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2011 Porsche Panamera 4 (Porsche)
2011 Porsche Panamera 4 (Porsche)

2011 Porsche Panamera 4 AWD

A Porsche that tries to save fuel? Seriously? Add to ...

The Porsche Panamera sports sedan ($86,600-$156,600) and the fuel-thrifty Toyota Prius hybrid ($27,800) have three things in common: names that start with "P"; both are four-door hatchbacks; and both are available with a fuel-saving start-stop system.

The Prius should have an engine that shuts down when you stop, then re-starts when it's time to move. The Toyota is all about saving fuel. But a Porsche with stop-start? Seems a little sad to put the Panamera's rich, rumbling V-6 to sleep. Yes, the latest iteration of the Panamera really is something else entirely - V-6 engine (300 hp), all-wheel-drive, $91,800 to start and an attempt at fuel economy.

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So that makes five versions of the Panamera for sale in Canada, starting with the base V-6 rear-drive car, with the range topping out at $156,300 for the AWD V-8, twin-turbo. Engines? The S has a 400-horsepower V-8, the Turbo has a 500-hp V-8 (and hits 100 km/h in about four seconds), and now there is the 300-hp V-6.

Okay, we all know there are Panamera detractors who believe the car is a crime against the brand. They not only object to the very existence of a Porsche with real back seats and four doors, but they also are likely to say the Panamera looks like a bloated corpse and, at 1,820 kg for the V-6 with AWD, is whale-like. They are not interested in Porsche's argument about the need to create a sports car experience in a spacious four-door package.

Personally, I like the long hood, wide body and distinctive Porsche silhouette. Purists may not care for this look, but it wasn't designed for them. The Panamera's styling is handsome and distinctive, though not at all stunning.

I do have a few words for the designers about the "gulping guppy" face, but from the rear the Panamera looks great. The sloping rear shape raises the roof enough to create usable head room in the back. If you're taller than six feet, you will be able to sit back there despite the steep rear slant that limits rearward visibility. You'll find more than adequate leg room in back, too. There is also decent cargo room.

From behind the wheel, this is every bit a Porsche. The basic 14-way adjustable seat makes for a comfy experience, too. Still, not all is perfect in the cabin - at least not for me. The display screen in the centre of the dash is not a problem, but controls that stretch down in two rows along the centre console - stretching all the way through to the second row - are a little too spaceship-like for me. Another set of switches on the ceiling for the moon roof and parking assist controls add to the confusion.

True, they look swank at night when the controls glow. So, too, does the adjustable ambient lighting throughout the cabin. But this control design is overkill. I do like the high-resolution information display in the five-gauge cluster instrument panel, however.

Porsche has gone for a futuristic-looking cockpit and landed on a planet called partial confusion. Of course, all four passengers are cosseted in splendid leather sport seats, but the starship cabin seems over the top, despite the polished alloy and wood.

What really works beautifully, though, is the chassis and powertrain. This big, Teutonic sedan is a tight ship chassis-wise. Take the Panamera deep into a corner, push hard on the brakes (ceramics are an $11,110 option with their flashy yellow calipers) and the car settles right in, ready to head to the exit, the next straight, the next corner.

The seven-speed PDK transmission - a dual-clutch automated manual gearbox that behaves like an automatic - shifts flawlessly, crisply and even intuitively. If you want to shift yourself, use the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. But I found the Panamera's computer pretty smart at picking gears. The all-wheel-drive system was unobtrusive and transparent in execution.

No one should be very surprised to learn the Panamera is one of the best-handling sports sedans in the world. Okay, the V-6 is not a classic Porsche flat six, but the engineers thoughtfully tuned the intake and exhaust to make it sound like a flat six. Acceleration: Porsche claims the AWD version does 0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds.

What would I change? Scrap the parking assist beeper. It provides 360 degrees of annoyance. Also, to give drivers a sense of what's all around in tight spaces, an icon of the car shows up on the navigation screen amid zones that turn from green to yellow to red as you draw closer to obstacles. A proper back-up camera with a real picture would be better.

Pricing is worth discussing, too. First, the options list is long and picking and choosing from it can get very expensive very quickly. And $91,800 is not exactly chump change for a car powered by a V-6. On the other hand, the basic AWD V-6 is nearly $65,000 cheaper than the AWD Turbo Panamera.

And you can a lot with $65,000.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2011 Porsche Panamera 4 AWD

Type: Sports/performance sedan

Base Price: $91,800 ($1,115 freight)

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6

Horsepower/torque: 300 hp/295 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed autoshift manual transmission

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 city/7.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW 535 Gran Turismo, Mercedes-Benz S450, Lexus LS 460

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