Pity the poor Porsche loyalists: Just as they've gotten over the heresy that is the Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle — a Porsche SUV! Blasphemy! — now comes the 2010 Porsche Panamera, which resembles a stretched Porsche 911 that has, count 'em, four doors, a big back seat and nearly 16 cubic feet of luggage space in the rear.
Not since the peculiar bar-of-soap-shaped 914 has Porsche built a vehicle with such polarizing styling. It's as if one of those limousine manufacturers who stretch Hummers and Cadillac Escalades got hold of a 911 — all that's missing is a wet bar and colored lights underneath.
That's harsh, but not entirely unfair. From certain angles, such as underneath, or hovering 20 feet above it, the Panamera can be a handsome car. But it fulfills a central mandate from one Porsche executive, who said, "I wanted my 79-year-old mother to be able to look at it, and know immediately that it's a Porsche."
Styling aside, the Panamera is a start-lingly good car. Yes, it weighs about 4,300 pounds — more than a Mercury Grand Marquis — but a sophisticated suspension and custom tires made by Michelin especially for the Panamera, mask that weight remarkably well.
The Panamera, which has its engine up front, rather than in the rear like a 911, comes in three basic models: The rear-wheel-drive S, which starts at about $90,000; the midlevel all-wheel-drive 4S, and the Turbo, which starts at $132,600. The Turbo has a 4.8-liter turbocharged V-8 with 500 horsepower, while the other two models have that same engine without the turbo, and must get by on 400 horses. All three have a double-clutch, seven-speed automatic transmission, which you can drive like an automatic, or shift like a manual transmission.
While the S and 4S have loads of power, the Turbo will leave you giggling like a little girl. Acceleration comes on quickly and steadily, and presumably doesn't quit until the 188 mph top speed, which I did not explore. Handling is superb, the ride is firm but not punishing, and the interior is all leather-clad European luxury.
Though the Turbo comes with a laundry list of standard features, there are still plenty of options available. Some are reasonably priced (front and rear parking assist with a back-up camera for just $655), and some are inexplicably expensive (XM satellite radio for $750).
Porsche will likely build about 20,000 Panameras for worldwide consumption, but company executives honestly don't know how many they can sell because there is no precedent in past Porsche products. It's a stunning car — and I mean that mostly in the nicest way possible.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at 407-420-5699, firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog at Enginehead.com.
2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo Base price: $132,600 Price as tested: $147,900 EPA rating: 15 miles per gallon city driving, 23 mpg highway. Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive sedan with a turbocharged 4.8-liter, 500-horsepower V-8 and a seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission.