Car reviews - Porsche - Panamera - 4S
Amazingly agile for a limousine, power and performance when pressed, indulgent new cabin, ride quality and refinement
Room for improvement
Controls can feel aloof compared with intimate Porsche sportscars, flawed infotainment, options pricing
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16 Oct 2017
PORSCHE Panamera owners should be good at counting. From measuring garage width to accommodate the now-1937mm-wide liftback, to tallying the amount of luxury equipment and how much power each available version has, in the upper-large car segment numbers can mean much.
And in particular, financial digits. For the second-generation Panamera a buyer can (in hundreds of thousands of dollars) count to two and purchase a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol version, move to three and select a 2.9-litre twin-turbo version (as tested here) or a 4.0-litre twin-turbo-diesel V8, then even perhaps extend to four and snare the flagship petrol versions of that latter configuration.
The question is indeed whether this middle-specification Panamera 4S is the pick of the range. It is neither low nor high on the pricing scale relative to other model grades, and it promises to mix the luxury of the Panamera 4 with some sportiness from the Panamera Turbo.
Hopefully, in traditional Porsche style, it also moves beyond a ‘by the numbers’ approach to making a vehicle, even within a genre renowned for having its owners positioned behind the driver’s seat.
Price and equipment
AT $304,200 plus on-road costs the Panamera 4S might be expected to arrive flush with features.
Indeed, it does include 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless auto-entry with soft-close door function and power tailgate, automatic on/off LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats, an electrically adjustable steering column, four-zone climate control air-conditioning, and a panoramic sunroof all as standard.
Meanwhile infotainment extends to a 12.3-inch touchscreen complete with digital radio, integrated satellite navigation with voice control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, four USB ports with Apple CarPlay smartphone and Wi-Fi device connectivity, plus a 710-watt Bose audio system.
Even in this rarefied pricing sphere, however, the options list is lengthy.
As-tested, this Porsche included premium extended leather trim ($8560), massage front and rear seats ($7170), a switchable sports exhaust ($6950), eight-way electrically adjustable rear seats ($4690), SportChrono package with launch control ($4390), 20-inch alloy wheels ($3930), electric rear and rear-side blinds ($2940), aluminium cabin trim ($1750) and rear seat heating ($1050), totalling $41,430 in extras.
The second-gen Panamera previews the interior design ethos of forthcoming Porsches starting with the new Cayenne. The philosophical shift replaces a vast number of button indents with a smooth slate of piano-black trim over the lower console, which features touch-sensitive illuminated icons. Other functions transfer to the extra real estate wrought by the widescreen centre display.
As a static display this understated simplicity works masterfully well.
Particularly with the stitched-leather dashboard and three-spoke steering wheel, the 4S wrestles with the tension between luxury and sports, while delivering the flawless build quality that Porsche consistently provides.
On the road, however, some ergonomic issues can be found. Without proper button indents there is little chance of ‘feeling’ your way around the cabin at night, which forces a driver to look down at the console and align a fingertip with a particular icon. Previous one-step processes have also now become three – such as adjusting ventilation direction, which requires thumbing ‘climate’ on the lower console, hitting ‘air’ on the touchscreen, then choosing head or feet.
Likewise, the inclusion of an electrically adjustable centre vent direction requires the same multiple steps just to move it.
While such minimalism extends rearwards to the lower console-mounted controls of this limousine, it still only seats four occupants, which is disappointing for such a sizeable vehicle. Seat comfort is rich and vast in any position, however there is no surplus of back legroom and storage space that might be expected. For a vehicle of these dimensions, and newness, there should be more room – although the 500-litre boot volume boasts the practicality benefit of a liftback rather than a bootlid.
Engine and transmission
This new 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine has been co-developed between Porsche and Audi – it will also find home in RS4 Avant and RS5 – and with 324kW of power from 5650rpm until 6600rpm, and 550Nm of torque from 1750rpm until 5500rpm, it quickly makes its presence felt.
Another duo of mechanical items also helps offset the 1870kg kerb weight of the 4S, namely the (very rear-biased) all-wheel drive system and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic (dubbed PDK).
Wearing superb Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, this Porsche has that towering combination of torque and traction most noticeable from a standing start or when accelerating at speed. Sometimes, particularly at low engine revs, the drivetrain can feel soft as that portly mass takes hold, while on the aural scale the engine itself falls somewhere between distant and dull, and sweet and sonorous.
The subtle burble of the sports exhaust helps, though, and this middle-spec Panamera might just offer all the performance a driver needs, particularly when the PDK is so superbly incisive whether in normal, Sport or Sport Plus. It harnesses the excellent chassis well, without blinding occupants with warp speed, it packs silken refinement when cruising, and it also returned a very respectable 10.6 litres per 100 kilometres – 25 per cent above its claim – on test in mixed conditions.
Ride and handling
Can the latest Panamera simply be the upper-large liftback version of the low-slung two-door Porsche 911? In some ways yes, and in others no – but in the latter case it could be for the better.
The 4S absolutely delivers outstanding, class-benchmark handling. Together with incisive, mid-weighted steering, the way this 5049mm-long vehicle can be thread through bends with limited bodyroll, lovely throttle engagement, and rewarding poise is an immense feat of engineering.
Where it moves away from the 911 is in terms of driver communication, where it should come as no surprise that a near-two-tonne vehicle can be rather aloof in feedback and less delicate when really hustling along through successive right-angle corners.
Part of that could come down to this Porsche’s superb ride quality and refinement that keeps its driver at a distance from proceedings. The air suspension delivers wafting yet controlled comfort, despite wearing low-profile tyres, and its segue from serious – if not focused – bruiser to smooth cruiser warrants praise.
If only this second-gen Panamera was dimensionally smaller, because urban manoeuvrability is non-existent here – tight laneways are ruled out, and narrow streets are difficult.
Safety and servicing
Panamera gets 10 airbags (including dual front, front-knee, front-side, rear-side and curtain protection), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), surround-view camera and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
ANCAP has not tested the Porsche Panamera.
Porsche does not include a capped-price servicing program.
It is quite apt that the big Porsche Panamera triumphs in the bigger picture.
It is silken, smooth and superbly crafted, yet also genuinely engaging and rapid both in a straight line and through corners.
At large, it combines luxury and sports very well, which is also apt for this middle-specification 4S.
However, a second-gen model was arguably a chance for Stuttgart to improve the packaging of its upper-large liftback, yet the Panamera remains huge on the outside and merely big inside, while its infotainment approach needs fine-tuning.
There are ultimately more nimble and more affordable sedans that could match the 4S for performance and equipment numbers, and cabin dimensions.
Ah, numbers. Yes, this Porsche is beyond those, and some of the above finer details still fail to dent the fact that this vehicle manages to balance being a rewarding driver’s car and a refined luxury car rather seamlessly well. And that is what counting to three hundred thousand dollars should deliver.
BMW 750i from $289,900 plus on-road costs
Similar dynamics, greater luxury, not as gargantuan to manoeuvre.
Mercedes-Benz S500 from $294,715 plus on-road costs
Maximum ride, space and indulgence, without the sportiness.
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