The new V-6 Porsche Panamera is a lower-priced but perfectly viable alternative to the more powerful versions that made their debut close to a year ago.
Cars.com editor Mike Hanley gave a comprehensive rundown of fthe first two trim levels in his review of the 2010 Panamera S and the Panamera Turbo. Comprehensive specs and pricing aren't available for the 2011 lineup as of this writing, but we do know that the new V-6 model, called simply the Panamera, starts at $74,400 and the all-wheel-drive Panamera 4 is $78,900. The S and 4S are $89,800 and $94,700, respectively, and the Turbo is $135,300.
I'll share my driving impressions of both V-6 versions, which I drove both on roads and a track.
Exterior & Styling
The new trim level looks like the higher ones, but a few things distinguish it. The most obvious is the trim surrounding the side windows, which is matte black rather than chrome. The dual exhaust terminates in single versions of the Panamera Turbo's split tailpipes. The Panamera S has two round pipes per side. Five-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels are standard, as are black brake calipers. The Panamera S has silver calipers, and the Turbo's are red.
An optional brake package includes ceramic composite brake discs and yellow-painted calipers.
Just a few years ago I would have written off the Panamera's V-6 version as falling short of Porsche buyers' expectations. Two things have changed my perspective: One is the power provided by Porsche's new V-6. The second is the surprising success of the Cayenne SUV's V-6 version — following my dire predictions to the contrary.
It might be a V-6, but the Panamera has more than enough power for secure, even spirited, driving. Teamed with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission, the 300 horsepower moves the car with authority. Unlike some of today's V-6 engines, Porsche's doesn't skimp on torque, either. It's a healthy 295 pounds-feet at 3,750 rpm. Redline is at 6,700 rpm. The car does zero to 60 mph in 6 seconds, and the Panamera 4 is a couple tenths of a second quicker. The added traction of all-wheel drive more than overcomes its additional weight. If you want to be quicker still, the optional Sport Chrono Package provides a launch-control feature that shaves another two-tenths by allowing the engine to rev high before it dumps the clutch. The top speed is 160 mph, according to Porsche.
|2011 Panamera Trim Levels Compared|
|Panamera||Panamera 4||Panamera S||Panamera 4S||Panamera Turbo|
|0-60 w/ Sport Chrono package* (sec.)||5.8||5.6||5.0||4.6||3.8|
|Top speed (mph)||160||159||175||175||188|
|Weight distribution (front/rear, percent)||52.6/47.4||52.7/47.3||53.9/46.1||54.6/45.4||55.3/44.7|
*The Sport Chrono option also includes a launch-control function that allows the engine to achieve high rpm before taking off.
The PDK transmission (where "P" stands for Porsche and "DK" is for the German translation of dual-clutch transmission) works well with the smaller engine. Like most transmissions of this type, there's a slight lurch from a standing start if you don't wait a beat after letting off the brake before you hit the accelerator. It lets the clutch engage more smoothly. Upshifts and downshifts are reasonably quick and decisive. Where the transmission wasn't as good as some was in reading my mind, kicking down at the most appropriate time without my having to resort to the shift buttons on the steering wheel. To be fair, modern transmissions are designed to adapt to one's driving style, and the gearbox and I didn't have much time to get to know each other.
The Panamera has a standard Auto Start Stop feature whereby the engine turns off when you come to a complete stop. It starts again, seamlessly, when you lift off the brake pedal. Porsche says the provision is good for mileage gains of a percentage point or two, though the U.S. EPA's test cycle isn't structured to reflect it. Still, the Panamera's mileage is pretty good, at 18/27 mpg city/highway, or 18/26 with all-wheel drive. The Start Stop feature can be deactivated if you don't like it.
Anyone who's turned off by Porsche's use of a Volkswagen six-cylinder in the Cayenne (I plead guilty, though I probably shouldn't care) will be pleased to know the Panamera's 3.6-liter V-6 is a Porsche design, basically the company's 4.8-liter V-8 with two fewer cylinders. The Panamera happily accepts a shorter-block derivation of the S trim level's 90-degree V-8, with its two proper heads. A narrow-angle, single-head engine, the Cayenne's V-6 was too tall for the car anyway.
Peek under the hood, and the two absent cylinders couldn't be more obvious: There's more free space than I've seen in an engine compartment in years, between the radiator and the engine. The V-6 both weighs less and shifts the mass rearward, giving the Panamera the best front/rear weight distribution of the lineup: 52.6/47.4 percent. Porsche says the Panamera 4's additional hardware shifts the balance forward only 0.1 percent to 52.7/47.3, but the car feels quite different to me.
I hit the track first in the Panamera 4, which feels nicely balanced indeed, but the extra weight that seems invisible in off-the-line sprints makes itself known here. Thanks to an optional adaptive suspension, it didn't heave its weight around, but there's simply not enough power to exploit the grip of four driven wheels. In normal driving, you're fine. On a track, or anything resembling one, you want to build the speed that the chassis and brakes could easily take. It's tough to do so.
The rear-drive Panamera feels like a different car. From the first turn it felt lighter, more tossable and more fun. You won't mistake it for a V-8, but the driveline and a liberal stability control setting let you slide the rear end about in ways the Panamera 4 never could. It's enough to provide this lesser-powered version with a bit of fun, even in normal driving.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't crash-tested the Panamera — or any other Porsche — apparently ever. Low-volume models typically go untested, and Porsche, as a brand, is low-volume. The European New Car Assessment Program, whose stringent tests provide some indication of an American model's crashworthiness, also hasn't tested any Porsches. Though we find the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's five-star program of limited value, it's not relevant in this case. That organization hasn't tested the Panamera either.
The Panamera's front occupants get frontal, knee and seat-mounted side-impact airbags. There are also side-impact airbags for the rear seats, as well as curtain airbags to cover the side windows for both rows of seats. Antilock disc brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control are included.
Panamera in the Market
I'm not wild about the Panamera's rear end, and I know I'm not alone in that. Otherwise, I'm impressed with what you get. The hatchback lends more versatility than you'll find in the average full-size luxury sedan, and the seats fold down, too. Good luck finding that in a competing car. Though the backseat accommodates just two, how many cars' backseats truly hold three in comfort? The Panamera commits to its two rear passengers with a substantial center console and plenty of legroom.
Once you consider all these positives, you could easily accept a merely adequate driving experience. Thankfully, the Panamera exceeds expectations in this regard, even when equipped with the base, V-6 engine.
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