The first four-door saloon by the German sports car maker, the Porsche Panamera has received mixed reviews regarding its combination of sport and practicality. Can one car make this married couple happy?
The Porsche Panamera, from both sides of a married couple
For me, Porsche should come in one model and one model only: the 911. So as a car lover the 911 has been the only Porsche for me. To be exact the 911 GT3 RS is my favourite sports car of all time. To be fair, it's the favourite sports car of millions of aficionados.
So how could a manufacturer with a heritage and with such a rich racing history do something that completely shocked Porsche lovers and the automotive world?
First it was the Cayenne, Porsche's foray into the SUV market that began in 2002. Now, the car company has strayed further from its sports car roots with the four-door Panamera. Or, has it?
I'm not going to mince words here; when I first saw the car, I said it looked like it had fallen out of the Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down. The Panamera didn't make me want to bring up my lunch like a Ford Taurus or a Dodge Durango does, but it just didn't sit well with me.
But at least 22,518 people found the Panamera beautiful, as that was the number of cars sold in the first year of production. Proving me and many of the world's journalists wrong, the long Porsche is now a definite sales success.
Some people say "beauty is on the inside" (usually unattractive people) but let's see if that saying rings true for the 2011 Porsche Panamera GT.
Once in the car, I noticed the beautifully crafted leather and somewhat stylish carbon fibre inserts wrapping from the doors all the way across the dash and then flowing down the centre console to the back seats.
Once the car is moving, the gearbox transitions from first to second before you know it. I found the gear changes lazy and the ride soft and subtle - just as you would expect from a big luxury car. I was a little disappointed and thought Porsche had not bothered to pass on its sporting genetics to this family saloon; my button-crazed wife then mentioned to try the two sports modes.
Selecting Sports Plus made the suspension tighter and lower while the steering gained a more urgent, direct feel. The engine-management system adjusted accelerator response to became super-crisp, sports-car sharp, while the gearbox kept higher revs longer. This was becoming a drive that I expected from Porsche and, to my wife's dismay, I went in search of all the long, sweeping corners I could find.
The dual-clutch PDK gearbox is outstanding. Banging through the gears is done within a few hundredths of a second, which adds to the Panamera's Jekyll and Hyde characteristics.
The 3.6L, direct-injected V6, with a dry oil sump and adjustable cam lift, produces 300hp and 400Nm of torque, yet it felt like some extra ponies were still hiding under the bonnet. As a bonus, there's the pop-up rear wing to assist with downforce and enhance the sports car feel.
As well as those hidden ponies, Porsche has kept the fat down for a total weight of 1,700kg; I honestly can't see where Porsche has cut corners to achieve that weight because the Panamera is stacked with luxury.
For all of its performance, comfort and kudos I still don't like the look of the Panamera. Possibly it will grow on me, but for a car that offers this level of luxury and sports car fun at the touch of a button, nothing compares.
A 7 Series BMW may be slightly easier on your bank balance, yet you only get one car. With the Panamera you get two. I love the Panamera from the inside out and all Porsche needs to add to the options list would be a guide dog to lead me to the car blindfolded so I would avoid the visual. Then I would be joining the queues at the Porsche dealership.
Unlike my husband, I love the look of the Panamera. I recall the first time I noticed the sedan glide effortlessly down the motorway, oozing class and luxury. From that moment on - of course, depending on my bank balance - I knew it was the car for me.
It is important to note that I made the mental commitment to the Porsche Panamera without having test driven the car. The push-button start and three-spoke, multifunction carbon steering wheel embossed with the Porsche crest were just some of the things I noticed as I nestled into the cockpit-like driving seat for the first time.
The ventilated and heated, 14-way power memory seats are very comfortable and the lumbar support settings are a breeze to set. Seats front and back mould to your body with all the necessities within reach.
Room-wise, the Panamera has space by the truck load. This is a true four-seater with absolute class. Travelling in the front is very comfortable, however if you're lucky enough to be chauffeured and opt for the back seats, well, that could be described as flying business class with Etihad.
Then there was the Porsche Active Suspension Management button (PASM), which lets you feel the car duck down a few millimetres and hug the road. Your driving position feels very sporty and, while the decrease in ride height is minimal, you can feel the car's profile change.
Having set off on the motorway, I tried the Adaptive Cruise Control. This little feature sensed upcoming cars and obstructions and adjusted my speed; it was like someone else was driving. Switching away from cruise and now in control of the drive, I found the Panamera overtly responsive. I was surprised at how quick the saloon was and found myself in seventh gear without blinking. At high speeds, the steering became heavier and I felt a stronger connection to the road.
Knowing the value of this little beauty, I wanted so badly to dislike the Porsche and save my bank balance, but the reality is that this is a car that's perfect for a single, a couple or a family. It is the solution to the two-door mid-life crisis stigma. Now "he" can have his cake (under the bonnet) and the four-seat family option means "the Mrs" can eat it, too.