Is the all-new Panamera finally good enough to change our minds about four-door cars from Porsche?

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Click through to read/watch the full review

‘In almost every review of the new Porsche Panamera I’ve read, the first couple of paragraphs are always about the old car,’ said the PR bloke whilst handing over the new 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S to me. Never one to follow the crowd I’ll try to refrain from mentioning this car’s predecessor during this discourse.

So let’s start with the looks – well from most angles at the front and front three-quarters it looks very similar to the old… oh, um, to… how a four-door Porsche might look, and has looked. Probably. The headlights are the most obvious departure with those new four claws LEDs on this car, the bonnet ribs extend further into the bumper, and overall there’s a more sleeker elongated appearance.

It’s at the rear where it more obviously stands apart from you-know-what. The roofline seems to taper down earlier and more significantly and the window-frame kink at the back also serves to make the hatchback tailgate, which is retained, less bulbous and obvious. Finally the rear taillight treatment is a lift from the latest 911s with a bit more of an upwards aerodynamic flip at the back, plus room for a spoiler that rises up.

Phew we got the exterior looks out of the way without referencing… er… you-know-what. Ah but now we’ve got to talk about the interior. Erm well in a parallel universe the waterfall centre console might have been festooned with an overwhelming array of buttons, but here there are just touch buttons hidden within the almost plain piano-black trim surround the electronic gear selector.

Do you think I got away with that?

Anyway, regarding these buttons, they’re quite clever because although they’re part of the panel you get both a tactile sensation of pressing them and an audible click. Not sure how they’ve done that, but it’s very impressive.

The main feature is a humongous screen across the top of the centre of the dashboard – this pretty much covers all the features of the car. Now whilst it’s a great away to rid yourself of an over-profusion of switches and buttons, you then end up with a complex operating system with menus several layers deep.

It all works fine, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s no less confusing and perhaps more difficult to find the function you’re after – particularly on the move. Potentially as an owner you’d get used to it though.

The large instrument panel retains the Porsche tradition of an analogue central rev-counter but now with large digital screens on either side to allow for the other dials and displays.

The car is 35mm longer and 5mm taller and wider as well having a 30mm longer wheelbase than… oh, er, something else. This does mean that in the back, despite the lower roofline, rear seating space – strictly for two – is not an issue even for six-plus-footers, and even after I’ve set the driver’s seat for myself. So that’s impressive.

More impressive still is the centre console in the back which has a digital screen of its own and offers a pretty broad interface for rear passengers. My kids obviously loved the two available USB slots and the fact that you access the built-in ‘Jukebox’ hard drive and play the songs of your choice from there.

The 4S we tested was obviously the all-wheel-drive version with a 2.9 V6 – yep no longer a 3.0 – but with power output increased to 440bhp. It has 406lb ft of torque from 1750rpm up to 1550rpm and channels it all through an 8-speed PDK which sees a 0-100kph time of 4.4 seconds or just 4.2 in Sports Plus. Top speed is 289kph.

Starting price is AED483,700 ($132,000) – although this car had AED89,000 of options fitted including the useful 360 degree camera, panoramic roof, rear-axle steering, sports exhaust, front sports seats, adaptive cruise and 21-inch 911 Turbo design wheels.

So, to the crunch then: is it any good to drive?

Well compared to… oh dammit… I can’t do this anymore! I’ve GOT to reference the previous car which I always felt drove the way it looked, like a whale out of water! Okay, in relative terms of course, in the context of this being a Porsche.

It was always stupendously fast and capable in a straight line, but felt too wide, cumbersome and not quite agile enough to take on the twisty stuff. By contrast, and despite being fractionally wider, the new Panamera feels lighter, more agile, planted and far more eager to take on challenging terrain.

So I took the car to a road I normally reserve for sporty stuff, it not really being the right place for long-legged luxury express cruisers. But as you can see from the video, not only did the 4S perform surprisingly well, but I even enjoyed it.

The new Panamera feels more like a sports car – as it should, being a Porsche – and the bulk just seems to dissolve as you start to pedal it hard. The V6 may not be quite as punchy as you’d want – for that you go V8 Turbo – but it’s plenty fast enough especially if you stay on it and let the turbos do their thing. The sports exhaust makes things interesting and the sound raspier, but it’s not loud enough or burbly enough to be a must-have.

For most the rear steering wouldn’t be necessary either, but if you’re going to do driving like this, it’s nice to feel the tighter pivot this car can achieve through corners and of course the brakes and transmission are excellent.

Verdict

Bit of a surprise then. It may look similar to its predecessor (yeah, I’m not bothering with that whole let’s-not-mention-the-first-gen-Panamera thing anymore) but it’s somehow better. Sleeker, sexier, nicer at the rear by a huge margin. If there’s a criticism, it can only be that it doesn’t look difference enough from the front. Inside it’s also very smart – futuristic and exquisitely presented.

Performance is as you’d expect, but the real surprise of this new package is how well it handles and how much it enjoys not only the grand-touring, but tearing up some twisties.

It’s not cheap though, and it doesn’t have many rivals, it’s quite unique in that sense, only the Aston Martin Rapide seemingly in the same category, though it can’t really compete with the Porsche. You’d have to go Maserati Quattroporte (not quite as keen a drive), Mercedes CLS (getting on a bit) or quite possibly BMW 6-series Gran Coupe – which looks fantastic.

However for this money you’d get a V8 Gran Coupe that would still have less power and lose out on the 0-100 time by nearly half a second. To get Panamera 4S levels of performance you’d be looking at the M6 Gran Coupe and that would mean spending over AED150,000 more.

Which puts you too close to Panamera Turbo territory at AED691,500 ($188k) and that has a blisteringly quick 0-100 of just 3.6 with Sports Plus.

Personally I’d go Cadillac CTS-V – 640bhp V8, 0-100kph in just 3.8seconds, 322kph and for AED326,000 ($89k).

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