First drive: Porsche Panamera in the UAE
Officially introduced in the UAE at a launch party in Abu Dhabi, Porsche held a media driving event for the all-new Porsche Panamera GT sedan. The road trip comprised of a drive from Dubai to Fujairah and back in cars shared with other journalists, and a free lunch somewhere in between.
Getting up close and personal with the highly-controversial Panamera, it does not illicit as much of an automatic hateful response as the first photos of the car did. Indeed, nobody I met at the event called the car ugly, because at the end of the day, it is very unique, and people were gawking at it throughout the trip.
The long Panamera intentionally falls between a mid-size and a full-size, while being lower and wider than cars in either category. The cabin is heavily trimmed up to compete in the luxury segment, although occupants sit low to create the illusion of more headroom. The hatchback shape also affords a fair bit of cabin space, comparable to a midsize car, although it starts to feel a lot like a compact in the rear seat when a large person sits up front and moves their seat back. With three of us stuffed into one car, I spent a lot of time back there.
The Panamera seats only four, and all the seats are of the sporty bucket variety with fixed headrests, power adjustability and individual a/c controls. The Panamera Turbo we drove additionally had “bucket” headrests and ventilating fans in the seats, although these could be options, but otherwise the Panamera 4S we drove later was identically outfitted, only with different customisable trim colours and materials. The rear opens up like a hatchback, revealing a useable luggage boot. The iPod-ready stereo is strong, and the a/c is decent.
The Panamera Turbo is a fast car, with 500 hp on tap from a turbocharged 4.8-litre V8. The 7-speed “PDK” dual-clutch automanual gearbox is also impressive, as it feels just like any other regular automatic when left on its own, instead of jerking and clunking like the ones in the Nissan GT-R and the Maserati Quattroporte. In manual mode, shifts are near-instantaneous, although it would take a longer time to get used to the non-intuitive paddle shifters.
The Panamera 4S is powered by a 400 hp naturally-aspirated 4.8-litre V8, again mated to a 7-speed PDK automanual. It behaves much the same as the Turbo, with more than enough power for most occasions, although the lack of punch above 140 kph was all too obvious.
Both cars are plenty quick in ‘Normal’ mode, but more fun can be had in ‘Sport’ mode, as the air suspension supposedly firms up and, more noticeably, the revs are held longer between shifts. The ‘Sport Plus’ mode locks out the 7th overdrive gear and lowers the car for even sharper performance, but it is hard to notice the difference. Handling is always flat and neutral, while the all-wheel-drive chassis is thankfully tuned for understeer, as my driving partner turned off the stability control and was being too reckless on public roads for my taste. As he showed me, the car even beeps a warning when it thinks it is headed for an accident.
Both cars also offer up a fairly compliant ride in ‘Normal’ mode, feeling no firmer than something like a BMW 7-Series. There is even some feedback from the steering wheel, while the brakes are suitably powerful. The cabin is largely peaceful, but there is a fair bit of tyre noise on some road surfaces.
There aren’t too many ways to spot the difference between a Turbo and a 4S, beyond badging. They have different front bumpers, and while both feature a retractable rear spoiler, the one on the Turbo is a three-piece design that can extend to become wider.
The Panamera is the latest among the new breed of “coupe-like” four-door sedans that was started by the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Playing at a higher price point, it remains to be seen whether this new Porsche model will the same surprise hit as the Cayenne was. It certainly ups the game when it comes to performance in this segment.
For prices and detailed specs, visit the Porsche Panamera buyer guide.