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First drive: Porsche Panamera

First Drive Porsche Panamera

Our first contact behind the wheel of Porsche’s new four door coupe.

From designer sketches to camouflaged test mules, Porsche tested the patience of the automotive microcosm until it finally presented the Panamera at the 2009 Shanghai autoshow. Chinese customers which Porsche included in its focus groups – style clinics as they call them in Weissach – beside Germans and, of course, the all important north americans to validate design directions. The result isn’t consensual, almost cerebral. If the 911 DNA can be traced to the grille-less facia, the hood’s cut line, the shape of the front fenders, the tightening cabin or the trapezoidal rear window, the end result rarely convinces at first sight. The Panamera has to be more than the sum of cues borrowed from its brethren.

Target customers ? According to the Panamera project leader, they are segmented by the cars they own: luxuy sedans lacking sportiness (A8, 7-series, S-class), cramped sports car lacking practicality (911 and wannabe’s) or SUVs with a socially taxing image. The Panamera buyer is looking for more sportiness or more space in a discrete package.

If the exterior fails to convince on first and second look, the interior is a home run, with a center console stretching from dash to rear, and a multitude of switches lined neatly on either side of the PDK shifter. Jet cockpit is the explicit inspiration here, with every function accessible in one move through a dedicated switch. A little overwhelming at first, but less so than a sprawling tree of submenus in a multi-function screen, and very pleasing to the eye. Fine leather, classy brushed aluminum inserts, wood or carbon trim to your taste, all up there with the best in styling and manufacturing. The instrument cluster integrates a clever secondary display for satellite navigation. The trunk appears cramped, with a high floor. If Porsche’s four bespoke suitcases fit, don’t hold your breath for your Samsonite travel set.

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