A fair amount of Downtown Los Angeles has a large indigent homeless population tragically living on the streets.
It feels wrong to test drive a Porsche Panamera Turbo—a $173,505 executive sport sedan—in such an environment, but after an afternoon of wandering around the streets of the Arts District and the Museum District, and the connecting Skid Row corridor, I encountered no hatred, not even from the hipsters populating the plethora of artisanal coffee roasters and perfumeries.
LOOK AT THAT
The all-new Panamera retains its predecessor’s unfortunate resemblance to a Leviathan—a mythical and outsized creature of the deep: broad of snout, hunched of back, and seemingly Frankensteined from disparate sources—but it has definitely been made more delicate, with some new indentations to mask its mass, and a gently sloped rear hatch and tail-light assembly stolen from its better looking sibling, the 911. Also the trick motorized/retractable spoiler is my favorite new Transformer.
DON'T LOOK AT THIS
Did I mention that this thing still looks like a baleen whale healing poorly from a harpoon attack? It has presence, but then again, so does that boisterous drunk on a trans-continental flight, yet that doesn’t mean you want to be seated next to him.
COCKPIT AND CABIN
This has always been a car that is best approached from the inside-out. The materials are high quality and almost retro-futuristic, in 2001 kind of sense: all black glass, capacitive touch, and brushed aluminum. That old dead tree stuff has been banished. And if you like screen time, this is your spirit animal. Screens abound, front and rear, including a giant foot-wide rectangular one that occupies the dash center, and a couple redundant round ones in front of the driver. Of course, this meant that my rear passengers were always futzing with the stereo controls, accidentally turning on their seat heaters, and spending an inordinate amount of time playing with the power-operated rear sunshades. This probably wouldn’t happen with most back-seat riders, since they’d be the kind of executives prone to ride in the rear of an executive sedan. Maybe I should pick my friends more carefully? (Or maybe I’ve got it just right?)
This thing drives like it’s been boosted along by Goliath’s mace. It blasts from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono package, allowing Launch Control starts that undermine its 4,400-pound curb weight (and shock into silence your backseat occupants.) And it corners and handles more like a contemporary 911, which is to say without any acknowledgement that it is actually not meant to handle so well given its obvious intrinsic limitations. I drove this vehicle not only downtown, but to Malibu and back, and this beast is omnivorous when it comes to roads. Set the distance cruise control and the engine and Porsche PDK 8-speed dual-clutch automatic makes mincemeat of stop-and-go pileups on the 10. Click the steering wheel mounted switch to Sport, and flex the paddles, and it body slams your passengers on the canyon twisties. The ride is German firm, but never pulverizing. Credit nice damping, and a long wheelbase. I never tired of driving.
I love the clean and uncluttered look of the interior, an opinion I clearly share with the team that designed it, whose goal seemed to be the elimination of any switches. But in actual operation, such cleanliness is far from approaching divine. Redundant controls—save the HVAC clickers—are nearly as difficult to locate and operate while driving as they would be if you tried to utilize them solely with the touch-screen. There is no wheel or touchpad for navigating around the giant display and its multifarious features, menus, and sub-menus. I was sometimes challenged to make even simple things work, like the sunroof, the basic controls which seemed settled two decades ago.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Utilization grudges aside, the displays are gorgeous to look at, and once you get them working, they work well—at least the portions that I was able to figure out. (As beautiful as southern California is, sometimes we found ourselves looking instead at the touch-screen map.) Also, the natural address entry in the navigation menu is a boon. And there’s WiFi so your passengers can spend time on their own handheld screens as well, instead of only fiddling with your radio presets.
Cargo Capacity: A
Lust Factor: B-
The Panamera Turbo is a remarkable achievement, but it still feels too rational to elicit true desire. The exterior and interior design exemplify this. They’re both simultaneously remarkably simple, yet overly complicated without many hints of true joy. Call me crazy, but in the category, I’d rather have an Aston Martin Rapide. Or call me slightly less crazy and give me an Audi RS7.
Price (As Tested): $173,505
Powertrain: 4.0 liter twin-turbo V8, 550 hp/567 lb ft
Fuel Economy: 18 city/25 highway/21 combined