Porsche Panamera (2017) preview: A tantalising tech-fest
Say hello to Porsche’s new Panamera, shown off in all its glory at the Paris Motor Show 2016.
But let’s cut to the chase: the last Panamera was always a bit of a difficult car to look at. As one of the people we talked to in Paris said: “it looked like a dog doing its business”. And it’s certainly true to say that the Panamera’s rear aspect was difficult to get on with. It had a hunchback quality, to put it kindly. But to drive it. Well, that was the business – of a whole other kind.
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Cut to 2016 and new Panamera (2017) feels much more palatable, much easier to get on with – aesthetically at least. Whisper it, but it almost feels like Porsche has been looking at the Tesla Model S – even the window line bears some similarity.
Look at the numbers and the clues are there – it’s 20mm lower at the rear of the roofline. And the whole car is longer. In fact, at over 5m long, you’ll have problems getting a Panamera into some parking spaces. Many cars this size are orientated around the person being chauffeured in the back. And while we folded ourselves into the back seat and were surprised at both how much space we had and how much control we had of in-car digital tech via the system in the rear, this is a Porsche – so the only place you really want to be sitting is in the driving seat.
Drop down into the Panamera’s low, low driver’s seat and the view is at once familiar, yet very new. Where once Porsche had showered an array of buttons at the centre console – that seemed to have been based on a Vertu phone – now someone in Stuttgart has clearly seen an iPad and everything has gone touch-based.
It’s very, very techy inside – and we’re going to need longer with this car to properly decode it. But the headlines are that in front of the driver you keep Porsche’s signature five-gauge driving cluster. However, only the central rev-counter stays analogue – the four other gauges become screens (they’re actually a pair of 7-inch displays). Porsche didn’t divulge specs, but they’re high-resolution and blacks are deep.
The bigger news is in the centre of the car, where a 12.3-inch touchscreen integrates into the cross-car dash panel. It’s very reactive, sharply rendered and capable of giving you just about any piece of info you could care to mention – from the car’s ride height, to your lap time, the current weather and even flight check-in ability. This console also runs Apple CarPlay – but not Android Auto. See our 911 review for Porsche’s philosophy on why.
Below the Panamera’s 12.3-inch screen, there’s a digital touch panel – where Porsche’s usual array of buttons are replaced by a large black panel – which gives haptic feedback from digital buttons and which also integrates a couple of beautifully knurled, analogue knobs. Deeply complex to look at, it’s surprisingly easy to jump in and make everything work, find what you want in the menu structure. But that’s on a Paris Motor Show stand, going nowhere. On an autobahn, at 140mph? We’re not so sure it’ll be so easy. Or safe. You even have to control the central air-vent, purely through the touchscreen.
This is the issue for Porsche. It’s becoming – or trying to become – a much techier, modern brand but retain its heritage of racing and driving superiority. The Panamera 4 e-hybrid on the stand is testament to this. You can plug it in, go 50km on electric alone – but still have 462bhp at your disposal via the electric motor and 2.9 litre, bi-turbo V6.
Elsewhere in the range you can go for a 6-cylinder diesel or petrol engine, petrol V8 and range-topping V8 turbo. The last of which covers 0-60mph in 3.8-seconds. All come with a PDK auto gearbox, several are four-wheel drive and all are more efficient than their predecessors.
The Panamera is impressive as a static object and – given Porsche heritage – it’ll doubtless get better out on the road. But until Porsche drops a production version of the fully electric Mission-E concept it showed in Frankfurt last year, the Panamera carries a whiff of yesterday’s idea.
A Tesla Model S doesn’t look as good, but it looks similar, it’s got more space, it’s cheaper, has equally impressive tech and is faster. A twin test between the two would make for fascinating reading.
For now, the Panamera remains the archetype, sporting German autobahn express. It does everything the old car did, just better. And now, you might even enjoy looking at it.