2018 Porsche Panamera 4S first drive review: the quiet heretic

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What’s a little heresy among friends?

Porsche put out its first Cayenne SUV in 2003, and oh, the hand-wringing, the garment-rending. The haterade flowed like Dom in the VIP room or so we’ve heard.

Porsche 911 loyalists–mostly, people who’d never driven one–hauled their iron maidens out of cold storage. Abomination! Against nature!

They forgot some keywords, like hugely profitable. Also, a real Porsche. Because brands are elastic, just like the socks the commenterati keep close to their mousepads.

Fast forward to 2010, when Porsche really stamped their passport to Hell with a no-return visa in the form of the Panamera. Or did they? The Panamera–which is also not a 911–didn’t even draw a complaint in the suggestion box. No Zuffenhausen engineer was sent to bed early, before Bernd das Brot.

Heresy's come a long way, baby.

Or maybe we have

Or maybe we have. That’s the optimist in me speaking, the same one that geegawed around the new Panamera that ceremoniously settled itself in the driveway last week. Scalding run for lukewarm coffee in the north Georgia hills? Capitol idea.*

The Panamera didn’t save Porsche from destitution, not like the Cayenne. It did some other neat things, like give fancy people a way drive something nearly as practical as an SUV without having to wear farm clothing.

Its secret: the Panamera gets snuggly-close to the usefulness of an SUV. It’s a voluptuous and voluminous hatchback, just like its poor country cousin, the Audi S7, a gorgeous car that’s rendered Cinderella pre-makeover by the imposing, athletically menacing Porsche.

MORE: We’ve driven the latest Panamera 4 e-hybrid, and plugged into Porsche’s future

The first Panamera turned heads, not always for the right reasons. Remember the roofline, allegedly drawn tall so a CEO could fit in back? Its outre otherness felt like VWAG’s own Citroen-Maserati, but from some angles it looked every bit like design by fiat.

This new Panamera matures that shape, and bends the roofline to more agreeable angles. Some extraneous sculpting across its low hood aside, it looks exactly like what you’d have expected before we saw the first Panamera.

2018 Porsche Panamera 4S

2018 Porsche Panamera 4S

It limbos lower. The Panamera’s roof sits almost an inch closer to the ground. It spreads out more than an inch wider. It perches on a wheelbase 1.2 inches longer than before.

Porsche says the fly line–the one that moves your eye over its sinuous fenders–should remind you of some other car it builds. Any guesses? The linkage to the 911 is explicit, like the manual shift action that...well, let’s not get ahead of things.

A certain VW-ness creeps into the thickness of the pillars and their angles, but by the time the Panamera resolves it all with a slim line of taillamps at its extravagantly hippy rear fenders it’s forgotten.

It’s a turbo, but not a Turbo

While you’re carspotting, know this Panamera 4S has some fillips to distance it from the Turbo. Yes it has turbos, but before we kill some joy, the 4S has a single-piece deployable spoiler and round pipes. Herculean Turbos have a two-piece spoiler and trapezoidal outputs.

So if I blazed by you and you thought even more of me, gasping for coffee in the pre-rush-hour gloaming of suburban Atlanta, good for both of us. I drove the 4S and wrung its twin-turbo V-6 out before the lunch rush at the Smith House claimed all its fried chicken, because priorities.

The Panamera lineup has spread its wings since its 2017 intro. The sedan comes as a Turbo, with a heady 550-hp twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 and all-wheel drive and a 3.6-second 0-60 mph time. A plug-in hybrid model seeds the ground for Porsche’s electric future (the Mission E is real, and coming).

Porsche stuffs the Panamera 4S with a twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6, up 20 hp from the prior six for a total of 440 hp and 405 lb-ft. Peak torque hits at 1,750 rpm and doesn’t let up until 5,500 rpm, a compelling plateau not unlike the one reached by the second season of “The Walking Dead.” This one arrives more quickly: the 4S launches to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds when it has the Sport Chrono package, and hurtles to a 179-mph top speed, typical V-6 whammering noises playing accompaniment to its 6,800-rpm redline.

2018 Porsche Panamera 4S

2018 Porsche Panamera 4S

No manual here, just a brilliant automatic. Leave the new 8-speed dual-clutch automatic in Manual mode, and the Panamera 4S lights off that redline like a Zambelli family July 4th picnic. Porsche wins the dual-clutch programming gold, though the 4S wants to start in 2nd and aggravates the lumpy around-town cycling of these gearboxes.

Tickling the cool-touch paddle shifters calls up ever-quicker shifts through its different drive modes. The top two gears give it overdrive legs, and if you’re brave or dumb or both, top speed arrives in 6th gear. The cops may briefly be interested in that detail.

With Sport Chrono, a punch of the button in the middle of the sport-mode selector yields a 20-second hit of driveline crack. Shifts get faster than in Sport+ mode, the 4S strains at the leash, then it relaxes after you’ve disassembled some traffic. Hit it again. And again. This nurse responds when you hit the call button.

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