LET’S FACE IT, the car that can truly do it all doesn’t exist. That said, the luxurious, family-friendly Panamera Turbo S supercar comes scarily close. One minute you’re wafting about with two execs in the back, both stretched out reading the Economist, and the next moment you’re challenging for the title of Topcar’s quickest car ever tested. Now that’s what you call broadly competent.
Many observers incorrectly oversimplify the Panamera as merely a four-door 911. It’s not. While obviously crafted using typical Porsche design language, the near 5m-long hatchback has much of its own aesthetic. It is wider, visually heavier and from a few angles quite pleasing on the eye. However, the rear is too square and the conscious incorporation of the 911’s classic side window graphic into the sedan’s extended roofline renders the C-pillar unnecessarily bulky. So it lacks the balanced finesse of the 911’s glass to metal ratio and looks a bit like the hunchback of Notre Dame. But do I care? More like the hunchback of I don’t give a damn, because in a segment full of conservative luxo-barges, the Panamera Turbo S has real presence.
You gotta love the four LED daytime running lights that encircle the Bi-Xenon headlights like hi-tech laser sights, and the 20-inch 911 Turbo II rims that toughen up the Panamera’s generally soft aesthetic. Our test unit wore Porsche’s ceramic composite brakes with multi-piston aluminium callipers in shouty yellow, set off against Aqua Blue metallic bodywork. Short of tailoring an individual one from Porsche Exclusive, this is Panamera at its visual best.
Those brakes, a R113 600 option, provide impressively powerful, fade-free anchorage, but do make their squeaky presence heard around town. Also always ready to make a scene is the two-piece body colour boot spoiler that rises and spreads in an act of pure theatre and fanatic function.
Spartan is not a criticism you could level at the Panamera’s cabin. No fancy multitasking controller here, just a touch screen and buttons for absolutely everything. It’s not exactly a riot though; there’s order and design consistency, which means it doesn’t take long to find your way around. Negatives? Just the unnecessary aircraft-style overhead panel that kept creaking away just above my left ear. There are too many buttons up there that don’t feel as solid in use as their dash-mounted cousins. Then you get an indicator stalk that feels delicate enough to have been assembled from bits of Cadbury Flake, just far less palatable. Surely Porsche could engineer a turn signaller that’s as pleasing to use as the fantastic shift paddles on the three-spoke multifunction steering wheel?
Niggles dealt with; now for the far more prolific positives. For starters, the two-tone all-leather cabin has been beautifully appointed; all four ‘adaptive sport’ seats are heated and look equally inviting with 18-way electric adjustment and memory functions up front, the leather’s soft and sumptuous, and the anthracite birchwood trim dark and richly lacquered. Beige-o-phobics can obviously order theirs in a gloomier colour combination so it’ll look sportier, but perhaps less opulent. Porsche Communication Management (PCM) with satnav and a BOSE surround system are standard, though our car was even closer to audiophile heaven with its 1000-watt, 16-speaker Burmester kit – a R46080 option. It may be a bit on the shallow side, but the boot is still large, at 432litres, and easily accessible via the large hatch, with the added advantage of split folding rear seats.
It only takes a lingering moment of right ankle flex to convince you that every family car should have a hulking great twin-turbocharged V8 handling the motivation. The Turbo S’s 4.8-litre ‘motivator’ picks up its two-tonne mass and throws it towards the horizon with ridiculous ease. During our track test session, standstill to 100kph took a mere 3.87sec using the car’s built-in launch control as a function of the standard Sport Chrono Package Turbo. Select ‘Sport Plus’(adjusts engine-mapping, transmission and suspension), left foot on the brake, transmission in ‘D’ or ‘M’, right foot hard on the throttle, wait for the ‘Launch Control’ message to light up on the steering spoke display, release the brake and go! Couldn’t be simpler. With 405kW and an overboosted 800Nm on tap, it’s a manic grin maker of the highest order. Porsche attributes the S’s additional 37kW and 100Nm over the standard Turbo to tweaked engine management and lighter, faster-reacting turbochargers. The result is utterly addictive, explosive acceleration.
Driving around in the Turbo S is just like being a student with money in your wallet. It grants you a quiet confidence knowing you always have something extra up your sleeve. Of course it won’t keep you out of jail if you cross the line, but it certainly gives you options. And that’s the brilliance of this Porsche. It has the dramatic pace of a Nissan GT-R, but pulls off the luxury limousine act to perfection too. All thanks to the refinement of its seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox that puts the GT-R to shame at slow speeds and then matches its brilliance on track. Changes are slick ’n quick and almost always in sync with your expectations. Helping to balance those manic blastoffs is an auto start/stop system that switches off the engine when stationary.
This is two tonnes of supercar, though various elements conspire to disguise that fact – like the hydraulically-assisted, variable ratio steering that is accurate, responsive and full of feeling. It endows the Panamera with a fantastic sense of agility and a tight turning circle. Sticky and broad Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, all-wheel drive, adaptive air suspension, an active anti-roll system (PDCC) and torque vectoring (PTV Plus) via an electronic rear diff lock guarantee prodigious grip and traction. On track you really can fling this heavy-duty missile around, confident that it will turn in on demand and stick where others slide. The only reservation is a slightly enigmatic and unsettling sensation when all the electronics are called into play. Still, most drivers will happily concede that Porsche’s engineers are more talented at their jobs than they are at driving and that the electronics greatly increase the margin for error, whilst simultaneously turning them into a driving hero. Win-win.
At a little over R2.2million as tested, the Panamera Turbo S is a seminal sports sedan. It’s comfortable, agile, practical and frikken fast, a genuine supercar-cross-family hatch. Yes, there are more spacious limos and potentially faster supercars out there, but nothing comes close to the mix of performance, space and relative value. Time behind the Turbo S’s wheel can be as relaxing as a back rub, as adrenaline-pumping as a bare knuckle fist fight or as rewarding as winning the lotto. That most of us would actually have to win the lotto first to own one merely serves to underline its exclusivity. The select few with sufficient financial clout to survive the purchase process will no doubt appreciate every moment in a car that so nearly does it all.