Johannesburg - As fine a car as the first generation Panamera was to drive, it was difficult to get your head around the styling, particularly that ungainly rear hump. I even heard it being unkindly referred to as the hatchback of Notre Dame.
The recently-launched generation two of Porsche’s luxury sports sedan is much easier on the eye. The humpback has been sharpened up into a sleeker shape by making the rear roofline 20mm lower to give this car a clearer family resemblance to the 911.
The Panamera’s also grown 34mm in length to 5049mm, creating a long-and-low look that squats into the road with more sporting presence. To keep things as light as possible, aluminium is used for virtually the entire outer skin of the car but it still weighs a hefty two tons.
Under the prettier wrapping of the new Panamera are more powerful V6 and V8 turbo engines, new generation driver assistance systems, and a completely revamped interior.
The two derivatives on sale initially are both all-wheel drive models with variable torque distribution between front and rear axles, and gearbox duty performed by an eight-speed (formerly seven-speed) PDK dual-clutch auto transmission.
The standard Panamera 4S, selling for, R1 564 000, is moved along by a 2.9-litre biturbo V6 with outputs of 324kW and 550Nm and gets steel springs. The real power hounds will opt for the subject of this road test: the R2 441 000 Panamera Turbo with its 404kW/770Nm 4-litre biturbo V8 and air suspension.
Before we get to the performance, a few words about the metamorphosis inside the cabin. As before the Panamera’s passenger quarters mix business-class opulence with a sporting touch, and plush leather trimmings are interspersed with carbonfibre detailing and a dark suede ceiling. It’s all typically Porsche.
But in its human interfaces the cabin has now newly moved into the realm of the swipe and click generation. With a giant touchscreen and a haptic feedback centre console (rear seat passengers get a similar touch screen command console of their own) the new Panamera has reduced some of the clutter of buttons.
This tidies up the cabin somewhat but there’s a lot going on in this car and the five days I spent with it wasn’t enough to get comfortable with all the complexities of the command centre. There were times I’d have preferred a quick access button for certain functions rather than having to search for them through a maze of sub-menus. Like the centre air vent, for instance. Operating its direction of air travel with a touchscreen is a great way to impress your passengers, but a good old manually adjusting vent is quicker and easier.
That said, I did enjoy the design and functionality of the instrument panel which places a big analogue rev counter centre stage – as per longstanding Zuffenhausen tradition – flanked by digital screens for the onboard computer and navigation.
The Panamera does all the good things a large executive car should do. Space inside this 2+2 seater is vast, with plenty of stretch-out legroom, and tall rear passengers still enjoy plenty of head space under the lowered roof. The bucket seats are well bolstered for cornering support but will accommodate Kardashian-sized derrieres.
The Panamera has ventured into the semi-autonomous driving realms with the same zeal as its German cousins. Options fitted to our test car include active cruise control which automatically keeps a safe following distance and makes life easier in the real world of traffic jams. There’s also lane keeping function that uses gentle steering inputs to keep the vehicle from creeping out of its lane. Night vision and park assist with surround view are some of the other items you can buy extra.
For all its luxury and technology the Porsche-ness shines through. The car flexes its V8 biturbo muscles with devastating effect. Bury the throttle and the acceleration’s nothing short of brutal as this big Porsche scorches towards the horizon. Assisted by launch control our test car recorded a 3.5 second 0-100km/h sprint at Gauteng altitude – even quicker than the 3.6 secs claimed by the factory.
It’s an incredible feat for a two-ton car, as is the 11.6 second quarter mile and 306km/h top speed, establishing the Panamera Turbo as one of the world’s raciest luxury sedans – if you can live with its voracious thirst. Our test vehicle averaged 15.2 litres per 100km.
For a heavy car it’s an impressively sharp cornering tool, with roll stabilisation giving it a very planted feel, especially with the adaptive air suspension in its firmest setting. Steering response and braking ability also both conform to time-honoured, racetrack-honed Porsche tradition. The brilliant PDK transmission shifts smoother and slicker than ever, rendering the steering-mounted paddles largely unnecessary.
The car’s personality can be adjusted by a ‘mood’ ring on the steering wheel which activates one of four driving modes (Normal, Sport, Sport Plus or Individual).
Our test car also had rear axle steering, an optional feature which slightly turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction as the fronts to improve low-speed manoeuvrability, and in the same direction as the fronts to enhance high-speed stability.
With the suspension in comfort mode the car adopts bump-soaking glideability akin to a true luxury car – even though the ride’s not quite as soft as an S-Class or 7 Series. It is a Porsche, after all.
The Porsche Panamera Turbo whisks you from boardroom to golf course in limousine-like luxury and supercar pace. And now with a lot more style too. It’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it car for those fortunate enough to afford it.
Porsche Panamera Turbo
Engine: 4-litre, V8 twin-turbo petrol
Gearbox: 8-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 404kW @ 5750-6000rpm
Torque: 770Nm @ 1960-4500rpm
0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 3.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 306km/h
Price: R2 441 000
Warranty: 2-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 3-year/90 000km
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