2010 Porsche Panamera: New four-door sedan worthy of the Porsche name

By Lary Coppola

The 2010 Porsche Panamera is the storied brand’s first-ever four-door sedan. With the Mercedes-Benz S Class, Maserati Quattroporte, Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and M5 squarely in its crosshairs, the Panamera is actually a hatchback with a roomy rear seat, back-seat headroom, leg and hip room that rivals any of the other cars in this class, plus actual useful cargo space.

Even beyond having four doors, the Panamera is markedly different from traditional Porsches. Unlike the 911, with its rear-mounted engine, the Panamera sports a front-engine design, and is an impressively smooth luxury highway cruiser, belying its world-class handling and performance.

Model Lineup: The 2010 Porsche Panamera is offered in three configurations — the S, 4S and Turbo models.

Standard on the Panamera S ($89,800) and 4S ($93,800) are leather upholstery; eight-way power-adjustable, heated front bucket seats with driver’s seat memory; tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel; cruise control; power windows, locks and mirrors; sunroof; 11-speaker, 235-watt AM/FM stereo with CD/DVD/MP3 player; Porsche Communication Management system with seven-inch touchscreen, navigation system and trip computer; automatic climate control; interior air filter; Homelink universal garage door opener; anti-theft system; auto-dimming outside and rearview mirrors; automatic bi-xenon headlights; split-folding rear bucket seats; power rear liftgate; adaptive rear spoiler; Porsche Active Suspension Management adjustable suspension; and alloy wheels. The 4S adds all-wheel drive with an automatic brake differential.

The Panamera Turbo ($132,800) adds full leather upholstery and interior trim; 14-way power seats with memory; power tilt/telescoping steering column; alcantara roof liner; adaptive air suspension with load-leveling and adjustable ride height; and adaptive headlights.

The Panamera offers options galore, including adaptive air suspension; Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control with rear differential lock; variable assist power steering; Sport Chrono Plus package with analog and digital stopwatch, Sport Plus button and launch control; ceramic composite brakes; sport exhaust system with modified silencers, special tailpipes and an interior button to change the exhaust note. Front park assist and a rearview camera are bundled.

Where interior options are concerned you can get just about any part of the interior trimmed in leather, alcantara, wood or aluminum depending upon personal preference and the depth of your checkbook. Available are full-leather interior with memory for the driver’s seat and driver’s side mirror; a choice of 14 or 18-way power seats in full leather or cloth; power steering column and memory for lights, wipers, A/C, door locks, instrument cluster and PCM settings; front park assist; adaptive cruise control; large rear center console; eight-way power rear seats; front and rear seat ventilation; four-zone automatic climate control; heated steering wheel; power sunscreens for rear side windows and a power rear sunscreen.

Tech options include Sirius/XM satellite radio; Bluetooth cell phone connectivity; 6CD/DVD changer;, and a Universal Audio Interface with auxiliary input and USB ports.

Walkaround: The Panamera has a sleek, sporty, coupe-like profile, and even as a 4-door, is still unmistakably a Porsche. The 911 influence is evident in the signature rear wheel flares and hood that sits lower than the front fenders, as well as the front end with lower air intakes but no grille. The rounded rear end also hides a cleverly designed active rear spoiler that rests under a chrome trim strip and pops up at speed to increase rear downforce.

The rounded four-door hatchback design allows for generous rear headroom while also offering the rear cargo utility of a wagon, with a sporty coupe rear profile.

The swollen rear end is somewhat reminiscent of the old 928, and may be the car’s weakest styling point, but the Panamera has a definite presence — attracting attention anywhere people see it.

Interior: Porsche claims the Panamera is the most luxurious car its ever built — and for obvious reasons. The fit and finish are outstanding and all materials are top-grade, with soft-touch surfaces everywhere.

The Panamera S and 4S models come standard with three partial leather upholstery choices, while the Turbo boasts full-leather in four color choices. Three different two-tone combinations, natural leather in two colors, and one two-tone combination are also available.

Interior trim choices include carbon, aluminum, and five real-wood options, with an alcantara roofliner (standard on Turbo), and extra leather on just about anything, including the steering column, rearview mirror, the top of the dash, and air vents all available.

