Stretched or long-wheelbase variants of luxury cars are very common in China where there’s a strong chauffeur-driven culture, just like India. Chinese car owners love to stretch out in the back seat, hence, in some segments, luxury carmakers don’t even bother offering models with the standard wheelbase. And suddenly, luxury brands in India have woken up to the fact that, in their quest to indulge owners with even more comfort, long-wheelbase variants of some of their cars could work pretty well here too.
Mercedes took the plunge recently with the long-wheelbase E-class and Porsche has followed suit with the Panamera Turbo Executive. A chauffeur-driven Porsche? Blasphemous as it may sound, there are owners who’d rather be driven around and it’s for them that the long-wheelbase version of the Panamera has been designed. It’s also made in the right-hand-drive for the first time, which makes it possible for Indian customers to buy one. But should you buy one?
The standard Panamera is decently spacious in the rear, to begin with, but the Turbo Executive takes legroom to the level of the Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-series. It’s no less lavishly equipped with goodies like a panoramic roof, special ambient interior lighting, soft-close doors, 10.1-inch infotainment screens and electrically reclining seats that come with two fold-out tables to give you an executive jet ambience.
Lots of legroom in the rear and lots of toys to play with too.
But, with someone driving the Panamera the way it’s meant to be driven, sitting at the back is more like being in the tandem seat of an F-15 fighter. No, you can’t fire a Sparrow missile from the high-tech-looking central console but you may need a g-suit (and a puke bag) if the road gets twisty.
Whilst there maybe enough space on offer with great legroom and surprisingly decent headroom, you can’t lounge in the Panamera’s deeply contoured and sporty rear buckets as you would in an S-class. Also, the slim windows, sloping roofline and tall front seats don’t give you the airy ambience you expect from a chauffeur-driven luxury car. The truth is that the Turbo Executive is not the ideal car to be driven around in. It’s for someone who sits in the back seat occasionally or is perpetually late for their flight and needs to be to driven to the airport in a hurry.
The only place to be in any Porsche is in the driver’s seat and the Panamera is no exception. The moment you drop yourself into the perfectly bolstered driver’s seat, to face an all-new dashboard that blends traditional Porsche functionality with a digital interface, you forget that there’s a pair of seats and a pretty large boot behind you.
Gone is the bewildering sea of tiny buttons in the previous Panamera, which predictably, have been replaced by touch-sensitive controls, but what truly stands out is the infotainment system. The ultra-high-definition display, the haptic feedback and the unintimidating way in which the huge number of functions can be quickly accessed make this 12.3-inch-wide touchscreen a delight and less of a distraction to use.
Porsche’s tradition of a five-dial instrument cluster continues in the Panamera but four of them are digital, except for the large, central tachometer which continues, in time-honoured fashion, to be analogue. You can’t change everything, can you?
Engine options with the Turbo Executive comprise the base 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, a mighty 4.0-litre V8 diesel and the top-of-the-range (for now) Turbo which gets a brand-new, compact 4.0-litre V8 petrol, with twin turbos nestling inside the vee, developing 550hp. The Panamera Executive has been launched in India with the Turbo, and that's the version I drove in South Africa outside Cape Town.
First impressions are that it doesn’t sound particularly potent and I was expecting a more glorious soundtrack from this V8. There’s a nice burble at idle and low speeds but engine note doesn’t crescendo dramatically as the revs rise. The rather muted engine note also dulls the sensation of speed, which makes the Turbo Executive deceptively quick. And quick it is.
Stomp the throttle pedal and the Panamera rockets off in a way that belies its 2,100kg kerb weight. With maximum torque at a colossal 770Nm developed at 1,960rpm, there’s instant response in any gear, at any revs, and at any speed. My day with the Panamera was spent revelling in its performance, enjoying short bursts of ludicrous speed quickly tempered with sanity and powerful six-pot caliper brakes. The eight-speed, dual-clutch (PDK) transmission can read your mind and works so intuitively, especially in Sport+ mode, that I never felt the need to use it manually, except for the fun of playing with the paddles.
Looking for a good location to take some pictures, I stumbled upon a deserted country road with a delightful set of corners. The idea of the photo shoot was quickly forgotten as I found the perfect playground replete with long sweeping corners, crests, and the odd switchback. The colossal grip, the rock-solid stability, and minimal steering corrections removed the drama through the corners. Four-wheel steering, torque vectoring and the adjustable air suspension makes the Panamera feel like it’s on rails. The flawless dynamics, however, don’t mask the size of the car and on a really narrow road, you just need to be aware of where the edges of this 5.2m-long car are.
Indian customers will be pleasantly surprised with the impressive ride quality the Panamera’s air suspension delivers. There’s an underlying firmness to the ride no doubt, even in Normal mode, but the way it rounded off sharp edges and some broken bits of tarmac, which I chanced upon, bode well for a certain level of comfort on Indian roads. The only thing to watch out for in this is what every sportscar is allergic to – speed breakers.
Priced at Rs 2.06 crore (ex-showroom, Maharashtra), the Panamera Turbo Executive may be too expensive and hard-core for most luxury car buyers in India. But for the true (and rich) enthusiast, there is simply no sports sedan that is as spacious and rewarding to drive.