Thanks to its hide of Carrara White paint, the phrase that came to mind as I looked at the bulbous body of the 2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S was "white whale." But turning the ignition, hearing the engine make its initial aggressive growl before settling down to a quiet idle, I doubted that Ahab's little wooden whaler would have a hope in hell of ever catching this car.
From the first spy shots floating around the Web, the Panamera has come in for negative aesthetic criticism, but get behind the wheel and all thoughts concerning the car's pudgy rear end begin to seem superfluous. When a car goes this fast and handles this well, who cares what it looks like?
And in Turbo S guise, the top trim, the Panamera broaches supercar territory, getting to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, according to Porsche. After trying out the car's launch control, we have no doubts concerning that statistic.
CNET editor Antuan Goodwin was in the driver's seat, with me weighing down the passenger side, as he pushed the Sport Plus button, pulled the shift lever to manual, then turned off traction control. Voila, the Launch Control icon lit up on the steering wheel hub.
This spoiler automatically deploys at speeds over 50 mph.
Antuan brought the revs up, let the brake go, and bam!, we were both punched in the back as the car rocketed forward. Besides the instantaneous speed and our own yells of wonder, there was no drama. The tires didn't smoke and the car kept a straight line. 60 mph came and went so fast Antuan was on the brakes well before the end of the straightaway.
2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S
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Eight cylinders, seven gears
That episode illustrates just a little of what this car is capable of. It uses an immensely powerful, but in classic Porsche style very efficient, power plant, a twin-turbo direct-injection 4.8-liter V-8. This engine produces 550 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, yet still turns in EPA figures of 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
The Turbo S is the most powerful Panamera available, and the most expensive.
In a tour involving freeway, highway, city, and vigorous back-road driving, the Panamera Turbo S turned in 17.8 mpg. Although not breaching 20 mpg, few cars that go this fast can boast real-world fuel economy of this level. Besides the efficient engine, much credit is also due to the Panamera Turbo S' seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, Porsche's Doppelkupplung.
Another high-tech part of the drivetrain, this transmission works like a manual, using clutches to engage and disengage gears. But as a computer controls the clutches, the transmission can shift automatically. This technology results in hard shifts that better transmit engine power to the rear wheels, while allowing the convenience of automatic shifting. There is also a manual mode, which shifts with speed and precision.
Many automatics these days have Drive, Sport, and Manual modes, but Porsche leaves Sport off the gate. Instead, the Panamera Turbo S includes a Sport button on the console. And one labeled Sport Plus. Not to mention a button with an icon looking like cartoon eyes that activates the sport exhaust, a little feature that merely makes the exhaust note more aggressive.
Pushing the Sport button changes the transmission's shift points to keep engine speed higher, and puts the suspension in Sport mode. The active suspension, standard on the Panamera Turbo S, constantly adjusts stiffness at each wheel to keep the car planted when you are doing things such as doubling the recommended speed in a turn. The Sport Plus button does everything the Sport button does, but to a greater degree.
Porsche makes it easy to tailor the Panamera Turbo S' performance with these buttons.
The changes in the Panamera Turbo S engendered by these buttons are nothing short of phenomenal. Although it feels taut in normal mode, Sport revs it up, putting the transmission into an aggressive mode in which it holds low gears when accelerating out of a turn, for example.
While putting this car to the test, Sport mode felt potent, like what you might get out of a very capable car like the Audi S4. Sport Plus was another level entirely, making the Panamera Turbo S competitive with cars such as the BMW M5.
Piloting this car, it was difficult to find its limits on public roads without getting stupidly reckless. Through turn after turn it stuck to the pavement, the body feeling stable and composed. Pushing it harder, taking turns at just short of stupid-reckless speed, the Panamera Turbo S began to show some oversteer, letting its back end swing out for some fine rotation.
A button on the console changes the suspension settings, irrespective of the Sport and Sport Plus buttons. In Comfort mode, the Panamera Turbo S never becomes a marshmallow, despite the color of our car. Even at its slackest, there is something hard about this car. It won't waft over rough patches in the road, instead communicating each little jolt to the driver, as if it were an instrument designed to measure road surfaces.