The center console houses over 30 control buttons, with some of those functions (and others) controlled via the standard seven-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash, with another 18 buttons surrounding it. A second 4.8-inch multi-function display is housed in one of the gauge pods in front of the driver. It’s paired with the navigation screen to display just about any information the driver may want.

Porsche wisely opted for command buttons rather than a joy-stick controller such as BMW’s highly unintuitive iDrive. The buttons, which are logically grouped by function and easily accessible, are simple to figure out.

Three audio systems are offered. The base 11 speaker, 235 watt
system is better than many other manufacturer’s premium systems. The optional 14-speaker, 585 watt Bose surround sound system is loud, clear, and as good as any premium system you’d find in most upscale luxury cars. However, the kickass 16-speaker, 1000-watt Burmester surround sound is as clear as anything I’ve ever heard — and I’ve heard some really great ones.

The front bucket seats are firm, comfortable, and supportive, with a seating position similar to the 911, only higher. The full-length center console, inspired by the Porsche Carrera GT, sweeps upwards toward the dash, creating four distinct seating positions, each offering ample room and comfort.

Considering the rear-sloping roof, rear-seat headroom is especially impressive, and can comfortably accommodate passengers over 6-feet.

The hatchback design provides plenty of cargo space for larger items. With the rear seats up, there is 15.6 cubic feet of space behind them — about as much as a large sedan’s trunk. The rear seats fold almost flat, revealing 44.2 cubic feet of cargo room — enough for four suitcases.

Standard safety features include dual front airbags, dual front knee airbags, front- and rear-side airbags, side curtain airbags with rollover deployment, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, tire-pressure monitor, and rear park assist.

Under The Hood: The Panamera S and 4S come with a 4.8-liter V8 putting 400 ponies to the pavement, while the Panamera Turbo offers a turbocharged version of that same V8, rated at 500 horses. Both powerplants are mated to Porsche’s new seven-speed automated manual PDK transmission. The Panamera S is rear-wheel drive, while the 4S and Turbo boast all-wheel drive.

Behind The Wheel: The Porsche Panamera is an absolute dream to drive, and all models are really fast — as you would expect from Porsche. The normally aspirated V8 in S and 4S models has plenty of power at any speed, and can do 0-60 drill in as little as 4.6 seconds. The Turbo slices that to 3.6 seconds, with little if any turbo lag and a surge of power pinning you to the seat.

I had the opportunity to put all the Panamera’s through their paces at the 4.1-mile, 14-turn, Road America racecourse in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Myself and a driving partner picked one up at the Milwaukee airport and drove the two hours to Elkhart Lake, and back, getting some city and highway driving in as well.

Two forms of adjustable suspension are offered, a standard system with gas shocks, and a full air suspension on the Turbo. The suspension adjustments allow the Panamera to drive like a luxury car or a race-ready sports sedan. The Panamera was at right home on the track, with quick, communicative steering, blazing acceleration, and a willingness to change direction and respond to driver input that made it stable, and forgiving through hard, high-speed turns.

Road America has several long straightaways, and the Panamera’s brakes heated up after about an hour of repeated extreme use with almost no down time by numerous rotating drivers. However, under normal conditions, the brakes are more than capable.

The Turbo delivers extreme performance that’s almost too easy to control. The Panamera S felt lighter than the Turbo, but the 4S, with its surefooted all-wheel drive, fit my personal driving style like a glove, and was my preference of the trio. I drove it faster than anything else I’ve ever driven — 163 mph — with total confidence.

For all the power, the Panamera is fairly easy on gas. It comes with a hybrid-like start/stop feature that turns the engine off at stoplights to conserve fuel. EPA fuel economy estimates are 16/city and 24/highway for the S models and 15/23 for the Turbo, meaning no Panamera is subject to the Gas Guzzler tax.

Whines: The speedometer is marked in hard-to-read 25 mph increments, but if you can’t read it, a digital speed readout is provided at the bottom of the tach.

Bottom Line: The 2010 Porsche Panamera was an excellent expansion of the Porsche lineup. It debuts as one of the world’s best luxury sports sedans, combining ultra high performance with the comfortable ride and interior refinement of a luxury cruiser. It’s fast, handles like a dream, carries four in comfort and has plenty of cargo room. All that capability doesn’t come cheap, and Porsche’s numerous options can add as much as $60,000 to the price of the car. But if you can afford it — it’s worth it.