2010 Panamera Turbo: The Porsche that doesn’t zig as much.

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An empty two-lane road. Press the “Sport Plus” button. Shift into Drive. Press the brake, then the accelerator. The LCD panel in the middle of the right-side dial says “Launch control activated”. Release the brake. Now we’re in the hands of the Panamera’s formidable array of computers. There’s a fantastic noise, a massive lurch as the PDK dual-clutch transmission briefly spins all four wheels, and we are on the way to a twelve-second quarter-mile. It’s that simple.

The Porsche Panamera Turbo is the fastest mass-produced sedan in history, by virtually any measuring stick one would care to use. Only the AMG biturbo V12 cars come close in a straight line, and on a racetrack they wouldn’t see which way the beetle-backed Por-sha went. Our passenger laps with Flying Lizard driver Patrick Long only served to confirm what we learned driving the Panamera Turbo around Road America ourselves: this is the Corvette of luxury sedans.

And therein lies the problem. The Panamera is supposed to be the Porsche of luxury sedans: characterful, beautiful, desirable, perfectly conceived to suit the needs of its owners. That was the goal. Unfortunately, the “Porsche of luxury sedans” was, and continues to be, the Audi A8. By contrast, the Panamera is fast but flawed, dramatic but disappointing. It produces the numbers but fails to hit all the targets for true satisfaction. After years of reminding auto enthusiasts that pure power and performance numbers don’t make for a perfect car, Porsche has gone ahead and proved the point themselves.

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Most of the Panamera reviews out there focus on the car’s sheer speed, in both normally-aspirated and turbocharged variants, and it’s worth devoting a moment or two to this matter. The secret of this pace is not in the power — the German competition offers similar or greater push for the same money — but in the weight. Two-wheel-drive variants are barely two tons, with loaded AWD models just stretching past 4300 pounds. This is between five hundred and a thousand pounds lighter than the competition. It’s even lighter than Cadillac’s much-praised CTS-V, a car which is far smaller inside. It’s not easy to see the source of the weight advantage, as the Panamera has a feeling of solidity to match any Mercedes in the post-W140 era. The rear seats offer nearly a Phaeton’s worth of space, and the trunk/hatch is large enough for a reasonable amount of luggage and perhaps even a small set of golf clubs.

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Porsche makes a big deal out of the Panamera’s “911-alike” seating position, but although the seat itself may be at the same height and angle, the atmosphere surrounding that seat is quite different. After nearly fifteen years of miserable water-cooled interiors and subpar Cayenne cockpits, Porsche has finally hit one out of the park. Naturally, Panamera owners who fail to specify the complete array of options will be forcibly reminded of their relative poverty by seemingly endless blank slabs of plastic, but at least that plastic is of high quality and superb tactile appeal.

Just nine years after the introduction of the original iDrive-equipped BMW 745i, the concept of a single multi-function controller has taken root across the industry. Only Lexus and now Porsche eschew some kind of mouse/dial control in their big sedans, and any time spent in an LS460 or Panamera will make it plain just how necessary the introduction of the iDrive paradigm truly was. The big Porsche’s dashboard is an incomprehensible myriad of identical buttons which perform vastly different functions. Some have just two different settings, others have three, still others enable other settings on other buttons. This kind of silliness is perfectly excusable in a 911 GT2; after all, anybody who is too concerned about rapid radio-station selection in a 200mph-plus, whale-tailed sporting car needs to obtain a sense of perspective. Panamera buyers are unlikely to be as forgiving, particularly when the competition offers outstanding second-and-third-generation unified control systems.

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Porsche’s institutional stubbornness continues behind the wheel, which features at least the third variant of the completely unsatisfactory “Tiptronic S” shifters. This time, the alloy wheel paddle/sliders move forward and back to select the gears, in a system eerily reminiscent of Pontiac’s “TAPshift” from a few years back. On the track, even the all-star lineup of Daytona winners selected to provide “hot laps” had difficulty working the Tiptronic selectors, with several of the drivers choosing to simply leave the level in “D” and let the twin-clutch transmission shift itself. With any luck, Porsche will eventually install the conventional paddle shifters as found on the new 997.5 Turbo. Until then, you will need fairly large hands and the coordination of Rachmaninoff to choose your own gear on-track.

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The best thing one can say about the Panamera’s styling is that it is recognizably a Porsche. It’s not really any better-looking in the metal than it is in pictures, despite what the average auto journalist is saying. From some angles it’s okay, from others it’s rather unpleasant, but one has to ask: why does a five-meter sedan have to look like a rear-engined coupe? Why not style the car in such a way as to please the eye and provide the best functionality possible? Looking at the Panamera for any length of time produces a sense of internal disequilibrium that can only be resolved by looking at a new GT3 instead.

