Somewhere along the seam where Bavaria licks Austria, the snow-capped Wetterstein mountain range peels past our window at 75 miles per hour. Dotted with farmhouses, goats and free-roaming cattle, it's like something from a fairytale.
But then a distraction pulls our attention back to the instrument panel of the 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S Executive we're riding in. With a quick flash, the rightmost binnacle has stopped displaying navigation hints and instead shows a gray circle with black stripes extending from the 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock position.
On the Autobahn, this means no speed limit. Our driver takes this prompt as a challenge, drops the hammer and as we pass 150 mph the new Panamera's twin-turbo V6 breathes new life into this previously peaceful setting.
Did You Get Work Done?
Look carefully at the above photos of the 2014 Porsche Panamera. Now look again. Notice anything different? Yes? Congratulations! You obviously work for Porsche. Without decoding the VIN or pulling out the tape measure, you wouldn't know that this car has undergone a full refresh.
The front fascia has been tweaked with new, wider intakes and longer, thinner foglights. Out back, the rear window is wider as is the rear spoiler and the license plate bracket has been moved lower. And while the headlights have also been redesigned, it's only noticeable if the vehicle is equipped with the slick optional $2,130 LED headlight kit.
Visually, the biggest difference comes in the form of the 2014 Porsche Panamera Executive models. Offered on the 4S and the Turbo, the Executive package stuffs an extra 5.9 inches of Porsche behind the B-pillar for a slightly shocking $27,300 ($19,800 on the Turbo). The lengthened rear door that offers unfettered access contains a window large enough to front a viewing tank at the aquarium. This model stands out even without reading "Executive" on the doorsill.
Now go back and flip through those photos again. See it? Well, we tried.
Less Is More Is Less
Whether you follow the designer's logic that these subtle tweaks make a difference, the engineers made sure you would notice something different about the S, 4S and new 4S Executive.
Pop the hood on the 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S and there it is, bold as brass, a V6. Now, this isn't any normal V6 mind you. It's a twin-turbocharged, direct-injected beast of a mill that churns out 420 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque available from 1,750 rpm.
If you're keeping score, this engine produces 20 more hp than the outgoing 4.8-liter V8 while returning better fuel economy. It's hooked to the same seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic found in the previous Panamera, which has been modified for even greater efficiency.
This is a devilishly tricky engine to quantify due to the nature of this beast and the divergent nature of Panamera owners.
On the one hand, the Prada purse crowd will appreciate the new V6 for its hyper quietness and complete lack of drama. At full throttle in sport mode, there's a slight PHHRRPP! as the only indication that PDK has made a gearchange and a subtle, steady gasp of intake as the 3.0-liter searches for every available molecule of combustible air. If there's an exhaust note, it's one only dogs can hear. At anything less than full sauce, the car could well be electric. The silence is deafening and for this buyer, that's probably perfect.
While Porsche claims the 4S Executive will do zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds (4.5 with Sport Chrono), the exercise is purely academic. It's too easy. Too quiet. Too disconnected. And too reliant upon launch-control trickery. In the half beat it takes this V6 to spool up, the old V8 would already be deafening school kids halfway down the block.
Thankfully, for this driver, the awesome Panamera GTS is still available with its shrieking, rev-happy 4.8-liter, 440-horsepower V8.
But ear-splitting V8s are on the decline and the market is self-selective. So expect to hear more about the V6's 18 percent fuel economy increase than the GTS's 10-hp bump. Especially considering the lengths Porsche went through to achieve it.
PDK as CVT
Porsche's approach to fuel economy here is a holistic one that utilizes the entire drivetrain.
The entire range, except for the GTS, has a coasting function that works in tandem with the automatic stop-start. In practice, this is slightly disconcerting as the motor frees itself from the PDK on deceleration and settles into idle. Should the computers predict you'll be decelerating all the way to a stop, the motor will shut down completely before the vehicle has reached a stop, coaxing yet another few feet of travel per drop of fuel. Sport mode turns this feature off.
This stuff's old hat and fairly routine. Porsche's next fuel economy trick, however, is a showstopper.
What's an Intermediate Gear?
We're cruising along in 3rd gear at about 2,100 rpm when the revs suddenly drop. The gear indicator on the dash still reads "3," but something's changed. This is Porsche's new "Intermediate Gear" in action.
In short, when conditions are right and when cruising at speeds up to 50 mph, Porsche's dual-clutch PDK turns itself into a CVT. Instead of simply picking the highest gear that would allow continued cruising, the PDK slips the clutch on the current gear and feeds in just enough clutch on the next gear — in this case 4th — to settle the engine in its efficiency peak. Not only does this give greater control over the load on the engine, but allows the main gear to grab again if you even breathe on the throttle. It's seamless.
If you're nervous about this system, you're not alone. The concept of intentionally slipping two clutches at freeway speeds is the only thing more disconcerting than slipping a single clutch for that long.
When pressed with the obvious "isn't that, you know, bad?" a Porsche engineer replied simply, confidently "No." "If it was," he continued, "we wouldn't do it." The Panamera's clutches operate in an oil bath which keeps the whole thing cool enough to avoid damage.
Nerves still not settled? Get the GTS. Its PDK still works normally.
Driver, My Car Please
With the exception of the engine, the 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S Executive feels exactly like the previous Panamera. On a car that's already nearly 200 inches long an additional 5.9 inches is like your height difference when wearing sneakers. It points into corners like a Porsche should while feeling half its size on narrow Alpine passes. Hydraulic-assist, variable-ratio power steering is now standard across the Panamera line and feels tight and precise deep into triple-digits.
Even without the raucous V8, the 2014 Panamera is still the best driver's car in the luxury sedan segment by a country mile.
The real difference with the 2014 Panamera Executive, is in the rear. Go ahead, recline a bit. Cross your feet. There's space. The rear buckets are expertly tailored, supportive, heated, cooled and a bit odd.
The rub is this: The Porsche Panamera was never designed to be a limousine. The Panamera sits low over its running gear and forces the car into its gorgeous 2+2 layout. The seats are as low as you'll find in anything with this many doors. When the Panamera underwent enlargement surgery, nothing could be done about either of these factors. This means the rear seats are low and sleek with limited forward visibility and a confining lack of width. It's more Cars Land ride at Disneyland than executive transport.
That's fine on a normal Panamera as that car is front occupant-focused. For occasional rear passengers, it's actually a treat. It's only when you consider the cost and intention of the Executive model that these problems start to matter. And when you consider that the Audi A8L, BMW 760Li, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS 460L were all designed from the beginning for chauffeur duty, the case for the Panamera 4S Executive falls even flatter.
Porsche vs. The Future
The demise of Porsche has been well catalogued and poorly predicted. It switched to water cooling and the brand was doomed. It built an SUV and the brand was doomed. Then it built the Panamera and the brand was, again, doomed. And most recently, Porsche released the new 911 GT3 without a manual transmission which will certainly doom the brand.
None of these threats, however, are more worrisome than the 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S Executive. Hyper expensive, even by Porsche standards, and built on an unwilling platform, the long-wheelbase Panamera is an example of Porsche chasing markets instead of inventing them.
What we have in the 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S Executive is a flawed variant of an exemplary vehicle. Built mainly for the Chinese market, this mid-cycle long-wheelbase Panamera is important to Porsche financially, volumetrically and philosophically. It is, for the first time, a Porsche made for the passenger instead of the driver, which is a harder pill to swallow than any of the previous doomsday scenarios.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.