2017 Porsche Panamera First Test Review: The Ultimate Four-Door Sports Car


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If you need a Mercedes S-Class but lust for a sports car, the 2017 Panamera is the Porsche for you.

Hunkered low like a 911—even the revised tail end styling lays claim to the 911’s iconic buttocks—the Panamera is a true four-door sports car. But having four doors doesn’t necessarily make it a sedan, and that means your passengers might have to make a sacrifice or two in exchange for sating your sports car lust.

With tighter proportions, a better stance, and, as Car of the Year guest judge (and former Chrysler design czar) Tom Gale noted, surfaces and graphics that are “all Porsche,” this Panamera is a stunner.

The new model marks the debut of VW Group’s new front-engine, rear- and all-wheel-drive MSB architecture—for which Porsche was the development lead—and the new Porsche-developed 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Compared with the old Panamera, the wheelbase has been stretched 1.2 inches to 116.1 inches, with the front axle moved forward half an inch relative to the firewall.

The entry-level Panamera is powered by the familiar 3.0-liter V-6 with 330 hp. Panamera S models get the new Audi-developed 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 massaged by Porsche to deliver 440 hp and 406 lb-ft. The Panamera Turbo V-8 develops 550 hp and 568 lb-ft and features cylinder deactivation—a first for a Porsche engine—which reportedly delivers up to a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

Wait, we’re not to the best part yet. The Panamera E-Hybrid combines the 330-hp V-6 with a 136-hp e-motor to deliver a total system output of 462 hp. And the Turbo S E-Hybrid combines the V-8 and electric motor for a system output of 680 hp.

The base model is rear drive; the rest are all-wheel drive. The transmission is a new eight-speed PDK, even on the plug-in hybrid models, which have a pure EV range of about 20 miles. Despite all that ridiculous horsepower, the Panamera’s plug-in port gets you carpool lane access in California, so you can legally tailgate that Bolt going the speed limit.

We tested two Panamera variants, the 4S, which transacts at $100,950 ($126,705 as tested), and the Panamera Turbo ($147,950 for its “base” model and a rare-air $172,495 as tested).

The 4S is plenty machine for most every American horsepower hound. In our testing, it gets to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, tears through the quarter mile in 12.3 seconds at 111.3 mph, comes to a halt from 60 mph in 101 feet, and can carry 1.01 g around the skidpad. Its 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 carries a crazy 150.2 hp/liter, which it needs to propel 4,498 pounds to those sorts of extremes.

But for those of you for whom this sort of performance is merely OK, the Panamera Turbo’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 dashes to 60 in 3 flat, blitzes the quarter mile in 11.4 seconds at 121.2 mph, shaves 7 feet off the 4S’ braking distance, and still circles the skidpad at 1.01 g despite weighing 4,662 pounds.

“The super sweet turbocharged V-6 ensures a smooth power delivery and a smooth soundtrack to go with it,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle noted from our Car of the Year testing. “When the 4S performs this well, it makes you wonder whether you need the twin-turbo V-8. Then you get into the V-8 and are blown away by the power at your disposal.”

And although these supercar-worthy numbers would conjure images of harrowing chassis dynamics, the Panamera achieves these extremes in complete serenity. Indeed, as I cruised the Hyundai Kia proving ground’s high-speed oval at a placid 120 mph and introduced the gas pedal to the firewall, the speedometer needle arcing rapidly in response, I felt as though I could have assembled a club sandwich in the passenger seat. That, friends, is composure.

Still, when asked to perform radically, the Panamera responds, as senior features editor Jonny Lieberman discovered: “It cornered so hard the windshield wiper fluid came out onto the windshield. I got a tire pressure warning at 189 mph. I decided to hit 190 mph anyhow.”

How can it do this? The Panamera’s air springs, electronic shocks, rear steering, active anti-roll, and torque vectoring is overseen by what Porsche calls 4D Chassis Control. Like the innovative Side Slip Control developed by Ferrari for the 488 and GTC4Lusso, 4D Chassis Control analyzes the vehicle’s trajectory and driver inputs in real time and orders a coordinated response from all systems to ensure optimal turn-in response, agility, and stability.

Panameras with air suspension can also be fitted with optional active stabilizer bars, which use 48-volt electromechanical actuators to twist them in the opposite direction to the cornering forces and virtually eliminate body roll.

“This big ol’ car really shrinks around your hips on the winding road,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “This doesn’t drive like a big car. It drives like a small one—amazing considering its limolike dimensions.”

