Porsche's restyled Panamera is either the world’s sportiest luxury car or the world’s most luxurious sports car.
Does it matter which?
The German automotive firm has retooled the larger, wider sports sedan to more closely resemble its smaller, sleeker 911 sports cars.
The roof line is lower, and the rear slope is more aggressive. The Panamera no longer looks rump-heavy, as it did, or like the forced marriage between a sports car and a box car.
Under the hood, the Panamera more closely resembles its racier siblings too. For 2017, Porsche has installed a 4-liter V-8 engine, with twin turbos, that makes 550 horsepower and 567 pound-feet of torque — up from the 520 horsepower and 516 pound-feet on earlier models.
The result is an exquisite combination of plush and power. On a quick road trip to Las Vegas, I actually didn’t want the drive to end.
Though the Panamera owes much of its DNA to the 911 line, it sits higher and offers easier entry and exit.
Inside, a trim dash area and center console make easy work of customizing the driving experience.
Drive modes are Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. Suspension modes come in similar flavors. The seats can be heated, and adjusted in an uncountable variety of ways. They also offer a massage function, with five programs and four settings for strength.
I toggled between maximum strength settings for Shiatsu, Shoulder and Stretch, which eased away my stress as I slid past Barstow and Baker and across the desert.
The model I drove was fitted with Porsche’s optional adaptive cruise control system. It may be the best on the road. The Panamera eased on the brakes, then eased on the accelerator, as traffic slowed down and sped up, as seamlessly as any car I’ve ever driven — better in many ways than the celebrated Tesla Autopilot behaved during my recent test drives in the Model X.
The handling — I did say this was a Porsche, didn’t I? — is sublime, as intuitive at slow speeds on mountain roads as at high speeds on the highway.
And the power was equally sublime, coming on sweet and strong when needed, whether in Normal, Sport or Sport Plus mode.
The relatively new Porsche eight-speed transmission transfers the power seamlessly. In paddle-shift mode, though, the shifting lacked some of the razor sharpness of the PDK paddle systems in the 911 cars.
I confess I did not experiment with the Launch Control function. But I will say that though I would not recommend that anyone exceed the speed limit, even on a deserted stretch of I-15, I believe they would discover that the Panamera is as smooth and well-behaved at 120 mph as it is at 60.
As on other Porsches, the Panamera doesn’t offer many set-it-and-forget-it options. If you like to drive in Sport mode, you’ll have to choose that every time you get into the car. If you like the Shiatsu massage, you’ll have to scroll through a menu on the dash and select it, every time. Seat settings can be stored, but many others require fresh assignments at the beginning of every drive.
Also, the Panamera won’t win any prizes for fuel economy. Even during long periods when I observed the speed limit and stayed in Normal mode, I was not able to match the EPA-approved 25 mpg highway rate. (The Panamera also comes in a hybrid format, for owners who insist on better fuel consumption.)
But the Panamera’s 23-gallon fuel tank means that, even at the 23 mpg rate I was getting, the car could have driven almost 550 miles between fueling stops.
The new, sleeker Panamera profile still offers enough cargo space for multiple suitcases or golf bags, and enough head and leg room for multiple full-sized passengers.
Indeed, Porsche boasts that the passenger space inside the Panamera offers comfortable seating for “four 95th percentile men.”
But it’s definitely a 1-percenter vehicle. The model I drove, equipped with those special massage seats, adaptive cruise control, sport package and other options, bore a sticker price of $173,505.
The Panamera is the lowest-selling vehicle in the Porsche family, coming in fifth behind — in order of sales numbers — the Macan, Cayenne, 911 and Boxster-Cayman segments.
But it still represented almost 5,000 premium vehicles sold in 2015 and 4,400 sold in 2016, at the end of the run for a car whose first generation was introduced in 2009, and which has sold 150,000 units since then.
With the arrival of this second-generation update, Porsche has good reason to be optimistic about growing the Panamera’s numbers.
2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
Times’ take: A modern classic, improved
Highs: Super-sporty, super-luxurious
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger sedan
Base price: $147,950
Price as tested: $173,505
Powertrain: 4-liter, V-8, turbocharged gasoline engine
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Torque: 567 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 18 mpg city / 25 mpg highway / 21 mpg combined