The first thing you should learn about the all new 2010 Porsche sedan is its name. Panamera. It is not panoramic. And it is not Pan-American. One is a camera setting and the other a highway from the top of North America to the bottom of South America.
That particular highway, which is really a series of roads that stretch for nearly 30,000 miles, would be a perfect place to try out this new sedan. It's an absolute thrill machine that allows you to share the fun with three other people -- something Porsche has not been able to do before with its cars.
Now, all of this speed and luxury does come with a hefty price tag. My turbocharged test vehicle topped $150,000, though the "base" model starts at around $90,000. That's a lot of schnitzel, even for these Autobahn racers by the legendary German brand.
But people who buy this car don't worry that much about the price. And this remains a groundbreaking vehicle for Porsche, showing the world even an old German can learn a new trick.
There are also things we can learn from these kinds of cars, such as what supreme fit and finish looks like, what performance features could eventually make their way into everyday vehicles, and how cool a sedan can become.
See, for the most part, the automotive world believes in a trickle-down philosophy of technology. It's very similar to trickle-down economics but doesn't require bipartisan support. It works like this: Create new things, put them in really expensive cars, and eventually everyday people slogging through traffic will get them in their cars. In other words, the Panamera is a glimpse at the future.
So let's pull back that curtain and take a peek, shall we?
First, this car is pure Porsche. Yes, it is a sedan -- purposely embracing all four doors and providing adequate space in the second row to allow passengers with actual legs enough room to sit (there are 33.3 inches of legroom back there). The traditional 2+2 models were designed for two people and two briefcases.
While the back seats are comfortable, if not downright luxurious, the place every person wants to sit is behind the steering wheel. Every part of this car feels like a Porsche when you're sitting there -- and it's impossible to not be comfortable in the 14-way adjustable seat. (An 18-way adjustable seat is optional.)
Instead of a traditional center stack with knobs and buttons on the dash, Porsche puts a color display screen in the center of the dash and most of the controls stretch down in two rows along the center console that goes all the way through to the second row.
It feels like you're piloting a space ship, clicking through the different buttons. A very swanky leather-encased space ship, for sure.
There is a smaller set of switches on the ceiling that controls the moon roof and parking assist controls. And you will want to turn off the parking assist beeper because it provides 360 degrees of annoyance. (Just pull up to a Dunkin' Donuts and you'll see how the parking assist just beeps and beeps and beeps when you haven't even had your coffee yet.)
At night, the controls glow ominously along with the adjustable ambient lighting throughout the cabin in the foot wells and storage spots.
There are also rear seat reading lights as part of the ambient lighting package.
One of the gauges in the five-gauge cluster instrument panel is actually a 4.8-inch high-resolution display that can bring up lots of information as well as show the navigation screen.
This means that the passenger can still monkey around with the bigger display screen on the dash while the driver will never lose his way. It's genius.
The long list of safety and other features on this car is truly impressive. The only thing it felt like it needed was a blind spot detection system, but it's easy enough to keep people out of your blind spot by just always passing them.
There's also plenty of room in the back to store stuff, and Porsche offers a roof rack for things like skis and snowboards. The automatic lifting tailgate operates from the key, which has the same shape as the car.
Like a true sports car, the tachometer is the dominate gauge, and you have to be careful watching your speed because the numbers count off in 25 mph increments. That means on the highway, you should be able to see the number 75 right above the needle, not below it.
Of course, staying below the 75 marking on the speedometer can be difficult, especially with the twin turbocharged 4.8-liter V-8 under the hood. This car launches like a space shuttle. For a sedan, it can go from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds flat. Keep your foot mashed against the accelerator, and in five more seconds you're hitting 100 mph. This car has comes with a top speed of 188 mph.
Now, those speeds won't get you the EPA gas mileage numbers of 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, which are pretty respectable for the amount of power this car pushes. And the non-turbo model still pumps out impressive power too. The regular 4.8-liter V-8 in the Panamera still provides 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque.
That means in the highway's acceleration lane, no matter which car you're driving, you will pass people. Almost anywhere on the road, when you look around, you can be pretty confident that you are the fastest vehicle within eyesight.
Lithe as a cat
While the twin turbos were supposed to help eliminate turbo lag -- that gap of time between when the driver says, "OK now, hang on" and the moment the passenger says "whoa," the Panamera still has a bit of moment. It's as if it's just taking a second to collect its thoughts before it heads for warp speed.
But it's a minor complaint because the Panamera is such a thrill to drive. The optional air suspension is adjustable to three modes that makes the sedan silky smooth or sport-centric harsh. The engine pushes out 500 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. It's a rollercoaster on freefall. When you hit the gas, the kids in the back might toss their arms up into the air.
Better yet, it keeps all of Porsche's cat-like maneuverability. Its big wheels stick to the road as if it were flypaper, and you can rip around corners. The giant brakes make stopping this 4,300-pound beast a breeze. The steering is sharp and precise to a level that blows you away when you spend most of your driving cars with price tags a quarter or less than the Panamera.
That's yet another reason to get behind the wheel of this vehicle. It's the pure speed and luxury. How can someone evaluate chocolate if he's never tasted the best?
As for its long hood and wide body, the Panamera somehow adds two doors and still keeps its distinctive Porsche silhouette. The style remains understated, but pure Porsche.
Purists may not care for this car, but it wasn't designed for them from the beginning. This is ideal for the man or woman who had to give up the Porsche because the family was growing. Then it just wasn't practical.
Now it is.
The Panamera doesn't break the mold as much as it recasts it.
Now, people just need to learn how to pronounce it.
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Overall: *** 1/2
Exterior: Good. Keeps distinctive Porsche looks while going bigger and wider.
Interior: Excellent. Extremely comfortable and luxurious interior. It's nearly impossible to not find a comfortable position in the seats, and displays and layout are ideal for drivers.
Performance: Excellent. It may be big, but it drives much smaller. The twin turbocharged engine provides maximum power, and the air suspension gives you maximum performance.
Pros: This sedan lives up to the Porsche legacy in every way.
Cons: Turbo model starts at over $130,000 and, well, you've just gotta get the turbo.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor