"Hey, how fast is 255 kilometers per hour?" asks our videographer, John Adolph, to a colleague seated behind him. "Because this sure doesn't feel like we're going that fast."
The silence that follows says more about the 2010 Porsche Panamera than anything else we experience in our three-day drive. From the driver seat, with my mental calculator in high gear, I glance in the rearview mirror and witness the unlikely. That colleague is asleep. Here. In a Porsche. On the autobahn.
It had taken a few long days on airplanes to arrive in Bavaria and none of us had slept well. But the fact that this guy managed to do it now means that the new Panamera is, as Porsche claims, a true four-door GT.
Just as I'm wrapping my mind around these facts, my calculator finishes the math. The speed? 158.1 mph. With a sleeping passenger. Sheesh.
Taking Its Measure That the Panamera is stonk-fast is not a real surprise — Porsche has been doing that for years. But now it's attempting to do it in a car (not an SUV) with room for four. That this car's backseat is large enough, quiet enough and comfortable enough to accommodate a grown man asleep at these speeds is the real story.
The thing is, you'd never know this is possible without seeing or driving a 2010 Porsche Panamera yourself. That's because, without seeing it in person, the car's size and proportions are difficult to grasp. Photos just don't tell you where it fits: you know, how big it really is.
So if the sleep story hasn't convinced you, here are some hard numbers: Its 114.9-inch wheelbase is longer than the BMW M5, Cadillac CTS-V and 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class but marginally shorter than the Audi S8 and quite a bit shorter than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. At 76 inches it's wider than all of these cars as well. Lower, too. In fact, its low 55.8-inch height is like a PA announcement detailing this sedan's sporting character and dynamic abilities.
Model Lineup Three models will be available: S, 4S and Turbo. Porsche's normally aspirated four-cam 4.8-liter V8 rated at 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque will power the S and 4S models, while the Turbo will utilize a twin-turbocharged version of the same engine rated at 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.
Both engines are direct injected. The 4S and Turbo model are all-wheel drive, utilizing an electronically controlled clutch-type center differential to direct torque to the front wheels. Only one transmission option will be available in the U.S.: Porsche's seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK. That's right; if you want a 500-hp sedan with three pedals, the Panamera isn't it.
We were also surprised by the Panamera's nod to the Greenies. There are two.
First, both of its V8 engines come with a fuel-saving start-stop feature that switches the mill off when the car comes to a rest and refires it when the driver lifts off the brake. In U.S.-model cars, however, the driver will have to switch this feature on, making it rather awkward and not allowing it to contribute to the 2010 Porsche Panamera's EPA fuel economy rating (which isn't yet available). Once turned on, the start-stop feature operates instantly and imperceptibly and there's no reason it shouldn't always be activated.
And second, there will be a hybrid model, which we have not driven.
Dual Role Careful attention to packaging along with a heavy priority placed on the "performance" of this performance luxury sedan allows the Panamera to strike a superb balance between its role as an at-ease people hauler and a tool for real drivers.
The transformation is enabled by a few buttons on the center console. Sport mode enhances throttle response and shift strategy, including later upshifts and earlier, more aggressive downshifts. Sport Plus, available on cars equipped with the Sports Chrono package, further enhances shift speed and aggressiveness, allows overboost in the Turbo model and generally swaps the car's attitude from pussycat to badass.
Even in badass mode, you're not going to throw this machine around like you might a 911. Base models weigh in at 3,968 pounds while the Turbo tops the range at 4,343 pounds. Accordingly, the 2010 Porsche Panamera is most at home on fast roads with sweeping corners. It will play in the tight stuff if you insist, but you'll have more fun when the roads begin to unwind.
Its abilities on these roads are more impressive than other sedans its size and weight. Largely, this is thanks to control feel that is benign enough to handle daily commuting but communicative enough to offer real feedback when it's needed. The Panamera's steering, thanks mostly to the aluminum V8 sitting over the front axle, lacks the light, direct touch of the 911, but provides its own unique weight and trustworthy response at speed.
Brake feel, too, isn't as immediate as a 911, but the pedal provides the same determined, consistent decelerative force when applied with authority.
Maximum Attack With its various adjustments set to maximum attack and in the hands of a capable driver, there will be few cars capable of running with the 2010 Porsche Panamera on the right road. Even smaller, lighter, more dedicated sports cars will struggle when a Panamera is turned up to 11 and driven to its potential.
In fact, its chassis responses are so sharp and so immediate when dialed up that we found ourselves wishing for faster hands on several occasions — especially on the wet roads where we spent much of our time. The Turbo model is muted only slightly by the fact that there's a small delay before its power hits. In this regard, the normally aspirated models are almost more engaging, providing a more seamless flow of power and making it easier to find a rhythm. Or perhaps we're just getting old and slow.