That new GT3, which is a nearly perfect distillation of Porsche’s “DNA”, serves as another stinging rebuke of the Panamera. Yes, this is a very fast sedan, but it doesn’t excel at the luxury-sedan stuff. The electronics are subpar, the packaging is problematic, and the pricing, though not yet finalized, is sure to verge on the outrageous. (Edit: This was incorrect. 2010 Panamera pricing is as follows: Panamera S $89,800 — Panamera 4S $93,800 — Panamera Turbo $132,600 — Destination charge of $975 on all cars.) Porsche no doubt hopes that its current owners who also have an S-class in the garage will switch over to a Panamera. The answer to this wish has to be twofold. Those who wish to own a Porsche regardless of merit will certainly be happy with this new car. The Porsche owner who merely wants a luxury sedan that is as good at luxury-sedan duty as a 911 is at grand-touring will probably be happier with an S-Class. And that rare but lucky fellow who has $150K and wants a turbo Porsche and a family sedan should consider buying a 997 Turbo and a Fusion Hybrid.

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Jack Baruth

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  • rachmaninoff's famously virtuosic piano playing was made possible by both his large hands and his coordination, so that's a great reference. but the way it's written steps all over that: it reads like you don't know that he had large hands.

  • me thinks Jack will never get to test a Porsche again.

    Can't be mean to Porsche. But from what you say, this Panamera is definitely "DO NOT WANT". Did you guys get to drive it as much as you want?

  • I feel the same way about the styling of the Panamera as I do the Cayman and my wife's girlfriend. They look good from the front but when you walk around to the rear, yikes! I wish I could download a patch for it or something.

    Also, good thing Jorg Bermeister wasn't giving you the hot lap ride. If you say this car is like a Corvette, he'd have put you into the wall. Ouch!

  • Great review Jack, I like the last line. It is a hard balance between cost, performance and luxury. You are probably better off 997 Turbo and the Fusion. From the pictures the car could use a little more shape, the back is a little plain.

  • …"simply want he badge.." Hmm. Interesting. I currently have a coupla year old S-550 that I use for my daily 30mi RT commute and today gave the Panamera a look. Kinda liked it too. Never even thought about the "badge." It also looks just a bit like my Contiental GT, but is a bit "nimbler."

    Strikes me that Porsche has just identified a niche and provided a product to fill it. But I'll be sure to consider that some may look down at me as "not wanting a real Porsche" in my decision-making process.

  • I am not a pro so what I say may be laughable to the choir of people whose voices sing as one. I just returned from Germany with my 3 grown sons- all car enthusiasts, all sometimes racetrack experimenters, all with some professional training. We rented a Panamera 4S and drove 1800 miles all over Germany and Austria in 5 days. Cruised as fast as 160 miles an hour effortlessly. The handling was flawless, felt like we were on rails. Power was always available. Plenty of room for luggage and extra coats, packages ets. The seats–all four of them a remarkably comfortable and roomy. Keep n mind this was a rental from Avis so there were no real upgrades. Ugly? We got countless thumbs up from the Germans. The badge? I had a passionate dislike for Porsche because I found them to be ugly. I owned a Maserati cambio corso coupe–a sweet car. My sons were after me for years to buy a Porsche but I would never hear of it –I hated them. Then my oldest son insisted that I test drive the Panamera. As soon as I saw it Ifell in love with it. I especially liked the back. It resembles the rear of a 1947 Chrysler New Yorker I own. The GM 1940's cars had beautiful lines in the rear of their cadillacs and Buicks as well. When we finished the trip I asked everyone to name something they would have liked to see on this car that wasn't there. Two of us mentioned the same thing: automatic soft closing doors. I would have liked a small screen readout for the rear passengers giving the vital readouts including speed, time etc. My sons thought that was a dumb idea. One more bit of disclosure. Before the trip I had ordered a fully loaded Panamera Turbo which I am expecting to receive in about 3 weeks. Maybe I had too much invested in this car to see the flaws all of you have seen in it. I have been shopping for a car for 3 years. In my view the Panamera blows away the competition including especially the Aston Martin which I found to be cumbersome and poorly fitted and poorly painted. It will be frustrating to drive this car on the US highways however.
    One final criticism of your article. You state that it was supposed to be a true luxury vehicle but it failed to acheive that goal. Apart from that conclusory statement you do not back up your conclusion. On the contrary your description of the seats is positive and I saw no negative description of anything that might fit the "luxury" description–except your view that the Audi A8 is real luxury. I think it's a hoax which is why I never bought one. But beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

  • Lofie! You are absolutely right! I stumbled upon this article because of a fascinations of fast sedans particularly the Panamera. After hearing so many positives from reviews about this salon on youtube etc. This article came as a shock. Again the author really did not support his opinion of a lack of luxury in this car and that left me puzzled. I would not like to buy a house on wheels which is what I consider the panamera over the S class as well as the 7' series. of all the sport sedans out there the panamera sounds to me like the sportiest one.

  • Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will make certain to bookmark your blog and will come back down the road. I want to encourage continue your great posts, have a nice morning!

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