This article is part of an IEEE Spectrum special report: Top 10 Tech Cars of 2010.
As my Porsche Panamera Turbo hits its stride on the German autobahn, there’s plenty to focus on, both inside and out. A V-8 engine is cranking 368 kilowatts (493 horsepower) to four churning wheels. The dual-clutch automated manual transmission fires off fast-twitch gear changes. A rear deck lid spoiler rises and widens at 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour) to reduce aerodynamic drag, and then, as we cross the 200-km/h threshold, repositions like an airplane flap to boost downforce and stability.
But despite the mechanical marvels on display—and the voice in my head telling me to concentrate on the bends along this no-limit stretch of pavement—the most astonishing action is taking place in the backseat. There my driving partner remains blissfully asleep as I spur the Panamera to 300 km/h (186 mph to this Yank). That’s more than enough to show a pesky BMW M3 and a Mercedes-Benz diesel wagon—which had been ankle-biting my Porsche for the past 10 km—where they rank in the autobahn’s cruel pecking order.
Go ahead—call the Panamera ugly, ungainly, or just plain odd. You won’t be the first to take issue with Porsche’s fastback-roofed sedan, the first four-door car in the company’s storied history. A traditional sports sedan, says chief designer Michael Mauer, would have been too easy. Instead, his team imagined a four-door sports car mit hatchback, penciling backseat dimensions to fit the lanky frame of then-CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, who is 188 centimeters tall (6 feet 2 inches).
”The Panamera does take some getting used to,” Mauer says, even as he vigorously defends the beauty that derives from pure function.
Internal trickery runs the gamut: Adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights monitor vehicle speed and other parameters in order to swivel when going around curves; the lamps also automatically adjust their range and width to handle potentially dangerous situations, including two-lane back roads and foul-weather driving. A high-resolution screen holds a navigation system with 3-D renderings of buildings in major cities. The Burmester audiophile system has 16 speakers and more than 1000 watts.
The Panamera also raises the large-car performance bar to insane heights: Toggle up the electronic launch-control function and the US $133 000 Turbo catapults from 0 to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 3.8 seconds—as quick as the 911 Turbo, which weighs about 400 kilograms less—and covers a quarter mile in 11.7 seconds at 190 km/h (118 mph). That launch control requires getting the Sport Chrono option, which adds a fiddly lap timer and the all-important Sport Plus mode to the car’s myriad computerized performance systems.
Even the 294-kW (394-hp) Panamera S and all-wheel-drive 4S models squirt to 96 km/h in less than 5 seconds. That robust power stems from a 4.8-liter, direct-injection V-8 with dual turbochargers and extensive weight-saving materials, including magnesium valve covers and aluminum camshaft adjusters. Crankshaft and connecting rods trim a remarkable 2.3 kg (5 pounds) from those on the Cayenne S’s same-size V-8, reducing critical reciprocating mass for swifter engine response. The Panamera S retails for about $90 000 and the all-wheel-drive 4S adds another $4000 to that sticker price.
A less costly, 220-kW (roughly 300-hp) V-6 Panamera will go on sale this year. A Panamera hybrid will follow in 2011, mating a V-6 with an electric motor that together should approach 298 kW (400 hp).