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May 12, 2011

Living with a Panamera 4S

by JHW

Does anyone like the Panamera? You know… just “like” it? Having experienced the car for nearly two years, it seems to divide opinion like chocolate vs. vanilla. People are either adamantly in it’s corner, loving it’s pace, massive road presence and techno overload or hate it; screaming about it’s weight and controversial design. With the urban commando Cayenne and boulevard cruising Panamera, has Porsche donned a leather jacket and jumped the proverbial shark? Though not a Porsche in the traditional sense, a strand of DNA connects the Panny to the 911, it is indeed a thin strand – perhaps a third cousin, once removed… but the lineage cannot be denied. I believe in a world where the GT3 RS and Panamera can coexist… one must not be hated for the other to be loved, and in fact, the two cars would make fantastic stable mates. Without further justifying the Panamera’s existence, I will go on record and acknowledge that I love the car – but that’s only because I have lived with one.

Before entering the Panamera, take notice of it’s oddly shaped key, designed to mimic the shape of the car… an interesting touch, though it will add heft to your keychain.   Swing the massive door open, step over a wide sill, and take in one of the best interiors currently for sale  The Panamera is feeling more and more like a proper Porsche now… left sided ignition, a familiar looking wheel, and those amazing adaptive sport seats. In front of you, a straight forward set of gauges, one of which contains a screen capabe of displaying maps and navigation assistance. It is hard not to be won over by all of the things that separate the Panamera from the rest of Porsche’s lineup. The fit and finish is Audi correct, and everything looks and feels premium. Then again, given the price, it should… the example you are reading about, an all wheel drive (4S) model came overly specced with a window sticker well above the six figure mark. This however, is money well spent, as the car would feel neutered with the loss of any of it’s options. To start, anything smaller than a 20” wheel would look chintzy on such a colossal vehicle. The RS Spyder Design wheels shown above look fantastic, and are trumped only by the Turbo II wheels; these look as though they were designed for the car (though a version of this design can be found across the Porsche range). The Sport Exhaust is a necessity – if only for the startup bark that will have every car loving (or fearing) person within 100 yards turning to observe. The Sport, Sport Plus and Adaptive Air Suspension features create a car capable of multiple personalities. Engaging Sport Plus takes a push of a button – yet doing so will shrink the car around you. The suspension lowers nearly an inch, dampers adjust to their firmest setting…. the rev counter stays higher, all giving you more audible tactile and audible feedback along with the sense that the car wants to be pegged in every gear.

Don’t expect this luxo-limo to feel like a true sports car, the Panamera never breaks character.  The controls feel weighted, which provides a premium quality regardless of damper setting.  The performance is staggering for a car this size, straight line power is impressive, more-so than the 400hp claim would lead you to imagine.  A large part of the experience is the way in which the big Porsche bangs off gears with lightning fast shifts through the new-ish PDK (dual clutch) gearbox. I am not now, nor will ever be a fan of any transmission that shifts itself – but this is the optimal choice for such a car. Porsche botched the instrumentation, foregoing paddles in favor of baffling up & down shift buttons at both thumb grips (they would later correct this). This causes confusion, even 13,000 miles in.

The Panamera handles it bulk with grace, cornering is fantastic considering it’s curb weight, but it is the cars overall stability that is world class.  It is not a car I would ever bring to a canyon run, but if you find yourself on such a road – enjoy! Pushing the Panamera hard is rewarding, though never quite enough to stir the soul.

With it’s decisive looks, the Panamera is an object of interest, and with it – you the driver become one by association. Through dozens of valet stands, hundreds of stop lights and an endless array of head swiveling glances – I have confirmed that the Panamera has presence like nothing else on the road – and people want to know who you are, and what made you choose this car. This is the all important question – and I ask you as a reader… how would you spend the money if you were shopping in this segment? A Mercedes? Perhaps, though an S63 STARTS at $138,000 and the S65 goes for $209,000 (if you have the money, the 65 is probably worth it). Audi doesn’t currently offer an S8, and the BWW 7, though beautifully appointed, just doesn’t cut it in the fun department. Then come the more exotic offerings… Maserati’s Quattroporte (early adapters were chased off by the clunky transmission and shocking depreciation) & Aston’s (perfect) Rapide, which tops $220,000. My take – if money is no object, go for the Rapide… it is the best looking 4 door car on this planet or any other. However, if you are looking for a do it all, fun to drive, provocative sports sedan capable of going to the Four Seasons, all four seasons… the Panamera is exceptional.

THE GOOD: The performance is there, every gadget you can think of (get the Burmester sound system if it is in your budget, if not – find more money!). Road presence! A useable sporting sedan for all weather.

THE BAD: Looks are divisive, Porsche’s a la carte options are always too expensive. Buttons instead of paddles on early cars.

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