Sacrilege in the car business used to be so simple. It was bad. Bad, bad, bad and people wouldn't spend their money on it. Remember the Cutlass Calais-based Olds 442?
But today, Sacrilege, like everything else, is more complicated. Today, it turns out, there's Good Sacrilege and there's Bad Sacrilege. And it has been proven that Good Sacrilege isn't so bad after all.
In fact, Porsche proved that Good Sacrilege sells way back in late 2001 when it introduced to Europe the Cayenne SUV, now Porsche's best-selling model by a huge margin. And with those Cayenne profits keeping the lights on, it was back to the Good Sacrilege drawing board for the Wizards of Weissach, and here we are.
Here, is behind the wheel of this Carbon Grey Metallic 2010 Porsche Panamera 4S. And here is a helluva desirable place to be.
Don't Pay for the Floor Mats
We've driven, drooled over and praised the 2010 Porsche Panamera before. Back in June, Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot twisted the speedometer needle clean off a shiny, new 2010 Panamera Turbo, pounding down the German autobahn at over 100 mph with a sleeping passenger, a belly full of sauerbraten and a severe case of jet lag.
Now, months later, we finally have a chance to drive Porsche's luxury sedan on American soil. And, more important, take it to our test track.
For the occasion Porsche provided us with this all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S with its normally aspirated 400-horsepower V8. It's the Peter Brady of the Panamera line, slotting between the rear-wheel-drive Panamera 2S, which is powered by the same all-aluminum 32-valve DOHC 4.8-liter V8 as the 4S, and the almighty Turbo with its 500-hp version of this V8.
Base price is $93,800, and our tester costs $113,540 thanks to a heapin' helpin' of options, including a sport exhaust system, adaptive air suspension, Bluetooth, leather upholstery, the Sport Chrono Package Plus and 20-inch RS Spyder Design wheels (18-inch wheels are standard), just to name a few.
By the way, this car's optional floor mats are $150. Not only does this seem like an insulting extra charge on a $94,000 car, they did little to improve the car's performance.
Track Test Numbers
OK, enough soup and salad. Let's cut to the steak, or in this case, the bratwurst.
This car lit up our test track, hitting 60 mph in 4.6 seconds (4.3 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and blitzing the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 105 mph. This is astonishing acceleration considering the Panamera 4S weighs 4,237 pounds and packs only 400 hp. In this class, performance in the low 4s and high 12s has been the exclusive domain of the 500-plus-hp club, which includes the BMW M5, Cadillac CTS-V and Mercedes E63 AMG.
The Panamera 4S also circles our skid pad at an incredible 0.96g, sprints through our slalom at 68.4 mph and stops from 60 mph in just 109 feet.
With the exception of the Panamera's awesome skid pad number, which is simply light-years ahead of anything else on the planet with four doors, only the last BMW M5 we tested can match or come close to the Porsche's test numbers. This might give the impression that an M5 could keep up with the Panamera 4S on a mountain road.
Well, it can't. And neither can any other four-door you can think of, including anything else with AMG or M on its deck lid.
Our seat-of-the-pants impressions under the influence of this Porsche's incredible lateral grip tells us that the Panamera 4S will smoke them all on a real road out in the real world. And if it can't, then its big brother, the 500-hp Panamera Turbo, will.
Mountain Road Magic
How can we be so sure? Because we've driven this Panamera 4S hard through the Santa Monica Mountains, a place even big, high-performance sedans face with dread. We ran our usual route, including Piuma, Stunt and Mulholland. We even ran it with wife and kids aboard to get the full sedan experience. Trust us: This is one of the fastest cars in the world when you're in a real-world setting.
It's hard to believe we're saying this about a sedan that measures 195.6 inches overall and weighs more than 2 tons, but the facts are the facts. And the Panamera's balance (the weight distribution is 53.4 percent front/46.6 percent rear), massive 20-inch Michelin PS2s and all-wheel drive take its cornering speeds to levels once reserved for all-out supercars like the Audi R8, Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 Turbo. Notes taken after the drive read, "No sedan out there will hang with it in the tight stuff."
But that awesome speed isn't the Panamera's most impressive performance feature. Instead it's the ease in which it allows you to reach and sustain those speeds that gets you. This car is easier to drive at 9/10ths of its ability than a BMW M5 is to drive at 7/10ths of its ability. It's so composed, so not scary at extreme velocity, that backing off is always a matter of choice, not fear.
