After having driven the new Porsche Panamera, it would appear that it’s third time lucky for Zuffenhausen’s four-door fastback.
But wait, you might say, isn’t the Porsche Panamera only in its second generation? Well, yes, but you might also recall Porsche tried to do a four-door in the late 1980s with the 989. Unfortunately, that never made it past the prototype stage, owing to Porsche’s poor financials (among other factors) at the time. Flush with the mountain of money it made off the Porsche Cayenne in the early 2000s, Porsche resurrected the “four-door 911" in 2009 with the Panamera. Although it (mostly) behaved like a true Porsche sports car, its bulbous derriere was the butt of a good number of jokes.
But while the original Porsche Panamera’s ungainly posterior was the worst element of its styling, the new Porsche Panamera looks best from the back, incorporating many of the design cues first seen on the Sport Turismo concept car.
On top of that, the new Porsche Panamera gets a new chassis, a slew of new powertrains (including a plug-in hybrid) and a glorious Bauhaus interior incorporating a 918 Spyder-esque infotainment system. In true Porsche fashion, the new all-digital instrument cluster (with the exclusion of the tachometer) has a name: Porsche Advanced Cockpit. And advanced it certainly is – the entire centre console is a monolithic glass-fronted touch panel complemented by a high-resolution 12.3-inch touchscreen, the showpiece of the reworked infotainment system.
Even though the centre console has no physical switches, the panel’s haptic feedback does an uncannily good job of mimicking an actual button press. As for the rest of the new infotainment system, the interface looks and feels polished, with snazzy animations, ultra-hip fonts/icons and lag-free input.
In short, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect of modern smartphones, and in more parallels, the Porsche Panamera can display your schedule and navigate you to your next meeting, along with showing the news and weather. All that is displayed as tiles on the system’s home screen, customisable and rearrangeable to your liking.
It’s not all good news, though. As with a new smartphone, it’s more than likely you’re going to spend a good few hours tweaking the home screen to your satisfaction, as I did. Also, the central air vent is only adjustable via the infotainment system, which is cool, but the novelty soon wears thin.
The Porsche Panamera in motion is where it really comes into its own. I contend there are few cars that can match Porsche Panamera’s brand of grace, regardless of what its driver might ask of it.
It’s this extraordinary breadth of ability that’s at the heart of the new Porsche Panamera’s appeal. Its blend of highway serenity and back road composure makes it a rare breed.
Either cruising or charging, the default setting for the adaptive air suspension in my test car proved so adept, I never felt the need to shift it to a firmer mode. I tried using the Sport Plus mode (only available if the Sport Chrono options box is checked), but that just introduced more patter, with only a marginal increase in body control.
And the steering. Oh, the steering. Purists scoffed when Porsche first used an electric set-up in the 991-generation 911, but it seems Stuttgart is having the last laugh. Greater than the laser-guided precision and directness is the rack’s sheer consistency. To be sure, it lacks the granularity of a hydraulic set-up, but on the other hand, the helm is free of strange dead spots and abrupt increases/decreases in steering weight.
Amid all the hoopla surrounding the new whiz-bang infotainment system and chassis, it’s quite easy to overlook the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, also making its debut here. Another key part of the Porsche Panamera’s versatility, it’s seamless when left to its own devices and delivers a firm shove to your kidneys when shifting under load.
Unfortunately, the new Porsche Panamera is still only a four-seater, this minor inconvenience earning it the sole black mark in my book. If fitting three in the back row is a must, you’ll have to get the Sport Turismo variant, though its quirky shooting brake styling isn’t for everyone.
It’s taken the Porsche Panamera a while to get to where it is now, but it’s at least been worth the wait. Is this the best car Porsche makes right now? Well, I certainly think so.