Four-seat grand tourer bids to redefine performance in the luxury class

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By 2009 Porsche had well established the idea of its badge appearing on the prow of a five-door model.

Seven years of the Cayenne had left an indelible mark on the brand; if the conditions were right, it was capable of anything, no matter what tradition had previously dictated.

Porsche’s modern 3D badging better ties the Panamera to its siblings, but it’s the thin red strip of LEDs that unites it with the current 911

Yet the appearance of a saloon was almost as controversial. Porsche had pondered the idea for decades, even creating an ill-fated 989 prototype in the late 1980s, but the idea was greeted as a misshapen spanner in the internal machinery of the world’s most renowned sports car maker.

The look didn’t help. The Panamera’s Porsche design cues were stretched to the limit of credibility and beyond.

There were other flaws, too. But it was engineered like the Tirpitz and in the right spec could leap continents in mighty bounds. Its audience was dramatically smaller than that of the Cayenne, but it was chairman of the board-shaped and respectable.

Helpfully, it suited China’s burgeoning back-seat luxury market to perfection. The model was updated in 2013, but not to the point where it destroyed the opposition in the way the contemporary Porsche 911 managed.

This latest version, though, can claim a much more credible level of newness. It is bigger, reshaped, remodelled inside, overhauled in the chassis and endowed with Porsche’s latest engines and gearboxes.

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After seven years, the Panamera no longer has to prove itself against the stigma of contentiousness; the mission now is to make Porsche’s idea of a four-seat GT seem unequivocally more appealing than BMW, Audi, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar have managed in the meantime.

The manufacturer has promised to redefine the performance benchmark in the luxury class. We chose the 4S Diesel with which to examine that claim.



Porsche Panamera LED headlights

The Panamera’s existence no longer provokes raised eyebrows or deep sighs, but its appearance remains a debatable virtue.

The ‘realignment’ Porsche describes may not leap from the page, but closer attention reveals a conscientious effort to edge the design closer to that of the Porsche 911.

I’d like to play around with the configurator to see how much warmer the cabin ambience can be made with the right material choices

At the back, where the roofline is 20mm lower than before, it gains a more recognisably Porsche ‘flyline’ profile, augmented by four-point brake lights and an LED strip linking them. Other proportional tweaks include a 30mm wheelbase extension and a reduced front overhang.

The Panamera sits on the MSB modular architecture developed by Porsche from within the Volkswagen Group.

The platform’s versatility allows a long-wheelbase version to be built simultaneously at the same factory in Leipzig.

The body uses more aluminium than before, adding the body sides and roof to the aluminium door panels, bonnet, tailgate and front wings of the previous model. Ultra-high-strength, hot-formed steels are deployed elsewhere, most notably for the passenger cell.  

The front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension components are mostly aluminium too.

Efforts to improve ride comfort include a hydraulically damped mount for the lower wishbone and new, lighter dampers in the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system, while the optional air suspension, fitted here, uses three-chamber springs with around 60 percent more volume for a far wider spread of spring rates.

All feed into Porsche’s 4D-Chassis Control system, which networks data from each individual sensor to make previously independent, reactive chassis functions part of an integrated response.

Alongside these changes, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport, Torque Vectoring Plus and rear-axle steering also feature. The latter is carried over from the 911 and allows a much more direct steering ratio than was previously permitted.

If that weren’t enough, the engine line-up is easily deserving of its own dedicated engineering section. We’ve opted to test the 4S, the first Panamera to combine a V8 diesel and all-wheel drive, but we might have easily chosen to drive the 434bhp 2.9-litre V6 or the 542bhp twin-turbo 4.0 V8, both also being all-new.

The 4.0-litre diesel is the least powerful of the three, with 416bhp, but its claimed 627lb ft produced from 1000rpm without the aid of electric turbochargers makes it far too intriguing to set aside for later. 


Porsche Panamera interior

The first Panamera was memorable to sit in. Its big, yet form-fitting, cabin was reminiscent of that of the Porsche Cayenne, except low-slung and therefore better for the business of driving.

The latest experience is familiar: the same gun-emplacement position, dictated by a chin-high scuttle and colossal centre console.

The rear seat infotainment screen is impressive, but the fact you can’t hook a smartphone up to it and watch Netflix seems like an opportunity missed

But the detail has been altered by what Porsche calls the ‘digitalisation’ of its cabins. Here the development puts two 7.0in high-resolution displays in the instrument cluster: the left-hand side delivering ‘Speed and Assist’ and the right ‘Car and Info’. Between the two is the rev counter, still pleasingly analogue.

