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Shanghai show: Porsche on a high with Panamera

In the flesh: Porsche has unveiled its first four-door limo in Shanghai.

Sky-high launch in China for Porsche’s first grand tourer

21 Apr 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY in SHANGHAI

OUR first drive of the all-new Panamera might be two months away at its global media launch, but Porsche’s first four-door passed its first test during a lavish presentation to 300 members of the worldwide press on the eve of its Shanghai motor show public debut this week.

The venue was the 94th floor of the World Finance Center, the tallest building (for now) in a city of 20 million people, to which a single graphite grey metallic-coloured Panamera was tilted almost vertical in a cargo lift with just millimetres to spare to be hoisted to the top.

Journalists were whisked more quickly at 400 metres a minute in the double-decker public elevator to what is dubbed as the world’s highest event platform almost half a kilometre off the ground, before being given our first glimpse of Porsche’s ground-breaking four-seater GT.

All of Porsche’s heavy-weight executives were present, with the inexplicable exception of company chairman Dr Wendelin Wiedeking, who was deemed too unwell to travel just 24 hours before what was billed as one of Porsche’s most historic occasions.

Appearing in the metal like a stretched 911 coupe even more so than in pictures, the near-five-metre-long Michael Mauer-designed hatchback commands an imposing presence but carries enough Porsche styling cues to be unmistakable as part of the family, despite having no predecessor.

Despite the rangey wheelbase and lengthy overall proportions the roofline is more coupe than sedan or wagon, and its front-end topography is trademark Porsche, with front-quarter wings that bookend a lower-slung bonnet and end in newly-styled headlights.

25 center image The Panamera interior is easily the best Porsche cabin to date, with a design and build quality that befits what will be Porsche’s most expensive model range.

Biggest surprise is the rear-seat accommodation that lives up to Porsche’s claim of being able to seat two full-size adults in complete comfort, in two lavishly-appointed rear pews separated by a large centre console with integrated armrest, cup-holders and ventilation system. Two large central air outlets with individual temperature controls are aided by a pair of B-pillar-mounted vents for rear occupants.

Accessed by proper pull-type door handles that are both highly practical and well integrated, the rear door aperture is unexpectedly sizeable and all four doors are light to operate yet thud home with distinctive Porsche solidity.

Foot space beneath the front seats is tight but better than in many large sedans, but rear legroom is so generous – even with two-metre-tall occupants seated up front – that that won’t be an issue for many.

Equally impressive is the acre of headroom available in the rear, thanks partly to the recessed rear headlining, as well as the (optional) reclining rear seat function, which comes with adjustable lumbar support and an extending seat squab, but doesn’t recline all that much.

Only the tall window line necessitated by the high-waisted exterior design detracts from an otherwise airy and spacious feeling in the Panamera’s rear seats, which could only ever be described as claustrophobic by kids – but they’re not who the Panamera is designed for.

The hatch opens as high as the 911 Targa’s – perhaps too high for some – to reveal a fully lined and illuminated luggage area with chromed cargo hooks and a long, but fairly shallow and narrow flat floor, underneath which is not a spare wheel but a tyre inflation kit.

Just as Porsche says the Panamera was designed to accommodate “four Wiedekings” (the Porsche boss is well over six feet tall), its 445-litre under-hatch space is also claimed to swallow four suitcases. The 60/40-split rear seatback folds almost completely flat, offering more Porsche cargo space than anything this side of the Cayenne.

Fitted with optional Tequipment, the Panamera interior offers an even more sumptuous level of luxury, via swathes of Alcantara roof lining, rear DVD screens, a rear privacy screen and wall-to-wall leather in any colour one can imagine.

The cockpit is all class too, even at base Panamera S level, with generously chromed switchgear that bears no resemblance to any other Porsche, and a rearward-sloping centre console that’s topped with a multitude of system controls surrounding the matt-chrome PDK gearshift surround.

Of course, highly tactile PDK paddle shifter adorns a three-spoke multi-function leather steering wheel, through while appears a fresh take on Porsche’s hallmark scalloped instrument panel with dominant central tacho.

The only complaint we had here was that while the front seats offer a wide range of fore-aft and height adjustment, they do not go low enough for us. Oh, and the thick D-pillars do create sizeable blind spots, even if the rear glass (with wiper) offers plenty of rearward vision.

With an unmistakable Porsche silhouette that’s not nearly as ungainly as the Cayenne, however, we think the “space coupe” concept will be even more quickly accepted as part of the Porsche family than the SUV that so many love to hate.

It’s certainly not for all tastes, and Porsche purists again are likely to claim the brand will be further diluted, but if the Panamera drives half as well as it balances style, accommodation, luxury and interior substance, then we think Porsche will be on to another winner.

Read more:

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