If I were to spend six figures on a car, I’d want a vehicle capable of doing it all, from running hot laps on a racetrack in the morning to bringing home my groceries that evening. Looking great in the process would be a nice touch, too.
Asking one car to do everything is quite a tall order, though. No matter what kind of vehicle you’re after, compromises must be made in order to meet the target buyer’s expectations, and combining the best elements of a track star and grocery-getter in one vehicle seems like a stretch.
Yet here is a car that managed to meet my demands: the Porsche Panamera. It’s the first four-door Porsche car (the Cayenne SUV would technically have been the first four-door Porsche, period) and while the company is coy about it, the Panamera is a hatchback, with a capacious cargo area that’s a practical complement to the four-seat passenger compartment.
The base Panamera, like my tester, is powered by a 3.6-litre V6 engine, producing 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, that’s teamed with a seven-speed double-clutch automated manual transmission known in short as the PDK (and in long form as the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe). Other models include the Panamera S, with a 4.8-litre V8 making 400 hp, and the Turbo, which gets a 500-hp turbocharged V8. All-wheel drive is an option in base and S trims, while the Turbo gets it standard.
The Panamera’s base price is $86,600, and the standard equipment list holds a few surprises. One, navigation is standard, but heated seats are not. Front and rear butt warmers are $1,200 extra, and a sharp aluminum interior trim package was a $1,140 add. Front park assist, an adjustable air suspension, 20-inch wheels, a Bose stereo and the track-ready Sport Chrono Package Plus account for the other $13,810 worth of options in my car, which meant an as-tested price of $103,835. (And this includes a price cut for 2011 models; before that, this car would have gone for $107,160.)
When you buy a Porsche, of course, you’re not buying features so much as you’re buying a piece of the company’s performance pedigree. From that point of view, the 300 horsepower generated by the Panamera’s base V6 engine doesn’t seem like much, considering that a number of $30,000 family sedans can be had with motors making nearly that much. Working purely from spec sheets, it would seem like the Panamera is at a disadvantage, performance-wise. Certainly, Porsche’s claimed 6.1 zero-to-100 km/h sprint time for my test car isn’t a lot better than those family cars could manage, but what’s different in a Porsche is the manner in which that power is delivered. The transmission is geared for surprisingly brisk acceleration in its lower gears, while a tall top gear allows the engine to lope along at 2,000 rpm while travelling 100 km/h. There’s also the matter of the Panamera’s curb weight, which, in base form, is a relatively svelte 1,760 kg (3,880 lbs.).
The PDK transmission’s operation is complicit in the car’s performance, too. Left alone, it shifts smoothly and swiftly from one gear to the next. Put the car in Sport or Sport Plus modes (these functions are part of the Sport Chrono package) and shift times are shortened, and the gearbox will hold lower gears for sharper responsiveness.
The Panamera handles beautifully, with poise and balance, but the real beauty is in its ride/handling equilibrium. The suspension handled rough roads better than many vehicles I’d tested in the previous weeks. An optional adaptive air suspension (included in my tester) allows the driver to further tailor the ride to the conditions, or his or her mood, from a comfort mode that is pleasant but still firm, to a teeth-rattling sport setting for high-speed charging on smooth highway surfaces.
That same suspension system includes a setting that raises the car for extra ground clearance, a handy ability for driving in deep snow. It wasn’t enough one wintry day during my week in the car, when about 12 centimetres of heavy, wet snow fell on top of a layer of ice deposited the night before. The Panamera, despite its winter tires, couldn’t get enough traction to move more than 20 feet before becoming hopelessly stuck. On slushy roads, it didn’t take much throttle to overcome the rear tires’ grip; my car came with Pirelli high-performance winter tires that seemed to trade high-speed stability for deep-snow traction.
Another specification that might surprise is the Panamera’s rated fuel consumption, at 11.6 L/100 km in city driving, and 7.4 L/100 km on the highway. As with any car, this Porsche’s estimates are just that, and are wildly optimistic for real-world traffic and weather conditions, so keeping that in mind, my tester’s average of 12.7 L/100 km in city driving – including some short highway runs – is pretty impressive for a car of the Panamera’s stature.
The Panamera’s interior is only as large as it needs to be. It’s not uncomfortably tight, but Porsche’s designers certainly didn’t waste any space. The front footwells are narrow, and long-legged drivers might find their knees too close to the prominent centre console. Same goes for the rear seat, where two average-sized adults will easily find enough leg- and headroom to make riding coach a pleasant experience. There’s also adequate room for child seats in the back. My friend and I strapped his 21-month-old son in the back for a quick spin, and later in the week, my seven-year-old nephew and his booster seat proved no problem, either. The Panamera offers easy access to its LATCH child seat attachment points, making installation and removal a simple task.
The Germans have proven they understand the need for decent cargo space, even in a sports car (check the size of the trunks in a Porsche Cayman/Boxster or just about any BMW or Audi model) and the Panamera impresses here, too: with the rear seats in place, the Panamera will hold 445 litres (15.7 cu. ft.) of stuff, while lowering the rear seats expands that to 1,263 litres (44.6 cu. ft.). The seat split-folds 60/40 and creates a nearly flat load floor when lowered.
My tester had a full leather interior done in gray, which wouldn’t be my first colour choice, considering Porsche offers red, blue and beige interior colours, plus a few two-tone combos, all of which look richer than my car’s interior did.
The Panamera could be considered a competitor for cars like the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, both of which offer similar levels of luxury, though the Porsche trades some interior space, particularly in the rear, for its added handling potential. What you get in the Panamera, though, is more cachet than many of its competitors can boast; the 7 Series and A8 are wonderful, gorgeous cars, but the Panamera’s standout styling and relative rarity mean that it commands more attention.
The only letdown during a week of driving this car was its less-than-surefooted feel in slippery conditions, a problem easily solved with the addition of the Panamera’s available all-wheel drive system. Going that route adds $5,200 to my car’s price, but if you’re already dropping the kind of cash this ride requires, I think it’s a small price to pay for turning a good all-around car into a great one.