The Sound at Speed: Behind the Wheel of The Porsche Panamera Turbo, Part 2

Burbling quietly as it rolls down the back of the flatbed truck, the Panamera appears an expansive stretch of undulating blue sheet metal. With nary a paper to sign, the delivery driver hands me the keys and says, “have fun” with a wry smirk.

Because it amuses me (and probably my neighbors), I park it next to my 1975 Porsche 914, which cost me a hair north of 1% of the sticker price of its great-great-grand sibling.

It’s going to be a good week.

(A car review? This is Sound+Vision! More like a car enthusiast’s entertained critique. Check out the review of the Burmester audio system that brought this Porsche to our eager hands.)

In person, the Panamera is far more attractive than it seems in photos. It’s a big car, and I think what fools the eye in print is that normally a car this size is a sedan, or an SUV. Though Porsche doesn’t call it such, it’s a hatchback. I love hatchbacks.

I waste no time getting acquainted. The seats are firm, and adjustable in every direction. Buttons cover the center console. It seems every aspect of the car is adjustable, and in reality, most are. There’s a button to make the exhaust louder (needed — it’s quiet otherwise). There’s a button to raise a little sun shade in the back. There’s a button to adjust the ride height. There’s a button for Sport, and a separate button for Sport Plus. There’s a button to push your buttons. Not really on that last one.

I don’t care. With 550 horsepower, this is the most powerful car I’ve ever driven, and that list includes a Viper, a Lambo, and an Aston Martin. I back out of my driveway past the 914 that, when new, had 462 less horsepower from half as many cylinders than the Panamera.

The short drive to the highway is shockingly mundane. In Comfort mode, the Panamera is as docile as a Camry. Easy to drive around town, soaking up bumps and being every bit as the mode describes. It feels, disturbingly. . . soft.

That all changes when I press Sport Plus. In fact, everything about the car changes. The steering becomes more precise, the pedals firm up, the suspension lowers and tightens. It all becomes more immediate. Now if you touch the gas, the car leaps forward. Turning the wheel slightly now charges you into a different lane. In other words, it goes from family hauler to sports car. The difference between the two modes is like two entirely different vehicles. I’m sure the Sport mode is somewhere between the two, but who wants halfway?

Here in LA we have these — admittedly genius —on-ramp stoplights. They regulate the flow of traffic onto the highway during peak times. They’re also fun. I roll up and wait.

Green. My brain initiates a series of electrical events that starts at my head, travel to my foot, and interact with the car, which explodes a bunch of precisely measured fuel and air. All four wheels seize the pavement, and we as a system launch forward with violent ferocity.

I’m convinced we initiated some sort of Picard Maneuver, transitioning from 0 to highway speeds instantaneously. That if I looked back, for a brief moment, I’d see myself and the car still on the ramp, ready to go.

Hyperbole? Barely. The Panamera Turbo S can achieve 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, making it one of the fastest cars on the planet. Ever. I feel like I’ve done something wrong. Something horribly illegal, and yet, I’m being passed on both sides by angry LA traffic. Touch the gas, and you can initiate the same sort of vicious force at any speed. 40-60? 50-70? You’ll change speeds faster than it takes for you to think to tell your foot to do it.

I head to my special not-really-hidden handling loop in the Santa Monica mountains. Here, the Panamera is quite adept, but there’s only so much a high-tech suspension can do. It feels deliberate in the hills, never setting a foot wrong, but never at ease, either. It’s as if, while adroitly transitioning from corner to corner, the Panamera says something like: “Ok fine I’ll do it, but WTF?” Except it’s German, so it’s more like “Sie sind ein verrückter Fahrer. Lasst uns auf die Autobahn kommen.”

I descend out of the hills towards The Valley, my mind filling with plans of epic road trips for the week to come. Enabling Comfort mode, the ride tempers to enable a luxurious cruise back across the infinite tarmac of Los Angeles.

Panamera Ponderables

As much as I love Porsche, (and despite being an owner) I’ve never been a “purist” with the mindset that they’re only allowed to make rear-engined sports cars. What a stupid concept. They can make as many of those SUV abominations as they want, as long as the money goes back into making amazing vehicles like the GT3 RS 4.0 or the Cayman R. Somewhere in between is the Panamera, exactly the type of car Porsche should be making. It’s a brilliant 4-seat GT, with impressive dynamics, and performance that blows away nearly every other car on the road. That’s what a Porsche should do.

But what is it about this car that’s so beguiling? I know many don’t like the looks. If that’s your hangup, well, there’s not much I can do about it. Personally, I like how it looks. I also think all sedans are stupid and love hatchbacks. To each their own.

An argument could be made it’s because of the prodigious power, the mind bending, impossible amounts of power. At any speed, floor the go pedal and you’re thrust forward with a tremendous physics-defying alacrity.

But that’s not it either. If outright speed is your thing, buy a motorcycle. No, I think what I like most about this car is how incongruous it is. Here is a massive sedan/hatchback/stationwagon that performs like a sports car. A sports car that seats four (plus luggage), gets 23 mpg on the highway, and cossets its occupants in Stuttgartian luxury.

In my mind, as a classic car fanatic, I see the Panamera as a modern-day Citroen SM (another favorite). In its day the SM was a luxurious, high-performance, 4-seat GT, with cutting edge tech, controversial looks, and an incredible price tag. Indeed, the SM sold for about 3 times the price of a contemporary Porsche 914, just as the Panamera today sells for about 3 times the price of a Boxster (the 914’s modern equivalent).

Hopefully history will be kinder to the Panamera than it was to the SM. Though perhaps in 40 years, like the SM, used models will fall enough in price that I can actually afford one.

Bottom Line

I am a small car guy. I like, and have always owned, small cars. In my mind, Colin Chapman was the ultimate car genius: Simplify, then add lightness. I’ve always joked that my interest in a car decreases by 10% for every 100 pounds over 3,000.

So while I was excited to review the Panamera, it was mostly just out of curiosity for a car I’d never own, and probably never get to drive otherwise. What I didn’t expect was that after a week, how much I’d love it. It is an astounding machine, and truly brilliant transportation. You may think this an obvious result, but it’s rarely been the case for me and the cars I’ve reviewed. If I were in a position to buy a $186,845 car (come on book sales!), I’d be incredibly happy with a Panamera Turbo S. GT Silver Metallic, please. Dare to dream. 

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