However, in the truest sense, a four-door sports car means a sports car suspension—which means most every imperfection (no matter how minor or harsh) is transmitted into the cabin. Your passengers might feel quite a bit more jostling than in a Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS. The Panamera simply cannot walk away from its Zuffenhausen roots. For Porsche drivers, that is a reassuringly good thing. But your passengers, who might expect that four doors means a plush ride, will discover otherwise.

Bearing that in mind, COTY guest judge (and former Ford product development executive) Chris Theodore complained of racket from the rubber: “What was a minor tire-noise complaint from the back of the 4S has becomes a major issue on the Turbo. Stay away from these sporting Continentals—a bad trade-off for minor improvements dynamics.”

The new Panamera is bigger all around but looks smaller and more rakish. So let’s look inside. With crisp, businesslike lines and contours, the Panamera interior fits within the contemporary, Bauhaus-modern model we’ve come to love from German automakers.

Although enthusiasts might prefer a 911, if a usable rear seat is required to drop the kids off at school or double-date to the ballet, the Panamera offers more car within the same pricing ladder. Critically, 6-foot-plus adults still comfortably fit in the rear.

Our lanky Seabaugh found the back seat roomy enough but said, “It feels more constrained than the old version. I sit lower and more leaned back than before, with slightly less legroom. Headroom is still good, as is foot room.”

Despite its dimensions, however, the back seat carries a bit of a claustrophobic vibe due to the sloping roofline intruding on your rear passengers’ peripheral vision. Moving still farther back, the trunk is massive, easily carrying several sets of golf clubs and probably eight cases of wine. You know, for when you get to your mountain lair.

Then there are the little details that remind you why you paid all this money. Take the oscillating HVAC vent in the center stack. Some of you might say, “Big deal, the Mazda 626 had those,” but no one else has since. And Porsche has indeed found a cool way to improve air circulation in the roomy cabin.

The problem, as editor-in-chief Ed Loh noted, is that changing the oscillation or direction of the fans is a frustrating process: “Why on earth would I go two layers into a menu screen (climate; center vent) and then fiddle with digital vent controls when said menu screen is positioned roughly 4 inches above the plastic vanes of the central vent? Why, when in anywhere from a quarter to a tenth of the time, I could quickly and easily manually direct the vents in any direction I please (with my wrist resting on the shifter and eyes on the road)? This is akin to manufacturers removing volume and tuning knobs for digital sliders and buttons.”

You get the point. Sometimes automakers can be too clever. And although international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie lauds the infotainment screen as the clearest in the business, many complained about the Star Trek–like panel for numerous vehicle controls in the horizontal center console. It looks super cool, especially backlit at night. But once there’s daylight, things wash out quickly in the glare. And because there are no protrusions or recesses for buttons or switches, your fingers glide aimlessly across the slick surface, craving haptic feedback. You end up taking your eyes off the road to look for the hieroglyphed control you seek (and you will be looking away for a while given the array of controls). Fortunately, the button-crazy steering wheel and steering column stalks have lots of redundant controls, but you have to learn those, as well.

Then there’s the notorious Porsche options list. For a car with a $100,000 starting sticker price, it seems wild to pay extra for radar cruise control, keyless locking, or self-steering systems when literally every Honda Accord has them. And although our Panamera 4S had heated, eight-way power front seats, they did not come with lumbar support. That’ll set you back another $1,780. But there you are.

Are our criticisms a bit harsh? Perhaps, but for a vehicle with this much excellence involved in its performance, we felt compelled to take out our microscopes.

Concluded Seabaugh: “It might not be as outright opulent as the S-Class, but the Porsche manages to balance luxury with true sports car performance in a way no other automaker can.”

2017 Porsche Panamera 4S 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
BASE PRICE $100,950 $147,950
PRICE AS TESTED $126,705 $172,495
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door sedan Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.9L/440-hp/405-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 4.0L/550-hp/567-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed twin-clutch auto 8-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,498 lb (52/48%) 4,662 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 116.1 in 116.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 198.8 x 76.3 x 56.2 in 198.8 x 76.3 x 56.2 in
0-60 MPH 3.8 sec 3.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.3 sec @ 111.3 mph 11.4 sec @ 121.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 101 ft 104 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.01 g (avg) 1.01 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.0 sec @ 0.84 g (avg) 23.9 sec @ 0.86 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 21/28/23 mpg 18/25/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 160/120 kW-hrs/100 miles 187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.82 lb/mile 0.94 lb/mile

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