The main touchscreen of the PCM infotainment system monopolises the dashboard.

The 12.3in display now extends the full width of the centre console and catapults the Panamera into the technology big league.

With the ignition off, you might think Porsche had used the display to tidy away the multitude of buttons that previously festooned the console, but it’s just the physical nature of the switches that has gone.

Turn the car on via a key-replacing knob and the console comes to life, revealing an array of touch-sensitive functions that nudge your fingertips with haptic feedback.

This isn’t immediately satisfying, but it’s not out of place next to the shift-by-wire gearlever and computerised air vents.

The centre console looms just as big in the back, equipped with its own infotainment screen and HVAC panel. More importantly, the space around the two seats has improved and the near-claustrophobic cocooning sensation of the old model has lifted.

The rear is still snug for such a big car, but scallops taken from the lower roofline and the longer wheelbase ensure that adults are a little more comfortable.

The high-decked boot remains, but it’s big enough at 495 litres, and the 40/20/40 split seats flop forward to offer 1304 litres and a flat floor. Overall, it’s luxurious, high-tech, handsome, practical and indefinably sporting. Chalk up modern GT benchmark number one.

Qualitatively, the Porsche Communication Management system is very decent, if an acquired taste. Porsche has always endeavoured to keep the software sombre, grown-up and sophisticated, but that hasn’t always facilitated its ease of use.

This is perhaps its biggest overhaul yet, having been inflated to fill a vast display and furnished with a tile-shaped set of functions on the home screen.

Some extra fanciness has been absorbed, too, including useful features such as proximity sensors, Apple CarPlay and Porsche Connect, and less useful ones such as being able to write on the screen and twirl the map around with two fingers (we’re driving, remember?). It does the basics well, though.

The standard hi-fi comes with 150W and 10 speakers. For an additional £1022, our test car improved that to 710W and 14 speakers courtesy of Bose Surround Sound, making it a worthy upgrade. However, serious audiophiles might want to consider the 3D Burmester system that gets 1455W and an active subwoofer — and a price to match, at £4869.


4.0-litre V8 Porsche Panamera diesel engine

On a damp and wintry day, the Panamera 4S Diesel batted off the conditions in a show of spectacular force, making its two-tonne kerb weight seem as nothing when we attached our timing gear to it.

In terms of outright speed, the car surpasses most benchmarks set by like-for-like grand tourers and can be considered alongside the quickest super-saloons you might buy for the thick end of £100,000.

The engine spins heartily all the way to 5000rpm, so you don’t do as much paddle-shifting on the straights as you might expect

This V8 diesel Porsche outsprinted the last BMW M5 we figured as far as 60mph and gave the impression that it might even go a tenth or two quicker still in better conditions. Needless to say, it has unflappable traction.

In terms of refinement, the Panamera is as well isolated and quiet as anything intended for a markedly sporting audience.

It’s not the most luxurious GT of its kind, but in the light of other talents, it is a brilliant compromise.

Real-world fuel economy and range is as outstanding as the acceleration. This is a near-43mpg cruiser with a 90-litre tank, capable of more than 800 miles between fills.

That’s a formidably strong hand for any GT, and yet the Porsche plays its cards with a flourish. The twin-turbo V8 has an energetic timbre distinct from that of the Audi SQ7, feeling smooth and settled on part throttle but revving with greater drama and edge.

It’s matched to a quite brilliant automatic gearbox, which operates with superb speed and instant lock-up in manual mode but obliges with smartly and intuitively chosen ratios in ‘D’. That gearbox effortlessly harnesses the obvious strengths of a big diesel and juggles them against the need to deliver a sporting sense of range. It also lets you interact with and enjoy the incredible motor as much, or as little, as you feel like.

One might expect that an obvious compromise of having a big diesel engine in a car such as this might be a shortage of mechanical richness, but the V8’s engine note is quite pleasing: not gruff and not silken but almost tuneful at times.

It makes for a louder idle than an equivalent petrol might have, but it’s the optional 21in wheels and the chassis compromise that define the cruising refinement, which is still good if not outstanding. 


Porsche Panamera cornering

Those with £100k to spend on a four-seat GT have plenty of options, from the demure and luxurious to the hardcore and driver-focused.

It’s for a Porsche to tend towards the latter end of that dynamic spectrum and deliver outstanding comfort and effortless distance-covering ability along with an engaging sporting edge – and that’s exactly what the Panamera 4S Diesel does.

Select Sport+ mode and the Panamera dives into tighter bends with brilliant agility, flatness and balance, and maintains that poise under power on exit

There’s more. So much about this car is the ideal manifestation of how you would want a big sporting GT to be, from the deliciously incisive pace and heft of its steering to the chassis’ wonderfully judged, mass-disguising meeting of grip, balance, handling response and body control.

