It's easy to take the 2015 Porsche Panamera for granted. Porsche's groundbreaking luxury hatchback has been so good, for so long, that it just isn't top-of-mind anymore. But when you reflect on the Panamera's accomplishments, that familiarity only breeds further admiration. Entering its sixth year of production, the first-generation Panamera is still at the top of its game, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
In case the Panamera's new to you, here are the Cliffs Notes. Back in 2010, Porsche already had a four-door hit on its hands with the Cayenne crossover SUV, but there was room in the stable for a proper luxury car, too. Enter the Panamera, a hefty hatchback with four cosseting seats and astoundingly athletic handling. Initial criticism focused on the car's somewhat bulbous shape, which will likely still be a turn-off for some shoppers. Beyond that, though, there's pretty much nothing but love for the Porsche of premium people haulers. It's a car for all occasions, reflected in its enduring popularity on the road.
Following numerous changes last year, including the introductions of a long-wheelbase Executive body style and the plug-in S E-Hybrid model, the 2015 Panamera largely stands pat. Aside from a few performance tweaks for this year's reborn 570-hp Turbo S, it's frankly hard to see where the car could be improved. The Panamera's vast range of talents -- from cruising cloudlike down the highway to clipping apexes like a sports car -- is unmatched by any competitor.
Of course, it's pretty much impossible for a driver to go wrong at this price point, so your decision will come down to priorities. Do you want the latest and greatest technology? With due respect to the Panamera's extensive tech portfolio, we'd steer you toward the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Still not sold on the Porsche's styling? The bold 2015 Jaguar XJ and the understated 2015 Audi A8 are intriguing alternatives. There's also the capable BMW 7 Series, the all-electric Tesla Model S and the exotic Maserati Quattroporte to consider. But none of the above drives quite like a Porsche, which is why, even after all these years, the Panamera maintains its edge.
The 2015 Porsche Panamera is a four-door, four-passenger sedan with a hatchback-style trunk. There are no fewer than 11 trim levels: base, 4, S, 4S, S E-Hybrid, GTS, Turbo, Turbo S and the extended-wheelbase 4S Executive, Turbo Executive and Turbo S Executive.
The base rear-wheel-drive Panamera and all-wheel-drive Panamera 4 are powered by a V6 and include 18-inch wheels, auto-leveling bi-xenon headlights, LED headlight and taillight accents, front and rear parking sensors, a sunroof, a power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power heated front seats, a chilled glovebox, partial leather upholstery and a 60/40-split rear seatback. Also standard are a 4.8-inch driver information display in the gauge cluster, a navigation system with a center-mounted 7-inch display, Porsche Online Services (including Internet connectivity via the Aha Radio smartphone app), Bluetooth and an 11-speaker sound system with satellite radio, HD radio and a USB/iPod interface.
The Panamera S and all-wheel-drive 4S include the above features along with a twin-turbocharged V6, different 18-inch wheels, adaptive headlights, quad exhaust tips, adaptive suspension dampers and chrome window surrounds.
The plug-in Panamera S E-Hybrid features a unique gas-electric powertrain plus hybrid-specific gauges, an adaptive air suspension, the "Porsche Car Connect" smartphone app that provides remote access to various vehicle functions, and speed-sensitive steering assist ("Power Steering Plus").
The extra-sporty GTS gets a naturally aspirated V8 along with many items shared with the Turbo, including the adaptive air suspension, LED air-intake and exterior-mirror lights, 19-inch wheels, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a simulated suede headliner. Unlike the Turbo, its window surrounds are black. The GTS is also the only Panamera to receive as standard a sport exhaust system, a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, simulated suede/carbon-fiber cabin accents and 18-way adaptive sport seats with memory functions.
The Panamera Turbo adds a turbocharged V8 along with LED headlights, keyless ignition and entry, 14-way power front seats with memory functions, expanded driver memory functions, heated front and rear seats, a full leather interior and a 14-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system.
