Car Reviews First Drives

2017 Porsche Panamera First Drive Review

The sports car for the luxury car driver

The sports car for the luxury car driver

Porsche’s all-new Panamera looks like a four-door sports car. Drives like one, too, if you twirl the Sport Chrono controller, which sharpens the powertrain and suspension responses. But the real genius of the new Panamera is that when you need it to be, it’s as smooth and quiet and comfortable as a four-door limousine. If you like driving an S-Class but hanker after a sports car, the 2017 Panamera is the Porsche for you.

“Three things carry over from the old car,” says Gernot Döllner, the man in charge of the new Panamera’s development. “The vehicle concept, the Panamera name, and the Porsche crest.” The 2017 Panamera is new from the wheels up: new platform, new engines, new transmission, new technologies. But what everyone will notice first are the new proportions wrapped in sheetmetal that’s a new take on a familiar design theme.

Introduced in 2009 the original Panamera was—let’s be kind—an oddly hunchbacked thing, a legacy of then-Porsche boss Wendelin Wiedeking’s demand that his 6-foot-6-inch frame be readily accommodated in the rear seat of the first four-door Porsche in history. Wiedeking has long since gone, and the switch to VW Group’s new MSB platform hardware means Michael Mauer’s design team has been given the freedom to fix his vainglorious legacy.
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S front three quarter

Compared with the old Panamera, the wheelbase has been stretched 1.2 inches to 116.1 inches, with the front axle moved forward half an inch relative to the firewall. The base of the windshield has been moved back 0.8 inch, and the roofline, though 0.2 inch taller at its highest point, has been pulled 0.8 inch lower as it arcs down over the rear wheels. Overall length has increased 1.2 inches, width a quarter inch. The new Panamera is bigger all around but looks smaller and more rakish. Critically, 6-foot-plus adults still comfortably fit in the rear.

The 2017 Panamera marks the debut of three new engines, two of which are coming to the North America, where buyers will be able choose between the $100,950 USD Panamera 4S powered by a 440-hp, 2.9-liter V-6 and the $147,950 USD Panamera Turbo powered by a 550-hp, 4.0-liter V-8. Although massaged by Porsche to deliver its impressive power output—and 406 lb-ft of torque from 1,750 to 5,500 rpm—the V-6 was developed by Audi. The V-8, which develops a stout 568 lb-ft of torque from 1,960 to 4,500 rpm, is all Porsche’s own work.

Both engines have direct-injection and two turbochargers mounted in the vee. While the V-6 has variable intake valve timing, the V-8 boasts cylinder deactivation—a first for a Porsche engine—that reportedly delivers up to a 30-percent improvement in fuel efficiency. Compared with the V-6, the V-8 seems an underachiever—two more cylinders, 1.1 liters more capacity, and only 110 more horsepower—but Porsche insiders quietly point out it delivers its 550 hp with just 0.3 bar of boost, and the V-6 gets cranked up to 1.4 bar. There’s a lot of performance yet to come from the V-8, they smile.

A two-wheel-drive Panamera S will arrive next year, but for now all Panameras are all-wheel drive, the power transmitted via a new Porsche-developed eight-speed PDK transmission. Seventh and eighth gears are very tall to improve fuel economy—the V-6 in the Panamera 4S is turning barely 1,350 rpm at 60 mph in top—and both the 4S and Turbo therefore hit their 180- and 190-mph (290- and 306 km/h) top speeds in sixth. Porsche claims the Panamera 4S will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, with the Turbo taking just 3.6 seconds.

Order the optional Sport package ($6,930 USD on the 4S and $5,580 USD on the Turbo, the price difference due to the 4S needing the adaptive air suspension that’s standard on the Turbo), and you’ll shave a couple of tenths from those 0-60 times, thanks to the launch control that comes along with the Sport Chrono package included in the deal. The Sport package also includes rear-wheel steering. Unlike the 911’s rear-steer setup, which uses separate actuators to move each wheel, the Panamera’s system features an electronically controlled rack mounted at the front of the rear subframe. The system steers the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds up to 30 mph (48 km/h) to improve agility in tight turns, and the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts at higher speeds to improve stability.

Panameras with air suspension can also be fitted with optional active stabilizer bars, which use 48-volt electromechanical actuators to twist them in the opposite direction to the cornering forces and virtually eliminate body roll. Check the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport (whew!) box on the options list, and you’ll also get brake-generated torque vectoring and an electronically activated locking rear differential.

All the Panamera’s chassis electrickery—air springs, electronic shocks, rear steering, active anti-roll, and torque vectoring—is overseen by what Porsche calls 4D Chassis Control. Like the innovative Side Slip Control developed by Ferrari for the 488 and GTC4Lusso, 4D Chassis Control analyzes the vehicle’s trajectory and driver inputs in real time and orders a coordinated response from all systems to ensure optimal turn-in response, agility, and stability. The good news is the flesh and blood holding the steering wheel remains blissfully ignorant of the massive torrent of data constantly streaming through the Panamera’s electronic neural network. All you’re aware of is the big Porsche’s effortlessly rapid progress down the road.

