Tested: 2021 Porsche Panamera Is Like Two Cars in One
The Porsche Panamera has a split personality. Back it into a parking space and it exudes sports-car style, with a low boomerang front fascia and slung-back windshield like a 911. Nosed in, the Panamera is a sensible family car, with wide-opening doors and a large hatch. It maintains these dual personas on the road, where it handles corners in a manner that befits its crest, and handles passengers as a four-door should—with comfort and generous space.
Our test example was a rear-wheel-drive base model optioned up from its reasonable-for-a-Porsche $88,550 starting price to a “You could almost buy a Panamera 4S for this” $105,470. Such are the dangers with Porsche’s buffet of options, but a well-equipped base Panamera might beat a bare-bones 4S if the goal is a plush and elegant errand-runner rather than an all-wheel-drive drag-racer. We could have shaved a few dollars off our as-tested price by skipping the Gentian Blue Metallic paint ($840), the Porsche branded wheel caps ($190), and the heated GT Steering wheel ($590). You’ll never find the button for the wheel heater anyway (okay, it’s inside at the bottom of the rim).
All the Panamera models got a slight redesign last year, with the most noticeable difference being the standardization of the previously optional Sport Design front end. With the more aggressive grille and chin spoiler, there’s nothing that visually shouts base model on the entry-level Panamera, especially if, as on our test car, you option up from the standard 19-inch wheels to one of the 25 different designs available. Ours rode on 20-inch Panamera Turbo Wheels ($1790) wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S performance rubber. Peer through their five spokes, and the standard cast-iron rotors and black calipers look plain Jane to those used to slotted discs and colorful binders, but there’s always Porsche’s $8970 ceramic composite brake option. Expert Porsche spotters will note slight differences in trim pieces between the higher-priced models and our humble just-regular Panamera, but those indicators are subtle.
Doesn’t matter—the spec-snobs won’t get close enough to judge you, because the Panamera makes the most of its 325 horsepower and delivers performance far better than Porsche promises. The current twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 makes less power than the previous 3.0-liter single-turbo engine, but according to Porsche, it’s still quicker, with an official 60-mph time of 5.1 seconds, 0.1 second better than before. That seems excessively modest. In our testing, 60 mph blew by in 4.4 seconds, and we flashed through the quarter-mile in 13.0 seconds flat at 107 mph.
To get the added zing of launch control requires the Sport Chrono package ($2290), which also adds a drive mode selector on the steering wheel, a Sport Plus mode, and a fancy dash clock. Normally we’d advocate for spending the money, if only for the light-speed fantasies of pressing the Sport response button for extra passing power, but after fiddling with the modes for science and testing, we found the Normal and Sport modes were the most comfortable around-town settings. Everything above that just made the steering heavy and the eight-speed PDK transmission jumpy. Some cars are meant to be cruisers rather than rockets, but don’t think that means the Panamera isn’t sporty.
On the curves in the hills and during enthusiastic city cornering, the Panamera stays flat and goes where it’s pointed. The rear-wheel steering ($1650) contributes to the big car’s directional willingness, but the sticky tires and stiff chassis also do their part. Around the skidpad, the Panamera pulled 0.99 g with mild understeer. During an unexpected snowy encounter in the mountains on the way home, the RWD car gave us a few rump wiggles, but they were more playful than panic-inducing. Braking was consistent and effective, stopping from 70 mph in 148 fade-free feet (even without yellow calipers).
On the highway, the car takes a set and rides on air, both figuratively and literally with the adaptive air suspension, part of the Premium package ($8170). The suspension is the best part of that outlay, but you also get heated front and rear seats, four-zone climate control, soft-close doors, and lane-change assist—which includes blind-spot monitoring. That the latter costs extra is an example of Porsche’s slightly stingy driver-assist offerings. While lane-keep assist is standard, adaptive cruise control is not, nor is a surround-view camera; they can be added a la carte or with the $4550 Assistance Package. Of the various helpers, blind-spot monitoring and surround-view make the biggest difference to driver comfort, as the Panamera’s low seating position and wide roof pillars don’t afford a great field of view.
While it’s exhilarating to sit in the driver’s seat, the Panamera may be superior for passengers. The rear seats are even more comfortable than the fronts, with generous legroom and headroom, and the rear doors open wide for easy exit or child-seat installation. Those with extra-tall passengers might prefer the longer-wheelbase Executive version, but we weren’t cramped in the standard-length model. It’s bright and cheery inside, sunlit by two large glass panels in the roof. Both can be shaded with a slow-moving screen, and the front glass tilts open. The interior is typically Porsche, well built and understated. Ours was appointed in gloss black and a mix of faux and real leather in a light beige that made the cabin look like the top of a crème brûlée.
The optional GT Sport steering wheel makes the cockpit feel more like a 911’s, and behind it is a digital instrument cluster that can show five simulated gauges or replace the two right-side displays with a large map. Performance controls are easy, even if you don’t get the mode dial add-on. The infotainment is also straightforward. Climate controls and vehicle settings are hit or miss. Some, like temperature, ride height, and volume are knurled buttons on the console. Others are in the 12.3-inch touchscreen, which can make finding them a scavenger hunt through complex menus. Most egregiously buried is the center vent control, which requires several steps to locate. There’s also no convenient spot for a cellphone, which leaves it rattling around in the cupholder. Rear-seat passengers also have a phone problem: There are no USB ports in the back, only a 12V as part of the Smoking package ($90). Modernity brings with it new things to complain about. Cargo space, at least, won’t be one of them. The hatch hides 18 cubic feet of luggage space with the rear seats up, and with them down—which can be done in a 60/40 split—there’s 47 cubic feet to fill with the suitcases of your 911-driving friends. Need even more space? Then the Sport Turismo is for you.
One can easily overlook the base Panamera. It’s not as shockingly quick as the higher trims, and if optioned heavily, it soon overlaps their price tags. If you think of it not as a single car though, but as two cars in one—a speedy and stylish sports sedan that hugs the curves as well as a comfortable four-door that irons out the bumps and offers roomy seating for four—well then, even in base trim, it’s anything but a bottom-shelf experience.