2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo First Drive: When luxury four-door means fantastic
– New York, New York
All-new for 2017, the second-generation Porsche Panamera rips apart the current identity of the sport sedan, to instead offer what this opulent class of four-doors should be. Boasting more technology than a passenger plane and more performance than a race track-engineered 911 GT3, the new Panamera is overflowing with nice-to-have features that make you want to have a sedan – this sedan. A car that feels at home while puttering through a picket-fenced suburb and clocking quick laps on the Nürburgring.
I had only a couple of hours with the redesigned Porsche, on a day winter decided to season-bomb fall with a fickle New York forecast of fog, rain, and hail. But the early-production 4S and Turbo models merely laughed skyward because, well, all 2017 models are now equipped with permanent all-wheel drive. Better still, the brand’s first eight-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) transmission is there to support, brand-new twin-turbo V6 and V8 engines.
But more on those later (calm down) since I opted to first receive a tutorial on the new in-car technology, which blew away this non-computer nerd. (I’m still typing away on a laggy, six-year-old HP laptop... please send RAM.)
The new Panamera is overflowing with nice-to-have features that make you want to have a sedan – this sedan.
With an updated Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system paired with the new Porsche Advanced Cockpit, the Panamera has basically been outfitted with a mobile supercomputer. Its new electrical/electronic architecture certainly ups the digitized ante from 70 electronic control units and 2 million lines of code to a next-generation 112 ECUs and 100 million lines of code. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has a paltry 14 million lines. Though, to be fair, this isn’t a set of specs we’re familiar with; how many lines of code does the S-Class need? In any case, I felt like a sensory-overloaded newborn, searching for buttons to push (there aren’t any, really) and smudging all over some very glossy panels (lots of these, though).
Behind the wheel, the only analog display of the instrument cluster is the centralized tachometer. Framed by a seven-inch display on either side, the left “Speed & Assist” screen shows information such as speed, limits, and cruise while the right-hand “Car & Info” presents everything else, like navigation, night vision, and trip computer. Unfortunately – although still shaped in that rather sexy waterfall design – replacing the previous Panamera’s daunting bucket of buttons with a smooth, flat surface means a bit of a learning curve.
Luckily, the intimidating-looking interface really isn’t. Just about every Panamera function and setting can be controlled via the new 12.3-inch, smartphone-like, swipe/pinch/zoom/write high-resolution touchscreen, and the gear-shifter console’s “clickable” panel. I could access standard features and Connect Plus integrated apps, such as parking locations, fuel prices, local events, flight information, and even Twitter.
There's a lot of computerized chichi that isn’t immediately easy to use, so I recommend giving yourself a quick crash course before takeoff, or you might actually crash.
Aside from some temperature-control toggles, though, which were possibly thrown in for the sake of nostalgia and throwback-Thursday pics, I couldn’t readily find the control switch I wanted without the mnemonic tactility of a real button. “Is my finger over the [function I wanted to operate] or the [function I didn’t want to operate]?” I frequently asked the product manager riding shotgun.
It’s a lot of computerized chichi that isn’t immediately easy to use, so I recommend giving yourself a quick crash course before takeoff, or you might actually crash. Nevertheless, I did eventually get the hang of it. And once I knew what the hell was going on with all the screens, I ignited the engine of the options-laden Turbo model... and wept.
My drive north toward Bear Mountain State Park could hardly make use of the 550 horsepower and 567 pound-feet of torque of the epic new V8. A 4S model, equipped with the 440 horsepower, 405 pound-feet of torque V6 engine, wouldn’t have strained much either. But I did the best I could. Notably, as lengthy as the vehicle looked (it actually only grew by 1.1 inches overall) and as unpleasant as the weather became (it was now a mist-heavy, rainy 35-degrees Fahrenheit), the Panamera proved to be light, limber, and generally fun as hell. I forgot it had rear seats.
The Panamera proved to be light, limber, and generally fun as hell. I forgot it had rear seats.
