The Big Easy
It was hard not to feel conspicuous, gliding down the main street of this working-class Ontario town in a $209,000 luxury sedan worth more than the cost of an entry-level home. The 2012 Panamera Turbo S doesn't exactly scream "ostentatious luxury" - it's more of a golf-whisper - but it attracted plenty of attention and comments during my week-long test drive.
And yet, not once did I encounter any resentment, nor derision towards a car that's provoked its share of both from media and German sports-car fans alike. For some reason it's in vogue among the more cynical of the automotive press to slam the Panamera, while the un-jaded see only a beautifully crafted luxury sedan with plenty of presence.
The 4-door Porsche
When first introduced in 2010, the Porsche Panamera drew clamourous objections from devoted Porschephiles the world over. The very anathema of what established Porsche as one of history's finest builders of pure sports cars, the Panamera was not only a four-door, it was large, heavy and - gasp - replete with cosseting, weight-adding luxury. Pundits dismissed its unusual styling as awkward and ugly.
But, such an impassioned response proves the strength of devotion among the disciples of Zuffenhausen. Perhaps, considering that expanding the lineup to attract deep-pocketed buyers of luxury sedans can only help offset the costs of producing limited production, extreme sports cars. The consolation is that there's a now a choice for the brand-conscious status seeker, leaving the raw driver's machines to the enthusiasts.
Certainly, the Panamera has proved a huge success with the well-heeled demographic, who've snapped up enough of them to make the plush four-door the top-selling Porsche in several markets - and No. 3 here in Canada. And this one, the top-spec Panamera Turbo S, has proclaimed itself the world's best-performing four-door.
Polarizing powerful Porsche
At first glance, the Panamera Turbo S appears a lot like an oversized and stretched 911 coupe. The front three-quarter view presents a beautifully proportioned sedan, particularly lush in my tester's rich chocolate brown. It's only when viewed from the side that any claims of ungainliness are justified: the roofline does not flow smoothly through the bulbous arc of the rear hatch. Pushing the button that deploys the jaunty rear spoiler (in itself a fascinating exercise of technical origami) offsets the large rear end rather nicely.
Speaking of which, the "S" badge fixed to that rump defines this Panamera as one of Porsche's specially tweaked turbo models. Underhood (yes, another buck against its usually rear or mid-engined tradition) is the same 4.8L V8 found in the regular Turbo model - but the turbos and engine controller have been modified to squeeze out an extra 50 hp and 37 lb-ft of torque (which rises to 74 with "over boost" engaged). The final specs are 550 hp/553 lb-ft, with a rather stupefying 590 lb- ft. of twist during over boost.
If those numbers leave you feeling giddy, the $41,800 premium above the regular Panamera Turbo will have a cold sobering effect. But for that price, Porsche throws in as standard a host of features only available as options on the rest of the lineup. The Turbo S boasts the Sports Chrono package with launch control, a torque vectoring rear differential, Dynamic Chassis Control anti-sway system, and of course the Porsche Active Suspension Management System, or PASM, with settings that firm up the air suspension and lower the car by 25 mm.
Regal interior, rapid performer
The interior of the Panamera S is a very fine place to be. My tester's cockpit is a study in fragrant butterscotch hides culled from plump Austrian cows. The headliner is soft, creamy suede; the dash, console and steering wheel are wrapped with hand-stitched leather. The console itself is festooned with buttons, at first confusing but quickly becoming intuitive. My personal favourite is the one for exhaust enhancement, transforming the mellow burble into a surprisingly raunchy bark.
Moving off, the Panamera feels extremely large, and it takes a few minutes to get accustomed to its width and length.
Does it feel like a 911? Of course not. But the AWD Panamera is surprisingly balanced for such a big car. The ride is creamier, yet without wallow. Switch on sports mode and the hardened-up suspension combined with the tympanic thrumming of the low profile tires remove all illusions of soft civility. The throttle mapping adjusts the marvellous 7-speed PDK transmission shifts to machine-gun rapidity.
The speed-sensitive steering is lighter than that of its sports-oriented brethren and while it might not be as talkative as that of the Cayman R or Boxter, still provides plenty of feedback.
Despite the stupefying amount of power on tap, it's doled out in such a beautifully civilized, linear progression that it's startling to find the speedometer has crept into the big ticket zone.
The 1,995 kg sedan effortlessly sprints from zero to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds, which makes the optional $10,100 Ceramic Composite brake package seem like good insurance.
The posh Porsche
Although its prodigious display of power is certainly spine-tingling and thrilling, the Panamera Turbo S is equally satisfying when driven slowly. Effortless and easy come to mind. As a cruiser, it's majestic.
More expensive than competitors Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, or Audi S8 and more polarizing than either, the Panamera Turbo S is also faster and more agile.
As for its looks - beauty is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
This 2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S review was originally published on Auto-Venus.com.
Other Reviews Available For The 2012 Porsche Panamera
Auto journalist & Consumer Ratings
Editor's Review Highlights
2012 Porsche Panamera Specifications