Christopher Little

Turbo, Charged: 2014 Porsche Panamera

Street, track. Luxury, sport, Plug-in hybrid, twin-turbo V8. These are the contradictions that Porsche wanted us to experience in the new 2014 Panamera.  The car itself seems contradictory; an executive sedan that offers immense luxury, yet is capable of 0-60 in 3.6 seconds.  Porsche was so confident in the abilities of their sedan that they flew us down to Atlanta Motorsports Park to experience it for ourselves.  Waiting on our arrival were 6 of the 9 available models; S, S E-Hybrid, 4S, 4S Executive, Turbo, and Turbo Executive.  It was a tough day.

Redesigned for 2014, the Panamera looks sharper and more defined.  In front, that’s due to the new headlights, sharper hood creases, and larger intakes for cooling.  The biggest changes, however, come at the rear of the car.  Gone is the Panamera’s “hunch back” thanks to a new rear hatch with wider glass.  The license plate is moved lower, below a new design line in the rear bumper.  Those changes, along with new side sills, give the new Panamera more definition.  The car has lost visual weight, which help overcome the roundness of the outgoing model.

Porsche Panamera 5

The Panamera S E-Hybrid is new for 2014, replacing the S Hybrid.  Visually, the Acid Green calipers, dials, and lettering distinguish it from the rest of the lineup.  The old 47hp electric motor is replaced with a 95hp unit, the NiMH battery is replaced by a lithium-ion battery, and the system has the ability to be plugged in to recharge.  The S E-Hybrid is also the only Panamera to come with an 8-speed Tiptronic S gearbox.  Driving the German-spec car, only 1 of 8 in the US, was a contradiction in itself.  In E-Power mode, the new motor can run solely on electric power for 21 miles or up to 84 mph.  When the 333hp V6 kicks in, the combined 416hp and 435lb-ft torque propel the S E-Hybrid to 60mph in 5.2 seconds.  There are only a very small list of hybrids capable of such a feat.  But what makes the Panamera S E-Hybrid unique is the E-Charge mode.  This mode works the engine slightly more but charges the battery while underway.  Using the engine to power the car while simultaneously generating power for the battery seems like the most elegant solution.  Its also proof that Porsche wasn’t willing to compromise performance in the name of an electric powertrain.  There hybrid impact is enough to draw the eco-minded enthusiast, but the Porsche badge means that it isn’t really like your neighbor’s Prius.

Porsche Panamera 9

The Panamera’s new Executive models add further contradiction.  It is, perhaps, the first Porsche model that focuses on someone other than the driver, though the driver doesn’t make out too poorly.  Available either as a 4S, Turbo, or Turbo S, the Executive model is six inches longer.  The growth, all of it between the wheels, results in 4.7 additional inches of rear leg room.  The rear seats now have added adjustability to go with the heating and cooling options and there’s even an optional champagne cooler.  Amazingly, all this extra comfort for the rear occupants only has a 0.1 second impact to performance.  From the driver’s seat, the Turbo Executive reaches 60mph in 3.8 seconds.  Acceleration is violent as the launch control applies the immense power from the twin-turbo V8 to the ground through all four wheels.  There’s only a hint of slip on the wet Georgia roads before the scenery becomes a blur.  In a straight line, the only evidence of the extra inches is the distance from the rearview mirror to the rear glass.  On the twisting roads of Northern Georgia, the Executive feels slightly more limo-like through the corners.  It takes longer for the car to change direction, but it has little effect on how you drive the car.  Hopefully your guests weren’t planning on trying to enjoy any of that champagne.

Porsche Panamera 12

For 2014, the Panamera S and 4S get a new 3.0L twin-turbo V6.  There’s virtually no lag, as the 384lb-ft of torque arrives at only 1,750RPM and lasts until 5,000RPM.  420hp peaks soon after, at 6,000RPM.  It’s difficult to tell that the S has lost two cylinders, especially with the optional Sport Exhaust.  In the morning sessions with a wet track, the 4S inspired confidence with more grip from the all-wheel-drive system.  But as the track dried out, the S became the car of choice.  It felt more nimble and more responsive, without the understeer of 4S.   The S requires smoother and more precise inputs to keep pace, which made it more rewarding for track driving.  That was until it was time to lap the Panamera Turbo.  The driving technique for the Turbo is much like that in the 4S.  Drive flat out into a corner, get on the brakes hard, wait out the understeer, then get back on the power.  But with the same 520hp and 568lb-ft of torque found in the Turbo Executive, that last part has a much bigger effect.  It’s an intoxicating combination of power and turbocharged V8 noise.  There wasn’t a single person that got out of the Turbo without a smile on their face.

The biggest contradiction of the day didn’t strike until the drive back to the hotel.  Making our way back through Atlanta traffic in complete comfort and luxury, the realization sets in that you’re in the same car you were just lapping around a racetrack.  It shouldn’t be possible to be that comfortable in a car that is so capable on the track.  While other manufactures start with luxury cars and add sportiness, Porsche stuck to their roots.  The Panamera is a sports car first, with added luxury and comfort added on.  The 12 cars in our caravan lapped Atlanta Motorsports Park all afternoon without fault.  Only the Panamera Turbos, after being subjected to repeated hot laps at the end of the day by the instructors, required a cool-down lap for the brakes.  The duality of the Panamera, from track car to highway cruiser, is unmatched in any other car we’ve driven.  Whether you’re charging the battery in the S E-Hybrid or charging into a corner in the Turbo, the switch between luxury and sport is only a few settings away.  Street, track.  Sport, luxury.  Sometimes you don’t have to settle for only one.

-Christopher Little


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