We sampled a Panamera 4S and a Panamera Turbo on the launch drive in Germany, both cars fitted with the Sport package and the active anti-roll system. The new air suspension (a $2,185 USD stand-alone option on the 4S if you don’t order the Sport package) is worth every penny, the larger capacity three-chamber air springs helping deliver luxury-car ride quality and impressively low levels of transmitted road noise.

Remarkably smooth and responsive, its exhaust note a muted, oily snarl, the Panamera 4S’ engine might just be the best V-6 in the world—so good, in fact, it’s difficult to see why you wouldn’t just spec a 4S up to Turbo equipment levels and save yourself a ton of money. But the new Porsche V-8 makes its case with more bite at the top end of the rev band, and it’s eerily quiet even while cruising, as we did on the autobahn, at 130 to 150 mph (209 to 241 km/h).

In Sport and Sport+ modes the new Panamera drives like you’d expect a four-door Porsche to drive: buttoned-down ride, crisp throttle response, lightning-quick gearshifts, and a snap-crackle from the exhaust. The steering is accurate and well-weighted and uncorrupted by the drive through the front wheels, though the 275-pound lighter 4S’ helm feels marginally more communicative than the Turbo’s through the twisties. The real revelation, however, is how is how plush, quiet, and composed the big Porsche is when driven with the suspension, transmission, and engine in their normal settings. Porsche engineers might be sports car guys, but with this Panamera they’ve built a genuine luxury limousine.

That’s not to say the Panamera turns to mush when it’s in Comfort mode. Far from it. In fact, unless the road twisted and turned like the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where a new Panamera Turbo recently turned a lap of 7 minutes, 38 seconds, a record for a four-door car, we preferred to keep it out of Sport and Sport+ modes, even at triple-digit velocities on the autobahn.

At high speeds the air suspension automatically stiffens the damping and spring rates slightly, gently settling the car as if a giant hand were keeping it on the road. The anti-roll system keeps the big Porsche flat through turns yet allows the air springs to absorb lumps and bumps. Sport+ passing power can be accessed at any time via a button at the center of the Sport Chrono controller on the steering wheel. Thumb it, and the Panamera growls like an angry lion, the transmission instantly dropping four, even five gears, as the powertrain maps jump to their most aggressive settings. It’s race car-style press-to-pass: Nail the gas, and you’re gone. The transformation to hairy-chested Mr. Hyde lasts 20 seconds—there’s a helpful countdown graphic on the dash—before the Panamera becomes mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll again.
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel interior

Information interchanges between driver and machine are facilitated by high-resolution digital displays and touch-sensitive switches, all part of the redesigned cabin. With clean surfaces and simple lines, the interior ambience is luxurious minimalism: None of your Bentley flamboyance here. The instrument panel is dominated by a large, centrally mounted analogue tach—this is a Porsche, after all—flanked by pair of 7.0-inch digital displays for other instruments and vehicle information.

At the center of the dash is a 12.3-inch touchscreen that handles all the usual infotainment chores and acts as an interface for a host of web-based apps that come with the system’s Wi-Fi hot spot capability. Proximity sensors detect the approach of the user’s hand, and a menu bar opens on the left side of the screen. You can swipe, touch, pinch, and zoom; the functionality is as intuitive as an iPhone, the graphics even more beautifully rendered.

Below the screen the new Panamera retains the high center console that has become a Porsche design feature, but the button-fest of the old car is gone, replaced by sheer surfaces embedded with touch-sensitive buttons. And unlike those in a Caddy, these are easy to use. Rear passengers can also control climate and infotainment functions from a 7.0-inch touchscreen mounted in the console as it runs between the two rear seats.

The original Porsche Panamera was a great idea with flawed execution. The 2017 Panamera not only fixes the flaws but also updates the idea with bleeding-edge technology. It truly is a sports car when you want it to be and a luxury car when you need it to be.


The World’s Fastest Diesel

2017 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel side

Sadly, we won’t be getting the Panamera 4S Diesel, powered by the 4.0-liter V-8 turbodiesel that’s shared with the top-of-the-range Audi Q7 in Europe. Porsche’s version of the engine has a different turbocharger and intake setup, and it delivers 422 hp and a thumping 627 lb-ft of torque from 1,000 to 3,250 rpm. That’s grunt enough to propel the Euro-spec Panamera 4S Diesel from 0 to 60 mph in about 4.3 seconds and to a top speed of 177 mph (285 km/h), making it the fastest diesel-powered production car in the world, according to Porsche. Oh, and it will travel up to 900 miles (1448 km) between refills when fitted with the optional 23.8-gallon tank.

2017 Porsche Panamera
BASE PRICE $100,950 (4S); $147,950 (Turbo)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 2.9L/440-hp/406-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve twin-turbo V-6 (4S); 4.0L/550-hp/568-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8 (Turbo)
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT 4,123 lb (4S); 4,398 lb (Turbo) (mfr est)
WHEELBASE 116.1 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 198.8 x 76.3 x 56.0 in
0-60 MPH 4.2 sec (4S); 3.6 sec (Turbo)(mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON N/A
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY N/A
ON SALE IN U.S. Fall 2016