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Porsche Too Far? - First Drive: Porsche Panamera

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Should Porsche be making such a car? We all said that of the Cayenne SUV, too

That's an oddly bulbous-looking 911 following me, I thought as I glanced in the mirror. It was all the odder given that I was driving another example of the same car, Porsche's controversial Panamera five-door hatchback.
 
Should Porsche be making such a car? We all said that of the Cayenne SUV, too, and that has become Porsche's biggest cash cow. So niceties of nostalgia and purity have no place in today's pragmatic Porsche company. And why shouldn't four people be hurtled with miraculous dynamic authority from start A to finish B, seated at 911 hip-point height, surrounded by aircraft-like consoles of switches below and above?
 
This is a big, wide but low machine, purpose-made as a massively fast driving tool rather than having tuning wizards massage a luxury car conceived for a different purpose. Even the base model, the two-wheel drive Panamera S, manages 177mph and a 5.6-second 0-62mph time thanks to its 4806cc, 400bhp, direct-injection V8, while there's a four-wheel drive version of this (the 4S) and, top of the tree, the Panamera Turbo.
 
That last is one mighty car. Hurtled around Porsche's Weissach test track by a driver cognisant of every cubic inch of topography, it contravened Sir Isaac Newton's every scientific utterance by appearing to possess no inertia. Hurtled with less familarity by me on the Porsche Experience Centre's tracks at Silverstone, the same applied – including when trying out the launch-control system built into the seven-speed PDK transmission. Stats for this one are 500bhp, 188mph, 4.0 seconds with that launch control.
 
But it's the base(ish) model I like best, although I tried it only with the PDK (optional here) and the adaptive air suspension which firms itself by shutting off one of each wheel's two air chambers as needed. Why? It has the smoothest, most natural, most fluid steering and a wonderful powerslidability on slippery surfaces, progressive and very easy to catch without fishtailing. The long wheelbase helps, but this Panamera's precision and controllability are breathtaking.
 
It's a big, wide beast, though, and you're quickly reminded of that in a tight spot on the road. One other snag: although slightly better in the metal, the Panamera is most definitely not a thing of beauty. Does that matter in a world which has embraced the Cayenne? It should.
 
Prices start at £114,000 for the Panamera S and climax at $150,000 for the Turbo.

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