PREVIEW: 2010 PORSCHE PANAMERA: Wicked all-new Porsche breaks the four-door sedan mould

by Graeme Fletcher . Apr 17 2009

Stuttgart, Germany -- It's big; surprisingly big. Not Cayenne-big in the sense of overkill, but big in terms of the interior space this five-metre-long four-sweater delivers. The rear seat is remarkably accommodating given the car's 1,418-millimetre height. Porsche's new Panamera is also big because of the technology packed into its sensuous form. When the Panamera lands in Canada, it will be offered in S ($115,100), the all-wheel-drive 4S ($120,300) and Turbo ($155,000) versions.

As part of the protracted rollout of this all-new four-door sedan -- the official public showing takes place in Shanghai next month -- Porsche held a technical briefing that included a "taxi" ride around the company's Weissach proving grounds. The first lap, in a Panamera Turbo equipped with the optional Sports Chrono Plus package, was a somewhat graceful affair aimed at showing just how comfortable the new car really is -- it's no Buick, but it sure makes light work of rough roads. The ensuing lap dialled up the speed to the point where a colleague's briefcase, stowed beneath the Panamera's sweeping Chrysler Crossfire-like hatch, started to hammer out the rear fenders as it bounced from side to side.

You see, the driver, an engineer and the man in charge of the Panamera's final suspension calibration, was not shy when it came to demonstrating just how easy it is to flick out the tail of an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Pouring on the coals at the apex of each corner saw the Panamera and its four occupants drift off up the ensuing straight at an extreme rate of knots.

This car runs with the likes of BMW's M5 or the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG with an effortless ease. This is particularly true when the Panamera's 4.8-litre V8 engine is force-fed its air by a pair of oversized turbos. The addition of the twin blowers to the S and 4S's naturally aspirated 4.8L V8 bumps the output from 400 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque to the Turbo's 500 and 516, respectively.

More noteworthy is the Panamera's tenacity in a corner. Its extraordinary ride and handling balance boil down to a number of items, each of which comes with a convoluted acronym. In simple terms, it's the adaptive suspension (optional on the S and 4S) and the active anti-roll bars and electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential that are part of the Turbo's Chrono package. When everything is set in the normal mode, the ride is serene and almost cosseting, the variable-rate springs and adaptive dampers countering all but the largest road irregularities. Depressing the Sport button tweaks everything a little -- the ride is taut without feeling firm.

However, when the time comes to dust off said macho German marques, the driver need only call upon the Sport Plus mode. Here everything is dialled up to hyper. The suspension stiffens, the ride height drops by 25 mm, the throttle input is faster, the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox quickens the pace of its shifts, the electronic nanny's intervention is dialled way back, the all-wheel-drive system changes the manner in which it directs the power to the pavement and those two turbos get a lot meaner. When pressed to the max, the turbos go into an overboost mode, which bumps the torque output by 10 per cent -- from 516 to 568 lb-ft, and it can do this for up to 10 seconds!

When in the Sport Plus mode, the Panamera Turbo became a very different car -- and you can sense all of this from the shotgun seat. As I say, it is remarkable what one can learn from a short ride when there's a professional driver.

One of the key reasons for the Panamera's ability is down to its mass -- or the lack thereof. Every gram was sweated and so you'll find a lot of aluminum and magnesium throughout the body. The design also follows a time-honoured practice -- the further away from the centre of gravity, the lighter the materials should become.

The Panamera S has a zero-to-100-km/h time of 5.2 seconds while boasting a European fuel economy rating of 10.8 L/100 km. Part of the fuel economy equation boils down to the twin-clutch gearbox's idle-stop feature. When the Panamera comes to rest, it shuts the engine down; lifting off the brake fires it back to life.

Of course, if it's the real deal you seek, opt for the Turbo. This car warps its way to 100 km/h in four seconds flat when it's catapulted off the line with the Chrono's launch control system.

The Panamera, based on an all-too-brief ride, shatters the mould. Yes, it is guided by said principle when in its normal mode. Punch the Turbo's Sport Plus button and it becomes a thoroughbred sports car that can run with the very best the world has to offer.

-- Canwest News Service