2014 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Base Price: $141,300
Engine: 4.8L V8
Torque: 516 lb-ft
Basically: A sports car in a sedan's body.
Drove Like: A well-appointed and
surprisingly athletic bat out of hell.
For: People who need to get away from
executive-level business meetings at
very fast speeds.
Of Note: Porsche employees get to take out
six-months leases at pretty reasonable prices.
More than a few told us they had leased a
Panamera and weren't about to go back anytime
It was way too early to be having marketing-speak thrown at us, but that's the bargain: You want to drive a Porsche around a racetrack at full speed? You have to sit in the conference room of the Hyatt in Buckhead, Atlanta—not far from Porsche's North American headquarters, about a 15-minute drive away—and suffer through the words "Thrilling Contradictions" at least 17 times that morning, at 7 a.m., and probably another 60 times the rest of the day.
But you can empathize with the need for a two-word buzz phrase for Porsche when it comes to the Panamera, at least as much as one can empathize with corporate buzz phrasing. Porsches that are anything other than sleek two-door bullets that Porsche is historically synonymous with have been met with a metric ton of skepticism from Porsche's core fanbase of buyers and drivers, let alone onlookers and prospective test-drivers.
Such was the case with the Panamera, their four-door sedan, first introduced with a 2010 model that—while impressive on a technical level of aspiring to (and often accomplishing) a balance between sports car and luxury sedan—took heat from critics on the aesthetics of the car and the odd middle-ground it stood firmly on top of.
The general argument against the Panamera when it first showed up was this: Who wants a ride that thinks like a sports car but subscribes to the religion of luxury sedan? And even if you can find an audience for a car like that, can it really ever be both of those things as great as each of them are individually? Can you have your cake and eat it, too?
Hence: Thrilling contradictions. From the second we got there until the moment we left.
Now, the internal mechanism that is being a sentient human being who gets paid to write (and isn't a shill) wants to fight against that as much as one humanly can. But as we trudged out of the hotel to the cars—all lined up against the back of the Hyatt, early in the morning—the resistance to Porsche's mantra began to break down.
On The Outside
The cars, lined up side-by-side, bring a startling first impression, having truly changed from the first iterations of the model. The lines on the front are slimmer beginning with the LED headlights, with the tail end of the car getting sharper, more pronounced lines: a stronger cut. Porsche clearly worked hard to solve the problem of a four-door that looks either truncated or hyper-extended, and their efforts are paying off: The visual effect still raises less an answer (oh, it's sport-luxe sedan) than a question (Sportsury sedan rocket thing?), but in less of an off-putting and far more an intriguing, inviting way. As is the case with the variety in the line itself.
Porsche clearly worked hard to solve the problem of a four-door that looks either truncated or hyper-extended, and their efforts are paying off.
The Panamera comes in eight variations: The base Panemera, the Panemera 4, the Panemera S with a 3.0 twin-turbo V6, the Panemera 4S with active all-wheel drive, the hyper-luxe Panamera 4S executive, the Panamera S E-Hybrid, the Panamera GTS, and the Panamera Turbo Executive.
It's a lot to take in, and on face-value, they're all beautiful cars, but only distinguishable by hints: For example, the Hybrid has a green strip on the wheel showing its freak flag, while the 4S Executive is slightly longer in the middle, giving off the impression that it's flying through hyperspace while completely still.
On The Inside: An Inauspicious Interior
Naturally, we hopped in the Panamera Executive S. Now: The interiors of the Panamera's are massively comfortable, far more comfrotable than any sports car you're ever going to sit in. They're unmistakeable as sedans from that vantage point, and even moreso from the back, which has an absurdly comfortable amount of room. As for the luxury element? Oh, it's there. You could fool yourself into thinking you're sitting in an Armani dressing room, space, leather, lines, everything. But the Executive model? Another story entirely.
The back of the Executive, true to its name, looks like it's mostly meant to transport Illuminati Members.
The back of the car, true to its name, looks like it's mostly meant to transport Illuminati Members: A full console of controls including front-seat movement, and space in the mid-console that can accomodate a mini-fridge—literally—that can hold a bottle of champagne, if you so desire. If you're ever being chased by a rogue-state government or a cadre of pissed-off G-Men, and you need to get out of dodge, you wouldn't find a better place than any of the passenger seats. Or, for that matter, the driver's seat.
