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2010 Porsche Panamera: Audacity

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The author of In Praise of Folly, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (Erasmus of Rotterdam to his friends), perhaps said it best when he wrote, “Fortune favours the fool, the audacious and those who are not afraid to say: ‘The die has been cast.’ Wisdom, on the contrary, makes men timid.” This philosophy rings true in the case of Porsche’s new Panamera, launched in still difficult economic times with the Stuttgart-based manufacturer in a fight to the finish to break its corporate ties with the giant that is Volkswagen, and the Piech and Porsche families, both of whom want full control of both companies, pitted against one another...

Although it was only recently introduced, the automotive press has long been following the course and the development of this sedan hatchback that represents the fourth in the line for Porsche after the 911 Carrera, the Boxster/Cayman and the Cayenne, and it was unveiled for the first time worldwide at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2009. It wasn’t the first time that the Panamera made headlines: Several snapshots of the prototypes being tested often appeared in the media, since the Porsche engineers tested their prototypes on the public roads of several countries in addition to many test circuits and tracks. Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), Death Valley (California), Denver (Colorado) and Cape Town (South Africa) are among the places where the processions of Panameras tested all of the prototypes’ systems in a trial period where the engineers logged more than 1,500,000 kilometres, according to Christian Heiselbetz, Porsche’s Director of Engine Development. He also specifies that the Nurburgring was frequently used, as was the Nardò Ring in Italy. On the famous German circuit, the Panamera was said to be as fast as a 911 Carrera.

A controversial look
The Panamera’s look is causing as much controversy the Cayenne SUV’s look did when it was launched, to say the least. Speaking of style, don’t forget that whether you like or dislike a vehicle’s style is subjective, and that opinions can be shared. Personally, I find that the Panamera looks rather nice from the back, a little less so from the front, but awful from the side. It’s clear that the stylists wanted to integrate a maximum of design features unique to the brand, and above all to its mythical 911 Carrera model, but the result isn’t great, and in this regard the new Aston Martin Rapide sedan’s style is far and away better since it manages to establish continuity with the DB9 and the DBS in a more homogenous and much more harmonious manner. The drag coefficient is very low since the Cx is 0.29 for the Panamera S and 4S and 0.30 in the case of the Turbo. All Panameras come equipped with an adaptive two-way rear spoiler that deploys at 90 km/hr and automatically adjusts the angle whose tilt/angle based on the car’s speed. The Turbo has a four-way adaptive rear spoiler whose upper part deploys laterally from both sides in order to make it wider.

From 46 to 49 buttons on the central console
The Panamera features a four-seat passenger compartment and the central console is extended toward the back, thus eliminating the middle seat. Up front, this tilted console, which is directly inspired by the one that was developed for the Carrera GT super-car, has no less than 46 to 49 control buttons depending on the model to activate the car’s various systems. Porsche chose not to adopt an interface approach similar to BMW’s iDrive, the Comand system from Mercedes-Benz or Audi’s Multi Media Interface. However, to Porsche’s credit, these buttons are logically positioned, which will make learning to use them easy and intuitive. Behind the wheel, you can easily adopt a driving position that is remarkably similar 911 Carrera’s, and the dashboard’s look. Its five circular dials with the rev counter always and forever in the central position will make long-time Porschists feel right at home, as will the location of the ignition, which remains to the left of the steering wheel, as it is on all of the manufacturer’s other models.

Beginning in the fall of 2009, three models will be available in Canada. There’s the basic Panamera S, a simple rear-wheel drive with a 400-hp, naturally-aspirated V8 engine and a price tag of $115,100. Next up is the Panamera 4S, which adds all-wheel drive ($120,300), while the Panamera Turbo is the top of the line model with its 500-hp, turbocharged V8 and factory standard all-wheel drive ($155,000). For Canada, the only transmissions available are the seven-speed PDK twin-clutch gearbox and the conventional automatic gearbox, but in certain countries, the Panamera S will also be available with a six-speed manual borrowed directly from the Cayenne GTS. Since it’s a Porsche, the list of options and packages is very long...The simplified ordering guide has some 16 pages!

A real Porsche?
At the world launch of this new car in Bavaria, I had the opportunity to drive all three versions of the Panamera. Our route led us from Munich all the way to southern Bavaria with a quick cameo appearance in Austria. It included parts in a large city, on the Autobahn where certain sections have no speed limit, as well as on back roads.

The Panamera give the first impression that it’s a car that’s very comfortable in all of the aforementioned situations and whose handling instantly adapts to the driver’s demands. Even the Panamera S, which had a conventional suspension with springs and shocks rather than the adaptive air suspension that I had on the 4S and the Turbo, proved remarkable in this regard. In smooth conditions, or even at more than 250 km/hr on the Autobahn, comfort reigns supreme, and my colleague from The Globe and Mail was even able to stretch out and sleep in the passenger seat while I drove at very high speed. So stable was the Porsche in these particular circumstances that I felt like I was in a BMW 7-Series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. An interesting side note is that the steering didn’t hesitate in the centre with respect to directional stability like the 911 Carrera, which is more responsive and direct in this regard. At this speed on board the Panamera S, the only shortcoming with regard to comfort was a very noticeable wind noise, but it’s much less noticeable at high speed on board the Panamera 4S and the Turbo, since our two test models were equipped with thermally and noise insulated glass, offered on option at a cost of $1,530. We don’t necessarily recommend this option considering that our speed limits are nothing like those found in Germany.

All versions of the Panamera practically transform into authentic sports cars when conditions call for it, although relatively heavy weight of 1,800, 1,860 and 1,970 kilos respectively for the Panamera S, 4S and Turbo represents a drawback. You’ll really feel the weight in a succession of turns, and you’ll be reminded you that you’re driving a big sedan and not a 911. The Panamera’s engines are derived from those in the Cayenne, but thirty percent of the parts, such as the pistons, connecting rods, the crankshaft as well as the air intake and the engine control computer, among others, are newly designed. That’s why the naturally-aspirated V8 features 385 horses under the hood of the Cayenne and 400 in the Panamera. The Turbo versions of both models feature an identical 500 horsepower.

As the Panamera comes equipped with a naturally-aspirated engine, accelerations are linear and the car remains fast with 0-100 km/h time of 5.4 seconds with the PDK gearbox and the Sport Chrono Plus Package, but the Panamera Turbo offers a rare driving experience, with the capacity to lower this time to 4.2 seconds or to 4 seconds using the Sport Chrono Plus system’s Launch Control. The Turbo is a true rocket with lightning-fast accelerations, after a slight delay while both turbochargers engage, this engine produces a phenomenal 516 lbs-ft of torque. Although one can only be impressed by the Panamera Turbo’s performances, I believe that the 400 horsepower in the S and the 4S are more than enough, and that the choice of the 4S model with all-wheel drive will let the buyer use it in all seasons in Québec. As for sound, both engines will be music to the ears, especially if you opt for the Sport Exhaust System at a price of $4,020.

More comfortable and friendlier than the 911, the Panamera offers a new approach for drivers who may not want to deal with Stuttgart’s sports cars’ more radical nature, but who still want to drive a Porsche.

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