SEBRING, FL—Have your cake and eat it too. Best of both worlds. Name your trope. If this vehicle could simply be described away with such tired phrases, I’d be out of a job.
The Porsche Panamera is the answer to the eternal debate among many drivers. How do you choose between everyday comfort and that personal urge to carve up a canyon road with an ear-to-ear grin. Four doors, four seats, and the culmination of 83 years of Porsche evolution hath delivered unto the motoring world the best compromise you can drive.
The Panamera arrived in 2010 and despite criticism from Porsche purists, the four door, super-sedan was a runaway success. It should be noted that the profits from the Panamera help develop the next 911 supercar, which should keep those purists happy.
The Panamera is revised for 2014. In addition to more angular headlights and improved aerodynamics, there has also been a small shakeup in available engines. The Panamera S, which was previously powered by a naturally aspirated V-8, is now powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6. Before the performance crowd scoffs, note that V-6 makes 420 horsepower—20 horsepower more than the V-8. Top speed is just a tick faster than the V-8, at 178.2 mph. Meanwhile, you’ll see 0 to 60 is 4.9 seconds, 4.6 seconds if you opt for the Sport Chrono Package. Porsche claims an 18 percent improvement in fuel economy over the V-8 model, with the 2014 Panamera posting 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. Our observed fuel economy was just south of 20 mpg.
Power is sent to the rear wheels through Porsche’s PDK transmission. It has a dual-clutch gearbox that originated in Porsche’s race cars in the 1980s. That gearbox is far more refined now and delivers the optimum blend of performance and comfort.
The starter for the Panamaera is found on the left side of the steering wheel, a trick from Porsche’s racing experience designed to save time. A driver could simultaneously start the car with the left hand while shifting into gear with the right. Despite the V-6’s smaller displacement, the Panamera S comes to life with a menacing burble. It is a more subdued exhaust note, that is, until you hit the Sport button.
Sport increases throttle response, raises shift points, and opens up the dual mode exhaust. With veins open, the Panamera S will let out a mechanical gnarl, announcing its arrival at any occasion. Sport mode also quickens the steering response, turning the comfortable saloon into the four-door sports car that we know it to be. Steering is scalpel precise, and braking is race car sharp. The Panamera has the kind of agility and performance that you do not expect from a vehicle that is almost 4,000 pounds, and it has power you will seldom be able to use in daily driving situations.
This is one of the rare cars that is meant to be as enjoyable on the track as it is in a daily commute. As such, the cabin is lavish, employing the 2+2 layout, rather than that of a full sedan. Instead of a rear bench, the second row consists of two bucket seats, split by a center console, like the front seats. It provides room for the hump that would otherwise be on the floor for the driveline, and gives rear seat passengers a VIP experience of their own climate and seat controls.
The Panamera is a high-tech machine and Porsche engineers must have thought to underscore that with a cockpit that would rival that of an X-Wing from Star Wars. The driver has a legion of buttons at his/her disposal. Prominently featured are the individual climate control toggles, as well as buttons for the heated and cooled seats.
Points are deducted for the navigation and entertainment controls. Too many vehicle systems are accessed through such a small, ineffective touch screen. There are tactile buttons for audio, phone, navigation, and vehicle-setting controls, but getting from menu to menu is still a chore. The knob that controls the tuner in the radio mode no longer tunes the radio if the navigation screen is up—all very frustrating.
Luckily, Porsche makes up for it with a digital display within the driver’s instrument panel. Located to the right of the center-mounted tachometer, it can cycle among several key displays, including an active navigation map that is presented on the dash.
All of this performance, comfort, and technology comes at a price. The base price for a 2014 Panamera is $78,100. A Panamera S, like the one we drove, starts at $93,200, but that’s just the start. Add the 20-inch, high-gloss black sport wheels, adaptive suspension, vented seats, surround-view parking monitor, and other options, and the Panamera S can cost as much as $112,000. Just in options, that’s the cost of a new Honda Civic.
The price might be a lot to choke down, but for that, buyers receive an accommodating, comfortable vehicle that is every bit a Porsche. It is hard to believe that one vehicle can be so many things at once. With the Panamera, advocates of luxury and/or performance get both and give up neither.
2014 Porsche Panamera S
Price: $93,200. As tested: $112,300. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 18/27. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 19.7 mpg. Powertrain: 3.0L turbocharged V6, 7AT, rear-wheel drive. Body: Four-door sedan.
Horsepower: 420. Overall length: 197.4 in. Wheelbase 114.9 in. Height: 55.8 in. Width: 76.0 in. Curb weight: 3,990 lbs.
Causes rubber-necking and jealousy among coworkers.
Poor NAV layout. Options will escalate price.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You can drive two hours to the track, and then race it.
Audi S7, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class.