Test Drive: 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S

A rocket-propelled luxury sedan? A luxurious rocket-sedan? The 2017 Porsche Panamera is the latest take on Porsche’s often-controversial four-door sports car, and a machine with amongst the most sophisticated powertrain and chassis tech on the road. It’s a comfy long-haul cruiser, a thrilling performer, and a corner-carver extraordinaire – depending on driver intentions.

“Have you touched this?!”

Fancy a roomy luxury ride without burrito-truck steering, or suspension more saggy and squidgy than the underside of a walrus? This Panamera might be what you’re after.

A new twin-turbo V6 makes 440 hp. The suspension can adjust ride height and stiffness on the fly, even self-leveling the car in corners. Rear wheel steering and torque vectoring turn in handling friskiness on par with a much smaller car. The All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system packs more computational firepower than the average laptop, and there’s a spoiler that speed-deploys like something out of a Transformers movie.

But none of that is even the most impressive thing about the latest Panamera.

“Have you touched this?!” one passenger asked, as his eyes and mouth approached dinner-plate diameter.

He was inspecting the center console’s buttery leather, perfect stitching, and glossy touchpad interface, with his fingertips.

Welcome, everyone, to the Panamera’s most valuable asset: its cabin. A few attributes here go light-years ahead of the former car, and raise the bar for premium car cockpit design.

The tester avoided excessive contrast and layering, favoring a tidy, clean and organized look, instead. Only black and aluminum colours were applied with any abundance, and they play gorgeously off one another.

Right down to the angle of some of the gloss-black panels, which you picture a designer tweaking ever-so-slightly to best capture reflections, to the depth and curvature of the abundantly deployed aluminum trim, the detailing is immense. The center console button waterfall has been axed in favor of an enormous back-lit, gloss-black touchpad. Other than a few aluminum hard switches, this touch-sensitive surface looks simple, high-tech and dramatic. Tap something, and the whole pad clicks like a giant mouse button.

Instruments see a pair of high-definition display screens, angled towards the driver, flanking a conventional, center-mounted tachometer, for a rich, depthy, three-dimensional look. Nearby, the centre climate control vent is formed from three thin, glossy slats that tip open when the engine is started, creating a subtle bit of theater, and a glint of light and reflection, to greet you.

A massive mid-dash wide-screen display houses a new infotainment system. Whether you want to see a multitude of colourful satellite radio station tiles, select a different drive mode, lower the suspension or dial you mother on the Bluetooth, it operates with the same high-resolution, lagless precision you’ll find in a high-end tablet. Forget choking or lagging like a Commodore 64 trying to play Doom 3D – this thing’s got graphical horsepower for days.

Ultimately, Panamera’s cabin is a fresh, new take on high-tech luxury that does its own thing, all without looking cluttered or overdone. You feel like you’re sitting in the twin-turbocharged bridge of the Starship Voyager. This is a mega-hot cockpit that overwhelms first-time visitors, big-time, every time.

Four tall sport bucket seats with fixed headrests nearly touch the celling, flaunting embossed and perforated leather, and look like something from a Romulan space-craft. Entry and exit, as well as the seating position, call a sports coupe to mind: occupants drop down into the seats, which create a fixed-in-place feel with thick bolsters and steep bucketing. There’s novelty (and some premonition), to entering a luxury sedan with four perches that could nearly do double-duty in a race car.

In back, a motorized tailgate opens up on a generous cargo area that’s roomy enough for four people’s worth of luggage, a weekend worth of shopping, and the like. In all, the cabin is adult-friendly for four, entry and exit won’t be difficult for most, and it feels like a four-person, four-wheeled roller-coaster.

That’s somewhat telling. The new 2.9L twin-turbo V6, eight-speed PDK transmission and AWD system enable 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds, roughly tying a base-model 911 or Macan Turbo. Full-throttle power is strong and robust, not overwhelming. Where a comparable AMG sounds like a jack-hammer thudding at the nearby atmosphere, the Panamera is tastefully restrained: more “muted howl” than “Gatling gun”. The engine revs happily to nearly 7,000 rpm, striking a pleasing balance of low-rev torque and high-rev peakiness.

