Porsche Panamera Diesel
Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $196,700
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): 20-inch RS Spyder wheels $7670; Carbon interior package $5380; 14-way power seats $3190; Bi-Xenon headlights $2040; Multi-function steering wheel $1390
Crash rating: Not tested
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 6.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 172
Also consider: Audi A7 3.0 TDI (from $135,750); Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI (from $159,200)
What we like:
>> Handles and steers like a car half its size
>> Muscular V6 diesel doesn't sound like one
>> Packaging lends versatility, but...
Not so much:
>> Fifth seat option would be clever
>> Transmission can hold intermediate gears too long
>> Equipment levels light given $200K-plus pricetag
Few modern cars polarise opinion like Porsche's Panamera... Controversial in terms of being a four-door, four-seat Porsche, the maker's first ever large sedan takes the iconic sportscar brand deep into Mercedes-Benz and BMW territory...
Though priced against the likes of Benz's S-Class and the BMW 7 Series, in reality Panamera's passenger accommodation is closer to the 5 Series, E-Class and A6 territory. But there's a style quotient that's missing from 'normal' four-doors -- hence the writer's A7 and CLS 'Also Considers' above.
The plus side of the Panamera equation is this is a car that drives like one much smaller than its existing footprint. It will thus suit those who are keen drivers rather than owners simply look for limousine-like room and appointments.
Our latest experience of the Panamera was an extended stint in the lead up to Christmas 2012. A phone call from Porsche's enthusiastic PR man put yours truly behind the wheel for a month or so during peak socialising and shopping period.
After running the car in, our Porsche man waxed lyrical of the diesel Panamera's general manners and usability -- as you'd expect him to. The surprise was he wasn't entirely on the 'urge' – and the response from many family friends and interested onlookers invited yours truly to cast a fresh set of eyes on the big Zuffenhausen four-door.
There are seats for four only in the Panamera -- an issue that left us one pew short on a couple of occasions -- but the uber-hatch proportions of the car proved it more user friendly than most prestige vehicles. (And a huge step up on the M30 D Infiniti I drove in the lead up to the Porsche -- the Japanese prestige car eschews rear splitfold seats, for example).
There's good legroom in the rear. And tumble the rears and there's room for two bicycles -- even without taking the front wheels off! With the rears in place there's heaps of room for Christmas shopping (see pic), though I needed to tumble one side of the 60:40 rear set-up to fit in my golf bag.
Given the car's pricetag, equipment is a frankly little light. No rear seat adjustment and though our optioned Diesel scored a heated steering wheel, the $216,370 car did not have heated (nor cooled) seats. Radar or adaptive cruise control was also missing -- there are $50,000 cars so equipped these days. It did, however, get one of the best and most intuitive Bluetooth/smart phone interfaces in the business.
Interior styling is a question of taste (I'm a qualified fan) but there's no mistaking the Panamera's cabin is beautifully wrought. The optional carbon fibre kit might not suit all but it looked the business in my eyes. Porsche will soon have to update the centre stack, etc, though, if it's to keep up with the Jurgens -- the Panamera's navigation screen is conspicuous as considerably smaller than those offered in the latest big cars from Benz, BMW and brands like Lexus.
Other instrumentation and driver focussed items are in the main top notch (still don't like the wheel-mounted gear change 'sliders' -- proper paddles or nothing please). For a brand that's built its reputation via stripped out racers this is probably not a surprise to anyone.
Our Panamera was even further from the Porsche norm thanks to the turbo-diesel under the bonnet. The 184kW/550Nm 3.0-litre single turbo V6 is Volkswagen Audi Group sourced but, thanks to significant effort from the Porsche boffins, has a character and soundtrack that's all its own.
Matched with an eight-speed auto rather than Porsche's PDK double-clutch automated manual gearbox, it's an impressive (though not fault free, see below) powertrain. There's strong midrange performance and a timbre that's more like V8 petrol than LCV oiler.
Around town the idle stop-start system works well to pull down urban fuel figures and the diesel fires up instantly at a touch of the accelerator. A brake hold function like Benz would be welcome.
Once turning over, sharp acceleration is available readily -- especially if you choose Sport mode for the powertrain. The only hiccup we noted (also present in 'standard' mapping) was the gearbox's propensity to hold intermediate gears after hard acceleration.
Highway cruising is effortless -- as you'd expect. It's economical too -- with an 80-litre fuel tank, 800km between fills is entirely achievable.
A trip to the Bellarine Peninsula at camera-mandated legal highway speeds saw our daily average down to an incredible 5.3L/100km. Over almost 2000km, much of it in pre-Christmas Melbourne traffic, our pump-confirmed average was a touch under 9.9L/100km.
But perhaps the real talent of the Panamera is its performance on the sort of road you'd expect to attract Porsche fans. Though it's wider than an S-Class Benz and almost as long as a Statesman, the Panamera is pretty handy in the twisties. It steers sharply and precisely and in all modes the adjustable suspension keeps the car comfortable and controlled.
Impressive point to point speeds are easy to maintain. There's an almost total lack of body roll, but unlike some artificial systems (Benz's ABC for example) the car is never flustered in fast changes of direction. It's clichéd, but the AWD Panamera really is a car that shrinks around you.
Let's not mince words, however, when it comes to Panamera, the elephant in the room remains its styling.
This is a car has been almost universally panned by auto journalists around the world but we are not the people who hand over the $200,000 plus it costs to take one home. Buyers have voted with their dollars -- for example Panamera sales matched S-Class Down Under in 2012...
I was plain and simply surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception the Panamera received while in our hands. It is a car that attracts attention and, in the main, admiration.
I'll never call the Panamera pretty, but one thing's for certain -- unlike some of its similarly-priced limo counterparts, it's one in which you'll always be noticed!
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