Stretched Porsche Panamera more than just a luxury express
It’s easy to dismiss the Porsche Panamera as just another big and ostentatious luxury car. And that’s especially true of the newly launched Executive version, which adds an extra 150 mm to the overall length – all of it devoted to rear legroom.
Yes, it’s a Porsche, which suggests that unlike other stretchmobiles, this one should benefit from the Zuffenhausen brand’s sports car DNA. But just how dynamically involving can a car be if it’s 5,2 metres long, more than 1,9 metres wide, and weighs a scale-warping 2,1 tons?
As it turns out, very involving indeed. The last time I drove a Panamera was at the South African launch of the first-generation model – and I can tell you that Porsche four-door has come a long way since then.
Visually, this latest, all-new Panamera Executive is a car of contrasts. Yes, it’s imposing, especially when you have to squeeze it into a parking bay better suited to a Kia Rio. But it’s also low-slung and sleek.
It still draws some of its aesthetic inspiration from the 911, but it’s by no means meant to be a supersized version of that iconic sports car. Instead, it’s a sleek four-door with a coupé-like roofline, and a wide, low and menacing stance. Vitally, it now has a convincing aesthetic personality.
Side by side, the longer Executive looks a little more formal than the standard version, but you’d struggle to tell them apart without comparing them directly. And certainly, the second-generation model offers a more cohesive, more convincing design.
I never thought I’d actually say this about a Porsche, but for many Panamera Executive owners, the most attractive seat will be at the rear: the bench seat makes way for individually adjustable rear bucket seats, with first class-rivalling levels of space.
You get your own console for climate control and sound, and fold-out tables appear form the centre console for those who want to transform the rear of the cabin into an office. Entertainment screens are an option. The boot is generous and easily accessible, too.
Ergonomically, the layout follows current Porsche thinking, but adds an expansive touch-screen with gesture control to the centre console. There’s still too much switchgear for the tech-heavy cabin to be considered intuitive, but it’s not intimidating, either.
The car I drove at the global launch in Cape Town was the flagship Panamera Turbo Executive, a R2,65-million executive express powered by a four-litre bi-turbo V8. The engine produces 404 kW of power and 770 Nm of torque, while the gearbox is an eight-speed automatic.
All-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering add traction and stability – but here’s the good news: the Panamera doesn’t lose its sports car soul in the process. In fact, the harder you drive, the more car seems to shrink around you.
Give it welly, and the Porsche reacts with sports car-like alacrity. It gets from zero to 100 clicks in an astonishing 3,9 sec, and runs to 306 km/h, space and conditions permitting. The reserves of traction and composure are tremendous, allowing the car to cling tenaciously through even tight corners at speed.
There’s none of the nose-heaviness you’d expect of a big, front-engined car. Indeed, the steering is one of the Panamera’s highlights, offering succinct and meaningful feedback. The rear-biased drive system only feeds urge to the front axle when required, and even then, the process is seamless and unobtrusive.
Yes, given its size and weight, it’s not surprising that the Panamera understates just how fast you’re going, even when pressing on. But it doesn’t anaesthetise the driving experience either: it’s still engaging to pilot with gusto.
By the same token, it’s an effortless high-speed cruiser with a real appetite for extended distances, while cocooning its occupants in comfort.
The Panamera – and the Executive version in particular – is a niche product in an already small, exclusive segment. But for those seeking to combine the seemingly disparate virtues of limo-style luxury and sports car dynamics, the big Porsche is a convincing choice.