Porsches normally tug at the heart strings, but will this one appeal to the head? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the Panamera Diesel.
Ten Second Review
While it might seem reassuringly affordable for a Porsche Panamera, this diesel model runs into some tough rivals. On paper, it doesn't seem to stack up but get one on the road and you'll excuse it any shortcomings. It's a great drive and that's recommendation enough for me.
Balancing a long tradition with the need to develop new markets is a hand that has flummoxed certain car companies. Do you stick like Jeep, keeping established styling in established market niches or twist like Jaguar, taking short term pain in changing the design language for hopeful long term gain? Porsche, it seems, wants the rules changed so it can do both. The company will always be known for its pure sports cars and its competition success but an increasingly large part of its balance sheet is made up by vehicles like the Cayenne SUV and the Panamera super saloon. The powerhouse Panamera does lend a certain panache to Porsche's line-up and in the much improved guise we're going to look at here, features styling that's a lot less challenging on the eye. As before though, it's the diesel version that'll account for most UK sales, so that's the one we're going to focus on here. Under the bonnet lies a 3.0-litre V6 24v unit borrowed from the company's Cayenne luxury SUV and good for 62mph in well under 7s on the way to over 150mph. Yet a car that supposedly, can still average nearly 45mpg. Sounds promising.
The Panamera is respectably quick, although the sprint to 62mph in 6.0 seconds gives little clue as to its ability to cover ground. It's a big car so the negative effects of the heavy diesel engine are offset. Instead it steamrollers bumps and crests into oblivion, the gearbox plugging you into the meat of the torque band and providing acceleration on demand. Yes, it might get outdragged by a few rivals in a straight line but it will certainly claw that deficit back on anything but a pancake flat, straight road. The top speed of 160mph is adequate for all but the most deranged autobahn-stormer and the 750 mile range will see the Panamera sail past most petrol engined GT cars as they head for juice. The 3.0-litre V6 engine features common rail direct injection and variable geometry turbochargers, helping it to a healthy 300bhp. More significantly, the massive peak torque figure of 550Nm is available from just 1,750rpm and an eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic gearbox system is fitted as standard. Unlike certain Panamera models which drive all four wheels, this diesel model sends power to the rear wheels only, but so good is Porsche's traction control system that you'll rarely be troubled for grip off the mark. Steel sprung suspension is also fitted as standard although air suspension is available as an option.
Design and Build
The styling of this Porsche 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 sleeker, 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. Subtle diesel badging on the door behind the side repeaters is just about the only clue that you'll be pulling up at the black pump. 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 variant 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
What price dynamic excellence? If you aren't a keen driver, I'd counsel you to look elsewhere, as there are quite a few cheaper cars that are quicker in a straight line, prettier and more economical. If, on the other hand, you appreciate the tactility of the Porsche and its ability to turn even the most prosaic drive into a bit of an event, then the £65,000 budget you'll need to get one of these and add a few modest extras doesn't seem unreasonable. Whereas the Panamera is usually stacked up against seriously expensive models like the Bentley Continental, the Maserati Quattroporte or the Aston Martin Rapide, throw a diesel engine into the mix and the competitor profile changes dramatically, so you need to know that this Porsche suits the sort of driving you do. It's also hard to argue with the amount of kit the car gets as standard. There's 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
The Panamera Diesel makes some decent economy numbers, returning a combined fuel figure of 44.1mpg. Emissions are pegged at 169g/km. Around 45mpg seems a fair return for a Porsche with this sort of performance and presence and if you are set to cover big mileages and don't want the hassle of repeatedly stopping at filling stations, the Panamera diesel is as good a way as any of achieving that end. Despite its impressively low day to day running costs, the Panamera will be as susceptible to depreciation as any big, premium diesel, especially one targeted at higher mileage operators. Depreciation has been a bit of a mixed bag to date. The diesel models though, fare extremely well: it's the thirstier petrol models that get hit hard.
In theory, the Porsche Panamera and a powerful diesel engine seem like perfect bedfellows. On paper the results look less promising. From behind the wheel though, any shortcomings are rapidly excused. This is a great car to drive, diesel engine or otherwise and if you place store by that, then the asking price is fully justified. Porsche would say that this car's raison d'etre is easy to pin down. If you want a big saloon car that keeps a lid on benefit in kind taxation, here's the one that drives the best. I'm not sure that this argument encompasses all of the subtleties involved in the buying decision at this level. Expect the diesel to continue to be the best selling Panamera, and rightly so. It's quick enough in 99 per cent of real world scenarios to satisfy and makes a fantastic ownership proposition. The only problem Porsche may have is making justifications for the pricier models in the Panamera range.