Porsche’s most niche model to date could be the quin­tes­sen­tial Panam­era

Car (South Africa) - - DRIVE -

IT’S amaz­ing how things can change in the space of 15 years. Prior to 2002, mo­bile phones were mainly used for ac­tu­ally phon­ing folks; Twit­ter was for the birds; and Porsche’s model line-up was firmly en­trenched in flat-six, two-door sportscar ter­ri­tory.

Then the Cayenne ar­rived, send­ing the SUV brigade into rap­tures and Porsche’s purists glar­ing re­proach­fully over the rims of their Philippe Starck glasses and pon­der­ing just what the Stuttgart sportscar maker was think­ing. Fast-for­ward to 2017 – a com­pact SUV, fast­back sedan and a flat-four en­gine later – and the launch of a sports wagon should hardly elicit so much as a raised eye­brow from even the firm’s most ar­dent sup­port­ers. Ex­cept that in the case of the Sport Tur­ismo, it re­ally should, as there are el­e­ments at play here that could make it the pick of the Panam­era lit­ter.

Over eight years, the Panam­era four-door has worn its elon­gated wheel­base and short, curved rump with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. And, when pub­lic re­sponse to the 2012 Panam­era Sport Tur­ismo con­cept proved favourable, it was in­evitable that Porsche wasn’t go­ing to mess with the aes­thetic recipe that much. Ev­ery­thing aft of the ST’S B-pil­lar is com­pletely new and the con­tin­u­a­tion of the roof to a more steeply raked tail with more up­right glaz­ing and a neat bar-shaped brake­lamp ar­ray lends the Panam­era’s pro­file the rear­ward vis­ual weight to neatly bal­ance out the car’s long nose.

Although the new body shape does af­ford rear passengers a spot more head­room, it sees the stan­dard-fit­ment elec­tric tail­gate open­ing onto a lug­gage com­part­ment that’s only 50 litres up on that of the fast­back with the rear seats folded, and 20 litres with them in place.

As its new body shape car­ries a mere 40 kg weight penalty over the fast­back, you’d be hard-pressed to no­tice any dis­cern­able dif­fer­ence in the han­dling stakes. Thanks to steer­ing that’s still the most di­rect, weighty and feel­some in its seg­ment, for­mi­da­ble all­wheel grip and the im­pres­sive flu­id­ity of its body con­trol,

the ST has the sort of poise that al­lows it to smooth it­self or­gan­i­cally round the driver in a way most cars of this size can­not em­u­late.

Although the air-sus­pended ride is won­der­fully sup­ple, the ST’S body con­trol is well bal­anced and it’s only when re­ally throw­ing the car into sharp corners in an ham-fisted fash­ion that the ST’S two-tonne kerb weight an­nounces it­self with a touch of mid-cor­ner light­ness and the tini­est bit of tyre skip.

Even when the driv­e­train­man­age­ment sys­tem is in its mildest set­ting, the throt­tle re­sponse is crisp and the new eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission both smooth and quick fir­ing. With 404 kw and 770 N.m un­der­foot in this Turbo model, it needs to be on point. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is both lin­ear and bru­tal. There’s al­most none of that tur­bocharged pause-and-hun­ker hes­i­tance present when mash­ing the ST’S throt­tle; in­stead, it dips its tail a touch be­fore hook­ing its heels into the tar­mac and suck­ing the road un­der its nose at an eye-widen­ing lick, all while the 4,0-litre biturbo V8’s gut­tural rasp dis­tantly per­me­ates the quiet of the ST’S cabin.

Per­for­mance hasn’t re­ally been cur­tailed by the in­cre­men­tal in­crease in over­all mass and is for­mi­da­ble enough to give more fo­cused per­for­mance cars a run for their money, the Turbo ST hit­ting 100 km/h from stand­still in 3,8 sec­onds (3,6 in sport+ guise) on the way to a 304 km/h top speed.

But it is in its role as a lon­g­legged tourer where the ST re­ally shines. The cabin is a wellinsu­lated and beau­ti­fully crafted place to be on a long haul, with the pre­vi­ous Panam­era’s overly com­plex, but­ton-stud­ded cen­tre con­sole and age­ing sat­nav mak­ing way for a cleaner look that in­cor­po­rates gloss­black an­cil­lary con­trol pan­els and a won­der­fully ex­pan­sive in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. Porsche has la­belled the ST’S seat­ing a four-plus-one con­fig­u­ra­tion and with good rea­son. Although the cen­tral rear seat has a three­p­oint safety belt, its nar­row cush­ion and raised po­si­tion atop the drive tun­nel make it an oc­ca­sional perch at best.

Although the ST doesn’t re­write the Panam­era book, only adding mod­est steps in terms of prac­ti­cal­ity, its vis­ual bal­ance is more re­solved. Its ex­e­cu­tion also means that the im­pres­sive blend of sav­age power, in­volv­ing dy­nam­ics and stately cruis­ing abil­ity that’s gar­nered the fast­back many plau­dits have passed on largely undi­luted. It’s fair to view the ST as a fur­ther mat­u­ra­tion of an al­ready im­pres­sive car more than any­thing else, but when tak­ing ev­ery­thing into ac­count, the feel­ing that this car is what the Panam­era should al­ways have been does tend to tug at the psy­che.

clock­wise from above Smooth, un­clut­tered sur­faces in the beau­ti­fully crafted cabin; re­vised rear brings only mar­ginal gains in lug­gage ca­pac­ity; rear passengers get a com­pre­hen­sive cli­mate-con­trol sys­tem; in­di­vid­ual rear seats can be spec­i­fied....

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