The Road Drive: A Good-Natured Comedown
Getting out to upstate Georgia, we soon took the wheel on the way to the race track: The seat fit like a glove, and the steering wheel felt like one (because, you know, wheel-warming controls). On straightaways, the acceleration felt as though you were about to tear a hole in the time-space continuums of the quant, peaceful towns we flew through on the way to an orbit: Driving in a line of cars was unfair, almost. The thing was begging to be unleashed. Hilly curves and zagging turns were light work for the Panamera—as the car took them like a fish gasping for water (more, please, now if not sooner) it brought to the commercial for the foam bed where a glass of wine sits on one side and someone jumps like a maniac on the other: No disturbence, no threatening feedback. The car felt glued to the road like it was on a production line. The steering was seamless.
Its adjustment to your driving is almost Orwellian in how responsive it is to every turn, curve, and pedal-slamming acceleration's needs.
As for any disappointment associated with not getting to drive stick? We were told, over and over again, about just how amazing the PDK—or Porsche Doppelkupplung—transmission system is. Born and bred manual drivers, we were skeptical. And yet: Sitting in the Panamera, there's never a question of control or power when it comes to the brain in the machine besting your own instincts and reflexes. A manual transmission, in the Panamera—compared to the power of the PDK—would be one more thing to worry about. That's it. Its adjustment to your driving is almost Orwellian in how responsive it is to every turn, curve, and acceleration's needs, even when you throw oddball straightaway burns at it, and this wasn't even on the test track yet.
It'd be another hour before that happened. While another group took to the track, we switched out rides: It was time to try out the Panamera S-E Hybrid. We took it to a vineyard and back. It was a hybrid. It was fun, it's a great car, and it's pretty incredible to consider the category's first plug-in hybrid ride. It charges when you drive it out of the battery at lower-midrange RPMs. It's green. It's neat. But if we sound less than enthused about it, we were, because we were going from the Illuminati Transport Vehicle to the Environmentally Conscious Hollywood Studio Suit Transport Vehicle. It's the dumbest kind of complaint, especially considering that—for a hybrid—it had stupid amounts of pep, and even felt a bit sportier in form than the beast mode stylings of the Turbo Executive.
And then, it was time for the Atlanta Motorsports track, which is basically a country club for the most incredible cars you're never going to drive.
The Track Drive
Naturally, driving a sedan on a race track sounds like...a wasted opportunity.
It's a racetrack! It's got curves, apexes, turn-ins. Hell, the calculated car on it is a Porsche 996 Turbo. So a sedan on a racetrack might sound less than enticing, given what usually takes to that kind of track.
This was not 'less than enticing.'
This was more than enticing. This was exhilirating. This felt like driving a G7 around the track: Not quite a fighter jet, but something you could get into some very serious shit with no less. And very serious shit was exactly what happened.
The first few laps were a matter of learning the track. Some of the turns were sharper than they look; others, you could take them with a lot more power than they'd initially invite on first impression. And then we started ratcheting up the speed.
This was exhilirating. This felt like driving a G7 around the track: Not quite a fighter jet, but something you could get into some very serious sh*t with no less.
Eight laps later, taking the Panamera Turbo out on several follow-through laps, needling well past 80 coming out of sharp apex turns, pushing a full G? It didn't just hold to the road, it held tight. The turns we didn't think we'd make, we could. The speeds we didn't think we'd hit, we did. By the final laps of the day, we were testing the full potential of the car's 0-60, braking in hard after flying down straightaways, hugging the road, and then shooting down the next straightaway like a bat out of hell. In other words:
The Panamera handled the track in ways far sportier cars than it should, with more power (and more champagne!). Did it have the agility a sports car would? No, of course not, not while we were driving it anyway.
The "hot laps" experience, wherein we strapped ourselves into the back of the car as a professional driver took the wheel, was more like a roller coaster in a sedan: Terrifying, but did well to demonstrate all the things the car can do under the hands of a professional without going to pieces. And yes, if you push your car to the limits of a sports car, some cars will perform, others simply will not. This one so obviously did.
But there were more than a few of us who definitely found that—when we driving, and looked back there, in the rear view mirror—the presence of a back seat was actually surprising. The thing cruised. It was a smooth ride carrying along an even smoother interior, and it held inside it what could only be characterized as an abstract edge and mystique of understated power and sophisticated machinery that surprises you at every turn.
In other words: It's definitely a Porsche.