Leather, metal, and wood
Porsche aficionados will expect this type of behavior. Despite lush interiors filled with natural materials such as leather and metal, Porsche engineering emphasizes driving capability. And the Panamera Turbo S cabin is nicely loaded with luxury touches. Although a five-door sedan, it only seats four, with a console separating the rear seats. Not only does each seat get its own temperature setting for the climate control system, but all, even the rear seats, can be heated and cooled. A rear-seat entertainment package, with LCDs mounted behind the front seats, is also available.
An LCD, part of the Porsche Communication Management feature, sits in the center stack.
The Panamera Turbo S comes standard with Porsche Communication Management, a module that bundles hard-drive-based navigation, digital audio, and a Bluetooth phone system into one package. This system uses a high-resolution LCD touch screen high in the center stack, with a set of buttons and dials below to access the various functions.
The control setup is clever, relying primarily on two dials, the left one for volume and the right for a variety of tasks, such as scrolling through menus and tuning radio stations. These controls are complemented by a set of buttons on the steering wheel spokes. However, unlike just about every other car with a modicum of cabin electronics, Porsche makes its voice command system optional.
This car may be one of the more expensive Porsche models, but the navigation system is not the best in the world. It is certainly top-tier, showing 2D or 3D map views, the latter with rendered buildings in urban areas. Hard-drive-stored maps ensure quick response times, and the system uses traffic data to dynamically route around bad traffic. But it is not quite at the level of the Google Earth navigation system in the Audi A7.
In fact, the Panamera Turbo S lacks much in the way of connectivity. Although it shows traffic and weather, there are no fuel prices or stock information. Porsche has also not revealed an app strategy, so there is no Pandora or other app integration in the car.
As with other high-end brands, Porsche focuses on the stereo for cabin electronics. The Panamera Turbo S can handle all the modern audio sources. A USB port in the console reads MP3 tracks off a thumbdrive and handles iPod integration. The interface for the iPod library categorizes music by artist, album, genre, and other ID3 tagging fields. The system also parses the ID3 tags for MP3 files on thumbdrives, showing the same interface as the iPod library, a nice touch.
But the most exciting piece of tech in the Panamera Turbo S' cabin is the premium audio system, from German company Burmester. With more than 1,000 watts of amplification and 16 speakers, this system shows impressive specifications. The powerful amp and the quality of the speakers give the system a lot of range, making it possible to tune for excessive bass or crisp treble.
The Burmester audio system includes a number of digital signal processing presets for the stereo.
The sound produced by this system is ultraprecise, leaving no note unplayed as it reaches into the densest layered recording, unearthing every instrument. But it didn't sound particularly warm. While I enjoyed hearing the tones produced from a single stretched guitar string, the system didn't make me want to keep on driving around the block until a favorite song ended. The quality of sound from it is so clean that I just wanted to use it as a reference for every MP3 track in my 60GB music library.
Burmester includes a few digital signal-processing tricks to tailor the sound. A Smooth setting makes the sound quality gentler, appropriate as background music for driving, while a Live setting makes music more dynamic. There is also a Surround setting that we found didn't do much for music.
As would be expected from Porsche, long known for its unique sports car engineering, the 2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S comes in with cutting-edge performance technology. Porsche managed to keep the big sedan light while fitting it with dynamic suspension technology capable of handing high-speed cornering. Engine and transmission employ the latest road technology to deliver incredible acceleration while keeping fuel economy reasonable.
In the cabin, the Burmester audio system is certainly a centerpiece, but all other electronics can be found in many competing luxury vehicles. The 3D maps of the navigation system and the various digital audio sources for the stereo are all very nice, but Porsche pushes no boundaries with this equipment.
|Model||2012 Porsche Panamera|
|Power train||Twin turbocharged direct-injection 4.8-liter V-8, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with phone book integration|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, SD card, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Burmester 1,000-plus-watt 16-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$184,990|