Porsche's second generation Panamera luxury five-door model is more appealing to boardroom buyers on this Continent than ever before in its current smarter, more engaging and more efficient guise. Jonathan Crouch drives one.
The Panamera has evolved. This MK2 model not only looks a whole lot smarter but is also bigger, more powerful and sharper to drive. Porsche may not have got it right first time, but this rejuvenated design car looks to be one formidable contender.
Named after the Carrera Panamerican road race, Porsche's Panamera is the brand's offering to Luxury segment buyers wanting spacious rear seat accommodation and a properly sporting Gran Turismo driving experience. This model could have ended up being a four-door version of the company's 911 coupe or a low-slung interpretation of the marque's Cayenne luxury SUV. In the event, it's very much its own car, a long, low five-door hatchback that offers something very different in its sector. In this new generation guise, it's smarter, faster, more efficient and, in E-Hybrid form, impressively advanced too. Plus there are standard, long wheelbase and 'Sport Turismo' estate bodystyles. For boardroom buyers who yearn for Brands Hatch, it all promises to be a tempting proposition.
This being Porsche, we can't just rely on more efficient engines. We also want more power. So that's exactly what's been delivered here. There's now no diesel option, so most buyers are going to be choosing between the 3.0-litre V6 with 330hp used by the base petrol variant, the 440hp 2.9-litre V6 found in the Panamera 4S and the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 in the Panamera Turbo, developing 550bhp. The 2.9 V6 and V8 engines are also used in the petrol/electric 'E-Hybrid' plug-in models. The 4 E-Hybrid V6 derivative develops 462hp, while the Turbo S E-Hybrid V8 flagship variant puts out a massive 680hp. 4WD is optional on the base 3.0-litre V6 model. Other Panameras feature all-wheel drive and all have a ZF-sourced PDK eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. All variants are exceedingly quick. The 4S, which shares its engine with the Audi RS4 and RS5 models, storms from zero to 62mph in a claimed 4.2 seconds; the standard Turbo manages it in 3.6 seconds, and in both cases, the optional Sport Chrono package shaves off a further 0.2 second thanks to its launch-control function. Stated top speed is 180mph for the 4S and 190mph for the standard Turbo. Underneath the sleeker bodywork lies a new mixed-material MSB platform that's also used by the Bentley Continental GT. This is not only more rigid, but is also lighter. Optional extras include a new three-chamber air suspension, all-wheel steering and a clever cruise control system that takes into account speed limits, bends and inclines.
The shape is certainly sleeker - and so is what lies beneath. The Panamera is the first model built off the Volkswagen Group's MSB (Modularer Standard-Baukasten) architecture, a lighter, stiffer set-up than before. As before, the sloping roofline and large rear pillars mean that rearward visibility is a little compromised. Otherwise, inside, things are also much improved. Porsche has moved many of the controls to a touch-sensitive panel, with other features accessible via a 12.3-inch colour touchscreen in the centre of the dash - though it's annoying that you have to prod away at this to alter the airflow out of the central vents. There are also a pair of configurable 7.0-inch screens in the instrument binnacle. Here, we'd still prefer a full screen set-up like Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit'. In the back, as before, there are two sports chairs that position rear occupants for a great view out ahead. Legroom still isn't as generous as you'd get in a comparably-priced luxury saloon though. The long wheelbase 'Executive' model improves on that with 150mm of extra length between the axles. If you need space for three people at the back, a 'Sport Turismo' estate bodystyle provides that. The boot of the standard version isn't as big as, say, an S-Class or a 7 Series either but 500-litres will be sufficient for most, a total gowing to 520-litres with the 'Sport Turismo'. You have to lift your stuff over quite a high lip, though there is the bonus of hatchback practicality.
Prices range from around £66,500 to about £147,000, a span which covers a huge range of competitors. There's a premium of £2,000 to £3,000 for the 'Sport Turismo' estate bodystyle - and a much bigger premium (£5,000 to £10,000 depending on variant) for the 'Executive' long wheelbase model. As for competitors, well everything from the Maserati Quattroporte to the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, the Audi S7, the Jaguar XJ and right up to the Bentley Continental GT could be considered rivals for the big Porsche. Despite this huge array of possible rivals, there's really nothing quite like the Panamera. Others may be more elegant, but there are few cars you'd choose over this contender from Stuttgart for demolishing big mileages quite so effortlessly. It's also hard to argue with the amount of kit the car gets as standard. There's a full leather interior, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), Bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear ParkAssist, tyre pressure monitoring, 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic dimming rear view mirrors, Porsche Communication Management with touch-screen satellite navigation and audio controls, cruise control and a three year warranty. That's on top of adaptive air suspension and a Porsche Vehicle Tracking System (VTS).
The big step forward with this generation Panamera is undoubtedly efficiency. Fuel consumption is said to be lower by over 10% in the mainstream models. None of these can of course hold a candle to the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid Plug-in model. The claimed combined cycle fuel economy figure with this variant is a faintly ridiculous-looking 113mpg, which in real world scenario will translate to the mid-sixties. When connected to an industrial outlet, the batteries can be charged within around two and a half hours via the integrated on-board charger and the standard Porsche Universal Charger (AC) and it can be charged in less than four hours when connected to a conventional household electrical outlet. Porsche quotes an emissions figure of 56g/km, which is a significant improvement on the previous Plug-in model's 71g/km showing. The V8 diesel version many will choose in the UK manages 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and 176g/km of CO2. As for depreciation across the range, well that's been a bit of a mixed bag to date. The diesel model fares extremely well, while the thirstier petrol variants get hit hard. That's about what you'd expect but the improved efficiency of many of the petrol-engined models should take an edge off depreciation henceforth.
Want the cleverest of all the big supersaloons? You're looking at it right here in the revitalised shape of the Porsche Panamera. Granted, not everyone loves a smart aleck but there's something about the depth of engineering in this car that's both enormously reassuring and hugely effective. Great driving manners are a given. This is a Porsche after all. What's not quite so predictable is the way the Panamera manages to worm its way into your affections after a while. Porsche has made great strides in improving the Panamera's efficiency, while the Plug-in Hybrid model remains an interesting, if pricey left-field option. At the top of the line-up, you still get the crazy Turbo model, while the diesel will remain popular. And overall? Well, we would never have thought it four years ago, but the Panamera might just have become the car to beat in its class.