The Turbo S throws in even more power, 20-inch "Turbo II" wheels borrowed from the 911, a body-colored four-way adaptive rear spoiler, ceramic-composite brake rotors (PCCB), adaptive antiroll bars (PDCC), a torque-vectoring rear differential (PTV Plus, which also modulates the inside rear brake during cornering for optimal cornering precision) and two-tone leather upholstery.
The Sport Chrono package -- standard on GTS and Turbo S, optional on the rest -- adds analog and digital stopwatches along with a racy "Sport Plus" driving mode with launch control.
Many of the fancier models' standard features are optional on lower trims, including the Turbo S's ceramic brakes and advanced chassis electronics. In typical Porsche fashion, there's a lengthy and expensive list of additional stand-alone options, highlighted by a sunroof, a roof rack, adaptive cruise control, a rear seat entertainment system, rearview and 360-degree surround-view cameras, voice controls, a 16-speaker Burmester surround-sound audio system and a refrigerated rear compartment that includes two drinking glasses engraved with the Porsche crest and logo. You can also customize practically every interior surface with leather, wood, metal, carbon fiber or paint.
The 4S Executive, Turbo Executive and Turbo S Executive provide all the standard features of their smaller equivalents, plus a 5.9-inch longer wheelbase, a standard adaptive air suspension (it's optional on the regular 4S), thermally and noise-insulated glass, soft-close doors, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, a rear interior lighting package, eight-way power rear seats, power rear and rear side sunshades, and four-zone automatic climate control. Most of these features are offered as options on regular-wheelbase Panameras.
Inside, the Panamera's family resemblance to the 911 is strong, particularly in the classic five-ring instrument cluster, which features a central tachometer flanked by the speedometer, a multifunction display and supporting gauges. But for the record, the Panamera was actually the first Porsche to employ the company's now-standard elevated center console, and the imposing width of the dashboard further distinguishes it from the narrow 911. The firm, form-fitting front seats add to the sporting ambience, yet they're also plenty roomy for large adults.
On the infotainment front, the Panamera lacks the knob-based control system that's typical for this class, which explains why the driver has more than 80 buttons and switches (we counted) to keep straight. Happily, these controls are laid out in a generally sensible manner, so there's not a huge learning curve for new owners. Indeed, some might even prefer having a discrete button for each function instead of endless digital menus, though the Panamera's got those, too, in its standard touchscreen display.
The Panamera's twin rear seats are similar in appearance and comfort to those in front, providing extraordinary support and optional power adjustments. There's ample legroom for tall rear passengers even in the standard-wheelbase models, while the Executive's stretched wheelbase enables crossed-leg cruising. On the downside, the seats are mounted low and separated by a substantial driveline "hump" in the middle, creating a somewhat claustrophobic feel relative to traditional luxury sedans.
Rear visibility in the Panamera suffers due to the thick pillars surrounding the hatchback trunk, but the liftgate design permits standard Panameras to swallow 15.7 cubic feet of cargo behind the rear seats. Fold those seats down and there are a handy 44.6 cubes available. Executive models offer slightly more total cargo capacity, but the S E-Hybrid drops to 11.8 and 40.7 cubes, respectively. Note that the hatch opening is rather narrow, and the high cargo bed makes loading bulky items a bit of a chore.
Expectedly, the Panamera's EPA-estimated fuel economy varies by model, but not as much as one might expect. The rear-wheel-drive base Porsche Panamera and all-wheel-drive Panamera 4 employ a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 310 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg combined (18 city/28 highway) for the base Panamera and 21 mpg combined (18 city/27 highway) for the Panamera 4. In Edmunds testing, an earlier Panamera V6 with 10 fewer hp accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds.
Like every non-hybrid Panamera, these entry-level V6 models feature a seven-speed automated manual transmission known as Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK). An automatic engine stop-start feature is also included on all models to save fuel.
