2017 Porsche Panamera Driven: More than a Beverly Hills Butt Lift

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Source: Car and Driver
Full Article: 2017 Porsche Panamera Driven: More than a Beverly Hills Butt Lift

Of the few criticisms leveled at the 2010–2016 Porsche Panamera, the only one with any substance was a disdain for its baggy butt. The original four-door Porsche hatchback charged hard, scythed through curves, and swallowed highway miles whole—all while appearing to wear a loaded diaper.

So it’s easy to look at the 2017 Porsche Panamera and assume that this redesign focused on the cosmetic work that finally sets things right. With a lower roofline, a taller rear end, shapelier hips, and horizontal graphics that visually widen the car, the Panamera finally looks like the four-door 911 that it aspires to be. Yet the bodywork is actually the sidebar to, well, pretty much everything else. This second-generation Panamera is every bit as fresh as the car that appeared in 2009, debuting a new architecture, transmission, and interior as well as a pair of engines that will spread across Porsche’s non-sports-car lineup and elsewhere within the Volkswagen Group.

Hot Car, Hot Vee

At launch, the hottest ticket is the $147,950 Panamera Turbo. Its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 can make up to 550 horsepower and 567 lb-ft of torque, or it can deactivate the valves and shut off fuel to four of its cylinders to reduce consumption. Despite basic similarities shared with the engine used in Audi’s A8, S8, S7, and S6 and Bentley’s Continental, Porsche considers this an all-new engine. It’s the brand’s first use of a “hot vee” design: The turbos live in the valley between the cylinder banks, which shortens the run for the exhaust gases between the cylinder heads and the turbines. Placing the turbos in the center of the engine makes better use of the high-energy pulses in the exhaust stream, improving response. The new plumbing also facilitates mounting the engine lower in the car, slightly lowering the car’s center of gravity.

Stomp the right pedal, and the Panamera Turbo lunges off the line with strong low-end pull. The EA825 engine delivers acrobatic flexibility between its torque peak at 1960 rpm and the 6800-rpm fuel cutoff, always coming back from off-throttle lulls with pent-up ferocity. It is far more animated, slightly gruffer, and—with the optional Sport exhaust—louder than Audi’s 4.0-liter V-8.

One step down the ladder, the $100,950 Panamera 4S replaces the previous model’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 with a 2.9-liter unit. This engine, also all-new and code-named EA839, was developed by Audi and derived from the single-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 that will power the upcoming Audi S4. Its atypical 90-degree cylinder-bank angle—most V-6s have a 60-degree layout­—also accommodates a pair of turbochargers in the valley between the cylinders but requires a balance shaft to smooth out the vibrations.

Our experience with the 4S was limited in time and distance, amounting to an anticlimactic slow lap in traffic around Tegernsee, the touristy German lake and town near the Austrian border. Does the boosted engine really not feel as full as the claimed 440 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque? Or was it merely the aggravation of not being able to uncork all that potential that left us wanting more? We’ll have to wait for a second opportunity before rendering judgment.

Initially, both engines will drive all four wheels (rear-wheel drive is expected on a still-to-come base or GTS model) through a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which Porsche calls PDK for short. The new gearbox internals are 6.1 inches shorter than those of the old seven-speed unit, but the housing length is unchanged to accommodate an electric motor for the inevitable hybrid versions. (The last Panamera hybrid utilized a conventional automatic transmission.) A successor to the plug-in E-hybrid is a certainty, and we’ve also been led to believe that the forthcoming Panamera Turbo S will be juiced with an electric motor.

In both its sports cars and its four-doors, Porsche’s PDK gearboxes are the gold standard in automatic shifting, and this new gearbox lives up to its predecessor with quick yet graceful gearchanges. We did, however, experience one pulse-raising moment in the Turbo when one of the clutches hesitated to fully engage during a left-hand turn from a stop as oncoming traffic barreled toward us.

A Driver’s Car in a Segment that Prioritizes Passengers

The 2017 Panamera’s new MSB platform employs more aluminum in its unibody, although we don’t expect a significant weight reduction. This architecture eventually will spawn long-wheelbase and station-wagon Panamera bodies, plus at least one Bentley two-door. Gernot Döllner, head of the Panamera line, says the MSB isn’t flexible enough to accommodate the long-rumored smaller Porsche four-door. Instead, he suggests that hole will be filled with the production car previewed by the electric Mission E concept.

