn near perfect as any rearengine car can be.)

The num­ber 4 sig­ni­fies all­wheel drive, and be­cause Canada is a four-sea­son coun­try, I ap­pre­ci­ate the se­cu­rity of all of the wheels sup­ply­ing power. Why the S and not just a base Car­rera or the hairier Turbo? Horse­power is good, more horse­power is bet­ter, but too much will just get you into trou­ble.

Yet, even though I covet the

911, what if I more re­al­is­ti­cally need some­thing with ex­tra room? Well, then, the Panamera 4S is a more than ac­cept­able sub­sti­tute. It’s a car “de­vel­oped for sports car driv­ers who ap­pre­ci­ate four doors and four seats,” ex­plains the es­teemed au­tomaker, “and for sedan driv­ers who swear by sports cars; op­po­sites which the Panamera rec­on­ciles in su­pe­rior style.” OK, de­spite a touch of cor­po­rate hy­per­bole there, it’s pretty much an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of Porsche’s flag­ship car.

Sure, the hard­est-core 911 faith­ful will point to the Panamera’s en­gine be­ing in the wrong place (that would be up front) and be­ing of the wrong con­struc­tion (ba­sic vee lay­out in­stead of hor­i­zon­tally op­posed) but to me that just means the full-sized sedan is in­her­ently bet­ter bal­anced than the 911.

This sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion, in ad­di­tion to be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter look­ing than its pre­de­ces­sor thanks to a re­con­toured roofline, has been re­worked from stem to stern. Its en­gines are com­pletely new for the 2017 model year, the chas­sis re-en­gi­neered, and the in­te­rior dis­plays and con­nec­tiv­ity com­po­nents up­graded, in­cor­po­rat­ing multi-touch ges­ture con­trols to pla­cate a more tech-savvy au­di­ence.

The Panamera 4S is pow­ered by a twin-turbo, di­rect-in­jec­tion, 2.9-litre V-6 that’s mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion. There’s a sig­nif­i­cant 440 horse­power to ex­ploit as needed, plus a stout 405 pound-feet of torque avail­able from a low 1,750 rpm up to 5,500 rpm. So even though the Panamera 4S weighs an SUV-like 1,870 kilo­grams, it moves when you put your foot into it. It goes from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.4 sec­onds, says Porsche, 4.2 if the car is equipped with the Sport Chrono pack­age (the tester wasn’t). The bonus is that, while all of the Panamera’s avail­able en­gines have been made more pow­er­ful than the first-gen­er­a­tion ver­sions, fuel econ­omy has been im­proved and emis­sions re­duced.

In ad­di­tion to its straight-line ac­cel­er­a­tion, the five-me­tre-long four-door is also sur­pris­ingly adept ne­go­ti­at­ing the twisties. Ear­lier this year, I had the op­por­tu­nity to “ex­er­cise” a 4S on a closed sec­tion of road that was once part of Mex­ico’s in­fa­mous Car­rera Panamer­i­cana road race. While not the most ideally suited sports car for the stage, the 4S nonethe­less im­per­son­ated one, with prodi­gious grip and ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the tar­mac.

A lot of the credit goes to the re­worked sus­pen­sion. There’s a new elec­tro-me­chan­i­cal steer­ing sys­tem for the front wheels and rear-axle steer­ing for the rear wheels. Com­bined, they im­prove both high-speed sta­bil­ity and slow-speed ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity.

For an ex­tra $2,500, the tester came with an ex­cel­lent ride height-ad­justable adap­tive air sus­pen­sion, in­clud­ing elec­tronic damper con­trol. It’s worth not­ing, though, that the car was shod with mas­sive P275/35R21 front and P315/30R21 rear

Pirelli win­ter tires; the sum­mer equiv­a­lents with sport rims cost a painful $4,150. In ad­di­tion to be­ing ex­pen­sive, these low­est of the low-pro­file tires avail­able for the Porsche seem to com­pro­mise some of the air sus­pen­sion’s com­fort as well as dulling the steer­ing feel. I’d think twice be­fore mak­ing the up­grade.

The four-seat Panamera’s in­te­rior lay­out mir­rors the cock­pit style of the first-gen­er­a­tion model, though with touch-sen­si­tive sur­faces re­plac­ing many of the clas­sic hard keys. Even the cen­tral air vent’s lou­vres are elec­tri­cally ad­justed by touch-sen­si­tive slid­ers. Im­me­di­ately grab­bing your at­ten­tion is the cen­tre con­sole and the “ad­vanced” cock­pit sys­tem that fea­tures black-panel, touch-ac­ti­vated but­tons and a large, high-res­o­lu­tion 12.3inch TFT touch screen dis­play. Straight ahead, two con­fig­urable dis­plays flank the cen­trally mounted ana­log tachome­ter. De­spite a sig­nif­i­cantly ex­tended range of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, con­ve­nience and as­sis­tance sys­tems, the dif­fer­ent func­tions can now be used and op­er­ated more in­tu­itively.

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing more than enough room for four adults to travel in com­fort, there’s the prac­ti­cal­ity that comes from the 40/20/40 split of the fold­ing rear bench back­rests and 17.4 to 46.0 cu­bic feet (495 to 1,304 L) of lug­gage ca­pac­ity. That said, Porsche’s con­tention that the car can be used as a chauf­feured limou­sine is push­ing it; most of the other more up­right cit­i­zens oc­cu­py­ing the high-buck lux­ury sedan seg­ment — Mercedes S-class, BMW 7 Se­ries, Jaguar XJ, Audi A8, Lexus LS and Maserati Qu­at­tro­porte — are bet­ter suited for that role.

When, late last year, I first drove the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Panamera, one ob­vi­ous thing stood out: Porsche builds sports cars. And as big and com­fort­able and solid as it is, the Panamera is a four-door sports car. Re­vis­it­ing the 4S just re­in­forces the point. Yes, look­ing at the car’s as-tested price of $133,170, there’s clearly a world of choice. Its ri­vals might have more sump­tu­ous in­te­ri­ors with softer leather, shinier trim bits and more pol­ished wood in­lays. They, too, will have the most mod­ern of mod cons, the ne plus ul­tra of au­dio sys­tems, con­nec­tiv­ity fea­tures, safety back­ups and warn­ings. What they don’t have is the DNA that makes a Porsche a Porsche. The Panamera, like the 911, the Boxster and the Cay­man — even the Ma­can and Cayenne crossovers — is built for those who put the drive above all else.


The 2018 Porsche Panamera 4 is pow­ered by a 2.9-litre V-6 that’s mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion.

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