The Porsche Panamera Turbo is a five-door, four-seater grand tourer for those who want to ferry up to three passengers in high-speed luxury. The car promises all the performance of its smaller siblings, with all the creature comforts you'd expect from a grand tourer.
Our review model, which retails for £110,000, features the optional rear-seat entertainment package and high-end Burmester audio system. The base configuration costs around £104,000.
Beauty or beast?
When it comes to its appearance, the Panamera divides opinion like few other cars. The majority of people we encountered said it's hideous, citing its bloated Porsche 911-style rear end and platypus-inspired front as the main offenders. Many of those people, however, changed their minds upon seeing the car in the metal.
By the end of our week-long test period, we'd lost count of the number of people who'd given us a thumbs up as we cruised around. It's by no means a beautiful car, but its unusual dimensions and shape challenge design conventions in a very positive way.
Whatever your opinion of the Panamera Turbo's exterior, there's no question that its interior is sensational. The centre console in particular is a beacon of outstanding design, with two rows of thin, chrome buttons running vertically alongside a centrally positioned gear lever.
Porsche's designers haven't neglected the rear, either. The car's long, tall rear section, which looks so bulbous from the outside, provides whopping amounts of head room -- much more than the Aston Martin Rapide. The boot, meanwhile, offers a considerable 432 litres of luggage space -- 115 litres more than the Rapide.
Theatre of dreams
The Turbo's cabin is a great place to hang out, no matter where you sit. Those in the back have access to the car's optional rear-seat entertainment package, which consists of two 800x480-pixel, 7-inch TFT displays mounted in the rear of the front headrests, and a pair of wireless infrared headsets.
Unlike many rear-seat entertainment set-ups, the system in the Panamera is controlled via touch, rather than an infrared remote control. This is great as it means there's no need for passengers to share a remote and no chance of losing it under the seat.
Rear passengers can watch different media simultaneously. Both screens tilt downwards to reveal their own slot-loading CD/DVD drives; have their own USB ports that enable playback of MPEG-4 movies from mass-storage devices (as long as they're no more than 4GB in size); allow playback of live Freeview television; and have auxiliary inputs that allow users to connect external devices, such as games consoles or camcorders.
If the situation arises where one passenger is jealous of the content being shown on the other passenger's display, they can use Porsche's Crosslink function, which allows one screen to play content shown on the other.
Sound off like you've got a pair of subs
As standard, the Panamera ships with a 585W Bose surround-sound audio set-up. Our review model, however, came fitted with an optional £3,000 Burmester high-end surround-sound system. It's the best factory-fitted audio set-up in any car we've tested to date.
The Burmester kit consists of 16 speakers and two amplifiers -- one 16-channel 700W unit driving the woofers and tweeters, and a second 300W class-D amplifier powering a 10-inch subwoofer in the car's enormous boot. On paper, it shouldn't deliver quite as much oomph as the 20-speaker, 1,200W system in the Jaguar XJ, but it blitzes all comers, partly because the total diaphragm area of the speakers is a whopping 2,400cm2 -- the highest you'll find in any factory-fitted sound system.
It's a set-up that seems to make everything sound enormous, regardless of genre. It renders the mid-range tones of Junior B by Yello with startling clarity, reproducing the track's silky female vocals and melancholy strings with great accuracy.
Bassy tracks get the treatment they deserve, too. Throw on some Our Own Happiness by X-Dream and the subwoofer will do its utmost to rupture your internal organs.
Sadly, the Panamera's Harman Kardon head unit doesn't have a hard disk for ripping CDs to, so you'll need to carry your favourite discs with you if you want to listen to compression-free music. Those who don't mind listening to compressed digital music can play tracks via USB or iPod mass-storage devices up to 4GB in size, DAB radio, or audio streamed from compatible Bluetooth mobiles and MP3 players.
The Panamera Turbo doesn't look like the sort of car that would be very fast. It's a whopping 16.3 feet long, 6.3 feet wide, and weighs 1,970kg. Those numbers suggest it should be about as agile as the Titanic.
The car's epic engine ensures that's not the case, though. It's powered by a 4.8-litre twin-turbo-charged petrol-slurping V8 that kicks out 500hp at 6,000rpm and 700Nm of torque. This figure climbs to 770Nm if you opt for Porsche's Sport Chrono Package Plus, which increases the amount of boost provided by the car's turbos and increases the responsiveness of the throttle.
The Turbo will leave most of its four-door sports-car rivals in its wake, achieving 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds -- or 4 seconds dead with Sport Chrono -- and a top speed of 188mph. Achieving this performance is incredibly easy, as the Turbo uses an active all-wheel-drive system that delivers relentless grip in pretty much any weather conditions.
Line up alongside a rear-wheel-drive supercar with equivalent power in the wet, and the Turbo will leap effortlessly towards the horizon while its rival spins its wheels going nowhere fast.
Dual clutching at straws
The Turbo's performance is due, in part, to its use of a PDK dual gearbox, which consists of two 'half gearboxes' and two clutches. One half gearbox and clutch transmits power to the wheels via the odd gears (1, 3, 5 and 7), while the other half gearbox and clutch pre-selects all the even gears (2, 4 and 6), ready to deploy them at the driver's request.
This technology allows the Panamera Turbo to shift between gears in a matter of milliseconds, with negligible disruption in the flow of power between gear changes. It's a system that's not unlike that of an electric car -- the Turbo often feels as if it's using one long gear with seemingly endless torque.
Our only real criticism of the gear-changing mechanics in the Panamera Turbo is the fact that its steering-wheel-mounted button shifters are incredibly unintuitive. Instead of the tried and trusted paddle shifters seen in most sports cars, where the left paddle shifts down a gear and the right paddle shifts up, both buttons on the Turbo's steering wheel shift up or down a gear depending on whether you push or pull them.
It's a system that works fine in theory, but that theory falls to pieces during cornering, where it's all too easy to lean on the buttons, leading to an accidental upshift that disturbs the balance of the car. We found it far easier -- not to mention safer -- to leave the transmission in full automatic mode or use the sequential shift option on the main gear lever.
Shooting the breeze
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Turbo's performance is its ride and handling. The car is fitted with an adaptive air suspension system and Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) system, which, together, provide a wide range of suspension characteristics.
The air suspension allows the Panamera's ride height to be raised by 20mm to provide greater ground clearance -- ideal for negotiating massive speed bumps or garage entrances -- or lowered to improve handling. Alternatively, you can impress or annoy your friends repeatedly by raising and lowering the Panamera's suspension so it resembles a 1964 Chevy Impala on hydraulics.
The PDCC system, meanwhile, actively compensates for the amount of body roll that occurs during cornering, keeping the car level no matter how hard you're cornering. The system anticipates lateral body movement when cornering at speed, keeping the Turbo almost as flat during fast bends as it is when driving in a straight line. As a result, it's possible to corner very aggressively without upsetting the overall balance of the car.
The Panamera Turbo costs a pretty penny to run. The enormous engine drinks petrol at a rate of 24.6mpg on the combined cycle and emits a considerable 270g of CO2 per kilometre.
If that's too thirsty for your liking, it's definitely worth considering the Panamera S Hybrid. This car isn't quite as nippy as the Turbo, but it's still very quick, achieving a respectable 41.5mpg and emitting 159g/km of CO2.
The Porsche Panamera Turbo is a remarkable car for many reasons. It's incredibly fast, offers a stonking audio system, and packs in a comprehensive array of cabin tech. It's also brilliant to drive. Discard any misgivings about its exterior -- this car proves beauty is only skin-deep.
Edited by Charles Kloet