Alistair Weaver, VP of Editorial and Editor-in-Chief
We're in the countryside outside Cologne, Germany, where the roads meander past identi-kit villages built on the cheap in the postwar world of the 1950s and 1960s. The area is thoroughly German and thus an ideal setting for the 2011 Porsche Panamera V6.
A village gives way to an open stretch of road. Pull the left shift paddle twice and the PDK dual-clutch automated manual transmission slips down a couple of gears. The V6 gathers voice, spins past 4,000 rpm and starts to deliver meaningful thrust.
This car isn't quick in the cor, blimey! sense that the Panamera Turbo gives you, but neither is it so slow as to sully the Porsche badge. This car might be the poor man's Panamera, but all things are relative. It still offers 300 horsepower and costs the not inconsiderable sum of $75,375.
Not the Cayenne V6
Let's try to unravel what is at first glance a confusing situation. Porsche now offers two V6 engines, both of which have a displacement of 3.6 liters and produce 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The first came our way in the Porsche Cayenne and continues in the newly introduced second-generation model. This new V6 in the Panamera is actually a derivative of the Porsche V8 introduced by the 2010 Porsche Panamera.
At first glance, this overlap in V6s seems like some product planner's balls up, but Porsche says there is a solid rationale at work. The Cayenne's V6 engine came from VW, part of the Porsche and VW agreement to share the development costs of the sport-utility that became the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. It's a narrow-angle engine with undersquare cylinders, so it proved too tall and skinny to fit under the low, sleek hood of the 2011 Porsche Panamera.
Porsche therefore took the bold decision to develop a new V6 based on its own V8. As a result, the new V6 shares the 90-degree angle between its cylinder banks of the V8. This isn't so good for vibration control when it comes to a V6, but the new engine can be built on the same production line in Leipzig, Germany, as the V8. Porsche says the V6 shares 40 percent of the V8's parts, and it offers direct injection, variable valve timing for the intake camshaft, plus Porsche's variable valve lift system.
The Fuel Economy Special
At first glance, the output of this new 3,605cc V6 might seem modest, as it develops 300 hp at 6,200 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm, which seems barely enough for a car that weighs 3,880 pounds in two-wheel-drive trim. The Panamera S V8 offers 400 hp for $15,400 more, while the Panamera Turbo V8 delivers 500 hp for $58,200 more.
The Panamera's sprinting ability is undeniably compromised by its V6, of course. While the Turbo gets to 100 km/h (62 mph) from a standstill in 4.0 seconds and the S reaches the same mark in 5.2 seconds, the V6 will get you there in 6.0 seconds (5.8 seconds if you opt for the high-performance Sport Chrono package that includes launch control).
How you respond to this rather depends on what you expect from a 2011 Porsche Panamera. Anyone seeking a practical four-door 911 will find the V6's performance disappointing, yet if you regard this car as something of a sporting GT, then the V6 is adequate, especially when you start looking at fuel economy. In normal conditions, you tend to work the V6 engine harder than you would the V8, but you rarely find yourself lamenting the lack of power.
Working the engine hard is no chore, either. The throaty hum of the V8 has been replaced by a more strident, high-pitched engine note. Don't expect 911-style aural entertainment, but the sound is never less than refined. The contrast with the Cayenne V6 couldn't be greater, as this V6 is full, fat Porsche in every way.
Shift, Don't Lift
The V6 also proves an ideal foil for the seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. Wimpy push buttons on the steering wheel were initially the control interface for the PDK (the initials for the German word that defines "Porsche double-clutch"), but near universal criticism has prompted a rethink. Officially the sport steering wheel with shift paddles is still an option, but the fact that it was fitted to all of the test cars available to us is a tacit admission of defeat.
Needless to say, the aluminum shift paddles on the 2011 Porsche Panamera's steering wheel are a huge improvement over buttons if you think of the PDK as a high-tech manual transmission instead of just a fuel-efficient automatic. There is a manual transmission available for the V6, but we won't be getting it in the U.S. and our brief experience with its notchy, long-throw action suggests we're not missing much.
The PDK system also has been tuned to complement an automated stop/start system for the V6 that silences the engine at stoplights. This fuel-saving measure is now being widely applied to small cars by a growing number of European manufacturers, but it's rare in an engine of this displacement and output. When you come to a halt, the engine stops; take your foot off the brake and the engine restarts. It's simple and affordable, and it helps the U.S.-specification Porsche Panamera V6 achieve an EPA-rated 18 city and 27 highway mpg. In comparison, the Panamera S with its normally aspirated V8 gets just 16 city and 24 highway mpg.
The Porsche V6 weighs 66 pounds less than the normally aspirated V8 and has been moved 0.6 inch closer to the rear bulkhead of the engine compartment. Open the hood and there's now sufficient space between the engine and the nose to house a sizable briefcase, and the bottom line is the car's balanced weight distribution of 52 percent front/48 percent rear.
Porsche's engineers reckon they've introduced subtle tuning revisions to the 2011 Porsche Panamera V6's suspension that produce greater ride comfort, and they like the results so much that they've also incorporated them into the Panamera's V8-powered models. While a conventional suspension of springs and dampers is standard equipment, our test car has the optional air suspension with active, driver-adjustable dampers.
Though we've been driving the Panamera for a year now, its width still comes as a surprise. At 76 inches across, it's 2.3 inches wider than a Mercedes S-Class. This feels more of an issue on the twisty roads west of Cologne near the Belgian border than it would in the U.S., yet it still undermines the car's agility. It's also hard to understand quite why it needs to be this wide.
This aside, though, the Panamera remains a hugely accomplished car. With the dampers set to Comfort, the ride quality is excellent and it diminishes little even if you switch to Sport. For such a big car, the Panamera changes direction remarkably well and the cornering grip is prodigious. It would be nice to have a little more feel through the helm, while the optional carbon-ceramic brakes as usual lack the pedal feel of the steel alternatives, but these are modest criticisms. First time out, Porsche has blended the demands of sporting GT and luxury sedan to magnificent effect. It's hard to think of a better long -distance tool.
We drove both the two- and four-wheel-drive versions of the new car, the Panamera and the Panamera 4, and the lower output of the V6 means traction is unlikely ever to be a problem in either car.
Even the most devoted Panamera spotter will struggle to discern the V6 from its grander siblings. The side window surrounds are now matte black instead of chrome and the exhaust pipes are oval instead of round, but that's about it.
The rest of the exterior remains as challenging to the eye as ever. Time and familiarity have not been kind to the Panamera's fat rump in particular, not that this stopped the locals from offering exclamations of patriotic pride as we cruised by. Nevertheless, the Panamera still makes us think that Porsche surely needs to develop an alternative design language that doesn't rely on the distinctive silhouette of the 911.
The Panamera's interior, by contrast, remains a triumph. Ample space for four adults, a distinctive style and immaculate build quality make for a hugely convincing proposition. Just go easy on the options list or you'll end up paying more for a V6 than you would for a Turbo.
The Smart Porsche
Globally, the 2011 Porsche Panamera V6 is likely to account for up to 50 percent of overall Panamera sales, at least until the even more fuel-efficient diesel version arrives.
In the U.S., however, the situation is less clear cut. Air emissions and the question of conspicuous consumption is less of a concern here, so the market for luxurious yet sporting cars like this has always been associated with the acronym "V8." Whether buyers will be willing to pay such a hefty sum for a V6 with a comparatively modest engine output remains to be seen, but those who put away their ego will be rewarded with an accomplished car.
Sure, the 2011 Porsche Panamera V6 does make you miss the easy thrust of the V8 and turbo engines, but not as much as you might imagine. This new V6 is a modest engine with immodest ability.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report, which originally appeared on insideline.com.
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