Top Gear's whistle-stop tour of one of the car world's most fascinating locations...
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More car than you will ever need. Too much car, quite frankly, in the best possible way. It’s the all-wheel drive, bi-turbo V8, 627lb ft, 177mph Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel. The fastest diesel road car in history. All five metres, 2,125kg and £91,788 of it.
Where to start?
With the performance, partly because this is a Porsche capable of 0-62mph in 4.3 when specced with the Sport Chrono package that, naturally, the test car has on board. But also because this is a Porsche that delivers its performance in such an uncanny, alien way, even compared to the new turbocharged 911s, or any hybrids we’ve yet come across from Stuttgart.
Six-hundred-and-twenty foot-pounds of torque at 1,000rpm, transmitted through a new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. That’s a quite barmy recipe. But off-the-line grunt, the way the Panamera gets from 0-30, or 50, or 70, isn’t the optimum showcase for this tidal surge of torque. There’s a hesitation detectable as some very clever electronics clearly calibrated by some fiendishly powerful brains marshal boost, gear change, and drive distribution between the axles. You can watch this happening in real-time on one of the displays that bookend the rev counter clockface.
Where the 4S diesel’s muscularity really comes into its own is the force it’ll generate accelerating in fifth or sixth gear. Most cars are settling into a dawdle in fifth or sixth. The Panamera Diesel feels like it could a tear a hole through a hot hatchback giving all it’s got in second. The thing accelerates in a vacuum, impeded by the quantity of air it has to push out of its way, or the gravitational pull of its 2.2-tonne mass. The only other diesel road car that has such a laugh-out-loud over endowment of punch is the wonderful Audi SQ7 which, hey presto, uses the same engine.
Interesting cousins. Which is best?
If anything, the Audi set-up is slightly naughtier – it sounds more V8, less diesel as it revs out – and the Panamera appears to get carried away as you ramp up speed, overboosting and accelerating for a nanosecond even after you’ve lifted out of the throttle. It’s as if there’s so much inertia and potency wound up in the 4.0-litre V8, it can’t dissipate it all at once. Strange, especially as I don’t remember the Audi’s firepower snowballing like that.
There’s so much power, that 5,000rpm redline comes too soon every single time. It’s the only thing about accelerating in this car that comes close to feeling anti-climactic. In fact, the Panamera accrues speed so effortlessly, it not only never feels like it’s making headway as fast as it actually is, but it likes to settle at speeds that’ll get you noticed. Plus, the rear wing (a standard plank, not the fold-out theatre of the Turbo’s aerofoil) pops up at 75mph ad doesn’t sit down again until 30ish. Try arguing your way out of that.
Don’t bother with the optional ceramic brakes, either. The standard steels here are unimpeachable.
Right. What’s next?
The ride. Until autumn 2017 you can only order your Panamera with air suspension, or PASM as Porsche prefers to acronym it. £1,541 well spent, sir or madam. There’s a Normal, Sport and Sport Plus setting you can choose independently of how aggressive you’ve got the powertrain dialed up, and though the Plus setting is too resonant for UK road work, the other settings are perfectly agreeable – something of an achievement on the monstrous 21-inch rims of this car.
No, it’s never as cosseting or simply as smooth as an S-class or 7 Series. You’re always aware this is a sporting car. But this is Porsche’s interpretation of a luxury limousine, after all, so just as the steering is weighty and authoritative off-centre, the ride is concerned with controlling that enormous body’s mass, not simply soothing plutocratic backsides.
Is it at all chuckable?
The Panamera Diesel is a sporting car, but it’s not a sporty car. There is a difference. Although its controls and its behaviour want to let you in on the forces going through the car and the road surface, it’s not a car you toss around. There’s simply too much weight for that. But it is freakishly agile, and that’s enough. The sensation of the front wheels hauling the car out of roundabouts and even junctions is odd to begin with, almost hot hatch-like, but in effect, it just means you’re on the power sooner (and then off it quickly). The 4x4 system is pleasingly rear biased though, so if you’re brave and have an airfield to hand, it’ll neutralise your line on the way out a corner. Imagine being the test driver who helped set that little party trick up…
Seeing as it’s a diesel and you’re in Britain…is it economical?
Suprisingly so. I tasked the Panamera with a luggage-laden trip out of gridlocked London to Leeds and back via Lincolnshire, which for those of you in warmer, less sleety and congested climes, is a round trip of around 400 miles, mainly on dual-carriageway A-roads. Repeatedly, the car settled in the high 33s to the gallon, and at a steady, cruise-control managed schlep, surpassed 35mpg.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘anyone who can afford this car isn’t worried about fuel economy’. For a kick off, no-one actively likes spending money on fuel, right? It is an almost literal burning of your hard-earned. Second, no-one actually likes refueling. It’s cold, smelly, you’re tempted to buy fat-saturated snacks and above all else, it’s an inconvenience. But with the Panamera’s 90-litre Olympic swimming pool of a fuel tank brimmed, it was indicating a 690-mile range. That in itself is a luxury. It gives the car a sense of imperiousness, that should the mood take you, it’d make Nice from London, but more relevantly, you could go a fortnight without visiting the forecourt again.
Sounds like the complete package…
It’s a very complete car. But is it too much car? Potentially, yes. The Panamera is now gorgeous, with 20mm shaved off the back of its roofline, but girth has been added to the car’s width, and in Britain, the thing just feels so bloody big all of the time, it’s a constant battle to manage the car in its lane. Funny how the Audi SQ7 never feels as cumbersome, because you’re up higher. A tick in the box for SUVs, there?
The Panamera needs a particular environment in which to thrive, and it’s no coincidence that place is free-flowing, wide autobahn-like sections of motorway; criteria seldom enjoyed on Britain’s cramped network. The Panamera Diesel is an obscenely well-engineered bit of kit (off-throttle overboost quirk aside), but where the hell do you use it to its best effect over here?
I’d had major doubts about the new Panam’s cabin, ditching its banks of buttons (that you could operate without glancing from the road) for uber-cool touchscreen and clickable glass panels (that you can’t). Happily, the console itself works really, really well – the haptic feedback and sensitivity of the controls has been beautifully rendered.
The configurable instrument displays are intuitive too. In the main, it’s the 12-inch PCM touchscreen that’s a headache, because its menus are so deep and detailed, and your hand comes at it at a right angle, because it’s vertical. If the screen were slightly laid back, like your phone is in the palm of your hand, it’d be less awkward to operate. In the Panamera, you’re really better off concentrating on the scenery being reeled towards the windscreen at an alarming rate.