First Drive: 2010 Porsche Panamera [Review / Video]

When it was first announced, the purists howled in disbelief. The critics, they scoffed like they've never scoffed before. Porsche was a builder of sports cars, they growled and snarled!

Porsche should be used to this by now.

Years ago, they barked about the 914 and the 924, not to mention the 928. Then they grumbled about the Boxster until it culminated - at least for a while - in the Cayenne SUV.

"What is Porsche thinking?" these enthusiasts cried.

What they didn't realize at the time was that if the Porsche owner outgrew the 911, and the Cayenne didn't particularly float their boat, they had nowhere else to go. Porsche decided that they needed to stem the flow of those who loved the marque but not the prospects of a family SUV.

(Video commentary by Jack Baruth).

And the Panamera was conceived
Introduced at the Shanghai auto show in 2009, the Panamera is first new Porsche in seven years. Anything but typical, it's an example of thinking outside the box, at least in Teutonic terms. Photos, even by Leftlane's best (Boast much, Mark? - Ed.) don't do it justice. But in person, it looks more handsome, aggressive and larger than life. The front clip and fender assembly shows off large doses of Porsche DNA. The sides channel the look of the old Jensen Interceptor, while the rear greenhouse resembles uh, a fishbowl maybe?

The Panamera goes to battle with some pretty heavy (both literally and figuratively) hitters. These include the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Maserati Quatroporte, BMW 7-Series, and its own distant cousin, the Audi A8. Porsche thinks that only 10-15 percent of its buyers will be moving up from the 911; the rest will be conquests (many of whom will probably have a 911 parked in the next garage slot). The first year's production run will consist of 20,000 units and rumors are already swirling around that parent VW Group's board of directors have already decided its fate as a "one and done" product run, only lasting until 2016.

A beast of a Porsche
Weighing in at 4,343 lbs., the top-of-the-line Turbo is not exactly what you could call svelte, but as we saw at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it is a very capable large sports car, er, sedan. From the base model to the high-zoot Turbo, it is an over-the-top luxo-cruiser that just happens to be able to cruise at nearly 175 mph.

It's Porsche's first four-door, four-seat sports car. Sure, the phrase was previously used by another manufacturer. This time though, it seems to fit.

The Panamera comes in three flavors: Panamera S, Panamera 4S, and Panamera Turbo. The S and 4S are centered around the 4.8-liter V8, which itself is based on the V8 found in the Porsche Cayenne.

Don't hold back
It's a car that, because of its sheer bulk, fools you into thinking it needs to be driven smoothly and with restraint. And that's the way we approached it - initially. As we warmed to it, though, there was no mistaking this was a sport sedan that placed emphasis on the sport aspect. The dual-clutch PDK system performed flawlessly, although we once again had issues with the soft-sided nubs that Zuffenhausen calls paddle shifters. Hold the wheel in the 3 and 9-o'clock positions, like you learn while in driving school, and chances are the fleshy part of your palm will cause an upshift at a point when you need it least - like blasting out of a turn that leads into an uphill run onto Road Americ's front straight. We've heard that soon, a similar system as seen in the latest 911 will be supplanted with more traditional paddle shift levers. We are only speculating, but hope we it will eventually work its way into the flagship four-door.

Following tradition
The traditional five-tube gauge layout makes its way into the leather-wrapped interior. In addition to the tachometer, speedo, fuel, water and oil gauges, add an LCD screen in the second tube from the right that can display a navigation screen, radio info and vehicle information as well. The traditional ignition key slot is still mounted to the left of the steering wheel, as tribute to the Le Mans starts that ended in the '60s, although it is now replaced with an electronic fob. Burled walnut covers the dashboard and separates the contrasting colors of the French-stitched leather.

Seats resembling those found in the 911 are here, too. This time, though, they are divided by a center console, which locates the climate and audio controls as well as controls for sport mode, spoiler and traction control, ride-height adjustment, seat heat and cool controls. Among the most unexpected is the auto-stop system, which shuts down the engine when making a complete stop at a traffic light. It starts up again with the release of the brake pedal. Despite the sloping roof line, the rear seats, with their lower hip point, can accommodate passengers over six feet tall. The "executive" version features a rear console with climate and lock controls as well as remote controls to move the passenger seat forward to give more rear-seat legroom for those who want to be transported in a Porsche. Imagine that - a Porsche used as an executive sedan!

The hatch-accessible rear cargo area is large enough for four golf bags. Capacity with the rear seats in an upright position is just over 15-cubic feet. Fold them forward and it grows to over 44-cubic feet.

Pick your flavor
We tried all three flavors of Panamera; none of them will disappoint. From the anything but "entry-level" Panamera S with its 400-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 and PDK double coupling automatic gearbox,to the top-of-the-line Panamera Turbo with its 500-horsepower, twin turbo mill, this Porsche brings it. Selecting from column A, column B and column C presents more choices than your local Chinese restaurant.

The 4.8-liter normally aspirated engine is equipped with the PDK and is capable of 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds. With the Auto-off function, direct injection, and other fuel savings technologies, the engine in both the S and 4S are capable of 16 city and 24 highway mpg. Oh, yes, it is able to push the 175 mph envelope. The 4S goes even further with Porsche Traction Management (PTM), which increases traction through the all-wheel-drive system, and speeds from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds.

The range-topping Panamera Turbo brings more of everything, possibly even a little too much. Pushing out 500-horsepower into the PDK and beyond, the standard all-wheel-drive system delivers a 0-60 time of four seconds flat. Power is maxed out at 188 miles per hour, and mileage checks in at 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

All three models ride on Porsche's Active Suspension Management system for instantly variable ride control. The Turbo goes a step further, with an air suspension package of air springs and gas-charged dampers.

It's impressive to be able to barrel through one of Americ's most famous road courses in a car that weighs in excess of two tons. It becomes more so when you consider how it instills confidence in its ability to do it safely and rapidly, to boot. Handling was crisp through the turns, and brakes were impressive. So too the launch control which saw us locking the brake, loading the throttle to the floor, and then side stepping off the brake pedal for a jolt of adrenaline, Porsche style. Sure, if you push the girl too far, you could find yourself in an "Oh God!" moment.

Leftlane's bottom line
Big and beefy, the Panamera is a true grand turismo touring sedan that has the ability to kick you back in the seat while managing to look striking in its formal attire. While there should never be a doubt about its performance, its polarizing looks may be off-putting for a few. The Panamera is a car that encourages you to make no small gestures in the way you live your life. It is truly the car for a select handful.

2010 Porsche Panamera S base price, $89,800.
2010 Porsche Panamera 4S base price, $93,800.
2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo base price, $132,600.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.