Vail Valley: Porsche’s Panamera a rolling contradiction
Vail, CO, Colorado
Normally, Vail Valley resdients don’t find themselves careening along at about 150 mph in a four-door, four-passenger sedan and feeling almost comfortably at ease.
But things in the new Porsche Panamera are a little different. Throw in the experience of riding shotgun with decorated 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daytona race champion Hurley Haywood, as I had at the Road America race track recently, and you feel doubly blessed, despite your head being pinned against the wall by all the G forces.
As Haywood himself noted, a little casually, while squealing through the turns, the Panamera – Porsche’s new four-door, grand turismo – is indeed a vehicle that can be driven very, very quickly and very aggressively in an almost effortless fashion – and yet, seat four adults and carry an entire trunkful of luggage.
Haywood should know. Earlier this year, during the vehicle’s European launch, he and three lumberjack-sized German auto executives were able to carry on a fairly normal conversation while he averaged 180 mph on the Autobahn, with power that kept even the Ferraris at bay.
Panamera is, without a doubt, a contradictory vehicle, even more so than the company’s once-controversial but now popular Cayenne sport utility vehicle, which makes up 75 percent of the company’s sales. Its looks are unusual, especially from the side and rear (think a stretch limo version of a Carrera 911); walking around the sports sedan in real life, you’ll still require a bit of mental readjustment if you don’t instantly fall in love. Or you might absolutely hate it.
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The slightly obtuse nature of the car’s rear third is the result of a design mandate from Porsche’s managers. The back seat really does accommodate, with full head room, two full-sized adult passengers (these are not the micro-sized, plus-two seats of other sports cars), complete with optional rear climate and seat-adjustment controls. There’s also 15.7 cubic feet of luggage space, or a whopping 44.6 cubic feet with the back seats dropped, making it the world’s fastest choice for Home Depot trips.
At the same time, the front-engined Panamera is absolutely and relentlessly 100 percent sports car. The 4.8-liter V-8 churns out 400 horses in standard guise and a ridiculous 500 horsepower in its twin-turbo version. That’s enough wailing power, in the turbo model, to launch the 4,343-pound car to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds.
Couple that with the full laundry list of Porsche speed and safety tweaks (the new, seven-speed PDK double-clutch transmission, an adaptive air suspension, dynamic chassis control and stability and traction management), and you have a reasonably sizeable automobile which can be driven with the same spirit as a 911.
As I found, it clung to the track’s corners like an open-cockpit racer and summons all of that acceleration at the drop of a hat, while the gigantic brakes keep all of that madness in check (or upgrade, for just $8,500, to the fade-proof ceramic composite brakes). There’s also a four-wheel drive model, as a potential concession to high country drivers, although the 4WD setup was equally helpful on dry pavement.
That seven-speed, lightning-fast transmission is part of a number of fuel-saving concessions which boost Panamera’s efficiency to as high as 24 miles per gallon on the highway, allowing the car to avoid the dreaded gas-guzzler tax. There’s also an almost hybrid-styled automatic stop mode, which will completely silence the engine at a long, city-driving stop and then instantly restart the car when you release the brake.
In the driver’s seat (and yes, I did get to pilot the beast), the 911 comparisons are even more vital. Panamera shares the same ultra-solid seating position, just four inches from the pavement, plus the same line of sight and a similar five-circle instrument panel as the venerable 911; Panamera adds a large, broad center console channel, much like the one in the $440,000 Carrera GT, with individualized climate and ride and sport mode controls at your fingertips.
Other niceties include self-arresting doors (a la Aston Martin and the BMW 7 Series) and a variety of ear-liquifying sound systems, including a 16-speaker setup by super-high-end European manufacturer Burmester.
Approximately 20,000 of the Panameras will be sold worldwide in its first year, although the company is always happy to bump production to meet demand. Get yours, soon.