The rear-wheel-drive Porsche Panamera S and all-wheel-drive 4S get a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 420 hp and 384 lb-ft. Fuel economy is 21 mpg (17 city/27 highway) for both models, though the 4S Executive drops to 20 mpg combined. Porsche estimates that the Panamera S will hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds (4.6 with the Sport Chrono package), while the Panamera 4S leverages its superior traction to do the same deed in 4.6 seconds (4.3 with Sport Chrono).
The rear-wheel-drive GTS features a 4.8-liter V8 rated at 440 hp and 384 lb-ft. Fuel economy ticks down to 19 mpg combined. We spurred the previous 430-hp GTS to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds.
The all-wheel-drive Panamera Turbo gets a turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 that pumps out 520 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy checks in at 18 mpg combined. The optional Sport Chrono package temporarily "overboosts" maximum torque to 568 lb-ft at full throttle. In Edmunds testing, an older Panamera Turbo with an even 500 hp took 3.7 seconds to hit 60 mph -- that's supercar territory.
The Turbo S comes standard with Sport Chrono and pumps up the turbo V8 to 570 hp and 553 lb-ft (590 lb-ft with overboost). Fuel economy is unchanged from the regular Turbo's 18 mpg combined. The sprint to 60 mph takes an estimated 3.6 seconds.
Finally, the rear-wheel-drive plug-in Panamera S E-Hybrid receives an Audi-sourced supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that's paired with a 95-hp electric motor for a combined output of 416 hp. The transmission is a conventional eight-speed automatic. Overall fuel economy is EPA-rated at 25 mpg combined when driven in Hybrid mode, and we did slightly better, with 27 mpg on our own urban driving loop. The S E-Hybrid can also travel up to 83 mph, or about 15 miles on pure electric power. We managed 15.6 miles of prudent, pure-electric driving.
A full recharge can be achieved in 2.5 hours on 240-volt current -- or in about 20 miles of driving (we observed it took 26.5) via the unique E-Charge drive mode, which enlists the V6 to charge the battery pack while you're on the move. Fuel economy predictably plummets in this mode, where we observed 18 mpg while simultaneously driving and charging.
In Edmunds.com testing, an S E-Hybrid managed the 0-60 sprint in a very impressive 4.7 seconds. Mind you, this feat was accomplished with "all hands on deck" and, in EV mode, acceleration is modest.
Probably the toughest question for 2015 Porsche Panamera shoppers is which powertrain to get. Although the base V6 engine is quite strong by the numbers, the chassis can handle so much more power that we'd be sorely tempted to upgrade. But to what? The turbo V6 is certainly a nice piece, but if you've got the bankroll, the Panamera just feels better with one of the effortlessly powerful V8s under the hood. Or perhaps you prefer the hybrid route, which is hard to argue with here -- the S E-Hybrid is easily one of the coolest and quickest cars of its ilk -- which is why we enthusiastically awarded it an Edmunds "A" rating.
As noted in our Edmunds "B" rating of the Panamera GTS, the adaptive air suspension smothers all but the largest road imperfections. At highway speeds, wind and road noise are kept to a minimum; it's hard to find a more hushed cabin.
On a winding road, the Panamera can match just about any sports car. Most drivers will exercise restraint, but the Panamera, any Panamera, still delights at saner speeds with its precise steering and flat cornering.
Every 2015 Porsche Panamera comes standard with antilock brakes, stability control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags.
A rearview camera is available, as is a blind-spot monitoring system. The Panamera's optional adaptive cruise control feature is bundled with a forward collision mitigation system that first issues audible and visual warnings, then automatically applies the brakes (potentially all the way to a stop) unless the driver takes action.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Panamera 4S and Turbo models with standard brakes stopped from 60 mph in 109 feet and 112 feet, respectively. A GTS equipped with the carbon-ceramic brakes repeatedly stopped in 110 feet. Perhaps most shockingly, the shortest simulated panic stop, at 102 feet, was from the Panamera S E-Hybrid.
The range-topping Panamera Turbo S appears for 2015 with a suitably absurd 570-horsepower twin-turbo V8, and all Panameras come standard with satellite radio, HD radio and Porsche Online Services. Also, the Turbo gets standard LED headlights.