Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2011 Porsche Panamera: The Family Sports Car

Thanks to its door count (four as opposed to two) one might be tempted to dismiss Porsche's Panamera sedan as a poseur in the sports car arena. Yes, the idea of a four-door Porsche takes some getting used to, but don't get hung up on those incongruous rear doors. If necessary, when approaching the Panamera, close one eye to block them from sight because once behind the steering wheel, you will forget all about those extra portals anyway.

Having launched the Gran Turismo Panamera models for 2010, Porsche is following up with the $75,375 V6 Panamera and its $79,875 AWD version, the Panamera 4, for 2011. This is a lot of cash for what is essentially the entry-level model, but when you consider that the top-end Panamera Turbo is $133,575, a sub-$80,000 price tag seems quite reasonable. The number of drive wheels is the only difference between the Panamera and Panamera 4.

The most notable contrast between Panamera and the $90,875 Panamera S, besides the $15,500 sticker price, is the number of engine cylinders. Panamera S has a 400-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 thrashing under the hood, while the Panamera has a 300-horsepower 3.6-liter V6.

Popping the Panamera's hood reveals about eight inches of empty space between the front of the engine compartment and the beginning of the V6. In S versions this gap is filled with the V8's additional cylinders. Basically the V6 is the V8 less the two cylinders. Otherwise the engines are quite similar. Both feature a 90-degree "V" which helps lower the car's center of gravity over traditional V configurations with 60-degree angles.

Wrangling engine output to the wheels is the seven-speed Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe dual clutch transmission. For most of us attempting to pronounce its name could bring on a pounding headache. Don't worry; Porsche shorthands the name to PDK. This is a driver-shiftable automatic tranny that comes with shift paddles located on either side of the three-spoke steering wheel. Clicking the front side of the paddles forward advances the transmission, while clicking the backside of the paddles toward you down shifts.

According to Porsche, galloping from a stop to 60 miles per hour takes an impressive 6.0 seconds when two wheels are doing the work and an even quicker 5.8 seconds when all four wheels are pulling. Opt for the $1,480 Sport Chrono Package with its digital stopwatch and Sport Plus button, and you can shave another 0.2 of a second from the above times.

Fuel economy is a very reasonable 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway by EPA estimates. Adding AWD chips 1 mpg from the highway number. Porsche threw everything it had at keeping fuel consumption as low as possible. Liberal use of aluminum in the engine, as well as the axles, doors, hood and front fenders, helps hold down the weight to 3,880 pounds in the RWD car and 4,012 pounds in the 4. Auto Start Stop, that automatically turns the engine off when not required, like at stop lights, and then automatically restarts it when the brake pedal is released, also helps maximize mileage.

A number of optional enhancements are available for the standard steel suspension consisting of a double-wishbone setup with cylindrical coil springs and twin-sleeve dampers in front, and a multilink arrangement with springs and dampers in the rear. This produces a firm ride and controlled handling. Porsche Active Suspension Management is a $1,990 electronically controlled damper system. The $5,000 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control keeps the car flat during cornering. It also includes Porsche Torque Vectoring that combats understeer in the turns.

Monitored by an antilock system, the four-wheel ventilated disk brakes also support traction control, electronic stability control, emergency braking assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. Among the passive safety features inside the cabin are 10 airbags including dual front knee airbags as well as rear side-impact airbags.

Once inside the cabin, the spaciousness is striking. This isn't some 2+2 where the backseat is little more than a parcel shelf. Seating four, both front- and rear-seat occupants have scads of head, shoulder and legroom. Nearly 16 cubic feet of luggage capacity swallows cargo, and can be expanded to more than 44 cubic feet by folding down the rear seat.

First timers may find the acres of buttons, gauges, controls and switches intimidating as they slide behind the wheel. A Marine fighter pilot would probably find the density of buttons somewhat off putting. Porsche believes in a separate control for every function as opposed to some sort of central computer interface like BMW's iDrive. No complaints here.

Exactly what you would hope for in a sports car, the eight-way power-adjustable leather front bucket seats wrap around driver and passenger keeping them upright even during the hardest of cornering. Likewise the rear bucket seats provide optimum side support. Wood, leather and brightwork combine to create a rich, inviting environment.

Full power accessories, heated front seats and outboard mirrors, leather-wrapped tilt-telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an 11-speaker audio system with a CD/DVD player and iPod interface are all standard.

A dizzying array of options will either thrill you or send you screaming out of the showroom. Everything from a $5,690 16-speaker Burmester Surround-Sound System to a $140 fire extinguisher are on the list.

If you want a luxury sedan with serious performance DNA, the Panamera is the real deal and an experience you can share with three friends.

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