On Board The

PANAMERA

EXPRESS

I’ve never really liked the Panamera. To me, it is a business strategy to extract every ounce of heritage and legacy from the legendary Porsche 911 to create a car that rewards only one third the adrenalin gratification of what a Carrera owner receives. However, I cannot deny Bobby’s relentless argument that cars like the Cayenne and Panamera are way harder to engineer than that of the Lotus Elise. Which is why I travelled 9,500km to Munich to experience the all-new Porsche Panamera. And I believe I’ll be boarding the Panamera Express sooner than I thought.

by KEEGAN DORAI

Hastening.

That’s the word as I make my way to the airport with Bobby giving me a lift in his S4 Avant — a great car by any standards, any weather, any day. Not today though, as he’ll soon drive home all by himself in that nose heavy supercharged 3.0-litre V6, I on the other hand, will be landing in Munich driving his all-time favourite car. Just to agitate him further, I told him I’ll be driving the flagship 550hp Panamera Turbo and a ‘slower’ one, the 422hp Panamera Diesel with a 4.5 second century run. Much faster than Bobby's daily runabout and also, the world’s fastest diesel automobile.

Truth be told, I might not be the best person to even judge Panameras. As I’m one who appreciates slow as much as fast and adoring squared edges as much as fluidic sculptures. Hence it won’t be surprising if I’m telling you that my automotive life is basically nothing but a short one-dimensional route of affection towards Volvos. But hey, safe as they may be, these Swedes are the ones who advertised a 740 Turbo wagon next to a Lamborghini Countach with a trailer attached.

Porsche Panamera Turbo

Porsche
Panamera 4S Diesel

Prior to all of this, I have driven the first generation Panamera quite a number of times and god almighty it was fast. The interior is just sublime and its dynamic handling is classic Porsche, in fact, no one makes electrically assisted steerings as good as Porsche, even BMW fumbled at it. Nevertheless, I just can’t really get past its looks, I remembered when the curtains dropped at the Shanghai Motorshow in 2009, it appeared to be rather odd, suffice to ask if it’s even Porsche-like, it’s bordering offensive at initial impression. My immediate reaction was to ask myself — “What have they gotten themselves into”?

Yes, it isn’t pretty at all. Yes, it got most of its fanbases even more berserk than a chap losing his women to another drunkard at the bar. It was a catastrophic nightmare to the eyes of 911 devotees. But eventually, I reckoned the Panamera is the best take for the brand to widen its market appeal to gain more moolah after the wildly successful Porsche Cayenne. In doing so, it has the financial strength to produce brilliant one offs like the 918 Spyder, the GT3RS, or the GT4. And yes, you can’t blame them for doing that, in fact, Porsche deserved a pat on their back.

After a dreadful long flight, I was standing outside Munich’s airport terminal. Filled with lots of unhappy-looking taxi drivers waiting to haul their next catch to the city. Walking pass them and a few hundred steps after, I stumbled upon an impressive structure located at the airport’s Forum, and it was the Porsche pavilion.

And there they sit, those beautiful four door Porsches that resemble stretched long wheel base 911s. Which is actually how it all started when a Porsche dealer created the Troutman & Barnes Porsche 911 back in 1967. But to explore the first Porsche in house designed 4 door supercar, we’d have to drive Christopher Lloyd’s DeLorean back to the 1980s.

It all began with ex-CEO Ulrich Bez experimenting on building a four-door 989 saloon. Yes, it got a couple of touches from the 911. Starting from its sophisticated control-arm suspension and 959-esque headlamps, it also came with a set of new taillight designs that was latterly plonked in for the upcoming 996-generation 911 as well.

Ulrich Bez’s project was soon scrapped as he made his departure from the brand, and production never saw the light of day. Inevitably, close to thirty years down the road, the oil moguls from the middle east began to emerge, and the walls hindering China’s global expansion soon crumbled, which lead to a sudden spike in demand for high-end saloons. The modern-day spiritual successor, which is the previous-generation of the current car, was Porsche’s answer to these rapidly-growing markets that demands only the best.

