I don't think I've ever driven a car that I enjoyed so much to drive but couldn't really stand the looks.
And here's another thing . . . the price is, well, as amazing as the driving experience. All the while I'm driving this, I'm comparing it with the new BMW M5 I drove recently, with a twin-turbo V8 making 560 hp and 500 lb-ft, mated with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The M5 goes 0 to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds; the Panamara needs 4.8 seconds. Granted, the BMW is only rear-wheel drive, but it's also about $90,000 less than the Panamera. I love the driving experience of the Porsche, but is it worth more than double the price? The M5 will actually seat five, not just four like the Porsche.
I love a good GT car, and one of the things that struck me first about the Panamera is how usable the interior space is. Rear-seat passengers are actually very comfortable, thanks to ample legroom and a gorgeous interior layout. And there's space for real cargo under the humpback hatch. Yet the driver never feels as though he's in anything less than a Porsche.
And the torque . . . my God, the torque. Sure, from a start, you can put your foot in it and the tach goes crazy and the world becomes a blur. That's fun. But what's truly satisfying to me about the Panamera's driving dynamics--considering its mission as a big GT--is when you're cruising at sane speeds, get a safe, open stretch and give it about three-quarters throttle. That's when the Panamera becomes your own personal jet; the turbos spool up, the trans drops a gear, and you get a sense of nearly limitless, effortless thrust in the small of your back. It's not hairy, nine-tenths track-day play, but it is sublime driving.
I'd complain about the price, but folks shopping this kind of car don't really overthink the concept of dropping, say, four grand on silver paint. Still, the fact that this Panamera Turbo S stickers for $120,000 more than a base Panamera blows my mind.
My other nitpicks include too many nonintuitive buttons on the center stack and console and a steering wheel that doesn't befit a nearly $200,000 car. Then there's the appearance, which to my eyes looks like a stretched-limousine version of a Chrysler Crossfire.
If you can get past that silhouette, though, there's one hell of a car underneath.
Let me say right up front: I don't mind the looks of the 2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S. The looks really leave me with no impression one way or the other. I guess with a gun to my head, I'd say Porsche did a decent job designing a four-door that is still unmistakably a Porsche.
Still, I have mixed feelings on this Panamera Turbo S. It is faster than fast and can fly around like a small fighter jet or can doddle around town as easy as you please. Jump on the gas mid-corner, and it will just track around as if on rails as fast as you dare. No matter what ham-fistedness one attempts, the car will forgive. It's fun to drive.
Having said that, I didn't find this Porsche particularly comfortable. I had a hard time seeing out of it, and like Andy, found the center stack ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated.
The turbo and I never fell in to a rhythm over the weekend. I tried it around town, and I took it for a 150-mile mix of highway and two-lane roads. I never really felt comfortable in the car--never felt completely in command. This car's awful Porsche paddles didn't help much. The overall experience was, well, awkward I guess is the word.
And then there's the price. I get that's not really a factor in this stratosphere, but if it were my $195,000, I'd get an AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz S-class over this all day long--or a Mercedes CLS63 AMG. And why is this car significantly more money than a 911 Turbo?
2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S
Base Price: $174,175
As-Tested Price: $194,665
Drivetrain: 4.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8; AWD, seven-speed dual-clutch sequential manual
Output: 550 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,590 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 18/15.5 mpg
Options: Porsche ceramic competition brakes ($8,840); SportDesign package including lower rear apron, specially designed front apron, side skirts, diffuser, fins ($4,160); GT Silver metallic paint ($3,140); carbon-fiber illuminating door-sill guards ($1,850); adaptive sport suspension with Comfort Memory package ($1,505); Carbon Interior package ($995)