With a peppy V6 biturbo engine, the Porsche's Panamera S might well be the best handling model in the whole line-up. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Porsche Panamera S gets licked into shape, shipping out its profligate 4.8-litre V8 engine and introducing a far more economical 3.0-litre V6 biturbo. Power goes up from 400 to 420PS while emissions drop from 293g/km to 204. Economy? That's better too, rising from 26.9mpg to 32.5mpg.
Call this one a case study in iterative evolution, or if you don't get things right the first time, don't stop trying. It's fair to say that Porsche's Panamera didn't find universal favour when it first appeared in 2009. Too fat, too ugly and powered with a range of thirsty engines just as the credit crunch was biting hard, it looked a car out of step with its customer base. Sales were predictably disappointing. Look beyond the obvious and the Panamera had a lot going for it. The interiors were lovely, the cars were good to drive and pleasantly practical and there was a definite charisma here that was singularly lacking in many of its key rivals. The to-do list was fairly easy to compile and Porsche has not been idle. The latest Panamera is a far prettier car than the original launch edition and the S model we look at here swaps out a profligate 4.8-litre V8 in favour of a biturbo 3.0-litre V6. Here's to action and reaction.
We like V8 engines. In the right place, there's nothing quite like one and that right place is beneath the bonnet of a Porsche Panamera Turbo. Not this Panamera S. This is a much better car with the V6 biturbo plumbed in. It's a case of rightsizing the engine for the customer. Although the cubic capacity might have shrunk, power goes up. You get an extra 20PS of power under your right boot and another 20Nm of torque too, lifting these figures to 420PS and 520Nm. Fitted to both Panamera S and Panamera 4S, this is an inherently flexible engine with peak torque being delivered across a far broader rev range than was ever the case with the eight-pot unit. This translates into genuinely impressive performance. Even bearing in mind that the Panamera 4S tips the scales at 1,870kg, it'll still scuttle from zero to 62mph in just 4.8 seconds before running into an unstoppable physics issue at 177mph. Turbo lag isn't an issue and the PDK twin clutch gearbox now uses 'virtual gearing', which is a way of slipping clutches to offer what feel like intermediate ratios between the seven mandated speeds. It sounds wholly esoteric but it actually works really well. The Panamera's always been an interesting car to drive. It manages its bulk cleverly and with less weight in the nose of this V6 car, it's sharper on turn in and more resistant to understeer. In other words, downsizing the engine has upped this car's capability. What's not to like about that?
Design and Build
The styling of the Panamera didn't initially meet with universal approval and the latest facelift has done much to reduce the bloat that seemed to afflict earlier cars, especially when they were specified in pale colours. The evolutionary exterior design of the latest Panamera is apparent in the tighter and more prominent line-work on the nose, particularly the larger air intakes and the distinctive transition to the headlights. In side profile, the new, more swept-back rear window creates an extended silhouette, reducing the bulbous look of the rear end. When viewed from the back, you'll spot a revised tailgate, a wider rear window and spoiler, and a more elegant rear light treatment. Drop inside and you'll find plenty of space for four. You'll find even more rear legroom if you opt for the long wheelbase car, which tacks another 150mm into the wheelbase but unfortunately there don't seem to be any plans to bring that car to the UK. The centre console is festooned with buttons, arranged around the gear selector in the style of a Vertu cellphone. It looks great but the minor controls take a bit of figuring out. Nevertheless, the build quality appears excellent, with some top-drawer materials used throughout. There's plenty of space in the boot as well, with 445-litres of luggage space.
Market and Model
Expect to pay from around £82,000 for the rear wheel drive car and from around £86,000 if you prefer drive going to all four corners. That's quite an ask given that you'll get 420PS in both cases and 557PS worth of Mercedes CLS 63 AMG costs less, plus a 560PS BMW M5 would leave you with £9,000 to spend on options. Of course, Porsche might point to the fact that the 6 Series Gran Coupe is a more natural rival to the Panamera S, but even here you can buy 449PS worth of 650i for less than the £72,000 Porsche asks for the entry level Panamera S. So how does the Weissach company justify these prices? The specification will certainly help. Although Porsche are kings of predatory option pricing, it's fair to say that the standard kit list for the Panamera S is more than generous. You get a full leather interior, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), Bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear ParkAssist, tyre pressure monitoring, 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic dimming rear view mirrors, Porsche Communication Management with touch-screen satellite navigation and audio controls, cruise control and a three year warranty. That's on top of adaptive air suspension and a Porsche Vehicle Tracking System (VTS).
Cost of Ownership
If performance and driveability has improved incrementally, then efficiency has taken the great leap forward as a result of moving to a six-cylinder engine. Go for the rear wheel drive car and emissions drop from 293g/km right down to 204g/km, with the 4S recording a modest 208g/km. In other words, here is a 420PS five-door hatch that can comfortably seat five yet emits only 5g/km more carbon dioxide than a humble 200PS Honda Accord 2.4i. Fuel economy enjoys a similar step change. Where the old 4.8 would average 26.9mpg on a very good day, the latest V6 model gets 32.5mpg. It's helped by the clever seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. This features a coasting function in which the clutches open in overrun, the engine idles and the vehicle coasts freely. This function can significantly improve fuel economy, especially when travelling on the motorway.
Is this Porsche Panamera S a big step forward compared to its immediate predecessor? Yes. Is it enough to convince a mildly sceptical British public? I'm not so sure about that one. Viewed in isolation, it's an extremely strong package, but weigh the price into the equation and it's easy to be swayed by rivals from BMW and Mercedes as well as tempters from Audi and Jaguar. Put bluntly, the Panamera S lacks the one compelling attribute that makes it a must-have buy. That Porsche is so willing to improve the car so considerately and effectively is an encouraging indicator, but the Panamera project still has an air of 'work in progress' about it. If you can work a deal with your Official Porsche Centre, then the Panamera S gets a solid thumbs-up from us, but at full list price, it looks a little self-conscious. Porsche has shown that it can overcome far more serious issues than this with the Panamera and we'd say the future looks rosy for this model. It took them over quarter of a century to get the 911 right. We think the Panamera's going to be fast-tracked to class leadership significantly quicker. It's in the right ballpark already.