October 20, 2014

2012 Porsche Panamera S: In a luxury class with no peers

2012 Porsche Panamera.

2012 Porsche Panamera.2012 Porsche Panamera.Most new cars, even those in the six-figure luxury division, are sold in a competitive market. That is not the case with the Porsche Panamera. It doesn’t stand at the top of its class; it stands alone.

The Panamera is a full-size, high-performance 2+2 luxury sedan with a hatchback. It gets exceptional fuel economy for so large and heavy a car. And it’s as close as the industry has come to building a car that responds to the driver’s thoughts, so crisp and intuitive are its responses to the smallest adjustments to throttle and steering wheel.

Like Porsche’s midsize SUV, the Cayenne, the Panamera is the proverbial square peg in a round hole — a vehicle that possesses neither the form nor the function of the sports cars on which Porsche built its reputation, but replicates their best qualities to the letter.

The Panamera’s target demographic is the wealthy car lover. The lowest-priced Panamera, with a 300-horsepower V-6 engine, starts at $75,200. But the options list is long, expensive and alluring. Our silver Panamera S, a showcase press car with the 400-horsepower V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive, had a base price of $90,300 and a sticker price of nearly $138,000. 

So a conventionally equipped Panamera might actually be competitive with high-end Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and BMW models. Some wealthy folks might even prefer these models for their enclosed trunks and five-passenger capacity. But Porsche’s uncompromising devotion to performance sets the Panamera apart.

All Panameras come with a an auto-stop feature that shuts down the engine at stop lights and cycles it back up instantly when the driver removes his foot from the brake. This improves fuel economy significantly, but can be turned off at the touch of a button for maximum off-the-line acceleration. We averaged a little better than our Panamera S’s 24-mpg rating, using premium fuel.

Speaking of buttons, the Panamera has dozens of them, mostly arrayed around the shifter. But they’re arranged logically, and their operation became second nature to us after a few days.

The interior is nearly silent, even with the optional exhaust-note changer set at its most boisterous level, and the suspension lets the driver know about variations in the road surface without being harsh about it. Interior room is more than adequate for drivers and passengers of all sizes. Despite the low-slung roof line, there’s plenty of head room for tall passengers in back.

The luggage compartment is fairly roomy at 15.7 cubic feet, but the high deck and sloping window limit its ability to accept tall items.

The Panamera has its quirks, including the left-handed placement of the ignition switch, the central placement of the tachometer (rather than the speedometer) on the dashboard, and a lack of cubbyholes and shelves for small items in front. But as we’ve noticed with other Porsches we’ve driven, the Panamera is authoritative — leaving no doubt this is the way all cars should be designed.

Steven Macoy (smacoy3070@cs.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $137,965

Engine: 4.0-liter V-8, 400 horsepower, 369 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 7-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: rear-wheel

Weight: 3,968 lb.

Suspension: double wishbone front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 20-inch sport wheel, black (optional)

Tires: 255/40 Z-rated front; 295/35 Z-rated rear

Seating capacity: 4

Luggage capacity: 15.7 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 44.6 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons

Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded