The Porsche Panamera is the closest thing you’ll find to the blending of a luxury sedan and big fast sports car. The Panamera has a real back seat, comparable in roominess to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, to go with its upscale cabin and powerful driving dynamics. Forget your sports sedans, if you want to step on over to the sport side. Also forget your budget.
The Panamera, although face-lifted for 2013, is at the end of its first generation, with a new design scheduled for 2017. So there’s not much new in 2016, but there is a new Edition model, with shiny black trim, 19-inch wheels, two-tone leather, and Bose 14-speaker sound system. Also, now available on all models is the Exclusive’s rear seat entertainment system, with a 10-inch touchscreen and camera for video calls, as well as WiFi hotspot.
Panamera is fast and its stability at high speeds is superb, but because it’s long and heavy, it’s not nearly as nimble as a Porsche 911 or Cayman, or even a Cayenne crossover. After all, it weighs more than two tons.
And don’t expect a car like this to be without controversy to come with its originality, extending to its shape. It looks enough like a Porsche in front, but the big round rear end, a fat hatchback, is considered ugly by some. When parked next to other luxury sedans, however, it does look distinctive and arguably is the car that most beckons to be driven.
There are different powertrains and wheelbases, from plug-in hybrid to wannabe supercar to fill-in limo, so the Panamera might compete with many different vehicles, for example the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or CLS, the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, or even the Aston Martin Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte.
There is the base Panamera, Panamera S, Panamera GTS, Panamera Turbo, and Panamera S E-Hybrid. Panamera 4 and Panamera 4S have available all-wheel drive, while the faster Panamera GTS and Panamera Turbo come standard with all-wheel drive. Panamera S E Hybrid is rear-wheel-drive. Executive models feature a wheelbase that’s six inches longer.
A 3.6-liter V6 engine comes standard making 310 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, able to accelerate from zero to sixty miles per hour in a quick 5.7 seconds with the Sport Chrono performance package. The S and 4S models get a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making 420 horsepower, and the Panamera Turbo makes 520 hp from its twin-turbo V8, which can push it to sixty in a very quick 3.7 seconds.
The Porsche PDK 7-speed dual-clutch transmissions is standard on all models except the S E-Hybrid, which uses an 8-speed Tiptronic S transmission.
Also standard is Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC). The Sport Chrono package is optional; its electronics improve acceleration, handling and safety.
Our choice for enthusiasts is the Panamera GTS, with its strong and sweet-sounding 4.8-liter making 440 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, with all-wheel drive. It handles the best of all the models.
Fuel mileage is decent, with the base Panamera bringing an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon Combined with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The Panamera S and turbocharged 4S only drop 1 mpg, the long wheelbase drops another, the GTS another, and the Turbo a final 1 mpg drop, to 18 mpg Combined. The stop-start system is standard, in default mode, but it can be de-activated.
The hybrid gets the best mileage, with 50 mpg Combined; in gas-only, it gets 25 mpg. It can recharge from a 240-volt outlet in 2.5 hours, or it’s capable of charging the batteries by using gas power.
The 2016 Porsche Panamera lineup includes Panamera ($78,100), Panamera Edition ($80,000), Panamera 4 ($82,800), Panamera 4 Edition ($84,300), Panamera S ($93,200), Panamera S E-Hybrid ($93,200), Panamera 4s ($98,300), Panamera 4S Executive ($125,600), Panamera GTS ($113,400), Panamera Turbo ($141,300), Panamera Turbo Executive ($161,100), Panamera Turbo S ($180,300), Panamera Turbo S Executive ($200,500), Panamera Exclusive Series ($263,900). (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charges.)
The bold Panamera looks inspire strong responses, pro and con. From head-on, it looks like a Porsche 911,with big intakes, domed hood and crisp details; but from the rear it looks big and bulbous.
It has a long roofline that binds an unsettling configuration of curves and drops toward the tail in a bubbled arch. It creates great room for the passengers in the rear seat, which is what the car is all about, but gives up elegance in the styling. The rear end is simple and clean, but the large roof and glass make it suffer.
There’s less debate in the cabin, which is stylish and high tech. With straight lines and flat surfaces, it’s not warm and organic like some luxury cars. It also uses real buttons and switchgear, not touchscreen menus like some luxury cars. The fit and finish is excellent, and materials of a high quality, although it isn’t as quiet in the cabin as a luxury sedan.
In the back, with ample room and features, it does feel like an executive limo, especially the Executive model with long rear doors. Behind the seats, under the glass hatch, there’s a ton of room; Porsche says two bicycles will fit back there.
We’ll jump straight to the GTS, because that’s the Panamera we like most, because it’s the model that feels most like a Porsche. It’s not the fastest, only the second-fastest after the Turbo. It’s a normally aspirated V8, with 440 hp and 384 lb-ft, and it’s the best sounding, while being faster than the 3.0-liter V6 turbo that’s in the Panamera S, which, with two-wheel-drive and without the Sport Chrono package, takes 4.9 seconds to get to 60 mph. The GTS can do it in 4.2 seconds, so there. Who needs turbos when you have a big honkin’ V8?
Of course, if you want to bolt twin turbos onto that V8, you get the 520-hp Panamera Turbo which can hit sixty in 3.9 seconds. But that doesn’t make it the best Panamera to own. Its driving dynamics aren’t as pure as those of the GTS, which handles more sharply and precisely. The GTS is solid and connected to the road, while most of the rest of the Panameras feel floaty, with overboosted steering. We observed this in back-to-back comparisons. We have also driven them at Road America, and the V6 models offer the more enjoyable handling than the heavier Turbo versions.
Longest and least agile are the Executive versions.
If it’s technology you’re after, the S E-Hybrid is your model, with its supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine and electric motor with plug-in charging of its 9.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It’s rated at 416 combined horsepower, counting the 95-horsepower electric motor, and with an extra 550 pounds of weight it isn’t as fast as the others, but speed is not its game. But it’s not slow, hitting 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, quick in anyone’s league.
And even with that weight, it handles well thanks to special suspension tuning. As for its ability as an all-electric car, it can go for 22 miles, says Porsche; and hit 83 mph, although it won’t go for 22 miles at 83 mph.
The Panamera is unique, being a high-performance Porsche sports car with the feel of a luxury sedan and looks of a fastback hatchback. It’s also extremely expensive, and because it’s replacement is on the way, we recommend looking for deals, waiting for the new one, or checking out the competition.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. Words by Sam Moses. Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.