Five metres, two tonnes and four doors shouldn't corner, but it does! Just like the bumblebee that shouldn't fly, the Panamera corners like a pro. And this second-generation car does so while looking great too; something the previous one didn't quite manage to pull off. Its styling wasn't appreciated and the bulbous, wagon-like rear was widely panned.
But that wasn't the only criticism. Despite the Cayenne paving the way for a four-door Porsche, purists drew their daggers at the first-generation Panamera's unveil – what was a Porsche sportscar doing with four doors, four seats and an engine up front? After all, didn't this thoroughbred sportscar company cancel its own four-door 989 project back in 1992?
But while the purists protested, customers lapped it up and Porsche claimed that sales surpassed its expectations. Since its launch in 2009, the company sold over 1,50,000 Panameras. Seven years after the first model, Porsche unveiled an all-new Panamera. The styling was stealthier, and the profile and rear section looked more 911. The initial reaction was one of immediate appreciation, not quite what the first car enjoyed. The world was warming up to the Panamera, and it's now here to charm Indian audiences.
For our drive, we decide to head out of Mumbai onto the fast, straight highway to Gujarat, but there's a light drizzle and grey monsoon clouds ominously loom ahead. This would make a great picture, but will it dampen our drive? The Panamera, though, has no such doubt. It just roars onward, secure in the abilities of the Porsche Traction Management's all-wheel drive and variable torque distribution.
I switch to 'Sport Plus' and the exhausts burble, clearing their throat in anticipation of a stellar audio performance. And the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 comes to life, but it isn't as wild or loud as many would like. It's like the car is shying away from the guttural German tone; pity! Velocity build-up, however, is warp quick, and the car despatches straights in one mad headrush. Our testing showed the 550hp V8 pushing the car to 100kph in just 3.58sec. 20-80kph in 3rd is achieved in an equally stunning 2.51sec. Of course, the V8 does have a saner side; it features cylinder deactivation, which means at light loads it runs on only four cylinders. I can't really tell when it does – deactivation and reactivation are so smooth, or did I not run at light load at all?
Overtaking on the straights isn't a worry, you can safely and quickly pick out one, two and even three vehicles in one go. The optional Sport Chrono package gets you Launch Control and direct access to the four driving modes – Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual – via a handy steering-mounted rotary switch. 'Sport Plus' calls upon optimal powertrain response and all the complex electronic chassis control systems like the ride-height-adjustable air suspension, the electronic damper control (Porsche Active Suspension Management - PASM), the electromechanical roll stabilisation (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport - PDCC Sport), and rear-axle steering switch, to a maximum performance setting.
Ever fantasized about nitrous boost in the tuned street racers? Depress the Sport Response button at the centre of the mode dial and you're rewarded with a manic 20sec burst of maximum performance. When activated, the engine response and gearbox shifts are a lot more dynamic than in Sport Plus.
The Panamera Turbo rides on air springs all around. The ride is comfortable enough and far from bone-jarring, but there is a hard edge to it in all modes (remember, this four-door has sportscar duties too). On uneven roads, this hunkered-down sedan jiggles about. However, the faster you go the better the Panamera feels, and at high speeds, especially in Sport Plus mode, it feels superbly planted. It is unfazed by crests and undulations but is sensitive to the contours of the road; you have to watch out for sharp ruts and potholes, which can use up the limited suspension travel with a sickening thud. The ride height cleverly alters from low, medium to high. Useful in our conditions, you can call upon the 'High' setting at any time, and we managed to clear some medium-sized speedbumps without resorting to the sideways crab crawl.
Just Push Play
The command centre is suitably impressive for a Rs 2 crore car. Gone is the vast array of buttons of the earlier Panamera and instead, you're presented with touch-sensitive surfaces. The centre screen is a large 12.3-inch touch display that is easily one of the best systems around. It's very intuitive to use, has a load of functions and the haptic touch makes you feel like you are pressing real buttons. It's good to see that Porsche has refrained from using too many colours, and the largely monochrome display is very tasteful. Also useful is the ability to use two fingers to pinch and expand the navigation display, just like on a smartphone.
