Imagine a Porsche Panamera …
No, wait. There is no singular Porsche Panamera to imagine. Porsche makes a whole carnival of Panameras – from a relatively affordable V-6 to an eco-friendly hybrid. You can have an all-weather all-wheel-drive version or a loaded turbo with AWD.
If you must have it all, start ticking boxes until you’ve bought yourself a screaming, techno-laden Turbo Executive model with $67,000 in extras. Final price: $252,650.
The genius of Porsche and the Panamera is astounding. Porsche is an automotive oxymoron, a mass-production (162,000-plus sold in 2013) specialty auto maker capable of tailoring a basic Panamera four-door hatchback into something exotic – a 250 km/h luxurious beast, seating four, with features and performance tweaks that almost triple the price of the basic car.
More than that, Porsche is a world-famous sports car company that sells nearly three times as many Cayenne sport-utilities (84,000 in 2013) as iconic 911 Carreras (30,000). Porsche is legendary for its thoroughbred sports cars, but the automobiles themselves are not particularly finicky or fragile. Seventy per cent of Porsches ever made are still on the road. Porsche is a German company whose biggest market is North America, but which is growing fastest in China.
Founder Ferdinand Porsche was as confounding as the company he created in 1931. He penned the Volkswagen Beetle and created the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid, not to mention a failed prototype for Germany’s Second World War Tiger tank. Porsche himself was as enigmatic as his cars and as difficult to pigeonhole as the Panamera models I just test drove.
There’s more. Ferdinand Porsche learned about productivity from Henry Ford. When he was young and in the military, he chauffeured Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination sparked the First World War. Yes, he spent time as an untried prisoner after the Second World War, but mostly he was an engineering genius who, in 1999, was named Engineer of the Century by the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Porsche the company, a former family enterprise once controlled by the Porsche and Piech families is now owned by Volkswagen. Yet inside Porsche, employees bristle at any mention of the Beetle company’s influence.
The point is, when you drive a Porsche, the car comes with a history wrapped in the cocoon of a global automotive conglomerate. That history created the culture responsible for Panameras and 911s, Cayennes, Boxsters, Caymans and the soon-to-arrive Macan small SUV. Porsche the car company is a jumble of contradictions that, taken together, make perfect sense. Consider: Purists see the Panamera and the Cayenne as twin affronts, but without the billions they generate, what would pay for the sports cars?
Somewhere in this jumble of a story, a couple of different Panameras arrived for a test. One was a reasonably affordable Panamera 4S ($112,500), which followed a Turbo Executive with some but not all the available options. The two looked identical, but in the driving they proved to be as different as a champagne and ice wine. The basics may be shared, yet what they do, what they can do and how they go about doing it are dissimilar.
The one for me would be the 4S. The appeal of it is its simplicity. The steering wheel of my tester did not have all the fancy controls of the Exec. When I turned up the sound system, I turned a traditional knob on the console, rather than spin a dial on the Exec’s steering wheel. The 4S’s V-6 grumbled quietly but firmly, while the Exec’s V-8 snarled, scaring the neighbour’s dog. The Bose surround sound system in the 4S delivered clear and pure reproductions of Mumford and Sons and it was just right.
The 4S roars through corners with a calmness that is hard to believe. The car’s shorter wheelbase versus the Exec has something to do with that. The 4S is a smidgen shorter both between the wheels, and the smaller package feels that much more nimble, more sure-footed when you’re carving apexes.
Of course, the shorter wheelbase makes for less backseat room. Grandkids – and let’s face it, this car is for 50-plus boomers – would be fine back there.
So the 4S is the right Panamera from the only car company capable of making this unusual hatchback. Are we clear now about Porsche and the Panamera?
2014 Porsche Panamera 4S
Type: Luxury/performance four-door hatchback
Base price: $112,500
Engine: 3.0-litre V-6, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 420/384 lb-ft
Transmissions: Seven-speed automatic
Drive: All-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/7.4 highway
Alternatives: Audi A7, Mercedes-Benz CLS
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