"The Porsche Panamera certainly isn’t a beauty, but it's surprisingly good to drive for a luxury four-seater."
Porsche could be criticised for lacking a sense of adventure when it comes to design, but its dedication to providing a fantastic driving experience shines through with the Porsche Panamera. This oddly proportioned hatchback is Porsche's first ‘saloon’, yet the German firm has injected it with the DNA of a sports car. It drives incredibly well, and the Panamera is one of the quickest ways to transport four people. They might have to leave their luggage behind though, as the boot is quite small. The entry-level Panamera V6 is fast, the V8-powered Panamera S, 4S and GTS are faster still, while the hugely quick Panamera Turbo and Turbo S seemingly defy the laws of physics with their performance and handling. Porsche has recently expanded the range to include hybrid model and diesel versions, which help to reduce running costs, yet still maintain the Panamera's fine handling.
With the centre console wrapping around you and a low seat, you feel like you’re in the cockpit of a jet plane. A manual transmission is offered, but virtually all Panameras are sold as automatics. Porsche's seven-speed PDK auto can be operated by the stick itself, or via buttons mounted on the face of the steering wheel. Porsche offers optional paddleshifters which are mounted behind the steering wheel, and are a must if you plan on driving the Panamera quickly. All versions handle well, although the Panamera Turbo and GTS models – which come with a hi-tech active suspension system - are the best of the range. The steering is accurate, the brakes strong and gearshift quick. All the engines shut down to save fuel when the Panamera is at a standstill. The V6 obviously needs working the hardest, but it's still able to accelerate from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds - or 5.9 seconds with the PDK automatic gearbox. The Panamera S and 4S manage 0-62mph in just five seconds, the GTS is half a second quicker, the 493bhp Turbo achieves it in 4.2 seconds, while the Turbo S is capable of completing it in an unbelievable 3.8 seconds. The Panamera is wide, so is tricky to drive on narrow roads, but few cars feel as stable and unstressed on the motorway.
Front-seat passengers are tightly held in the firm, supportive seats, and the rear passengers get individual seats, too. Leg and headroom in the back isn’t hugely generous, though. The cabin remains quiet on the move, and Porsche's engineers have suppressed road and wind noise beautifully. The engines can be heard, but only when you push them hard, and they sound great - even the diesel is smooth and clatter-free.
The Panamera's interior is beautifully finished, and apart from an early recall relating to a seatbelt fault, the Panamera has proved reliable. Safety is impressive, and cars are fitted with eight airbags and Porsche's active stability management electronic system. The 4, 4S and Turbo versions have the additional traction of four-wheel drive. The Panamera hasn’t been independently crash tested, but you can rest easy that it’ll protect you well in an accident.
By conventional measure the Panamera is a hugely compromised saloon with a smallish rear passenger compartment and a tiny, oddly shaped boot. However, as a four-seat sports car it's practical, and those rear seatbacks fold to create a longer load space. If you really want your Porsche to carry four and their luggage, go for a Cayenne SUV instead.
Value for money
Compare the Panamera to conventional luxury saloons, and it looks very expensive. However, compare it to cars like the Aston Martin Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte, and it's better value. All Panameras come with alloy wheels, leather upholstery, climate control, parking sensors, cruise control and LED running lights among their standard equipment. Porsche's PDK automatic transmission is an expensive option to add to entry-level cars.
Despite Porsche's efforts to maximise fuel efficiency - even the Turbo model comes with fuel-saving stop-start - the most frugal petrol Panamera only manages 30mpg, while the Panamera S, 4S, GTS and Turbo all have official fuel consumption figures in the mid to low 20mpg range. The petrol Hybrid model is more reasonable, with an official combined economy figure of 42mpg, while the diesel returns 44.8mpg. Insurance and servicing won’t be cheap for any model, but these things are all relative, and no rival will be any cheaper to maintain.