The traditional Porsche five-dial display is nestled behind the steering wheel but only the central tachometer is an actual analogue one. It is flanked by two 7.0-inch screens that display the other dials. The screens are customisable for various functions, including a navigation display. Oh, and the front seats have a rather interesting feature – a massage function. I never imagined getting a massage in a Porsche! Never mind, I switch it off. I've never liked being poked and prodded; it's pretty distracting when you're driving at speeds the Panamera is capable of.
Walk on Water
We reach the ghats and the clouds have opened up, the tarmac is soaked and in places, there are little streams running across the road. But I intend to have fun; I switch to Sport Plus but leave the stability control on. Public roads, torrential rain and two tonnes of metal aren't a challenge I'm ready for. After taking some time to get acquainted with the car's handling characteristics, I begin to probe a bit deeper. Corner after corner the Panamera simply amazes, grip levels are fantastic and cornering is astonishingly neutral. No doubt, the Porsche Traction Management system is working hard to keep the Panamera out of the woods and me in a job. Those who have driven this car on a track testify to its cornering prowess and out here in the ghats, I don't doubt any of the superlatives used to describe it.
After a while, I'm hit by a startling revelation. So good is the new eight-speed PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) gearbox that I haven't reached for the paddles yet. Even in the Audi R8, the Panamera's relative, I've occasionally found myself using the paddles to select the gear I want, but not in the Porsche. You'd probably need them if your name was Mark Webber, but for a lesser mortal like me, the gearbox software did the job.
In what seemed like a few fleeting moments, I cover 10km of ghats and our photographer Kuldeep still needs a few more shots. No complaints, I happily do multiple runs. It really is that effortless and rewarding a car to drive. Besides, the roads are drying up, letting me go even faster. But while the brilliant chassis dynamics melt away the size of the car, the five-metre length and near-two-metre width do demand attention on narrow road sections.
After a few hours, I do the unthinkable; I give away the keys to the Porsche and ask to be chauffeured around. Legroom at the rear is more than enough for my 5ft 8in frame. Headroom too is sufficient but with the smaller windows, tapering sides and massive central tunnel, the overall feeling of space isn't that of a luxury sedan. You have to bear in mind this car's alter ego. The large dual sunroofs do help in freeing up some visual space. The seats are individual buckets, power-adjustable for recline and with extendable lower thigh support. Like the ones at the front, they feature the massage function too. The rear centre console has an elegantly styled touchscreen and a few buttons that give you control over the entertainment, climate, navigation and other functions. Like at the front, the centre AC vents are electrically controllable via the touchscreen. While this is one cool party trick, it's very frustrating to use; simply turning the vent would have been easier and quicker.
We stop for a break and I, along with a dozen or so bystanders, begin to take in the styling. One glance and there is no mistaking this for anything other than a Panamera. But with a 5mm increase in maximum height and a 20mm reduction towards the rear, the new car has a sleeker and sportier profile; it now looks less wagon-like and is more in tune with the car's sporty nature. Based on Volkswagen's new MSB modular platform, the car has grown to be 34mm longer, 6mm wider and 5mm taller, with a 30mm wheelbase extension. Interestingly, there is also a long-wheelbase version christened 'Executive', and an estate version called 'Sport Turismo'; yes, you read that right. Porsche sees good demand for such cars and they're both heading our way soon.
At the front, the hood features a prominent power bulge whose lines now extend deeper into the bumper, and typical of others in the stable, it blends at the sides into strong flares on the fenders. The LED headlights have prominent four-point LED daytime running lamps. Below the lamp units are bar lights that also double as turn signal indicators. At the side, the roofline is more coupé-like and stylistically similar to the 911. The front door has a deep recess that fades out into the pronounced rear wheel arch. Like on the previous car, the front fenders feature cooling air vents. The mighty retractable spoiler is surely the talking point at the rear and its deployment mechanism looks like it was designed by Tony Stark. Below that are the narrow LED rear tail-lights joined together by an LED strip giving an impression of a continuous light unit.
The new Panamera seems all set to eclipse the success of its predecessor. It's a very striking car that's well-specced and thoroughly modern. In its time with us, it managed to impress everyone at the office. The athlete levels of dynamism, an engine that seems like it could power a rocket and a brilliant gearbox, all make for a very rewarding drive experience. And to think this is just a four-door with four pretty comfy seats. Sure, there's no point buying this car if you'd be spending all your time at the rear, but if you're the generous kind who likes to take your friends and family on thrilling drives, the new Panamera fits to a T.