Porsche's luxury express combines a conscience with sharp performance Power-packer shrinks Here's something to warm the hearts of car haters ... or at least temper that anger to sharp indignation: even larger-than-life luxury cars can downsize and still satisfy their market segments.
Consider the revised Porsche Panamera S, which has dropped the previous 4.8-litre V8 engine in favour of a new 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6.
The new engine gives the Panamera better performance. It's also 18 per cent more economical (the combined fuel economy figure is now 8.9 litres per 100km).
Maintaining maximum credibility must have been foremost in Porsche people's minds when they designed it. While the Volkswagen Group's parts bin bulges with suitable V6 engines, Porsche chose instead to remove two cylinders from the previous model's 4.8-litre V8 to create the new powerplant. This, says the company, keeps it short (to improve weight distribution) and maintains a low centre of gravity via the V-angle of the donor powerplant.
There is more efficiency-enhancement in the Panamera's gearbox. It retains the seven-speed automated dual-clutch PDK, with normal, Sport and neck-brace Sport Plus modes. But it has a new feature - "virtual gears": in gentle driving at up to 80km/h, the PDK will select a higher ratio and gently slip the clutches to reduce engine speed and preserve fuel.
For more power again, the gearbox will click back to the lower gear - so fast you won't notice.
Porsche claims this process is wear-free. Good. The other good thing for those who struggle with manual gearboxes is that it's finally cool to slip the clutch. Because Porsche says so.
Aside from the trick new powertrain, the Panamera S gets adjustable air suspension. I'm not convinced this is as adept at suppressing small bumps as the steel springs in lesser models, but I do like it for another reason. You can set the powertrain to max-attack with the Sport or Sport Plus buttons but, at the same time, wind back the suspension to comfort. Which sounds odd, but I reckon you can enjoy the Panamera for its rapid performance (0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, people) without having to suffer spinal injuries. It's a luxury express, not a four-door 911 GT3.
You can enjoy that performance even more in 4S form as tested: this $270,000 model adds $10k to the price but has four-wheel drive as its greed for fuel its greed for fuel standard. Actually, tick the box for Sport Chrono Package Plus ($2560) as well and you gain even more acceleration (0-100km/h in 4.5sec) and a nice stopwatch on the dashboard.
Travelling in the Panamera, front-or-rear, is still a surreal experience. Four heavily sculpted seats are sharply reclined but eminently spacious. You feel like you're strapped into a rocket. Which you kind of are.
There's a quality ambience in the cabin, although I would hesitate to say it's restful: the centre and roof consoles are a shivaree of silver buttons and lights. It's that cockpit thing again. But that's always been the Panamera's unique selling proposition: it's a super-luxury car with an audacious twist or two.
What about the rest of the range? The entry Panamera carries over the same 3.6-litre V6, while the driver-focused GTS and Turbo versions keep their V8s. So, in technological terms, that makes the mid-range Panamera S/4S the hero model of the new range. A weird state of affairs, but then the Panamera has always been an unusual vehicle.