As I glean my eyes across the lines of the new Panamera, I can't help but admire what an excellent job the designers have done this time around. In a world where Bentleys and Aston Martins and Mercedes-Benzes litter their surfaces with crevices and louvres and grilles, the world's most capable grand tourer choose to present itself in sleek and elegant lines running across its surface. Utmost discreet it may be, place a little more attention, you'll be treated with surprising little touches that unwittingly puts a smile on your face.

At the front, styling cues from the 918 Spyder as well as the Sport Turismo concept is evident. Contrasting to the previous Panamera where the front bumper sits almost as high as that of the Macan, Porsche further pushed the front edges lower to exude a menacing vibe that sends you a message saying its back better than ever. Dimensionally, it is also bigger than its predecessor — 35mm longer, 5mm wider and 5mm taller to be precise.

Despite the larger dimensions, the new Panamera actually looks smaller, lower, brilliantly proportioned and surprisingly seductive at the same time. Its equally the same on the side with the new athletic flanks that is topped off with one long crease that tapers at the rear quarter. The rear is lowered by a mere 2cm, but that is enough to give the Panamera not just a more streamlined look, but it has that crucial kink that resembles that of a 911's classic shape. It also comes with the Carrera 4S-inspired LED strip that connects the left and right tail lamps in order to proudly flank the P O R S C H E logo.

Day two and after a long brief, the route plotted out for all of us was a mix of both highway and B-roads which will be taking us to the Prealps of Bavaria. Tegernsee is the destination, and it is famed for its scenic lake views. First off, I was handed the keys to a Crayon-hued Panamera Turbo, and driving quickly began out from the airport Forum.

While on the Autobahn 8 heading out from Munich, the Panamera feels very refined at German cruising speeds. And German cruising speed means an excess of 170km/h — possibly higher but no less than 140km/h. Do this in any modern-day performance-oriented sports saloon and you’ll soon experience all sorts of wind noise and tyre roar protruding into the cabin. Oh, and bear in mind this thing has 550bhp and 770Nm ready at your disposal, too.

But the Panamera doesn’t, and hats of to Porsche for greatly enhancing all means of refinement. Yes, the older model did felt a little more ‘raw’ now in comparison to this, in which I would honestly admit I will miss it a little. Still, there is nothing much to complain about having limo-like refinements and a supercar performance. That’s the best of both worlds.

The interior is a nice place to sit in, too. Now with its new Advance Cockpit design, it looks like the new Panamera is capable of giving Aston Martin’s Rapide a run in the interior pageant tournament. The new 12.3-metre screen looks impeccable, and it echoes a Vertu-like finish. Graphics and display clarity are easy on the eyes, and it is intuitive enough for all sorts of users.

Gone are those little buttons on the command centre which is now replaced with a slew of touchpad keys. So if you’re that sort of chap that fancies a decor of a 1960’s jetliner cockpit — then too bad. Crisp and modernity is now the in-thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this dash fascia will soon make its way into future Porsche models. Heck, even the air-conditioning vents are now automatically-operated. No more fiddling with your fingers or shutting it in the old-fashioned manner.

Build quality is typical Porsche, and there is nothing much to fault about as you will get a leather-padded dashboard. Trimmings are made out of carbon fibre for the range-topping Turbo, whereas the 4S diesel gets a piano-black scheme that musters a more classier finish. More about its oil-burning derivative later as I will be piloting it back to Munich after our overnight stay at Tegernsee.

Turning off the highway and soon onto some countryside roads, the Panamera feels pretty much at home despite it being quite a large tourer. And being big here isn’t really handy as you will be driving through old towns with small roads. Despite this, the Panamera appears to be quite a nimble car to steer around town as we passed Rosenheim, Irschenberg and Agathareid, which is easily about 40 kilometres away from our destination.

Yes, I did fret a little driving through some narrow paths where you’ll stumble upon elderly folks walking their dog to the nearest provision store. Could it be the wonders of rear-wheel steering? I believe so, and Porsche claims that it not only enhances handling but manoeuvrability around town as well, and it evidently works well for me as it shortens the wheelbase at speeds of up to 50km/h.

On the handling bit, the Panamera now gets a new 4D Chassis Control management system that irons out both ride comfort and damping evenly. Being equipped with a new three-chamber air suspension, it steers with aplomb, turns in with lots of grip with great feedback through its nicely-balanced steering feel.

Still possessing that fear of crashing into someone else’s farmland? Don’t worry, just bomb the Panamera along that sweeping curve, and the all-wheel-drive setup will give you all of its damndest response in precise poise and precision. This thing grips like its on rails — making you instantly forgetting that you’re actually piloting a hefty, full-bore 2070kg corner carving, cow-scaring flagship.

Revving its wonderful-sounding V8 pass the corner and onto a straight road, the Panamera Turbo simply pulls away effortlessly. As tested here, the Sports Chrono pack variant is able to hit 100km/h in 3.6 seconds from a standstill in a century sprint — even though the boffins have downtuned its turbo churn to a meagre 0.3bar. Could there be a more powerful variant in the future? We strongly think so.

All forms of braking is done via a set of 420mm ceramic discs with huge 10-piston calipers. Brake fade is virtually nil, but you can feel the Panamera throwing its weight during hard braking. All in all, it performs remarkably impressive. Looks like the 7min38sec Nürburgring lap time set by Porsche tallies with its overall dynamics, if only we can put the Turbo at its paces at the fabled circuit.

Departing the heavenly Das Tegernsee on the final day — this time — the organisers handed the Panamera 4S Diesel for our commute back to Munich. As we pass through the Sylvenstein cross near Austria, and skipping most of the rural route, its time to hit the Autobahn 8 which takes us directly back to our very final destination.

Driving on a crisp weekday afternoon on the expressway, I decided to push the 4S Diesel a ‘smidgen’ above the usual cruising speed. Soon enough, it clocks an amazing 285km/h top speed in an instant. Simply pulling its way through without any signs of struggle. Effortless is the word I would key in this manner, all thanks to its sprightly V8 turbodiesel that puts out 422bhp and 850Nm. Refinement count for this oil-burner is exceptional, too.

If driven sanely, the 4S Diesel is capable of returning a stonking 14.7km/L. So to all GT but frugal-seeking buyers, do apply here if you’re in the market for one, and don’t ever let its diesel badge turn you off. Be it if you want to be driven in one, or driving it yourself, the 4S Diesel hits the mark perfectly. Balancing out both supple ride quality, performance and dynamics altogether in sweet harmony. How about the Turbo? Well, its an über four-door grand turismo that needs no faint-hearted buyers, but instead, preferring someone that will enjoy its festooned package of wonderfulness.

As I reach my destination with an answer in mind, the all-new Panamera is indeed a stunning all-rounder. It’s a testament that display Porsche’s best effort yet to take on the competition without breaking a sweat. Well yes its not a car that will navigate comfortably through gaps in town or getting stuck in traffic, but what’s most important is it better’s its predecessor in every way. What a delightful and charming car it is. Now let’s wait for its local debut!

Porsche
Panamera Turbo

Engine V8, 3996cc, turbocharged
Power 550bhp at 5750rpm
Torque 770Nm at 1960-4500rpm
Transmission 8-speed dual-clutch PDK, all-wheel-drive
Weight 2070kg
Power-to-weight 266bhp/tonne
Price TBA

evo rating: ★★★★

Porsche
Panamera 4S Diesel

Engine V8, 3956cc, turbodiesel
Power 422bhp at 3500-5000rpm
Torque 850Nm at 1000-3250rpm
Transmission 8-speed dual-clutch PDK, all-wheel-drive
Weight 2125kg
Power-to-weight 199bhp/tonne
Price TBA

evo rating: ★★★★

I’ve never really liked the Panamera. To me, it is a business strategy to extract every ounce of heritage and legacy from the legendary Porsche 911 to create a car that rewards only one third the adrenalin gratification of what a Carrera owner receives. However, I cannot deny Bobby’s relentless argument that cars like the Cayenne and Panamera are way harder to engineer than that of the Lotus Elise. Which is why I travelled 9,500km to Munich to experience the all-new Porsche Panamera. And I believe I’ll be boarding the Panamera Express sooner than I thought.

by KEEGAN DORAI