The new PDK was seamless, the turbo was smooth, the suspension was forgiving, and the steering feel was so connected, I wanted to hold on forever. A cushy cruiser on a slow, summer day, the Panamera’s redeveloped chassis systems really advance it’s ready-when-you-are performance capabilities. New features include rear-axle steering, adaptive three-chamber air suspension, and roll-stabilizing Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport (PDCC Sport) – all perfectly linked, rather than operating separately, via 4D Chassis Control.
That 4D Chassis Control does real-time analysis of longitudinal, lateral, and vertical acceleration during a current driving situation, calculates forthcoming conditions, and then communicates the information to all chassis systems. And then there’s the improved Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), an electronic damper control system. PASM allows you to select between Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual to adjust vehicle comfort and responsiveness as your mood dictates.
The sportier the drive mode, the more the Panamera will downshift to keep the engine in its power band, the PDCC will stiffen to minimize body roll, the chassis will lower, the sport exhaust (if equipped) opens, and the spoiler adjusts as needed. Changing drive modes on the fly was easy using the steering wheel-mounted knob but even cooler using the touchscreen to watch a vehicle animation as I changed settings. It was like building my own video game race car, except I was actually sitting in the car.
The ability to see the future is probably how a 7:38-minute Nürburgring lap time was achieved, which bests the 911 GT3’s time of 7:40.
Now with these powers combined, you’ve essentially got Captain Panamera who can do things like anticipate cornering in order to maximize performance – pretty much at the same time your brain tells your hands to turn the steering wheel. The ability to see the future is probably how a 7:38-minute Nürburgring lap time was achieved, which bests the 911 GT3’s time of 7:40. Don’t call this four-door frumpy.
Of course, there’s a ton of driver-assistance technology, too, like the aforementioned night vision, as well as lane-change assist, Lane Keep Assist with road sign recognition, and InnoDrive with adaptive cruise control – all new to the Panamera. And, similar to how 4D Chassis Control can forecast upcoming turns, InnoDrive has the precognition to adjust cruising speed.
In addition to capturing the traffic situation directly in front of me using radar and video sensors, InnoDrive also utilizes navigation information to crunch numbers for another 1.8 miles beyond, even taking into account speed limits, hills, and curves. There is currently nothing else like it, and it works flawlessly.
I tested out the system when I noticed moderate traffic up ahead. I set the cruise control to about 65 miles per hour to see how the brakes would be applied as I neared a slow-moving SUV, lagging behind an equally sluggish semi, but I didn’t feel a thing. No jolted braking, no warning lights, nothing. I didn’t even know the Panamera had slowed down until I noticed the speedometer showed 52 mph. Like, why am I even behind the wheel? The only system that wasn’t smooth was start-stop, which was clunkier in operation than I’d prefer. I appreciate the fuel savings, sure, but quit shouting about it.
The Panamera is reminiscent of its 911 sibling in both style and swagger.
On sale in January, the Panamera 4S will start at $99,900 while the punchier Turbo will start at $146,900. To join the duo in late summer will be the 4 E-Hybrid, which will make its official debut at this month’s Los Angeles auto show.
According to Porsche, the 918-inspired hybrid will offer a whopping 70 percent fuel efficiency improvement over the previous generation and also have the lowest starting price for Panamera, at $99,600. So, you save $300, you save gas, and you still get a 2.9-liter V6 twin-turbo/electric motor pair that boasts 462 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. And a 4.4-second 0-60 mph time.
Versus its competitors, which Porsche considers any top-of-the-line performance sedan from the likes of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, the new Panamera is the one to beat. It’s reminiscent of its 911 sibling in both style and swagger. It’s a composed chauffeur who can comfortably seat four men in the 95th percentile and also sports car stud whose electronic nannies won’t over-coddle. It’s also jam-packed with fortune-telling technology that’s more accurate and deftly satisfying than any fortune cookie’s.
Photos: Marc Urbano / Porsche