Responses to braking, steering, pushing the car through corners via the throttle, and the clever application of power to the road via the trick AWD system, are pleasing. Brake feel is notable: applied gently, a slight numbness at the top of the pedal’s travel prevents the girthy clampers from feeling too touchy, but they become more precise the harder they’re worked. It’s similar elsewhere: Panamera feels like a big, comfy cruiser, but positively comes to life the harder you push it.

Handling wise, the tester felt heavily locked-on, more confident than playful, and beautifully stable at all times. Even giving it absolute hell, in typical Porsche fashion, the Panamera never feels bothered. And you grin, in Sport mode, at the sensation of directing such a big machine around, so flatly, with just effortless little flicks of the wheel.

Pushed, Panamera’s availability with up to 680 hp (in Turbo S E-Hybrid guise), comes to light: there’s a sense that the tester’s 440-hp engine is far from overwhelming the rest of its capabilities. Most drivers won’t find it lacking in power, but those who do have numerous options for additional sauce.

Also impressive is the engine’s generous low-end torque, which wafts the Panamera through city traffic as it idles along, barely making a peep. Activate Sport mode, and the Panamera 4S turns into a gym-bro: puffed up, chest out, deeper voice, and overstimulated like it’s just chugged a jug of pre-workout. At a click, throttle response, suspension sportiness, engine sounds and gearshift speeds are all jacked.

But the new eight-speed PDK transmission is a bit of a mixed bag. Drive gently, or in an automatic shift mode, and you’d rarely know it was there: it lets the engine idle down the highway at speed, shifting down for hills or leisurely merging only rarely, and without detection. Driven hard in an automatic mode, it’s smooth too – but more revs are involved.

But in paddle-shift mode, the new gearbox made me wish for the old unit, which responded faster to inputs, executed shifts more quickly, and performed its duties more smoothly when pushed, often with less of a jolt. At times, particularly during higher-rpm upshifts or aggressive downshifting, I found the new transmission to feel harsh, even clumsy at times, in situations where the old gearbox was giggle-inducingly quick and seamless.

With more of a delay between paddle-clicking and an associated upshift, former Panamera owners will have to lead their manual upshifts by a few fractions of a second to avoid engagement of the rev-limiter. Put another way, the old transmission could complete a shift by time the paddle clicked back to its resting position, but with the new unit, shift happens a few tenths of a second later.

In summation: the new transmission is entertaining to work hard, but no longer exhilarating.

Other notes? Fuel mileage and range both impressed. Even cruising at a healthy clip, the tester put away just 8.5 l/100 km on the highway, and a big fuel tank enables to a full day of cruising without a stop to refuel.

And, the ride quality. On 21-inch wheels in the standard drive mode, the tester rode on the stiffer, sportier side of comfortable – in a similar ballpark to a sport-package equipped 5-Series, XF or E-Class. It feels composed, solid, durable and robust at virtually all times, and even bigger upsets in the road fail to make the Panamera feel like it’s crashing into bumps and potholes.

Engage Panamera’s Sport mode, the urgency and responsiveness to the throttle, steering and handling improve, but all without nuking ride quality. You feel a more high-resolution image of the road’s surface, thanks to the stiffened shocks, but the Panamera remains far from uncomfortable or jarring, here. This is the magic of this high-tech suspension: it hits the mark when sporty comfort, and sporty handling, need to co-exist in a creamy highway cruiser that’s laid-back without feeling floaty, often quiet enough to hear yourself blink, and also capable of hugging curves more tightly than Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscars dress, losing nothing in between.

It’s the Porsche of luxury sedans, after all. And though the new PDK transmission won’t connect as readily with driving enthusiasts as former units, the latest Panamera effectively blends core model attributes with the segment’s must-have cabin, and numerous effective technologies, into a package that should be on the radar of the folks with the funds.

Competitors:

Audi A7
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S
Engine Displacement: 2.9L
Engine Cylinders: V6, twin turbo
Peak Horsepower: 440 hp @ 5,650–6,600 rpm
Peak Torque: 405 lb-ft @ 1,750–5,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 11.4/8.5/10.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 1,340 L (seats folded)
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S
Base Price $114,300
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,200
Price as Tested $134,470
Optional Equipment $18,870 – Volcano Grey Metallic $950; Black Leather Interior $4,330; Adaptive Air Suspension $2,500; 21-inch Sport Design Wheels $4,150; Park Assist $1,360; LED Dynamic Lights $1,170; Premium Package $4,410
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.2
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
9 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
9 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value