Driven: 2010 Porsche Panamera S

When Porsche decided to come out with a hatchback sedan, the Panamera, a few years ago, you heard of tremendous distress from supposed Porschefiles - you’d have thought Porsche was building an SUV. Oh, right, sorry….

I say “supposed” Porschefiles because if you know anything about the tradition of this brand it's always been directed at both form and function. Yes, a 911 Turbo has quite limited cargo space, but there’s still enough room in that car for a few overnight bags, a few bags of groceries: It’s still a daily driver if that’s what you want it to be. This cannot be said of some Porsche competition: Try squeezing more than a box of tissues into an Audi R8/R10 and you’ll be vetoed. You and your sweetie better Fedex your luggage in advance of that weekend getaway or you’ll be cruising there in your Benz instead.

Which has what to do with the sweet Panamera, exactly?

A great deal.

Since although it has slightly more cramped quarters than an S-Benz, 7 series BMW or Audi A8, the actual shape of the rear of the Panamera echoes 924/928 and even 356 Porsches, and as a hatch offers a more pragmatic take on the luxo-barge. Those rear seats flip down and forward (not so, if you instead buy one of the aforementioned trio of German sedans), making for more ready accommodation of skis or other knickknacks and, we might add, hatchbacks also make loading and unloading awkward and heavy items easier, so the fairer sex tends to dig hatchback designs (note: every SUV on earth is really a hatchback, since it doesn’t have a trunk).

Leaner, Meaner, Greener - Yes, Greener
So we’ve spent all that breath expounding on how pragmatic this Porsche is, but let’s say you don’t give a darn - you want the best $90,000 sports sedan in the big luxury car genre (and you like your luxury German made). Well the Panamera has two more feathers in its cap that the competition doesn’t feature. The 400hp V-8 S will chase down 60mph in under five seconds, yet still skirt the Fed’s gas guzzler tax, since it gets 16 city/24 highway (vs., for instance, BMW’s 750i 15/22 EPA rating). And your mileage may in fact be even better, since this Porsche, like several others coming, gets an auto start/stop feature (think hybrid cars as an example). However, the EPA didn’t factor in the start/stop feature in its tests, since Porsche, perhaps concerned about technophobic American customers, made the car’s default setting for start/stop to always begin in the “off” position; the driver has to turn the system on at the beginning of every journey. But if you commute in traffic it’s not only totally worth it, but completely seamless, just like it is in a Prius or other hybrids. (Note: The system “knows” when not to cut engine power as well, so if the A/C needs to operate, for instance, the engine won’t take a nap.)

The other reason this four-seat sedan is a little greener is that it’s relatively light, at 4,101 lbs., which is as much as 400 lbs. lighter than the competition. And its also wide, with a two-inch wider front track than that BMW, for example.

A wider, lighter car steers more immediately, and steering feel in the Panamera S is one of many handling highlights. Yes, it’s a wide car (76 inches; an inch wider than the 750i), and a wide car eats more pavement on its way through corners, but this Porsche is a full five inches shorter than that BMW, on a five-inch shorter wheelbase and in corners feels hunkered, and an active air suspension with controls ranging among comfort, sport, and sport plus (the latter also controls gear changes - more on that in a moment), allows the driver to effectively spike body roll on a whim. You could add yet more traction by getting your Panamera with all-wheel-drive, but unless you live with snow six months of the year we figure this car will be more fun in rear-drive guise, in part because part of the miracle of the Panamera is that a car with such presence can feel so quick on its feet.

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