The 2011 Porsche Panamera goes head to head with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as the leader in the super luxury car class. Selling in an MSRP range of $74,400 to $135,300, buyers have every right to expect a high-performance automobile for their money, and one with an interior that redefines the luxury concept. The Panamera delivers on both counts and, rather intriguingly, features a hatchback design.
Why do some reviewers feel the S-Class has the edge? Space, primarily. The Panamera seats four, the S-Class - and the third contender the BMW 7-Series - have room for five. Still, there are many ways to configure the Panamera, with the base, Hybrid S, and Turbo S models new for 2011. In this regard the line is far from limiting.
There are five available engines. The base uses a 3.6-liter V6 with 300 hp that jumps from zero to 60 mph in six seconds. The Panamera S is outfitted with a 4.8-liter V8 with 400 hp that shaves the 0-60 leap down to 5.2 seconds. The S Hybrid uses a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 making 380 hp that handles 0-60 in 5.7 seconds.
The most powerful models in the Panamera line are the Turbo and Turbo S, with 500 and 550 hp respectively. The Turbo jumps to 60 mph in 4 seconds, the Turbo S in 3.6. All Panameras use a seven-speed PDK automatic transmission (double clutch). The Base, S, and S Hybrid are RWD, the 4, 4S, Turbo, and Turbo S have AWD. The V6 Panamera gets 18 city and 27 highway, with the Panamera 4 returning 18/26. The S and 4S are rated at 15/23.
Inside the Panamera's roomy cabin, the materials are superior, balancing luxury with a functional, but beautifully executed design. Drawing its cues from the Porsche 911, there's seating for four with surprisingly good rear space. Taller passengers may struggle a bit with the low, rather slung-out form, and the dash full of buttons does look a little busy compared to single-knob interfaces like the BMW iDrive or Audi MMI. Frankly, those are quibbles. This is a gorgeous interior.
One reason the seats are so good is that they're all the same Porsche designed one, comfortable, supportive seat and put it in all four positions, a unique approach for a luxury car, and one that works very well. Also, the headroom is virtually the same, front and back. Passengers in the rear can also benefit from the optional four-zone climate control, and, their seats can be both heated and ventilated. Fourteen-way power seats and adaptive sports seats are available as well.
Standard interior features include rain-sensing wipers, rear park assist, cruise control, four power outlets, eight-way power seats with heating, dual-zone climate control, navigation, and a power lift gate. Bluetooth and a Burmester Surround Sound stereo are optional. The unique hatchback design creates a trunk with 15.7 cubic feet of cargo space that jumps to 44.6 when the rear seats are folded.
Most high-performance cars are not crash-tested, but because the 2011 Porsche Panamera is designed to sell globally, it has a high safety profile. Standards include anti-lock brakes, stability, traction control, and a full range of airbags. Although it does not have innovative driver assist systems to monitor attention or otherwise alert the driver of road conditions, one of the Panamera's greatest strengths is exceptional, tightly controlled braking. The thick roof pillars can, however, limit visibility at times.
With the possible exception of it four-occupant limitation, the Panamera sits near the top of the super luxury car class for many good reasons. With a wide variety of configurations, good engine choices, and a superior interior, this is a Porsche that does not disappoint. Create lust, yes. Disappoint, no.