Either way, this is a capable and engaging platform that drives unlike anything else in the world. Get it just right and there's power oversteer available — even in the all-wheel-drive 4S and Turbo models. They're both reined in quickly once power is sent to the front wheels, and this isn't the quickest way to drive the car. But the fact that it's still capable of rear-drive attitude only enhances its character.
Our only real complaint is the same one we've had before — the PDK's shift interface could be better. The buttons on the wheel are small and fiddly and the shifter itself would be more intuitive if upshifts were executed by pulling backward instead of pushing forward.
Expensive Underneath The underpinnings are pure Porsche: double wishbones up front and a multilink setup out back — every piece made of aluminum. Looking at these parts in person, with the skin of the car removed for our viewing pleasure, it's an impressive and expensive proposition. Subframe assemblies are a combination of cast and welded aluminum or magnesium pieces — many hollow to save weight.
Standard on the Turbo and optional on the other two models is Porsche's adaptive air suspension which, in combination with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) (active damper control, which is standard on all models) lowers the 2010 Porsche Panamera's ride height 25 millimeters (0.98 inch) in the most aggressive (Sport Plus) mode. It also has a "high" setting for maneuvers that require additional ground clearance.
Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) — a system of active stabilizer bars — is designed to improve ride quality by disabling the car's antiroll bars when it's going straight, thus enabling truly independent action of the suspension. However, enter a turn and the system reengages them in milliseconds. This provides ride comfort when it's most desirable but provides significant body roll control while cornering. Also included in the package is an electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential. PDCC is calibrated to match the three PASM settings: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus and available only as an additional option to the air suspension.
And it wouldn't be a Porsche without the carbon ceramic brake option. These brakes, which cost as much as a nicely remodeled bathroom, cut the brake system's weight significantly and increase stopping performance in virtually every relevant manner.
Fits Your Lifestyle This is a four-seater so you can forget about attaching your Recaro baby seat in the middle of the rear bench seat — it doesn't exist. Instead, two individual bolstered rear seats are loaded with the same optional amenities you'll find in larger luxury sedans like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Heated, cooled and electrically adjustable, they're large enough to accommodate a 6-foot-2-inch passenger without giving him a roof noogie. We stuffed our 6-foot-plus videographer back there for the entire time we drove the car and he never complained.
There's also a knee-high driveshaft tunnel dividing the rear footwell. Ever sit in the back of a Mazda RX-8? This is much bigger and more luxurious, but the layout is the same. The rear seatbacks fold forward to create a flat load floor good for 44.1 cubic feet of cargo volume in the Turbo (slightly more in the other models).
The news from the driver seat is the control placement, which is proportionally similar to that of a 911. Major controls are easy to reach, yet there's more space in virtually every dimension. The 911's sense of coziness is gone but its fits-just-right feeling remains.
The Amenities A touchscreen control panel is standard on the 2010 Porsche Panamera as is dual-zone climate control. Four-zone climate control is optional.
In typical Porsche form, the entire center console is filled with buttons. And by filled, we mean there's room for 28 of them if every slot it taken. This strategy for controlling the car's many functions, while initially overwhelming, is probably quicker in the long run than diddling a multifunction control knob.
The instrument panel houses five round gauge binnacles with the tachometer placed where it belongs — exactly in the center. To its right is an another binnacle housing a multifunction screen that can display the audio source, check the oil level and tire pressure or view a smaller version of the navigation system's map. The display is switched via a knob on the right spoke of the steering wheel.
The base audio system utilizes 235 watts to drive 11 speakers. Two premium audio systems are available — a 14-speaker, 585-watt Bose system or the top-dog Burmester system, which offers 16 speakers and 1,000 watts of power.
Overall, this is an interior worthy of what you'll pay. Like other Porsches, its materials and build quality are among the best of the luxury brands.
The Final Facts Panameras will go on sale in the U.S. on October 17, 2009. S models start at $89,800, 4S models start at $93,800 and Turbo models start at $132,600.
After the success of the Cayenne it's hard to question the potential sales success of a Porsche sedan. And, after having driven it, this car just seems like a good idea — a real, functional sedan that's quicker and more engaging than others in its class.
Porsche makes many claims about the Panamera's accelerative abilities and they all seem reasonable after our drive. Zero-to-60 times range from 5.2 seconds for the base model to 3.8 seconds for the Turbo with the Sports Chrono Package. Claimed top speed is 175 mph for the S and 4S model and 188 mph for the Turbo.
Of course, for the 2010 Porsche Panamera, sheer velocity isn't the real test after all. Just ask anyone riding in the backseat. If they're not already asleep.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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