Porsche's Panamera has had more than just a cosmetic facelift. Look beyond the styling tweaks and it's been comprehensively updated. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Panamera has evolved. It started out as an ungainly-looking car that was almost universally disliked, but its talents gradually won people over. This latest version is prettier, more efficient and more capable. Porsche may not have got it right first time, but this latest car looks to be one formidable contender.
When Porsche's Panamera first appeared in 2009, it's fair to say that it wasn't an instant hit. Many recoiled at its bloated styling and hefty pricing, not to mention the profligacy of many of its engines. With the global economic crisis biting hard, it looked a car utterly out of place, a crass statement of excess when austerity was the watchword. Get to know the Panamera, however, and the story was very different. Here was a very capable and, yes, charming car that was a lot more subtle in its responses and appeal than many ever gave it credit for. Drive one for any period of time and it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is a rather lovely thing that was overtaken by events beyond its control. Porsche is not known for either feeling sorry for itself or keeping duds on its books though, and in an effort to boost Panamera sales, it's given the model a proper relaunch. The styling changes may be subtle but a lot of work has gone into this. Enough to turn around its prospects in the UK? Stranger things have happened.
This being Porsche, we can't just rely on more efficient engines. We also want more power. So that's exactly what is delivered. The 4.8-litre V8 petrol engine that was found under the bonnet of the S and 4S has been replaced by a 3.0-litre V6 twin turbo unit that's lighter and raises peak power from 400 to 420bhp. Torque also rises from 500 to 520Nm in case you were wondering. The big V8 soldiers on in the GTS, Turbo and Turbo S models, making 440, 520 and 570bhp respectively. The best selling powerplant here in the UK remains the 300bhp entry-level diesel. The 3.6-litre petrol engine that powers the Panamera and Panamera 4 gets a 10bhp shot in the arm to 310bhp. Possibly the most interesting, although undoubtedly least relevant, model is the Panamera S E-Hybrid Plug-in model which combines 3.0-litre petrol and electrical power to crank out a heady 412bhp. It can reach speeds of up to 84 mph in all-electric operation and, in comparison to the previous non-Plug-in hybrid version, the acceleration time from 0-62 mph has been shortened by half a second to 5.5 seconds. You'll have no worries about being beaten up on the autobahns either as the top speed is pegged at 168mph. Rear visibility on all Panameras is tricky due to the high back end and sloping rear window, so you'll value reverse parking sensors.
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. 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 in all models bar the Hybrid, which has to settle for 335-litres. The batteries have to go somewhere, you see.
Market and Model
Prices range from around £65,000 to about £130,000, a span which covers a huge range of competitors. Everything from the Maserati Quattroporte to the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, the Audi S7, the Jaguar XJ and right up to the Bentley Continental GT could be considered rivals for the big Porsche. Despite this huge array of possible rivals, there's really nothing quite like the Panamera. Others may be more elegant, but there are few cars you'd choose over this contender from Stuttgart for demolishing big mileages quite so effortlessly. 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 big step forward with this generation Panamera is undoubtedly efficiency. It's rather predictable, but nevertheless good to see Porsche applying its formidable engineering nous to improving the economy and emissions of its engines. The emissions of the Panamera S have dropped from 293g/km right down to 204g/km and even the Turbo has improved from 270g/km to a relatively saintly 239g/km. None of these can hold a candle to the Panamera S E-Hybrid Plug-in model. The claimed fuel economy figure is a faintly ridiculous-looking 91mpg, which in real world scenario will translate to the mid-sixties. When connected to an industrial outlet, the batteries can be charged within around two and a half hours via the integrated on-board charger and the standard Porsche Universal Charger (AC) and it can be charged in less than four hours when connected to a conventional household electrical outlet. Porsche quotes an emissions figure of 71g/km, which is a huge improvement on the previous non-Plug-in model's 159g/km showing. Depreciation has been a bit of a mixed bag to date. The diesel models fare extremely well, while the thirstier petrol models get hit hard. That's about what you'd expect but the improved efficiency of many of the petrol-engined models should take an edge off depreciation henceforth.
Want the cleverest of all the big supersaloons? You're looking at it right here in the refreshed shape of the Porsche Panamera. Granted, not everyone loves a smart aleck but there's something about the depth of engineering in this car that's both enormously reassuring and hugely effective. Great driving manners are a given. This is a Porsche after all. What's not quite so predictable is the way the Panamera manages to worm its way into your affections after a while. Porsche has made great strides in improving the Panamera's efficiency, with a more powerful 3.0-litre twin turbocharged engine replacing some of the V8 units in the range. At the top of the line-up, you still get the crazy Turbo model while the diesel will remain popular. The Plug-in Hybrid model is an interesting, if pricey left-field option. We would never have thought it four years ago, but the Panamera might just have become the car to beat in its class.