Porsche’s Panamera overcomes awkward looks to deliver a typically spirited drive – and it’s slowly getting better looking too
- Rapid performance from most engines
- Predictable handling balance
- Built like a vault
- Still not a great looker
- Some fiddly controls
The Porsche Panamera was a strange departure for the German company back in 2009 but it wanted to widen its model range and crucially increase sales in China where successful people are chauffeured.
That meant more rear seat space than the iconic rear-engined 911 sports car could deliver and rear doors as well.
The resulting four-seater, long distance grand tourer saloon has the classic front engine, rear-wheel drive layout and the convenience of a lift-up tailgate.
Designers struggled to give it a stylish family resemblance to the 911 but a 2013 facelift means it is less ungainly.
On the Road
Panamera performance varies from fast with the 3.6 litre V6 entry model which hits 62mph in 6.3 seconds and tops out at 160mph to ballistic for the Turbo and internal organ stretching for the brutal Turbo S.
You have to work the engine hard in the V6, while the 3-litre turbo diesel is more effortless.
With a massive 650Nm of torque, the diesel is quicker to 62mph, taking just six seconds.
Thanks to a huge 570bhp from its 4.8 litre V8 the £131,152 big daddy Turbo S throws itself to 62mph in 3.8 seconds and knocks on the door of 195mph
The S E-Hybrid is a very different animal and thankfully much improved over the previous model.
The supercharged V6 Audi petrol engine feels strong and produces 328bhp and 324 lbs ft of torque, while there is 95bhp and 228 lbs ft from electric motor. Maximum power the computers will release is 416bhp and 435 lbs ft if you are in sport mode.
Electric power is instant; so the E-Hybrid steps off the line well. Top speed is 167mph and 62mph comes up in 5.5 seconds.
The car can reach 84mph on electric power.
There’s an old saying that well set up cars ‘drive small’ and that’s certainly true of the Panamera.
Having threaded it rapidly down a road it’s a shock to get out and see how big it is.
Much of this is down to the steering response and feedback, together with suspension tuning and car balance, but it’s an impressive achievement in a car as heavy as the S E-Hybrid at 2,095kgs.
Most Panameras ride on steel spring suspension but like the GTS and Turbo models the Hybrid comes on air suspension with comfort, sport and sport plus settings.
Corner hard and you are aware the tyre grip is being challenged if you start using the torque from the two motors.
Despite suspension always on the firm side, there are times in bends where a non hybrid Panamera could still be accelerating but sense tells you to back off the power. The battery pack has lowered the car’s centre of gravity so motorway stability is exemplary.
The ride is much more supple at speed. You can leave the gearbox in auto or change gears using paddles behind the steering wheel.
Close the doors in the Panamera and it is like the world has gone away.
Moving off under electric power only in the Hybrid is silent and you see people jump when they realise the car is moving.
Around town it is the most refined of the Panamera family.
If you are wringing the engine out (will Hybrid buyers do that?) it can sound rather untuneful, especially compared to the lovely V8s, but they can’t ease into central London and not have to pay the congestion charge.
The brakes are strong but feel a little odd at times, presumably because various systems are harvesting kinetic energy.
The eight-speed automatic transmission changes gears so quickly and smoothly you need an indicator to tell which one is engaged, though sometimes there’s a pause between pressing the accelerator and the car moving.
In the car
You can tell you are in something special the moment you slide behind the leather rimmed steering wheel and survey the dash.
As ever a rev counter dominates the instruments and there’s a screen at the top of the centre console that can show car data, hybrid power flow, radio tuning, jukebox music etc.
The centre console has enough buttons to keep a button freak happy, and more on a roof panel but you learn them faster than you would think.
Naturally Panameras come with electric seat adjustment and the driver’s seat was so well shaped a 180 mile journey produced no aches or paints.
Fitted on the Panamera was climate control, electric windows, Porsche Communications Management with satellite navigation, heated front seats, cruise control, electric tailgate and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
Really impressive was the amazing full LED headlights( £1,797), 19in Turbo wheels in place of standard 18ins (£971), surround sound audio (£919) and Sport Chrono pack (£542). Sport Chrono can stiffen the suspension, speed up the accelerator response and with PDK gearboxes speed up the gear changes.
There is front and rear park assist but there is not a rear camera, just sensors.
There is good and bad news here.
The front seats are simply fabulous and deliver comfort and support.
Back seat space is far better than you might expect from the styling of the Panamera, especially for leg room but the boot is a bit of a shocker.
In volume terms the boot isn't much bigger than a family hatchback's, and it's an awkward shape to boot (sorry!).
The situation is worse for the S E-Hybrid because a big, heavy bag of electrical charging cables for charging the car’s electric batteries reduces space by about a fifth.
At least the rear seats fold for extra carrying capacity if not in use.
Panameras are not cheap to buy or run, with prices from £63,913 to £131,152.
The test car Hybrid started at £88,967 but extras pushed that to £100,876.
But providing you stay away from the performance extremes Porsches can be good value for money with good depreciation because of their desirability.
The Hybrid has four driving modes: E-Power, Hybrid, E-Charge and Sport. You can flick between them but we got the best fuel economy leaving the car to choose.
With a full electric charge it can cover near 20 miles and is good at recharging the batteries if you decelerate gently rather than braking hard for traffic lights etc.
In Sport mode it will only coast at speeds up to 43mph, but in Hybrid you can do 100mph plus with the engine ‘off.’
Official fuel consumption on the combined test is 91.1mpg. Gentle cross country driving saw a best of 37.4mpg according to the on-board computer.
Over the previous 1,500 miles the car had averaged 25.2mpg though a friend managed 45mpg – about the same as a humble BMW 320d.
Carbon dioxide emissions are 71g/km so you don’t pay road tax.
The Panamera's cabin materials are immediately impressive and giving the car a real air of quality that’s greater than you would find in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or even a Maserati Quattroporte.
The fit and finish is top notch, too.
Porsche usually ranks pretty highly in the JD Power customer satisfaction survey, and many of the Panamera's parts have been used for years on the Cayenne 4x4.
Some owner forums claim some cases of engine overheating and it is important to make sure the engine does not run low on oil and use the correct oil.
Porsche is one of the few car manufacturers whose cars are not tested by the independent Euro NCAP organization.
The cars though come loaded with crash prevention and crash protection equipment from electronic stability and traction control systems to the best brakes you will find this side of a track only racing car.
Panameras have upwards of eight airbags, depending on the model, to protect occupants. There is also an energy-absorbing steering column, automatic three-point seat belts, belt height adjustment and seat belt force limiters in the front, and seat belt pr-tensioners front and rear.
A rollover sensor automatically activates the curtain airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners if the vehicle threatens to overturn.
To reduce pedestrian injury the bonnet pops up to prevent the person hitting any hard points of the engine or under bonnet assemblies.
On the security side, all Panameras come with an alarm and a vehicle-tracking system.