Dubai — a megalopolis of wealth and excess and skyscrapers that stack up against the skyline like coins inside an Emirati bank account. It is a place where those with a bit of business acumen and some financial backing can fashion a life studded with gold and diamonds and marble and all the other must-have material trappings so liberally punted by the glossy lifestyle magazines spilling out the Qatar business-class lounge. As such I would normally have no function being here. But today is different. Today I am using this city and its immediate surrounds to test the all-new Porsche Panamera.
Hmm. All-new. I grow suspicious every time I hear this descriptor used within the automotive industry. Especially when it is shot from the lips of high-ranking PR officers with silver tongues and charcoal suits.
Two years ago I flew to Austria for the launch of an “all-new” BMW 3 Series that obviously wasn’t. It had new bumpers. It had a new engine. It had new wheels. Other than that it was the same old car it had always been.
Fortunately, in this instance Porsche has delivered a vehicle that really is 100% new. The chassis. The drivetrain. The powertrain. The interior. Everything on the second-generation Panamera has been reinvented.
Now this is great news because the first Panamera — albeit an excellent machine — was no oil painting, what with its weird, almost gawky, proportions. Fugly? You bet. Especially the rear that resembled a first-generation Cayenne tortured inside a giant microwave.
Porsche knew that it had to sex up the Panamera to the level of its other models and this is what it’s done by retooling the car’s proportions.
There’s a shorter front overhang, a wider stance and longer wheelbase. The roofline is lower and more radically raked. It’s a sleeker, far sportier looking piece of highway-gobbling equipment. The best part is the dramatically different derrière that, mostly due to a longer rear overhang, makes the new Panamera look 911-like. Seriously, from a lazy glance across a chaotic Dubai street this four-seater cuts an eerie resemblance.
The traffic has now reduced to the consistency of cold treacle as our convoy of German super-saloons edges slowly towards the city limits. The red lights are frequent and you don’t want to jump any. Doing so will apparently result in a fine far greater than the average hack salary. Annoying as this may be, it affords me the chance to take in the interior. It’s impressive. The new Panamera may be more streamlined but this hasn’t impeded space or comfort. Both are ample. So too is the amount of new technology packed into the mix. Up front a 12.3-inch touchscreen dominates with a customisable interface that controls all aspects of the car. Sound. Climate. Performance. Navigation.
In addition most of the old-school hard buttons have been replaced with touch-sensitive panels, which look and feel as if they were lifted from some yet-to-be-built spaceship. It is still maybe not quite as user-friendly as, say, the Audi MMI system but compared with the old Panamera this represents a watershed in Porsche ergonomics. No doubt the technology will trickle down to all the other models.
There are other electronica — like the new Porsche InnoDrive System that automatically tailors the cruise control and chassis to adjust preemptively to upcoming road conditions. Detailing all of it would mean having to skimp on the driving experience. Which would be a pity because the new Panamera is astounding.
I’m piloting the middle-of-the-range 4S, and it packs a wallop. Out in the desert, away (hopefully) from any prying authoritative eyes, I can momentarily afford the new 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 motor some free rein. And I find, thanks to it being married to an eight-speed PDK gearbox, that forward momentum is rapid and effortless. In fact it wasn’t too long ago when this car’s performance would have elevated it into the rarefied supercar arena. Even more so the V8 Turbo model that can supposedly lap the gnarly Nürburgring two seconds faster than the previous generation 911 GT3 (997.1).
It handles too. With variable three-chamber air-suspension, rear-axle steering (optional) and something called 4D Chassis Control, the new Panamera steers like a proper sportster. It has an agility and poise that belie its weight and proportion. Allow the red mist to descend and you won’t for one minute think you’re driving the same four-seater sedan that for the last hour has been floating you along the road in almost excessive comfort and luxury.
Those gaudy billboards and weird roadside shops are starting to reappear again, a sign that we’re returning to that glass-and-steel oasis in which any form of automotive leeriness is dealt with mercilessly. So I cool off, watch the speedometer roll down and give the sound system a thrashing as my drive comes to an end.
It’s been good. Fun even — something I would never expect to say after spending a day inside what is effectively a BMW 7 Series/Mercedes S-Class rival. Yet Porsche has turned this near impossible trick by merging two different cars — cruiser and skull crusher. The all-new Panamera: one hell of an engineering feat and, this time around, something you can enjoy looking at too. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: Porsche Panamera 4S
Engine: 2894cc twin-turbo V6
Power: 324kW at 5650rpm
Torque: 550Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission: eight-speed PDK
0-100km/h: 4.4-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 289km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.2l/100km (claimed)
CO2: 186g/km (claimed)
Price: From R1564000