The first time you notice the new Porsche Panamera will probably be from behind. Not just because it’s rather quick off the lights, but the design team has done some remarkable aluminum surgery.
My take at the original launch of this incredibly roomy sports car was that the front was very attractive and 911-ish with a few botox injections and the rear end was… well… a touch Japanese of yesteryear and not the most beautiful bum on the block.
A few years ago, the controversial rump (almost as famous as J.Lo) got some visual liposuction with the taillights flattened and enlarged, along with a bigger back window and some complicated adjustments to the bum-per.
And while Chief Designer at Porsche, Michael Mauer, might argue that he was reliving the 928 era, the latest Panamera is now the complete looker that we tend to expect from the Stuttgart stable where the cars are sculpted rather than designed.
Horizontal graphics visually widen the car, which is lower (without sacrificing rear headroom) and longer. But, you only realize that this is a genuine four-seater when you try to sneak into a tight parking spot.
We’re not talking about a pair of Pekinese on the way to the parlour… we mean adults, six-footers, sitting comfortably in the back with their knees below their ears.
But while Meghan Trainor might say it’s all about that bass, the attention to the rear end is a total disservice to the Porsche team which has been so energetic and visionary in producing a vehicle where virtually only the badge remains the same.
And that vision is exemplified when you first glance around the interior. Previously you may have been impressed by the V-shaped array of controls waiting for a flick from your forefinger. Now you are faced with sleek black touch screens which burst into life when you ignite the turbo.
What we probably have in common is an intense dislike for lengthy handover explanations when we take delivery of a fresh steed. But this is one case where you WILL need a 101. It is a bewildering experience getting to know your way around that cyber cockpit with more options than you can shake a selfie stick at.
It really is just a template for you to personalize the various screens and move the selected info to where you want it. So you may opt to simplify your drive style and leave out the G-Force and All-Wheel-Drive Percentage displays!
The central analog tachometer is flanked by two 7.0-inch screens. These can be programmed to resemble the five round gauges in a traditional Porsche instrument panel, or you can choose to fill one side entirely with the navigation map.
A 12.3-inch touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay capability, is in charge of infotainment selections.
It does seem like techno overkill to change the flow on the central air vent on a touch screen but there are manual overrides for the fan and temperature. Does it all work? To be honest it would take more than a four-day test drive to come to any conclusion. But the shiny screens were getting friendlier by the day.
If you hanker for the bygone era, there is an analogue clock perched anachronistically on the top of the dash and buttons aplenty on the sensually shaped steering wheel.
The petrol heads may wax on about bhp, rpm and Newton meters, but I would think most Panamera buyers prefer beauty and brains to brawn and aren’t buying this elegant sports limo to dice on city streets.
But the power train and suspension mods will provide the performance right for you. “There are new engines, a new chassis, and new electronics, and everything conspires to make it much sportier, but still very much a luxury sedan,” says Gernot Döllner, Porsche’s head of product design.
Getting back into the boiler room, Porsche make brilliant engines and there is a full range to take you from a mild heart flutter to serious adrenalin overload. And they have all been engineered to the magical new era formula of being lighter, more powerful, less fuel hungry and with lower emissions.
They boast the brand’s new “hot vee” design.
“It adopts a ‘hot vee’ layout with the turbochargers in the engine’s valley. This setup allows for a short run from the exhaust manifold for minimal lag, which is further reduced by the twin-scroll turbos.”
Don’t worry – I don’t understand it either!
What I could feel by the seat of my pants is that the Audi-developed 2.9-liter V-6 Turbo, assisted by the new 8-speed gearbox, propels the Panamera 4S to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds.
The 4S will set you back $123,000. Throw in an extra $70,000 and you can be on the Panamera Turbo rocket ship with a 4-liter V-8 that blitzes you to the mark in a mere 3.6 seconds.
The mention of dollars is a sharp reminder that global car sales across all brands have not looked all that rosy for a couple of years and South Africa’s new car sales have so far lagged slightly behind 2016’s modest results.
Yet Porsche increased its global sales figures for 2016 to a record total of 237,778 units.
The key drivers of this growth were Europe, the USA and China and the models leading the assault were the Macan and the new 718 Boxter. But the Panamera was definitely in the fray to provide an added boost.
And locally Porsche, the most profitable car per unit in the world, is a strong contender among the niche brands.
According to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, the Porsche Cayenne, selling an impressive 576 units, was the leader of the Porsche pack. The Boxter/Cayman combo waded in with 300 and 296 orders for the legendary 911 found breathless new owners.
The Macan sold a relatively modest 217 units but the facelift is waiting in the wings. And the reason for low Panamera sales last year (just 20) was also the anticipation of the G2 as it is known in the trade.
So according to the NAAMSA figures, a total of 1,409 new Porsches were sold in South Africa in 2016.
“Sales figures are not the key focus though, rather being customer focused and exceeding service expectations on every contact level,” says diplomatic Public Relations Manager Christo Kruger.
“Panamera is a luxury saloon, with a clear distinction – being the sportiest offering in the segment and offering exceptional quality and driver interaction.”
Porsche are also taking their offering into the continent with official dealerships in Angola, Kenya and Ghana. As with all Porsches, the Panamera comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty which can be extended.
Is the new Porsche Panamera the right choice for your new family saloon?
If you like a sporting drive rather than a stiff upper lip, and need to take a couple of kids to school, I wouldn’t think twice! – Written by Derek Watts