It’s been roughly eight years since Porsche made a bold move entering the relatively unmarked territory that is home to the four-seat luxury sports coupé. A market that was first established four years earlier by Mercedes-Benz in the form of the CLS. Back then competitors somewhat disregarded the ‘niche’ and it wasn’t until the CLS started to become a serious success an answer came from the very same corner of Germany: the Porsche Panamera was born.
With an anticipated sales figure of 20,000 units a year Porsche went all-in and started production of their four-seat coupe at their Leipzig plant back in 2009. It wasn’t Porsche’s first time exploring passenger cars other than the two-seat sports cars the brand is known for. Of course they had done the trick years before by introducing the Porsche Cayenne which turned out to be a great success. In the mean time the German luxury brand successfully introduced the smaller Macan bringing the number of cars that seat more than two people to three.
Back to the new Panamera, of which we got a sneak preview earlier this year in Berlin. Its reworked design sure is appealing, and after several discussions and hearing many different opinions the general consensus is that most seem to favor the new more chiseled design over the old more bulky design. Without cutting too much fat the design team has managed to maintain the Panamera’s powerful stance, combining 911 design language with heftier proportions.
The engine line up changed significantly too. No more naturally-aspirated power houses, it’s all turbos from now on. Fair game, and Porsche seems to have made it worthwhile too looking at the output rates of the current three engines available from the car’s introduction. For now, there is the Panamera 4S ‘base’ 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 gasoline version with 440 hp (324 kW), the 4S diesel comes with a 4.0-liter V8 diesel unit good for 422 hp (310 kW) and finally the range-topping Panamera Turbo powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 produces a massive 550 hp (404 kW).
Porsche didn’t just tweak the engines, it also developed a completely new 8-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. The interior wasn’t left untouched either, a huge update sees a fully touch-controllable infotainment system installed in the Panamera’s interior. From the neatly designed mid-console to the digital cockpit behind the wheel that replaces the original instruments, it’s a different world from the old interior. Despite its fresh and less bulky outer appearance, interior space has improved and can, according to Porsche, seat four passengers with a height of 1.95 meters.
All these changes and updates are an exciting start but there is lots more in the details. More importantly, what is it like to drive? I hopped on a plane to Munich to find out!
It’s not the first time I exit the terminal at Munich airport this year and see a pack of shiny test cars color the airport’s forum. An impressive sight and buzz-creating move altogether. It’s a ‘Crayon’ Porsche Panamera Turbo that has my name on it, and before I get behind the wheel I take some time to take in its new design and presence. Upon first sight the design looks much finer-edged indeed thanks to the sharp lines on both the side and front hood of the car. The typical Porsche headlights are given more expression and the new 3D rear lights strongly hint at the Porsche 911 series.
The shortened roof line gives the Panamera a further refined stance without compromising comfortability on the inside. In fact, the car’s proportions in both length and width have grown compared to its predecessor, while boasting a sleeker look in the end. The Panamera Turbo enjoys further aggressive styling on both the front and rear with larger air intakes and a larger rear diffusor. My test model was standing on 20-inch wheels which come standard with the Turbo, although I would give preference to the optional 21-inch Spyder wheels.
Perhaps one of the coolest features on the new Panamera Turbo is the electronically controllable rear spoiler which ‘folds’ out just above the tail lights. It flaps out as one piece and then further unfolds itself revealing a rather large three-part spoiler that has a significant effect on the car’s downforce. In Sport + the spoiler will come out automatically while otherwise, for the fun of it, you can control it manually via the comprehensive menu in the car’s infotainment system.
Visually it doesn’t just look like the Panamera lost some weight, it actually did thanks to full aluminum body panels and an all-around mix of lightweight construction materials. Based on the Porsche-developed MSB platform, the Panamera is quite versatile with the possibility to effortlessly change length of the wheelbase and more during production processes. A clear hint towards the future, with many more versions of the Panamera yet to be introduced including the upcoming plug-in hybrid and Panamera Turbo S.
Step inside the Panamera Turbo and it’s like you entered a different world compared to the predecessor. Almost everything is fully digitalized giving the interior a clean and elegant impression. On the steering wheel everything is neat and tidy and it has a firm grip to it. The digital cockpit behind it however is something I had to get used to. The screens can easily be altered using the buttons on the steering wheel, with the possibility to have a large navigation map view on the right at the driver’s convenience.
The large instrument screen is well-organized, showing the speedometer in its natural position, which is something I highly value. To the right is the sharp looking mid-console that extends all the way to the armrests. All functionality in the mid-console is touch-based as well, except for the climate control, which is controlled using the aluminum finished knobs.
At the center of the car’s dashboard there is the wide 12.3-inch touch display. As with all touch displays, I value speed and responsiveness. The Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system is responsive but could be a little faster. Nice touch is the proximity sensor, which recognizes a hand coming close to the screen automatically opening up the menu. All-in-all there is a lot of information to absorb in Porsche’s new PCM system. From the multiple screens behind the steering wheel to the larger screen in the center dashboard. Drivers that are not as tech-savy might want to take their time to get used to the system.
To please the audio lovers among us Porsche equips the Panamera Turbo with a high-end Bose sound system as standard. Fourteen speakers, a passive subwoofer,14 amplifier channels and a total power of 710 watts facilitate an intense acoustic environment. Customers that want to take it a step further can opt for the even higher-end Burmester 3D sound system. This audio system turns your Panamera into a music studio on wheels with its 1,455 watt coming from a total of 20 speakers and an active subwoofer.
Some of the technological highlights on the new Panamera come in the form of the new ‘Night Vision Assist’ and Porsche’s ‘Innodrive’. The night vision assist makes use of ‘a thermal imaging camera to detect people and large animals and displays a color highlighted warning indicator in the cockpit.’ Making cruising in the new Panamera even more comfortable is Porsche’s in-house developed Innodrive module. Solely based on adaptive cruise control it will calculate the road ahead up to three kilometers and adapt speed accordingly. This happens in conjunction with the 8-speed PDK in order to maximize efficiency.
A steering assist is yet to make its way to the Panamera. Although it does make use of assistance systems such as lane changing assist and lane departure warning, it’s in the luxury Panamera where you’d expect Porsche would be revealing its take on semi-autonomous driving in the form of autosteer; especially during times where competitors already have fully functional drive pilots on the market.
Engine, Chassis and Drivetrain
Replacing the 4.8-liter unit from the previous generation Panamera Turbo is a direct injection 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 power plant. The newly developed V8 is even more efficient than the previous engine and while many of you fear this will go at the cost of the car’s sound and soul I am telling you there is little to worry about. My first touch on the engine start button brought the V8 to life with an angry growl, one that is barely inferior to the slightly more fruity sounding predecessor.
With the comfort setting engaged and the valves closed, I get accustomed to the new Panamera Turbo while navigating through Autobahn traffic. It was when I hit one of those notorious German ‘Baustelle’ I realized how massive the proportions of the car actually are, nothing like the narrow left lane will make you aware of that fact. Having dealt with the traffic there was a small stretch of unlimited Autobahn left to really squash down the throttle and reach speeds in excess of 200 km/h. Its impressive proportions, almost none-existent cabin noise and effortless acceleration made it feel like a tank strolling down the asphalt, without compromising on refinement. It’s absolutely a Porsche in that regard, I still felt every road irregularity giving me a good sense of control.
Entering the Bavarian Alps I got an even better impression of the Turbo’s capabilities. On paper it’s an absolute monster and it smashes every record and achievement its predecessor has ever set. With the Sport Chrono Package, it rushes to 100 km/h from a standstill in just 3.6 seconds, and 200 km/h in 12.7 seconds. The full 770 Nm of torque are at your disposal between 1,960 and 4,500 rpm, a huge difference compared to the torque curve of the previous generation.
As I step on the throttle to accelerate out of corners on the curvy Bavarian mountain roads, a firm boost is imminent giving me the feeling I was exploiting every single one of those 550 horses the new turbocharged engine is rich. The steering and feel of the car are so direct in general, that I almost forgot to switch the drive select knob into sport mode. Here is where the valves open and you get to enjoy that deep-edged V8 roar to the fullest. Engage sport plus and the Panamera Turbo gets an even more aggressive character. The chassis stiffens up properly and made me forget about all that weight and length I was carrying forth.
In fact, this is probably the car in which I felt an actual difference between ‘sport’ and ‘sport plus’ mode the most. Not to mention comfort, it’s like going from one side of the planet to the other, a serious transition. It’s here where I felt the 911 wasn’t just a design inspiration, but in many ways its DNA is also found in the Panamera Turbo’s personality. Pushing the Panamera to the max on quiet alpine roads revealed the true sportive Porsche character, something you simply don’t expect when looking at its proportions. Representative of this character is the 2017 Panamera Turbo’s Nordschleife lap time, which is set at an impressive 7:38. Mind you, that is 2 tonnes on wheels coming in only 40 seconds later than the mighty record holding 918 Spyder, which is nothing to joke about.
Responsible for the large spread in comfort and sport plus driving modes is Porsche’s top of the line suspension. Explaining the Panamera’s different chassis identities when switching between driving modes is the comprehensive list of suspension modules and options. The chassis in its basis comprises an enhanced aluminum double-wishbone suspension with forged aluminum transverse links and lightweight hollow-cast aluminum pivot bearings at the front. A rear-axle steering system is optional.
Standard in the Panamera Turbo is the higher grade adaptive air suspension with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). The newly developed air suspension that was previously an option now comes with three chambers. Thanks to the extra chamber the system now has 60% more air volume. PASM is Porsche’s electronic damper control system, continually regulating the damping per wheel based on the road surface and situation. It’s especially this system I felt hard at work keeping the over 5 meters long Panamera Turbo in place while hooning through some of Bavaria’s intense driving routes.
Further elevating the Panamera’s driving dynamics is the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport system that comes with Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus. In combination with Porsche’s electric power steering the Panamera feels quite nimble indeed. It will be a tough search to find anything in its class that comes close to the direct steering features of the new Panamera.
Finally there is the brand new 8-speed PDK gearbox which premieres in the new generation Panamera. Tweaked to be both comfortable and efficient as well as quick and direct, the new 8-speed dual clutch feels like a solid all-rounder. Eight speeds on a car with 550 hp made me wonder at first, but in sport plus shift ratios as quick as you’d expect. A fitting test is the car’s launch control mode. Holding both the brake and gas pedal to see the rev counter go to about 3,500 rpm and let go. A modest kickback follows as the PDK seamlessly shifts through the first three gears in seconds time.
Yes, that last sentence covers my time with the new Panamera Turbo perfectly. Its diverse character makes it the ultimate four-seat luxury GT capable of almost anything. It comes at a price however, be prepared to dive into your savings account if you want to get one. Prices start just short of $150,000 in the U.S. and from €153,011 in Germany.
The new 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo impresses on almost every level. From its tasteful redesign to the significantly upgraded powertrain offering and top of its class suspension setup. The new 8-speed PDK and the redeveloped twin-turbocharged V8 of the Panamera Turbo make a good couple, delivering unparalleled performance in its class.
The 911 DNA does not just show itself on the outside of Porsche’s luxury four-seat GT, it also flows through the new Panamera’s veins. As a true GranTurismo it’s comfortable and luxurious in its basis, proper hard and sporty when need be. The Porsche way, a new benchmark has been set!