x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Road Test: Porsche's Panamera is a Teutonic tearaway

The German luxury brand Porsche's controversial Panamera has never really appealed to Kevin Hackett, but will the Turbo S model change that?

It's more than two years since I last drove a Porsche Panamera. For good reason, too, because after the international press launch in Germany I wrote about it for a British newspaper and the German car maker wasn't very happy with my resulting road test.

In my defence, I did not say it was a bad car - far from it, in fact. I just grew tired of being told that the sporting DNA of every Porsche before it was coursing through its veins. I actually rounded up my report by saying that I felt the need to call in a forensics team to find said DNA because I couldn't detect a single trace. Even in Turbo form, the Panamera was no sports car. Fast, yes. Sporting? No.

And don't get me started on its looks. I could honestly fill this entire newspaper with a rant about the laziness of Porsche's designers; how the Panamera team must have thrown every styling cue from the rest of the range into a blender and this is the result. From the front it's just about OK but, seriously, everywhere else this car looks like - and I'm toning things down here - a hunchbacked monkfish on wheels.

Yet it still sells in enormous numbers and, assuming that I'm being overly harsh and that this maligned Porsche deserves a second chance, I accepted the company's offer of a drive in the latest Turbo S, which has only just landed in the UAE. Perhaps my heart will have softened; perhaps the car simply makes more sense out here. Time to find out.

Approaching the car, I remind myself that, at least if I'm inside it, I won't have to look at it. And true enough, once the door is closed and the driver's seat is adjusted, all is well. It's a very stylish cabin and superbly constructed, oozing quality and luxury from every pore of its leather upholstery.

It's not perfect, however. While the switchgear is all very neatly laid out and symmetrical, it's extremely confusing to have so many buttons housed on the centre console adjacent to the gear shifter. Frankly, when a car travels as quick as this one, I don't want to have to take my eyes off the road to work out where the controls are - they really should be more obvious.

I don't recall wanting the original Panamera Turbo to be any faster. I do recall driving one at almost 300kph on a German autobahn and being able to easily converse with my passenger without raising my voice. I also remember him falling asleep at similar speeds while reclining in the back. No, it was fast enough for all but the criminally insane but when did that stop a car company from developing an even faster version? And Porsche hasn't merely reprogrammed the car's computers to liberate some extra oomph. Instead, it has redesigned the two turbochargers. The bodies are the same but the turbine blades are now fashioned from an aluminium and titanium alloy, which means they weigh half what the standard ones weigh. And this means they spin more easily.

In fact, they spin 170,000 times a minute, reaching that velocity from rest in just 0.8 seconds, instead of 1.2. This, then, is engineering on a mind-boggling scale and shows the staggering attention to detail that Porsche employs when designing and building its cars - at least the bits you can't see. So where the standard Panamera could rocket from 0 to 100kph in four seconds flat, the S will do it in 3.8. An impressive figure, granted, but surely nobody will tell the difference from behind the wheel.

There's an extra 50hp on tap, meaning the tally is now no fewer than 550 horses. And when the Turbo S gets into its stride (literally in the blink of an eye), the way it keeps piling on speed is shocking. It's unstoppable in a straight line, obliterating everything in its path. Power is delivered in computer-controlled doses to all four wheels, making for confidence-inspiring roadholding, but the ride itself can be rather stiff and it doesn't feel involving at all.

Worse still, is the infuriating DSG transmission. As a gearbox, it's one of the world's finest but the steering wheel-mounted toggle switches completely ruin it as they're counter intuitive. Porsche has been battered by the press for this and relented by fitting normal paddles to its 911 models, but here, nothing's changed, which means there's constantly the risk of selecting the wrong gear. You shouldn't have to think about which hand to use for selecting the next gear. Like the switches, this should be entirely obvious, so best leave it in Auto mode, letting the constant tsunami of torque catapult you towards your chosen horizon.

As a way of crossing entire continents without taking a LearJet, the Panamera Turbo, in normal or S guise, is about as good as it gets. It revels in speed; you point it, it goes. But in the real world it still makes little sense to me because it doesn't seem to possess the slightest bit of character.

At least in a real sports car (like a 911 Turbo), you can spank it on a race track and have a bit of fun. Here, there is only one goal: speed, glorious speed. And it's the application of this that raises laugh-out-loud moments because the way it hurtles down a road never fails to leave driver and passenger alike in complete shock and awe.

It'll travel all day at 305kph without breaking a sweat, or breaking down. It's comfortable, well equipped and there's plenty of room inside for four adults. Its brakes are incredible and it feels unburstable.

But as much as I admire it, I still don't want one in my life and, honestly, that's nothing to do with the way it looks. Somehow, though, I know I'm still in the minority.