Some things surprise you no matter how expected they’re to happen. Take Pauline Hanson’s stance on refugees, or a plump orange businessman moving into the White House.
But there are also good surprises. And the new Porsche Panamera’s one of them. See, while the first generation car drove like a four-door 911, it wasn’t pretty as one. And while we expected a fix, we didn’t think it’d be this dramatic.
The problem was that roofline. More hunchback than hunk-y, it was a constant critique in otherwise glowing reviews.
But its time was marked. Porsche redesigned the Panamera from the ground up for 2017, enlisting new engines, ’Ring-proven chassis tech, and an all-new platform.
The new platform stretches the wheelbase by three centimetres, allowing the rear seats, and roof line, to drop 20mm. The roof’s crest is lifted, too.
Squint and you’ll see the 911’s slope massaged into its silhouette. And you might even confuse the two models from some rear angles - the tail lights are bridged by a strip of LEDs, ala 911.
Signature Panamera details are carried over, though. The door and bonnet scallops have deepened, while the headlights, now LED, still sport squared tips.
However there’s no confusion about what car this is inside. The gorgeous 918-inspired steering wheel’s familiar, but everything around it is all-new.
The centre infotainment screen’s grown to 12.3-inches and Porsche’s next-gen infotainment program is a pinch to use, even for iPhone-phobes.
Porsche has channelled its inner-Audi on the centre console, too, and banished buttons for a single pane of glass.
It’s nice and minimalist, and we love the tactile ‘click’ when you press a button. But we can’t see why there’s ‘Sport’ on the pad when it’s one turn away on the steering wheel’s drive mode dial.
But the more ways to access Sport driving mode, the better. With the car’s new air-suspension, eight-speed PDK, and twin-turbo engines adjusting their attitude to what drive mode’s selected, Sport turns out to be the goldilocks setting.
Comfort presents itself strictly as a freeway solution. Because while the car’s three-chamber, monotube air dampers up the waft with more travel, they’re not magic, and can’t isolate the optional 21s from rutted roads.
Here it’s also easy to catch the drivetrain asleep. Porsche’s clever new cylinder deactivation tech, which turns the Turbo’s V8 into a V4 when needed, makes for sluggish progress at turn bays when start-stop chips chimes in unannounced.
Sport Plus throws the Panamera to the other end of the scale. The quad-tip exhausts snarl around town, the Turbo’s split-wing deploys for battle, but the dampers come across a little too stiff for anything but apex work.
This is where Sport mode shines. The ride and handling mix feel expertly judged, in that there’s a suppleness befitting of a grand tourer, but also the responses of a steel-sprung sports car.
Adaptive suspension, rear steering, and a brake-diff are as tricky as it gets for both the 4S and Turbo until active-stabilisers and a diff land as options. But neither car feel like they need help threading a corner.
They might be heavier, at 10kg and 25kg for the 4S and Turbo respectively, but they turn-in with huge amounts of grip. Balance, too, is phenomenal and each car digs in when you add more lock mid-corner.
You won’t be disappointed for straight-line stonk either, no matter which engine you choose. The entry-level 4S’s 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 makes do with 324kW and 550Nm to shift 1870kg of luxury. But it’s still rated to hit 100km/h in 4.2sec with Sport Chrono.
Or if you’re often late for board meetings, the Turbo steps things up with a new hot-vee 4.0-litre V8 that puts out 404kW and 770Nm. It’s heavier at 1995kg, but similarly equipped it’ll fling to 100km/h in 3.6sec, 200km/h in 12.7sec, and eventually top out at 306km/h.
At $376K before options, the Turbo will empty bank accounts just as quick. But it’s also the full Panamera experience. Few cars could devour long, fast, stretches of road with such speed and luxury.
However, such roads are a rarity in this country. For the same money you could buy a BMW M6 Gran Coupe, an A45 AMG for track days, and a new flat screen.
If it were our cash, we’d pocket the $70K and grab the 4S. Sure, it skimps on a full leather interior and alcantara roof lining, but it’s as dynamically sharp, and will pip most rear-drive rivals to 100km/h.
So, Porsche’s slower, cheaper, Panamera stacks up as the luxury limo on sale right now? Like we said, some things surprise you no matter how much they’re expected to happen.
4.5 stars out of five
2017 Porsche Panamera 4S Specifications
Engine: 2894cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 324kW @ 5650-6600rpm
Torque: 550Nm @ 1750-5500rpm
2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo Specifications
Engine: 3996cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 404kW @ 5750-6000rpm
Torque: 770Nm @ 1960-4500rpm
Price: $376,900 (est)
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