Then there’s the uncommonly natural and progressive feel of the air-sprung ride in calmer moments and the way the four-wheel drive system adds traction and stability without dampening cornering poise or corrupting the steering.

There will be customers who’d prefer something more pillowy, or the more traditional purity of a steel-sprung, rear-driven, petrol-engined car. But nothing would come closer to keeping both of those customers happy at the same time than the new Panamera.

The steering deserves a special mention. Nowhere else will you find an electromechanical rack on a car this heavy, with 21in alloys and, in our test car’s case, an optional four-wheel steering set-up that feels this natural.

From its expertly rendered weight, positivity, directness and consistency to the way it telegraphs ebbing grip under the front contact patches, it’s excellent.

But not quite as clever, perhaps, as air-sprung suspension that produces such outstanding body control in Sport mode while allowing it to feel so compliant and cosseting in Normal.

At all times the chassis has a sense of damping authority and close, gradual ride control that few like-for-like systems can equal.

That we tested the car without Porsche’s Dynamic Chassis Control active anti-roll bars is worth a mention.

We didn’t universally like them on either the SQ7 or the Bentley Bentayga, and it’s exactly the same technology.

Likewise, it remains to be seen how well a standard steel-sprung Panamera will ride. But be that as it may, it’s readily apparent that dynamic greatness abides here, provided you get the order form right.

The Panamera’s lateral body control, crispness of steering response and wonderful cornering balance are all so good that you could easily imagine you were driving a much smaller, lighter car. Some of this may be down to the effect of the four-wheel steering system, which allows Porsche to fit a quicker rack and a more alert handling tune than otherwise.

But the upshot is a car that feels incredibly well hunkered down and engaging when driven hard, and whose sense of poise extends to genuine handling adjustability that is rare for something with four driven wheels.

The optional 21in rims and low-profile, wide-section tyres aren’t unaffected by surface water, of course, and the braking results the car recorded in less than perfect conditions show that. But considering it’s a four-wheel-drive, two-tonne, air-sprung diesel GT, the Panamera does its maker’s sporting pedigree enormous credit.


Porsche Panamera

The Panamera was a relatively expensive car in its previous guise.

Porsche dealers no doubt sought to justify that premium by using the allure of the brand’s badge, but the model is now even more expensive.

Strong residuals back up the high list price. Three years in a 640d costs almost as much; S500 is even more

The cheapest example is almost £7000 more now than it was four years ago, while, for most of that interval, inflation has stood at less than one percent. That’s a difference few buyers can fail to notice.

And while the difference is softened, on the one hand, by what are expected to be very strong residuals, it’s also exacerbated by the cost of Porsche’s options and its habitual meanness with standard kit.

A £68,000 car should offer a broader palette of no-added-cost colours than just black and white, it shouldn’t give you ‘partial’ leather seats unless you’re prepared to pay more and you shouldn’t have to pay £249 for a rear window wiper should you want one.

We already touched on fuel economy, but not in enough detail to highlight that the Panamera 4S Diesel’s 42.8mpg touring test result was quite exceptional for a car of its performance and size.

A 90-litre fuel tank is, in effect, standard on the 4S Diesel in the UK (it’s a no-cost option in place of a 75-litre item in other markets), and as a result, this Panamera will cruise for up to 846 miles between fills – much farther, surely, than anyone would be willing to drive it without stopping.



5 star Porsche Panamera

The Panamera has always had its detractors.

Those who hated the way the last car looked won’t be greatly reassured by the new one.

A multi-talented sporting GT with an unmatched range of abilities

There will also be those who still can’t accept that a four-door pseudo-saloon belongs at the summit of Porsche’s model hierarchy, in the place once taken by the elegant Porsche 928 coupé.

Such grumblings aren’t unheard of even among Autocar road testers. But the new Panamera’s success is in its ability to wipe away any reservations about what it is via the sheer breadth and brilliance of all it does.

In the 4S Diesel in particular, Weissach has a car that’s astonishingly complete for a modern GT. Fast, tactile, smooth, easy to drive, poised, engaging, comfortable, spacious and long-legged, its versatility is incredible.

Our final rating doesn’t mean we think it’s flawless, but Porsche has added such strength to this car, from cabin to chassis to engine and elsewhere, that it now stands apart from any sub-£100,000 GT on the market.

For that, and in recognition of Porsche’s enduring ability to make a better driver’s car wherever it turns its gaze, only five stars will do.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Porsche Panamera 2016-2023 First drives