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We drive the Panamera D from Mumbai to the doorstep of the president in Delhi, to make a case for diesel

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How fast does this thing go?” asks Panna Singh, who owns the roadside dhaba, looking at the Panamera, somewhere on National Highway 8 in Rajasthan. “On an open stretch, it can do 240kph,” I say. “Did you say 240?! That’s how fast aeroplanes fly, isn’t it?” he replies with an incredulous expression.

Panna Singh and most others living outside urban India rarely, if ever, see sports - and supercars in the league of Porsche, Aston Martin and Ferrari. The primary reason being that their massive engines burn 97-octane petrol, which is next to impossible to find anywhere apart from select fuel pumps in the metros. And they burn this fuel so quickly that they need a pump like that every 400km. Plus there’s always the risk of uneven tarmac ripping up the underside of these cars.

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Porsche now has a solution. The Panamera D. It’s a proper four-door sportscar with the space to carry four, and all the luxuries of a full-fledged limousine. More importantly, it doesn’t need any hard-to-find fuel – it uses the sticky stuff.

But there’s a fly in the solution. The petroleum ministry is now finalising a decision to de-control and de-subsidise diesel and ‘systematically’ increase its price by 50 paise per month, in a bid to decrease the gap between diesel and petrol. But that would mean taking away half the fun and practicality of having such great cars that run on diesel.

So, as a symbolic appeal to the president, we’re driving the Panamera D from Mumbai to Delhi, to ask him to stop taxing and de-subsidising the fuel that powers this car, as well as the lakhs of other vehicles that run up and down this country.

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To prove that the Panamera is the most versatile, practical and easy-to-live-with sportscar, we’re driving it through half the country’s length – wading through six-hour traffic jams and a flooded highway.

And so, the Panamera D. Its 3.0 TDI mill is the same V6 that’s found under the hood of some Audis and VWs. Here, it puts out 250 horses and 550Nm. It’s an engine that doesn’t produce a particularly sweet exhaust note like the V10s and V12s and you might not lower the windows to hear this one, but the V6 does make its presence felt once you cross 3500rpm. It delivers enough pulling power quite low in the rev band and despite not having twin turbos, the power delivery stays linear until the transmission shifts up at the redline.

All the power is transferred to the rear wheels through an eight-speed tiptronic S gearbox. Unfortunately, the diesel doesn’t get the famous seven-speed PDK transmission found in the Turbo and the S. But the tranny is brisk shifting and always in a hurry to get to the highest cog. If you’ve not buried the throttle, it’ll even skip ratios, to get to the economy end of the band. In Sport mode, it holds the gears for longer and shifts only when the needle has passed the redline marker, if you’ve had your right foot planted clean into the floor. Downshifts too are quicker in Sport, no complaints there.

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Now, 250bhp doesn’t sound much for a Porsche; it doesn’t feel much either. It could easily do with some 50bhp more, especially with a body and chassis that are easily capable of handling that kind of grunt. For everyday use in Normal mode, the steering is light, though a bit on the vague side for a Porsche. But Sport mode comes to the rescue once again by sharpening steering response. The car we had came with an optional extra of a Sport Plus mode, which sharpens the steering even more, the shifts get a tad crisper and the adaptive suspension stiffens up and lowers the car. On this setting, you can throw the car hard around bends and hold slides until the end of the corner. It’s a reminder of why Porsche has the legendary sportscar reputation that it does.

Fortunately, what is not sportscar-ish is the way it handles the bumps on the road. The car just glides over them with a distant thud, without allowing any of it into the cabin and up your spine. You start feeling the bumps only in Sport and Sport Plus and even then nothing that’ll bother you too badly.

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The Panamera D has a mechanical package suited for long highway journeys, and an interior to match. You have eight-way adjustable memory seats in front. The optional extras include a range of colours for the material that you choose to rest your backside on. The dashboard design is signature Porsche – it looks neat and classy and sporty all at once. The centre console houses buttons for individual climate control, ride height, spoiler control and driving mode. The steering gets the regular audio controls, and paddles on either side to upshift / downshift. Fit and finish and materials used are typical German and it’ll take you years if you sit down to find fault.

The Panamera’s ride height control lets us tackle the under-construction Jaipur-Delhi road and go over makeshift divider crossings without hurting the underside.

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If you think the Aston Martin Rapide’s rear seats are spacious enough for grand tours, then the Porsche’s are more like business class – big and comfortable, with individual position and climate controls. It also has extendable under-thigh support, ideal for long journeys. And for a little extra, you can get front seat controls at the back, so you can increase rear legroom if the front seat is vacant. The car that accompanied us had a rear-seat entertainment package that includes two screens, USB and Aux inputs and wireless headphones.

Of course, all that sportiness and the long list of features don’t come cheap. The Panamera D that we tested is pegged at Rs 1.46 crore (ex-Maharashtra).

If you look at it as a bhp-per-rupee ratio, it won’t appeal to you. What you need to remember is that it offers a great package whichever seat you take, front or rear.

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Gone are the days when diesel engines were crude and dirty and would leave you with a coughing fit if one of them drove past. Today, they’re highly refined, clean enough to meet current emission norms and sometimes grunty enough to match a petrol engine! Plus diesel is available in the remotest corners of the country.

And the Panamera diesel is not slow or sluggish by any standards – it’ll hit 100kph in 6.8seconds and a top speed of 242kph. And it still manages impressive consumption figures. Despite all the pedal-to-the-metal highway driving and hours of wasting fuel waiting for jams to clear up, the Panamera D ran 8.7km for every litre.

So here we are, at the president’s doorstep, driving this car 1500km after filling up the 100-litre tank only twice. No other sportscar would have managed that. And no, we didn’t do any more damage to the ozone layer than an electric car would have – generating electricity damages the ozone layer anyway, right?

(Words: Agasti Kaulgi, Photography: Gaurav Sawn)

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