MUNICH, Germany—Poor Panamera. It was the butt of so many jokes because of its big butt.
The first generation of Porsche’s four-door saloon was a wonderful car. Typical Porsche: it came in 100 different variations, all of them comfortable, spacious and luxurious. It was crazy-fast too, if you were among the lucky few who could afford the $200,000 570-hp 310-km/h Turbo S Executive.
No, the biggest problem with the old Panamera was not the way it went, but the way it looked.
The 2017 Porsche Panamera is all-new, underpinned by a new platform that will eventually be shared with the next Bentley Continental and, no doubt, many other illustrious VW Group automobiles.
Did you notice that it was all-new? From the front three-quarter, maybe you didn’t. But around back it looks quite different. Gone is the bulbous butt, replaced by a more conventionally-pretty rounded roofline and rear-bumper. It’s a fastback now, more like the Aston Martin Rapide — but still nowhere as seductive.
The big triumph of the new design is that there’s been no reduction in passenger space, despite the much lower roof. Porsche moved the seats lower and extended the wheelbase. There is no price to pay for style; the same can’t be said of the Aston Rapide.
Porsche has taken the best ideas from the old Panamera and doubled-down on them. The high centre-console still juts out between the front seats, continuing through to the rear. It’s still covered in buttons, but this time they’re not plastic-y switches. They’ve been replaced by a large panel of shiny-black touchscreen.
It works well, because these are not the buttons you’ll use all the time: it’s for extras like Sport Mode, the loud exhaust and traction control. There’s still a knob for the volume.
The air vents, when not blowing ice-cold A/C, close flush with that black centre panel. Even the seats are beautifully designed. You could have one in your living room.
As far as big German luxury sedans go, the new Panamera takes the prize for best cabin. By far. That’s quite a feat.
The main infotainment screen is a new widescreen unit, neatly blended into the rest of the dash. The interface is new, too, running Porsche’s latest PCM system. It’s colour-coordinated to not clash with its surroundings, unlike some of Windows-98-themed systems from other automakers.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy to use first time out. The air-vent direction, for example, is controlled via touchscreen. (Huh?) Once you figure out where the “back” and “home” buttons are, however, it’s quite excellent. The learning curve isn’t too steep. My only wish is that it would respond quicker to inputs.
The instrument cluster has gone digital (of course) as well. Only that tachometer remains analog.
The two models at launch will be the 4S ($114,300) and Turbo ($167,700) with a 440-hp 2.9-litre turbo V6 and a 550-hp 4.0-litre turbo V8, respectively.
If you’re thinking “OMG! An extra $50,000 for 100 horsepower! Those are expensive ponies!” well, yes. I agree. I only drove the 4S at the launch, but with its meaty engine and supreme ability to cruise at 200 km/h without breaking a sweat, I can’t imagine why you’d spend all that extra money on a Turbo.
What you will want to spend money on, however, are options. It’s $2,500 for the adaptive air suspension, which makes the ride more cushy. It’s four or five thousand for 21-inch wheels, which you need, because it gives the car the right stance.
A two-tone leather interior is another $4,900. Sport seats are $3,790. The switchable exhaust is $4,000. And we haven’t even gotten to the things you actually need: carbon brakes ($10,000), rear-axle steering ($1,840), and the Sport Chrono Pack ($2,590).
I found the standard brakes just weren’t up to job of stopping such a huge, heavy, powerful car when it gets going quickly. The rear-axle steering makes the car so much more nimble. You’ll thank me when you try to park.
How does it drive? Well, like almost every other Porsche, with extreme competence, agility and grip. It doesn’t deliver outright thrills, but that’s not what people are looking for in this market.
What we’ve got here is a $114,000 base model. To spec it well, you’re looking at, at least, $145,000. A long-wheelbase BMW 750iL is $117,900. The Audi S8 Plus is $135,000. An S550 LWB Benz is $120,000. The Porsche is expensive, but it has the best interior.
Now that it’s no longer ugly – no longer a controversial choice – what can stand in the Panamera’s way? Not much, I suspect.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.