It is 50 years since Porsche first seriously considered the possibility of a full four-seat sports sedan or coupe and more than 20 years since it built the one-off, four-door 928 H50. But now at last, with the Panamera, it has one in production.
Initially available in naturally aspirated and turbocharged 4.8-L V8 forms, the car incorporates several technical innovations. Particularly significant is an engine start-stop system operating in conjunction with an automatic transmission, claimed as a first in its class. The car also has air suspension with on-demand additional volume and active aerodynamics with a variable-incidence rear wing. A hybrid version is planned.
The move toward a four-seat Porsche started in 1959 when Ferdinand Alexander Porsche designed the T7 study. A two-door coupe configuration, from front bumper to A-pillar, it presaged the 911. But the rear of the car was not a proper fastback, was distinctly odd-looking, and was rejected for production. Porsche opted for a 2+2 interior for the fastback 911.
In 1970, the four-seat issue was approached again simply by stretching a 911 by 350 mm (13.8 in) but still only giving it two doors. The concept remained under active consideration for four years but, like the T7, did not reach production.
Then in 1987, Prof. Ferry Porsche, who had founded the company with his father Ferdinand (creator in 1934 of the Volkswagen Beetle), sanctioned the building of the 928-based H50 that had narrow, trailing edge-hinged rear doors. That did not make production either, and all three studies are now in the new Porsche museum in Stuttgart.
The advent of the Cayenne SUV took the company’s focus in another direction for many years, but the desire for a four-door, four-seat sports sedan never quite faded. Now it is a reality.
The Panamera has very clear 911 design cues and the fastback that has marked out all hardtop Porsche sports cars.
Porsche describes it as a Grand Turismo. With its power, four seats (each tailored to individual comfort), compliant suspension in comfort mode (the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was benchmarked), space (it has a hatchback and fold-forward rear seats), and luxurious interior including comprehensive infotainment system, it fulfills the description, experienced by this AEI editor in Germany before its official launch. However, Porsche’s belief that it marks the introduction of a new class of car is, perhaps, a marketing step too far.
Development of the Panamera started four years ago. The company’s fourth model series has been developed in a slow and carefully considered process, moving forward step by step, said Wolfgang Durheimer, the company’s R&D Chief. Criteria included a coupe look, space for four in an "opulent" cabin, Porsche driving dynamics, and best-in-class performance.
The direct-injected V8 gasoline engine is positioned as low as was feasible in the chassis in a forward/mid position. S and 4S (all-wheel-drive) versions of the new car get the engine with 294 kW (394 hp) and 500 N·m (369 lb·ft) ratings, while the Turbo has 368 kW (493 hp) and 700 N·m (516 lb·ft), giving it a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time of 4.2 s against the 5.4 s of the S. Top speed of the Turbo is 303 km/h (188 mph). Electronic map-controlled coolant/temperature management is used and complements efficiency gains via reduction of internal friction.
Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) is standard on all versions, offering three control maps and frequency-specific damping. In Sport Plus mode, the suspension lowers 25 mm (1 in).
Practically all Panameras are expected to be specified with Porsche’s seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission. It reduces fuel consumption in the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) by 0.8 L/100 km. The Panamera S NEDC figure is 10.8 L/100 km. The use of an automatic stop-start system in conjunction with the automatic reduces fuel consumption by a further 0.6 L/100 km and up to 1.5 L/100 km in an urban environment.
Brakes include a ceramic option. The Turbo model can be braked from its top speed of 303 km/h to 0 in 7 s.
The Panamera has a Cd of 0.29 and uses an active spoiler to achieve optimum aerodynamic efficiency/downforce balance. The S and 4S versions have a spoiler that raises at 90 km/h (56 mph) at an angle of -3°. At 160 km/h (99 mph), this increases to +5°, and at 205 km/h (127 mph) to +14°. The Turbo’s aerofoil has a larger spoiler surface. The Panamera has a complete cover for its underfloor that extends around the drivetrain tunnel and rear exhaust mufflers.
The car’s interior is surprisingly luxurious. Its rear-seat entertainment system can include what Durheimer terms a "highly sophisticated" multimedia system with swiveling 7-in TFT color screens and cordless infrared headsets. Also available is a Burmeister surround sound system, said Durheimer: "It has an overall membrane area of 2400 cm² spread out among 16 loudspeakers and incorporating 16 amplifier channels with more than 1000-W overall output."
The large bodyshell of the Panamera—which is made of steel, aluminum, and magnesium—is 3 mm (0.1 in) wider than that of the Cayenne SUV. The car’s doors incorporate a load-bearing structure of laser-treated pressure-cast aluminum, aluminum outer skin, and window frame of thin-walled pressure-cast magnesium. The Panamera S’s curb mass is 1770 kg (3902 lb).
Trunk capacity with the rear seats in position of the S and 4S is 445 L (15.7 ft³), with 432 L (15.3 ft³) for the Turbo. With rear seats folded, all models achieve a 1250-L (44-ft³) capacity.
The car is built on one line together with the Cayenne at Porsche’s Leipzig plant. The company states that it has almost entirely avoided the use of expensive storage areas by installing a new logistics concept. "I know of no other factory anywhere in the world in which the principles of lean production have been as consistently implemented as here in Leipzig," said Michael Macht, Porsche Board Member for Production and Logistics.
Parts are delivered 60 minutes before they are needed on the production line. He describes the build of the two models on one line as a "logistical masterstroke." Partially equipped Cayenne bodies come from Bratislava, and Panamera body shells are from VW’s Hannover plant.
The interior of the Panamera is assembled on a dedicated line, but once Panamera and Cayenne bodies are at the same stage in the manufacturing process, they run on a single line to final assembly.