A TALE OF
TWO TRAILS

words by BOBBY ANG

L

ike waves that comes aft those that ran ashore, there has been no shortage of scions that shaped the shorelines of the automotive industry. From the moment Nikolaus Otto invented the modern combustion engine and laid the foundations that culminated in the forming of BMW in 1916, to his proteges Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler taking the Otto cycle engine to good use by forming Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft resulting in the formation of Mercedes-Benz in 1926 - history has proved itself that it never runs short of the likes of Christian Von Koenigseggs or Soichiro Hondas. But if we were to credit a surname that has profoundly changed the car industry, no other could draw a parallel to that of one that’s forged on top of the crest of all Porsches.

Ever since the turn of the previous century, the pursue of automotive excellence has always been either that of luxury, or performance. Luxury means leather, polished silver, ornaments, heavy wood, sound proofing rubber, more rubber, more wood, more of everything. In fact, to retain that intrinsic behaviour of how Bentleys ride, there’s a hidden rule that has always been religiously practiced, in that all of them vehicles from Crewe, must weigh above two tonnes. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the obsessive weight saving mantra of Lotus, of keeping it simple then add lightness, all in the pursue of speed, of response, of driving enjoyment. The daunting task of finding the magical balance between luxury and performance, has always been the greatest engineering challenge for all car makers.

Of course it has to be better, it wears the Porsche badge.

The biggest departure to the first generation Panamera is of course the much sleeker rear design. As Porsche has plans to introduce the Sport Turismo, essentially a sports back version of the Panamera, there needs to be a distinct separation between the two, thus the decision to render the second generation looking closer to a big sedan, a gloriously beautiful one at that. Nevertheless, the rear still sports a hatch, retaining the extremely wide boot aperture for the all-familiar practicality of the Panamera. While Porsche kept calling it the sports car with four business class seats, to my eyes it is more than that, way more. It is an impressive car to drive, but its real achievement is in the back seats - no human being has ever had the chance to experience such high G-forces while being ferried in absolute comfort. Yes, the Panamera claws onto roads like no four doors ever could.

Can you recall any of those extreme u-turn corners going up Genting? Now imagine doing that with triple the speeds without the chance of cutting apexes, maintaining the 2 meter wide car in what seems to be 3 meter wide lanes. I was expecting the tyres to protest while we pound the car around Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake ring roads, but the car barely transfers any load to the tyres at all. The sensation, as cliche as it may sound, is as if it’s on rails. Something is leaning in to absorb the G-forces wanting to push the car wide, but it certainly isn’t our cabin, and the sensation isn’t artificial like that of the S63 AMG where the constant discontinuity between motion and reaction throws you into an abyss of sensory void. The Panamera does so with athleticism the same way an athlete with a strong core can change directions faster.

Just what it is then, that bestows the Panamera with such abilities?

Key of which is the PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) system that contains a series of gears and couplings to optimise the car’s rolling characteristics based on numerous data from the car. By cancelling the load transfer, coupled with the Porsche rear axle steering, these systems ‘teamed-up’ and pivots the car around the corner instead of letting it push its way, unnecessary amount of engineering? Well so does a Tourbillon timepiece, except the fact that the Panamera has the absolute accuracy of an atomic clock while at it - a term we can use to describe its steering, which is pin sharp even if it’s devoid of much feel. The brakes are linear and the car feels very stately on the get go, but as you throw some fission in and nuclears your pace, it retains the same trick like the old dog was known for - it shrinks around you. The biggest difference is that the old one reacts very well to inputs, to road undulations etc. The new one on the other hand, is intuitive, as if it knows better, as if it’s been here all this while, familiar with the trails, even if you don’t.

The interior might seem like Porsche’s hastened take on the recent touch-screen craze, and the minimalistic approach seems to be the case with all recent premium cars, the exploitation of new found screen real estate. Utilising the best processors and the deepest of gamuts, widest of colors and sharpest of resolution, the new PCM is to me a good enough first try, but not one without improvements needed. The lining up of all main section icons on either the left or right of the screen depending on LHD or RHD is in itself logical at first, while the remaining screen real estate has an Android-like home screen, the size of the buttons means hand-eye coordination is required every time something is in need of being summoned. A small qualm I guess when it’s so logically placed and easy to guess which is where, what to go for when in need.

The party piece of this high tech interior, is the electronically motorised air vent that takes centre stage in the front and rear console. Using an on-screen animation to control the air vents, it’s a joy to see the physical vents move according to where we glide our fingers, albeit almost a second behind pace, it may be a fluff to many, but not if they sit down and write a few more lines of coding to enable automatic oscillation of the air vents, a simple fix to what was an unnecessary complexity to a stroke of ingenuity.

The beautiful ‘Vertu-like’ buttons on the centre dash being all absorbed into the new PCM, the bridge of the new Panamera now only sports a few illuminated LEDs operated via the haptic feedback touch sensitive gloss black panel. Clinical, were if not contrasted with traditional jewellery textured toggle buttons of most commonly used functions. The new Panamera’s centre dash is a great rendition of the 918 Spyder’s centre console if you haven’t realised, and one where we can expect to be pollinated across Zuffenhausen’s range of cars in the immediate future as the third generation Cayenne reveals itself (hopefully) in this year’s Frankfurt Motorshow.

The new Panamera range also took on a different strategy, reversing the traditional route of Panamera, S, GTS and then Turbo; Porsche wanted the flagship, the Turbo S E-Hybrid to take centre stage this round. The culmination of Porsche’s great success in pounding both its hyper rivals, the cheapest, heaviest, least expensive of the holy trinity tech transferred to this flasghip, resulting in an immense orgy of unbelievable, juxtaposing figures from ends of two spectrums. 680hp and 850Nm yet consumes 2.9 litres per 100km, it’s engine capable of singing at 320km/h but also sleeping for a total of 51km without firing a single spark. A true testament of Porsche’s ingenuity that spans across that of three centuries, the Panamera Turbo S E Hybrid is perhaps the greatest gift to Ferdinand Porsche, the man who invented hybrid vehicles 26 years before Mercedes-Benz was formed.

A step down the podium for its hybridised sibling, the 550hp Panamera Turbo remains the enthusiast version instead of the technological showcase of its 680hp brother. This is the car that will lend its body to all those Mansory, Gemballa branded modified four door monsters I supposed. All oil and fire instead of electrons and batteries, the Panamera Turbo will remain the favourite in markets like Malaysia, where even Bangsar Shopping Complex lacks an electric charging point. This is also the halo car in all of Porsche’s commercial of the new Panamera, the one that middle fingers S63 AMGs or M6s with that rising, splitting spoiler as it storms away towards 310km/h. Think of it as a scenario akin to that of a Mikoyan MiG 29 blasting its afterburners to Mach 1.9 to keep up with the Northrop Grumman F-14 Tomcat while the Navy pilot retracts its wings to delta form and goes Mach 2.

What we were given in the mountainous regions of Taichung is slightly more modest, while we get to take photos of that Panamera Turbo showing off its wing, we’re given the 3.0 V6 Turbo Panamera with 330hp and the 2.9 V6 BiTurbo Panamera S with 440hp. I have to apologise to Porsche, but this is 2017, and a 330hp lame duck Panamera is unforgivable for a car that carries the badge of honour of the greatest automotive engineer to ever lived on this planet. No doubt the car is great in all measure, but a 330hp that risks being flash-off the fast lane by a puny little A-Class AMG, and one that’s only 10hp more than a family wagon built by a tiny Nordic country with only 9 million population is not the greatest show of Germany’s engineering might. The 3.0 V6 Turbo engine is slow not by modern standards, but it is slow when BMW has a 252hp 3.0 turbo engine in the year 1980. Yes it is faster than the previous base Panamera that sports the naturally aspirated 3.6 V6, but that Touareg engine has no place even in an Audi let alone a Porsche.

