The Porsche Panamera's freshman year is over and any initial doubts about its future have been laid to rest. First, it is a "real" Porsche, and second, it's a real success, too. Not only has the Panamera been a critical success but also it has proven itself a sales success. We think these accolades are well founded, as we rank the 2011 Porsche Panamera very highly among luxury sedans.
Our adoration begins with the Panamera's broad appeal, because this four-door Porsche truly can be everything to everybody. First, the Panamera can accommodate four full-sized adults with exceptional comfort, as its interior space, materials and design give passengers the feeling that they're traveling in a private jet rather than touring the interstate.
Second, the Panamera delivers astounding levels of performance for driving enthusiasts. Acceleration from the V8-powered Panamera is impressive, while the performance of the Turbo model is downright shocking. The car's handling limits are also surprising, as it corners like a much smaller sports car. Even the ride quality doesn't suffer, as this athletic sedan can insulate its occupants from the travails of the outside world just like a fine luxury car.
Porsche hasn't taken time off to enjoy the fruits of the Panamera's success, as new models of the sedan debut for 2011. The V6-powered Panamera and Panamera 4 optimize fuel efficiency, and in fact these two cars not only increase EPA-estimated fuel economy but also are exempt from the federal gas-guzzler tax. So while these Panamera V6 models share many of the interior components of the Panamera V8 models, the savings over the V8 models on the price tag amount to more than $15,000.
Perfection is an illusion, however, and the big Porsche does have a few marks against it. The Panamera only seats four, while its competition -- the 2011 BMW 7-Series, 2011 Maserati Quattroporte or 2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class -- can seat five. Also, the price skyrockets as buyers add options. But these faults do little to tarnish the Panamera's impressive shine.
The 2011 Porsche Panamera is a four-passenger, four-door hatchback that is offered in five trim levels that each corresponds to a drivetrain choice. The base rear-wheel-drive Panamera is powered by a V6 and includes 18-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, rear parking sensors, a sunroof, a power rear hatch, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, eight-way power front seats, driver memory functions, a cooled glovebox, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seatback and rear bucket seats. Also standard are a hard-drive-based navigation system and an 11-speaker CD audio system. The Panamera 4 differs only in that it has all-wheel drive.
The V8-powered Panamera S and all-wheel-drive 4S are appointed similarly to the V6 models.
The Panamera Turbo adds a turbocharged V8, 19-inch wheels, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, adaptive air suspension with load-leveling and adjustable ride height, front parking sensors, keyless ignition/entry, 14-way power front seats and adjustable lumbar support, expanded driver memory functions, a power-adjustable steering column, heated rear seats, a full leather interior, a microfiber suede headliner and a 14-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system.
In typical Porsche tradition, a very lengthy and expensive list of options allows buyers to easily customize the cars. For example, other than its engine, all of the Turbo's extra features are available on the S and 4S.
Other options include ceramic-composite brakes, variable-assist power steering, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (adaptive antiroll bars and a limited-slip rear differential), 20-inch wheels, a rear wiper, ventilated front and rear seats, eight-way power rear seats (switches seat-folding to 40/20/40), adaptive sport front seats that include adjustable side bolsters, "ruffled" leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, four-zone climate control, rear sunshades, rear ambient lighting, a rear-seat refrigerator, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, voice control, a rear-seat entertainment system, satellite radio, an iPod interface, a six-disc CD/DVD changer and a 16-speaker Burmester surround-sound audio system.
The Sport Chrono Package Plus adds analog and digital stopwatches and adjustable engine and suspension settings. The Sport Design package dresses up the Panamera's exterior with a special front fascia with wider intake grilles and side skirts. There are also countless ways to customize practically every interior surface with different shades of leather, wood, metal, carbon fiber and paint.
From the driver seat, there's no mistaking the Panamera's interior for anything but a Porsche, because styling cues from the Porsche 911 echo throughout the cabin. The tachometer is centered in the instrument cluster and flanked by the speedometer, a multifunction display and supporting gauges.
The Panamera lacks a centralized control system like BMW's iDrive, and as a result, there are more than 80 buttons and knobs littering the cockpit. Fortunately, these buttons are logically grouped and placed, and after time, operation becomes intuitive. Some might even find the multitude of controls preferred to shuffling through onscreen menus.
All four seats are similar in appearance and comfort. These well-formed seats provide excellent levels of support when cornering as well as plenty of comfort to enable long-distance touring. The rear quarters afford enough room for even taller adults, and the seats can be fitted with options to make them not just power-adjustable but also heated and cooled. The trunk can hold an impressive 15.7 cubic feet (15.2 cubic feet with the Turbo) and 44.6 cubes with the rear seats folded flat. The hatch opening is a bit narrow and the cargo bed is high, complicating the loading of bulkier items.
The Porsche Panamera and Panamera 4 are powered by a front-mounted 3.6-liter V6 that produces 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The Porsche Panamera S and 4S receive a 4.8-liter V8 good for 400 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque. The Panamera Turbo gets a twin-turbocharged version of the same V8 for a grand total of 500 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. An optional Panamera Turbo Kit adds titanium alloy turbines and engine management tweaks, boosting the Panamera Turbo's output to 540 hp and 590 lb-ft.
Every Panamera is equipped with a ZF-engineered seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, a device known as the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK). The Panamera and Panamera S offer rear-wheel drive, while the Panamera 4, 4S and Turbo are equipped with all-wheel drive.
In recent testing by Edmunds, the Panamera 4S impressed us with an acceleration run from a standstill to 60 mph in only 4.6 seconds. The Panamera Turbo had us positively awestruck, as it needed only 3.7 seconds to reach the same speed. We were equally surprised by the Panamera 4S's handling prowess at our test track, where it produced a slalom run at 68.4 mph and circled the skid pad with 0.96g of cornering grip. The Turbo turned in a 70.2 mph slalom run and registered 0.92g on the skid pad.
Fuel economy is likely not a primary concern to buyers in this market segment, but one notable item in the Panamera's list of features is an auto start/stop feature (something normally associated only with hybrid vehicles) that reduces fuel consumption by shutting off the engine whenever the car comes to a stop and then restarting it automatically when you're ready to go again. The EPA estimates fuel consumption at 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined for the base Panamera, while the Panamera 4 makes 18 mpg city/26 highway. The Panamera S and 4S are both rated at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway, while the Panamera Turbo achieves only 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
The 2011 Porsche Panamera is an accomplished, luxurious grand touring car as well as an engaging, highly capable high-performance car. Drivers can select several driving modes to fit their particular preferences. In Normal mode, the Panamera feels as soft and leisurely as any European flagship sedan. Engaging full Sport mode -- depending on options and trim level -- sharpens nearly every aspect of the driving dynamics, including throttle response, suspension firmness and ride height.
The V8-powered Panamera is capable of incredible performance. Steering is precise and handling is comparable to much smaller sports cars. Power can be served up with muscle-car wallops or in measured increments. The PDK transmission fires off gearchanges with urgency when pedaling the accelerator hard, or with fluid transitions when cruising leisurely down the highway. Yes, the Porsche Panamera does truly deliver the best of both worlds: sports car and sedan.
Every 2011 Porsche Panamera comes standard with antilock brakes (with brake assist), stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Ceramic-composite brakes and a rearview camera are optional. With the standard brakes, both the Panamera 4S and Turbo models stopped from 60 mph in incredibly short distances: 109 feet and 111 feet, respectively.
The Porsche Panamera extends its lineup for 2011 with two new V6-powered models, an optional turbocharger kit for more power and a few optional cosmetic enhancements.