Kruger Park - This just doesn’t feel right, I contemplated while gently nursing this beastly Turbo-badged Porsche through a large puddle stretched across a dirt road near the Kruger Park. But with the air suspension system raised to its highest level, the German grand tourer just glided over the muddy and rutted terrain as comfortably as it had carved through twisty stretches of asphalt at speed the previous day.

Granted, we’re not going to pretend for a second that the latest Panamera was made with any kind of off-roading in mind, nor that it can gobble up mountain passes like a 911 can, but if you’re looking for a more lifestyle friendly Porsche, it begs the question of whether you really need to go for one of the SUVs. And the new Sport Turismo version begs that question even louder with its added versatility.

Porsche recently sent us to the Kruger park in a Sport Turismo Turbo as an early preview of the new body style ahead of it going on sale in South Africa in January next year, but what exactly is it?

Whereas the standard Panamera is a fastback of sorts, the Sport Turismo would be better defined as a shooting brake, or wagon to put it bluntly, except that it has a more gently sloping tail than you’d expect from that kind of vehicle, arguably making it the belle of the estate car ball.

As a further bonus, the more upright rear doors make it easier for occupants to get in and out, and technically you can squeeze more people in if you opt for the 2+1 seating arrangement that gives you a narrow middle back seat for a fifth occupant, although it is best reserved for emergencies, or people you just don’t like.

Other than that the Sport Turismo is not significantly more practical than the regular Panamera, and Porsche readily admits that its distinctive styling is the main selling point here.

Let’s put it this way - with the rear seats in place the Sport Turismo offers just 20 litres more boot volume than the fastback, at 520 litres, but the lower boot sill and wider aperture does make it easier to load bulky objects and the total boot volume with the rear seats folded is a bit more generous at 1390 litres versus 1340.

Our Panamera’s boot swallowed two peoples’ weekend luggage with plenty of room to spare, but most impressive was how it gobbled up the miles in the greatest of comfort.

This car is the very definition of grand tourer.

With the adaptive air suspension (which is standard on all but the base Panamera) dialled into its normal comfort setting, the ride is plush, but it’s also more than tolerable in the firmer settings that you might want for mountain passes. Pushed through the twisties, the Panamera Turbo is impressively agile for a two-tonne car, although you can feel its size and weight in the tighter sections. A rear-wheel steering system is also available for those wanting to beef up the handling even further.

The car’s performance and chassis characteristics can be configured individually or through the ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport +’ modes, all of which can be quickly and easily accessed via a rotary dial on the steering wheel.

The degree to which you make fun of distance depends on which of three engine options you select. The Sport Turismo can be had with either a single-turbo 3-litre V6 with 243kW and 450Nm, a 2.9-litre twin-turbo rated at 324kW and 550Nm or a 404kW/770Nm twin-turbo 4-litre V8 King of the Jungle as per our Turbo-badged test car. The three engines are mated to an eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission and the Porsche Traction Management active all-wheel-drive.

The Panamera Turbo is pure fury personified, leaping to 100km/* in 3.6 seconds and topping out at 304km/* according to claims, and overtaking queues of slower cars is so swift a process that you almost feel like you’re cheating the laws of physics. But in the grand touring tradition, you feel all cosy and cocooned inside the Panamera - its bite is certainly louder than its bark and even with the exhaust flaps in heavy metal mode, it still seems a bit quieter than you’d expect from a Porsche.

The Panamera’s cabin is very much a mix of traditional Porsche and modern executive express and the tall centre tunnel gives it a compartmentalised, cockpit-like feel. The centrally-positioned analogue rev counter also keeps tradition alive and kicking, even if it has to share the instrument cluster with new age screens, which allow you to toggle through different displays using a pair of delightfully tactile little roller ball thingies on the steering wheel.

The central dash is dominated by a huge (as in 31.2cm) and highly configurable touch-creen, with enough apps and functions to give your smartphone an inferiority complex. It’s reasonably simple to operate once you become accustomed to it, but certain should-be-simple functions like shifting the central air vents or turning off the stop-start system, do require a bit of inconvenient fiddling.

Also as per Pananormal, the Sport Turismo is available with a long list of optional driver-assistance gadgets, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go traffic assist, a lane keeping function with steering inputs, a night view assistance feature and park assist with surround view.

Another neat little feature you can order is the adaptive roof spoiler that optimises economy at speeds below 170km/* and increases downforce at speeds above that.

Yet is the Sport Turismo really worth considering over the saloon, bearing in mind the price premium of between 40 and 80 grand, depending on the model selected?

It is a bit more practical, but ultimately it’s going to boil down to which one is the most stylish in your eyes. Personally I prefer the sleeker three-box shape of the normal Panamera, but the rest of this office would rather have the Sport Turismo. Choices choices.

PRICES:

Panamera 4 Sport Turismo - R1 431 000

Panamera 4S Sport Turismo - R1 667 000

Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo - R2 522 000

IOL Motoring