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Sweet spot. Image by Conor Twomey.

Sweet spot
Forget the 500bhp Turbo, the best Panamera is lower down the range.

   



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| First Drive | Elmau, Germany | Porsche Panamera S |

A Porsche designed to take on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ might sound preposterous, but the people at Stuttgart seem to think it's a great idea. Until a V6 model arrives in 2010, the S represents entry level into the Panamera range. Powered by a 4.8-litre V8 developing 400bhp, two- or four-wheel drive versions are offered, the purer driving car being the rear-wheel drive Panamera S.

In the Metal

You can't argue with Porsche's consistency, as it sticks to its 'stretch the 911 design to any shape possible' philosophy. The result is mixed at best and downright uncomfortable in many respects. Certainly the Panamera needs to have its colour chosen carefully, darker metallic hues seeming to work well with its hump-backed proportions. Catch it from some angles and it's beguiling, but others will leave you wincing. Beauty is in the eye and all that and odd looks never stopped the Cayenne selling - in fact the ungainly SUV seems to have grown into itself since its facelift.

Until that happens with the Panamera, discussions about the styling will be left open. However, we can't help thinking that the introduction of the Panamera opened up Porsche to a completely unfamiliar marketplace, so it represented an opportunity to introduce a new design signature. Things are better inside; it's like a concept car, the cool individual seats separated by a high transmission tunnel, which features buttons that wouldn't look out of place on a high-end audio system. But then it should really, as the Panamera isn't cheap.

What you get for your Money

The Panamera S represents the sweetest driving package of the current model line-up. In standard guise it comes with a six-speed manual transmission, which although the better choice in terms of driving enjoyment, will undoubtedly be ignored when virtually all owners tick the box for PDK. That's a shame, as the manual Panamera is a tempting proposition; even so, it's likely that Bugatti will sell more Veyrons in the UK next year than Porsche will manual Panameras.

Prices for this model begin at a lofty 72,266. Start adding things like metallic paint at 745, 20-inch alloys at 1,862, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control at 3,830 and that PDK twin-clutch automatic at 2,289 and you'll be paying in excess of 80k for a decently specified Panamera. That's a lot, especially as rivals' super saloons typically cost 10,000-15,000 less and offer even more power than the 400bhp S.

Driving it

Porsche wouldn't put its badge on something unless it lived up to its high standards. The Panamera is no different, bringing blistering pace and sensational ride and handling for something so big. Not quite in the same league as its difficult to comprehend Cayenne relative - by virtue of not creating a new niche - the Panamera S does still bring plenty of ability to the super saloon market. Without four-wheel drive the steering is the most linear and feelsome of the line-up, the rear moving around under power if you're brave and talented. Given its scale you might like to add 'irresponsible' to that, sliding a Panamera around a mountain hairpin not something that'll come comfortably to most drivers.

The engine delivers mighty power and pace: 62mph is reached in just 5.4 seconds and the top speed is 106mph more than you can do legally on a public road in the UK. The PDK paddle-shift transmission is central to the driving experience, delivering quick clean shifts so long as it agrees with your input. It's actually best left to its own devices, firstly because the push-me-pull-me steering spoke controllers are so counter intuitive - Porsche really needs to follow its rivals in offering right hand paddle for upshifts and left for down - as to hamper your attempts to take control. Like everything odd it's likely you'll get used to its operation, only you shouldn't have to.

With seven ratios to choose from, the PDK is busy, the gap between second and third not the best judged as it leaves you either revving manically entering a corner in second or with little grunt to exploit in third. The ride impresses though, as does the body control, the Panamera cornering with staggering efficiency. The thing is, it's just not a huge amount of fun. Rivals like Jaguar's XFR, BMW's M5 and Maserati's Quattroporte all deliver a rawer, more intense driving experience that leaves you wanting more. The Panamera you walk away impressed from, but it doesn't leave you fizzing.

Worth Noting

Porsche is taking its environmental responsibilities seriously across its entire range - and that includes the Panamera. This S can return a combined fuel consumption figure of 26.2mpg while emitting 253g/km. For a car offering the sort of performance the S does that's mightily impressive. To achieve that Porsche has fitted a stop-start system to the PDK automatic, so it's strange arriving at traffic lights and the engine shutting down with the gear selector in drive.

Summary

Porsche's Panamera S is a hugely impressive super saloon that's technically a match and ultimately better than most of its rivals. The thing is that, in creating such a competent all-rounder, Porsche seems to have forgotten to leave in any of that essence that makes its other cars so intoxicating. Of all the Panameras currently available the S is the nicest all-rounder, but it's difficult to ignore its challenging looks and hefty price tag regardless of how good it is at carrying four at speed.

Kyle Fortune - 9 Jul 2009



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2009 Porsche Panamera specifications:
Price: Prices start at 72,266 on-the-road. Specifications for Panamera S.
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 177mph
Combined economy: 22.6mpg
Emissions: 293g/km
Kerb weight: 1770kg

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Conor Twomey.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Porsche.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Porsche.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Porsche.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Porsche.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Porsche.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Conor Twomey.
 

2009 Porsche Panamera S. Image by Conor Twomey.
 






 

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