Drive Time

BY STEVE SILER

Heresy No More
The Porsche sport sedan is here to stay.

Long about 15 years ago, Porsche set out to show the world that it could do more than simply build good sports cars. Pursists were up in arms, but sport sedans and sport utilities would soon become the purveys of Porsche, too. And indeed, these plus-sized, practical Porsches were as impressive to drive within their competitive sets as the 911 Carrera has always been within its own.

Thing is, regardless of how well the first-generation Panamera drove—and boy, did it drive well!—many folks never really got on-board with how the hatchback sport sedan looked. I was one of those skeptics that never quite embraced the rather lumpy, bulbous derriere, as much of a hatchback and wagon fan as I am. And so, delighted was I to see how the second-generation Panameras suddenly snapped to grid, so to speak, when they debuted last year for 2016. Turns out, all they needed was a bit more rear shoulder, a straighter line from headlamp to tail lamps, and a bit more squareness to the graphics such as the lamp and grille openings. The changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary, but they have effectively brought the Panamera out of its awkward stage and onto center stage among the world’s sexiest sedans.

Alas, Porsche revolutionized the interior from an ergonomic standpoint, and in my opinion, not for the better. I concede that the last model suffered from a case of buttonitis, but this model does away with virtually all buttons in favor of touchscreen or capacitive touch controls, and I, for one, miss the simplicity of buttons and the neat herringbone design of the outgoing model’s center console. Some controls, in fact, that needn’t be computerized—the electronically actuated center vent is a prime example—have been buried in menu paths that are fussy at best, infuriating at worst. I blame Tesla’s ergonomicists, which have piled every adjustable thing into massive, inelegant center screens, for influencing Porsche in a not-good way. I will concede, however, that no car has ever given me a better back massage than this one. My, how far we’ve come.

What hasn’t changed is the Panamera’s standing as one of the world’s best-driving four-doors (or five-doors, if you count the hatch as a door). The base turbo V-6 models are hardly slow, but particularly in 520-horsepower V-8 Turbo (with a capital T) form, as we sampled it recently, the Panamera is astonishingly quick. As before, the Panamera’s cabin is set very low, placing all four passengers sitting in their own individual sport seats that flank the transmission tunnel, thus ensuring a low center of gravity, optimal weight distribution, and hence, handling that is beyond reproach. “Executive” models boast six inches more space between the front and rear axles that contributes to much more spacious rear seats, but regardless of wheelbase, every Panamera sedan is still every inch a Porsche. And it boasts the performance to prove it.

By year’s end, we will have yet another heretofore-heretical Porsche model available, a Panamera-based wagon (!) called the Panamera Sport Turismo, which will offer even more spacious rear seating, a rear center seat and more cargo space, but likely minimally diminished performance. If Porsche is bent on proving it can sportify all the four-wheeled things, it appears to be succeeding.

2017 Porsche Panamera

Base price: $86,050 (Panamera), $147,950 (Turbo)
Body style: 5-Door, 4-passenger hatchback
Power: 330-hp 3.0-liter V-6, 520-hp or 570-hp 4.0-liter V-8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Drive wheels: all
Fuel economy (city/highway): 21/26 mpg (V-6), 18/25 (V-8)

 

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