Your fear, that is. As we found out, by the time Piuma Road turns to Stunt Road, your wife and kids will be screaming for you to slow down.
But you won't, because the Panamera 4S is just too fun and too easy to drive way too fast. Instead you'll keep the pace up and enjoy the Porsche's crisp, intuitive steering action, its incredible brakes, its surprisingly good visibility (the big space between the mirror and the A-pillar is there for a reason) and the way its air suspension (even in the stiffest Sport Plus setting) soaks up midcorner bumps better than any car you've ever driven.
You'll keep the pace up just to marvel at the way the Panamera feels half its size and weight in the hills; only when you get it into a tight parking lot do you remember how big it really is.
A Real Luxury Sedan
And it's just as good in the city. Down on the boulevard and the superslab, the Panamera 4S is a luxury sedan — the real deal. Oh, it's always sporty for sure, but it's never harsh, crude or crass.
This car feels like a $113,000 car had better feel. Solid. Serious. And special.
In the stop-and-go of the city, the Panamera's interior helps justify that price tag. There's simply no denying its artistic appeal, including its four well-shaped bucket seats, its abundance of real aluminum trim and the long console that runs the length of the interior. And the Panamera really does have a cavernous rear seat and cargo area.
Sure, there are a few too many buttons in here to skip reading the owner's manual, but the Porsche's interior sets a new standard for design, fit and finish, and tactile excellence. And if you doubt these words you simply haven't felt the Panamera's shifter or steering wheel within your own two hands. This is as good as cars get, and we want a bronze bust of the guy who decided to keep the tach front and center on the instrument panel just as it is on a 911. Thank you, whoever you are.
Porsche has left no details unchecked, and the result is a car that does it all better than most cars can do anything. It even rides well, which is an incredible engineering accomplishment considering its handling ability.
Don't Move to Nob Hill
Our only gripes center around the Panamera's dual-clutch automated transmission. While flawless in the hills, the ZF-built PDK transmission is not perfect in the real world, despite the three different drive modes it offers. In Comfort mode it's way too lazy. In Sport mode it wakes up nicely but it still starts in 2nd gear (which we hate). And in Sport Plus it won't shift up to 7th gear, even if you jump on the highway. Many times we would look down while slamming the left lane to find ourselves in 6th.
You can also feel the PDK slipping its clutches while you're driving uphill at part throttle, which isn't a big deal, but if your mansion is at the top of San Francisco's Nob Hill it might give you pause.
Personally, if it were us, we'd just move to flatter ground and still purchase a 2010 Porsche Panamera 4S. It's nothing less than the finest high-performance four-door sedan money can buy.
Porsche, it seems, has this Good Sacrilege thing down to a science. What's next, Wolfgang, a minivan?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
Well, this sure is a unique-looking car, and we don't mean that in a good way. It's amazing that Porsche has such a great reputation when you consider that it has flopped so many times in the styling department (don't make us show you pictures of the Porsche 914, the Cayenne, the Carrera GT and even the Cayman). Even the 911 was a kind of an accident, the product of years of fiddling around followed by a slap-dash grafting of a 356-style fastback roof to the new body shape, a profile that Butzi Porsche had been trying to get away from ever since he began drawing the car in 1959. And now Porsche can't get away from the styling DNA of the fastback, which is why the Panamera looks like a modern version of the Czech-built 1934 Tatra 77.
But just as you'd expect from a Porsche, the Panamera is unique in a lot of other ways, all of them good. The PASM active suspension system has evolved into the best of its kind, and it can make even this intensely sporting car with its heavy 20-inch wheels (stick with the 18s if you're living in the frost-heave belt) ride like a Bentley Continental. The PDK dual-clutch automated manual transmission developed by ZF is also a miracle of competence, shifting gears so quickly and smoothly it's no wonder that Porsche considers it an automatic instead of a fast-acting manual (a philosophical distinction that all car companies are wrestling with these days). The interior of the Panamera even looks and feels luxurious, a real change from the interiors of the Porsche 911 and Boxster, which recall the glory days of Naugahyde upholstery (wears like iron!) of the 1970s.
For me, the lasting message of this car is, "unique." Sure it has unique eccentricities — as every Porsche should — but it also makes a unique statement about the way that luxury transportation and serious high-performance potential can be mixed together in one car. And it's this unique spirit of innovation that makes the Panamera a true Porsche, even though it seems like sacrilege at first glance.
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