The new 2.9 V6 BiTurbo engine of the Panamera 4S however, is a complete different story, though 440hp for a Porsche might sound like a case of just barely passing “Now that’s what I’m talking about” in reality, the eagerness of this mill, the rawty behaviour of it wanting to pounce, the sound, the gush of power is of a totally different plateau of enjoyment than that lazy 3.0 V6 mill in the base Panamera. With 110hp more than the base model but only a slight top up in pricing - think of it as RM85k vs RM105k; this is the car that is worthy of the Panamera badge and the Porsche crest. It is properly rapid, and most importantly, carries with it the sporting heart of the most successful racing brand in motorsports. Alternating between the two, everyone just can’t wait to hop back into the one with the cheaper road tax. The 440hp mill should've been in the base Panamera at the first place, a wonderful engine that hums along as we rollin' and screams as we go hatin'. Perfectly embodying the car with which it duly serves its duty.

In a world where displacement no longer equals performance, performance no longer equals consumption, and consumption no longer foregoes sustenance, the Porsche Panamera is a car that defies convention, defies objection, defies physics, defies logic. A car that can only be built if you’re courageous enough to take on two trails at one go.

I’ve never made any attempts to hide away my deep respect for this company. And contrary to what most would expect, I’ve never liked the 911 until the first Cayenne blew dusts into the intakes of the Lotus Elise in 2002. I understand and respect Lotus’ stubbornness in protecting the last vestige of driving purity, but that has more to do with passion than engineering, more to be associated with staying within the boundaries than breaking new grounds. To me, it takes less engineering efforts to build an Elise than a Cayenne. For a two tonne behemoth to ferry four person in absolute comfort while chasing a Renault Megane off tight twisty roads is unbelievable. Put it simply, a Saab Gripen pulling a Lomcovak is nothing worth batting an eyelid, an Airbus 380 doing it? Unbelievable.

It might be easy to dismiss the naming of ‘Two Trails’ as the mere proposition of putting the new Panamera through paces of windy roads and fast highway cruising. But I believe the coining of just such a name is the culmination of a deep understanding of the Panamera’s virtues. It’s devastating ability helmed from Porsche’s immense engineering know how. During the briefing, we were of course bombarded by the new Panamera’s exhaustive nomenclatures of PDCC, PASM, PTV Plus etc, and then followed by all forms of expletive definitions of wider, longer, sleeker, plusher, quieter, faster, cleaner and of course - better.

As the purveyor of excellence in everything that bears the name Porsche, it started off as an engineering consultant firm that takes up impossible tasks for bigger companies. Two of the most influential car companies during the turn of the previous century had to rely on Porsche’s ingenuity to design racing cars for the two dominant teams. The cars were so good that they were even coined “Silver Arrows”.  Porsche then made the futuristic Auto Union Type C Streamliner that reached 437km/h in the 1930s land speed record craze. And they didn't stopped there, Porsche created the 3,000 horsepower Mercedes T80 that can reach 750km/h in 1939! You see, Porsche has never been a company that defines itself in a genre of vehicles, of either corinthian leathers or carbon fibres, it is a company that challenges everything with engineering.

Limited slip differential? It’s invented by Porsche. Hybrid vehicles? It’s invented by Porsche. Mid engine racing cars that forms the basis of Pagani Zondas to Formula One cars? It’s invented by Porsche. Why the 911 has engines behind the rear axle? Traction. Every other problem that comes with this weird placement for the engine? In Porsche's thinking, just engineer it away.

'...the daunting task of balancing between performance and luxury, has always been the greatest engineering challenge for any car makers.'

'...a wonderful engine that hums along as we go Rollin, and screams along as we go Hatin'

'The Panamera does so with athleticism the same way an athlete with a strong core can change directions faster...'

'...a Saab Gripen pulling a Lomcovak is nothing worth batting an eyelid, an Airbus 380 doing it? Unbelievable.'