First Drive: 2011 Porsche Panamera V6

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Fortunately, there’s a lot more to the 2011 Porsche Panamera than a quirky roofline and fastback body.

Lusting after quirky cars based on looks alone is seldom a good idea. Years ago, I really wanted a late 1960s Jensen Interceptor. It’s a car that, despite the obvious differences in pedigree and number of doors, is with which I couldn’t help but compare the Panamera. As our editorial director Marty Padgett remarked as one of his (appropriately terse) dislikes of the 2010 Panamera, “Baby got back.” It’s true; the Panamera, just as that old Jensen Interceptor, has the front end of a sports car, paired with a roofline (and tail) that looks like it might have been pulled a bit far upward and aft to add practicality.

The Panamera is truly, beautiful or not, in the eye of the beholder; while my colleague saw the design as a little imbalanced, I see that quirkiness as beauty.

Brit firm working on 620hp Jensen Interceptor SX

Brit firm working on 620hp Jensen Interceptor SX

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With the original Interceptor (another car seen as hideous by some scribes), the reality check came the first time I drove one: with its low-revving big-block Mopar V-8, mushy three-speed automatic, loose steering, crashing suspension, and bloated, overweight feeling, it was an utter disappointment and not the car it promised itself to be, at least from some angles, from the outside. Love affair over.

Here’s the simple difference and the point that you should keep in mind: the Panamera, even in V6 form, isn’t a novelty that will wear off. The more you drive it, the more you’ll like it. And it doesn’t drive like an ordinary car, not even an Audi or VW; it drives like a Porsche.

Yes, the Panamera starts, stops, and changes direction with a certain verve that's unexpected in a larger four-door car. In an age when nearly every sedan turns out to be a lot more portly than you might think, the Panamera is remarkably lean, at 3,880 pounds (just over 4,000 pounds in Panamera 4 guise). That's a little lighter than the new 2011 BMW 5-Series and 2010 Mercedes-Benz CLS, and much lighter than the 7-Series and Quattroporte, as well as the Jaguar XF. Steering is precise and quick, yet it feels just settled enough at high speeds. There's more tire and road noise than you'll encounter in other large sedans, but it's otherwise quite ideally set up for long-distance cruising.

V-8 minus two = Porsche's own V-6

The new V-6 engine that's used in the Panamera isn't the same VW-supplied VR6-derived) engine that's used in the Cayenne. Instead, this aluminum-alloy engine is assembled on Porsche's own line and is essentially the V-8 from the Panamera S with two cylinders cut off, with breathing, cooling, and oil systems redesigned accordingly. Porsche also included a balance-shaft system to quell the vibration that otherwise crops up in 90-degree V-6 designs, and it's very effective.

Although this engine lacks the high-rev 'magic'—the tonal quality—of Porsche's flat-sixes and doesn't exactly overwhelm with low-rev torque, it's a satisfying engine in its own right in the Panamera. Keep the revs above 4,000 rpm and you'll be able to extract a surprising amount of performance out of it, and it seems to hit a heavy-breathing frenzy in the last 1,500 rpm or so up to its 6,700-rpm redline.

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