All four occupants sit closer to the ground in the new Panamera. That allows rear-seat headroom to remain unchanged even as Porsche has dropped the roofline by as much as 0.8 inch. The new car also is 1.3 inches longer overall, with all but two-tenths of an inch used to stretch the wheelbase. The rear buckets, every bit as comfortable and supportive as the front seats, provide ample legroom, although a six-foot three-inch rider brushed his hair against the headliner, and the space only gets tighter as you recline the rear seat to a comfortable angle.

Coil springs and adaptive dampers are standard on the 4S, while the Turbo rides on air springs that now have a third chamber for a greater range of adjustability. Optional chassis technology borrowed from the 911 includes rear-wheel steering and the active anti-roll bars of Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control. The loaded Turbo we drove felt stable and planted when pushed and was contentedly comfortable at slower paces, at least on Germany’s well-maintained roads. Cornering comes naturally, with minimal roll and relatively high grip from Pirelli P Zero rubber on optional 21-inch wheels.

There is room for improvement, though. The variable-ratio steering feels too light on-center, and the brake pedal is soft at the top of its travel. Still, the Panamera is far and away the driver’s choice in a segment largely filled with squishy limos. It drives as if it were much smaller and with far better control of body motions than an Audi A8, a BMW 7-series, or a Mercedes-Benz S-class.

Smart Tech/Dumb Tech

Those competitors may offer a superior rear-seat experience, but the Panamera’s cockpit is as fetching as the sheetmetal and equipped for today, when tech and luxury are thought to be synonymous. The central analog tachometer is flanked by two 7.0-inch screens. These can be configured to ape the five round gauges in a traditional Porsche instrument panel, or you can opt to fill one side entirely with the navigation map. A 12.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay capability manages infotainment duties.

The old Panamera’s button-festooned center console has been usurped by a slightly less daunting number of touch-sensitive icons glowing through a glossy black slab. The controls for sport mode, the suspension setting, and stability control require a hard press and respond with a convincing click reminiscent of a physical button. Compared with the old arrangement, this system makes it harder to find your target by touch, but at least there’s enough feedback to confirm you’ve pressed something. Strangely, though, the keys higher on the center console react to the lightest tap and don’t deliver the same satisfying haptic feedback. Worse, this center display is plagued by disorganized screen layouts, options buried deep in oddly labeled menus, and touch points that are simply too small.

And in an act of intrepid inanity, Porsche has also thought it appropriate to control the center air vent via the touchscreen. The act of closing the vent or redirecting its flow is now handled by tapping a flat glass pane less than three inches above the actual vent.

Applying technology more appropriately, Porsche InnoDrive is an adaptive-cruise-control system that reacts to changing speed limits and uses high-definition map data to look almost two miles down the road. With that foresight, it will downshift before the road begins to climb and decelerate the vehicle when a curve needs to be taken slower than the currently set cruise-control speed. With a route programmed into the navigation system, the car will slow itself as you approach an upcoming turn. Switching the car into sport mode with InnoDrive activated causes it to set cornering speeds higher, brake more aggressively, and accelerate harder than the average person drives.

InnoDrive appears to have a greater understanding of the road ahead than Tesla’s Autopilot, but it doesn’t make any attempt to steer the car. On Germany’s autobahn, it smoothed the schizophrenic speed-limit changes with the gentle transitions of a human driver, yet when a dawdling Peugeot finally moved to the right in an unrestricted section, the Porsche accelerated forcefully—just as we would in a 550-hp Porsche—to the system’s max of 130 mph. Of course, that last part won’t happen in the United States, and the InnoDrive won’t be available when the first Panameras arrive here in January 2017. Porsche is still fine-tuning the system for our laws and our lawyers, so it will be a late-availability feature.

Porsche’s second-generation Panamera is built around a set of newly developed hardware, but it all comes together in a package that drives similarly to the original. That’s no bad thing, considering that the first Panamera ran at a swift pace with the utmost composure. That demeanor is as evident as ever, and the Panamera remains a distinctive proposition in a segment that otherwise follows a rigid formula. Even if every piece of tech isn’t fully baked, Porsche’s alternative solution remains the choice for drivers.

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