Dial it down
Diddle through the Panamera suspension-options list and you’ll wonder if you’re actually raiding the Stuttgart secret-weapons division. Am I supposed to be in here? The guy out front said we could be in here.
Along with torque-shifting all-wheel drive, the 4S stocks lightweight pieces to help it stick to the ground or peel sections of it away when duty calls. In front, it peddles aluminum double wishbones with a hydraulic damper on the bottom wishbone, and a subframe for suspension and steering to isolate for better tracking. The rear has wishbones too.
All Panameras come with electronically controlled dampers that toggle via a slick console screen, but this is Porsche. When in doubt, add grip and complexity. A torque-vectoring rear differential knows when to give one tread more attention. Rear-wheel steering moves those tires up to 2.8 degrees in the opposite direction of the fronts below 30 mph, because parking at Costco is apparently a new black magick.
The logic is the long, 4,123-pound Panamera 4S needs mechanical help to pivot its way with the deft touch of a 911. They’re right. Let loose all the purse strings and opt the 4S up from its stock 265/45ZR-19 front, 295/40ZR-19 rear treads to 20s or even 21s, and length and wheel weight start to play dirty tricks with tracking and turn-in.
The counter-conspiracy comes in the form of a slew of sensors that watch yaw, acceleration, and rise. They tell the AWD system, the dampers, the rear-steer, the torque-vectoring, and the transmission and throttle all how to raise an insurrection without unsettling the car mid-corner.
Electronic controls and virtual brains have ruined some cars we used to love, but not Porsches. The Panamera can seem slow to steer because it’s long, but in any of its drive modes, it carries itself with well-managed tension. It can pivot through esses, damped perfectly, in a way that makes SUVs seem even sillier as a form factor.
2018 Porsche Panamera 4SEnlarge Photo
Button removal project nearly complete
The Panamera hatchback doesn’t swallow as much as an SUV, of course. There won’t be any jamming of college-grade furniture with unpronounceable names in any prolapsed cargo hold. Every religion’s god invented a form of U-Haul for a reason. Even atheists are in on that one.
Until the Panamera Sport Turismo finally takes fleshy form, this Panamera does the trick. Four tennis bags with clay-soaked shoes fit with the rear seats up. If only the Aston Rapide were this useful! Porsche counts 17.4 cubic feet back there, and folding down the back seats opens up 46 cubic feet of space.
That back-seat space seems mildly less open than before. It’s a trade-off well worth the gains in style. The greenhouse sits closer to my sidehead and the panoramic glass does too, but knee room is plush and the twin-door center console came slathered in carbon-fiber trim.
I spent about five seconds back there, because the driver seat felt as great as the Recaro office chair at my desk, with the addition of 14-way adjustment and real leather. Otherwise, the Panamera felt just like sitting at a desk, now that its hundreds of buttons have been reduced by 90 percent. In their place, sleek touch-panel surfaces pare down the console to a USS Enterprise sheen, while night-vision views and wide-screen navigation light up the dash with a diffuse glow. It’s a shining achievement, this refusal of chaos.
2018 Porsche Panamera 4SEnlarge Photo
Stocked like a New Orleans cocktail bar
Panamera 4S discussions begin at $100,950, and end with the choice of which child doesn’t get to go to college.
All models get LED headlights, some leather, in-car wifi, parking sensors and a rearview camera, satellite and HD radio, and Apple CarPlay. The profusion of buttons on the steering wheel gives back some of the simplicity baked into the console. Rollers, switches, and toggles inside its rim and overhead on a console give direct access to most of the right functions, but OCD drivers will miss the seek button.
The beautiful 12.3-inch display for navigation makes up for the less useful one in the gauges. It’s sensitive to zoom, pinch, and swipe gestures, and it accepts handwriting. On another level, its landscape orientation seems like a timestamp that suffers as Tesla and Volvo show the way with portrait-style screens.
A degree of self-driving hardware lets the Panamera stop and go with traffic, and can change lanes when all’s clear.
Minor niggles of the lowest order include some shiny black plastic switches and stalks; a cruise-control lever that requires a push or pull to change speeds; an adjustable center climate vent with a mind of its own, or at least one beyond my comprehension, and the numbing realization I’ve become so spoiled that I sighed audibly when it showed up with Bose audio, not the revelatory Burmester 3D sound system.
This Volcano Grey test car did have carbon-fiber trim, 20-inch wheels and tires, surround-view cameras, LED matrix headlights, a free Smoking Package (cough), soft-close doors, night vision, active lane control, voice commands, a rear-seat USB interface, 14-way power seats, and a Sport package with rear-steer, Sport Chrono, an air suspension, and a sport exhaust. Our out-the-door price? Just $139,105, including $1050 so that it could leave Jacksonville, less than Southwest charges for a last-minute ticket.
It also had two things I’ll forever think of, during those blessedly infrequent moments when I think of the compromises Porsche’s made to put itself indelibly in the black.
The cupholders on this Panamera? One’s bigger than the other. They’re staggered, front to back.
*The first American gold rush descended on Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828. Miners panned the gold that glitters on the Georgia State Capitol dome. It’s called a long way to go for a pun.