By on October 26, 2012

Twenty years ago, the first Porsche limousine rolled off the assembly line at Stuttgart; four doors, 8 cylinders, wide fenders, big brakes and a period correct Alpine stereo system. It was built in small quantities, by hand. To those who knew, it was distinguishable at a distance, but to the man on the street, it was invisible. Truly a car for the one percent – in terms of both means and taste.

You won’t find it in any of the Porsche catalogs of the era. It was called the Mercedes-Benz 500E. And it wasn’t an AMG anything. Back then, AMG was an independently-owned speed shop, a Roush Performance with a stern accent.

Today, AMG has ceased to be a speed shop. It’s not even really the zenith of Mercedes-Benz performance cars; it is now another trim level of SUV for affluent mothers. You’ll find more C63s parked outside beauty salons than at Mosport. They are bought not for their performance characteristics, but simply because it is the most expensive trim level of a given model line, and the AMG badge lets everyone know that. The badge matters now.

A car like the original W124 500E would be dead on arrival today. In an era of conspicious consumption, a $160,000 Porsche-engineered sedan that’s barely distinguishable from an E550 has a slightly worse chance of success than an anti-global warming film does at the Oscars. Enter the Panamera. It is a Porsche, not a Mercedes. If we’re being diplomatic, it is distinct looking, and is designed expressly to inform everyone that you have arrived. One look at the old 500E and the new Panamera is strong evidence that vehicular vulgarity has risen in proportion to income inequality.

Once you’re inside the Panamera, the ungainly looks become less of a concern. The interior is a cavalcade of buttons that overwhelms at first, but their functionality and ease of use beats the knob-and-touchscreen systems that Mercedes et al now employ. Nobody would ever accuse to Panamera’s interior of being simple, but like that of the W124, it is elegant. The view out of the hood is decidedly old school as well; you can actually see over the hood, so that the corners of the fenders are visible. Most modern cars seem to have a hood that disappears off the metaphorical cliff. This little touch makes the 16 foot long Panamera markedly easier to maneuver in urban traffic, a small benefit that isn’t readily apparent but goes a long way with its intended client base of upper class working stiffs who need to weave their way in and out of construction zones and clogged lanes.

The blogger brigade that breathlessly reported on this car’s debut last year was perhaps over-eager to use Porsche’s own PR copy describing this car as some sort of track ready Panamera. Let’s get serious. It’s got 30 horsepower more than the standard Panamera 4S, as well as suspension and brake bits from the Turbo, but the only time that one of these will see track time is at a Porsche-sponsored lapping day for owners. The lawyers, accountants and finance executives mentioned above don’t usually have the time or inclination for an HPDE day. That doesn’t mean they can’t get their kicks elsewhere.

Porsche probably knows this, and I’d bet that’s why the  GTS excels at the Stop Light Grand Prix.  Between the all-wheel drive system and the 7-Speed PDK gearbox, there is no way you will lose any sort of unsanctioned speed contest to anything short of a Nissan GT-R. The GTS posts an identical 0-30 time (1.4 seconds) to the Panamera Turbo S, despite a 120 horsepower deficit. As the speeds increase, a gap develops, but when will you find an open quarter-mile in the financial district? Rest assured that the view below is what every other driver will be seeing of you.

I’m not philosophically opposed to this car like certain brand purists are, but one has to wonder: what’s the point of the Panamera? The argument is this: Car companies exist to make a profit, and Porsche needs to diversify beyond impractical sports cars to ensure its survival in the future. A sedan is a natural extension of the brand after the Cayenne, and a good way to use up capacity at the Leipzig plant.

But I don’t want my Porsches to be practical, nor do I want my luxury sedans to feel like a Porsche. A hard ride and a noisy exhaust in a 911 are undeniable facts of life. In this car, they are a simulacrum, a consolation prize given to you by Porsche because your wife wouldn’t let you by a 911.

And that’s ultimately what’s wrong with this car; it is neither fish nor fowl. It is dynamically brilliant but forever a mutt, stuck somewhere between supercar and sedan, with the worst attributes of both. If you want to make a statement, you can buy the Jaguar XJ, which can be had with a stupendously powerful V8 engine, in your choice of two wheelbases and multiple equipment configurations. It makes the same kind of statement as the Panamera, but it’s infinitely more elegant. If you want something more German, than the Audi A8 is peerless and has yet to suffer from the same kind of terminal prole drift as the S-Class or the 7-Series.

But if you really must have the Porsche — if you really must have a Porsche sedan — you can buy a 500E and have enough left over for something air-cooled. Both of those choices have more claim to Stuttgart than the Panamera, and they won’t make you look like a hen-pecked corporate servant either.

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59 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS...”


  • avatar

    great writing Derek!

    • 0 avatar
      oldfatandrich

      An excellent review indeed ! That said, against what is the A8 peerless ? Perhaps in the ubiquity of electronic gremlins which seem to inhabit every Audi ? Please do remember that Audi was off-loaded by Daimler-Benz (sometime in the early 60s)to ensure that M-B’s image was not tarnished in the marketplace by the forgetable offerings of Audi/Wanderer/DKW. The marketing blather about the Horch legacy is just that—blather. An Audi is a very luxurious and (often) very handsome and very expensive car, but it is a Volkswagen. And the notion of “prole drift” as applied to an S-class or 7 series is nonsense.

  • avatar
    twotone

    “…the 16 foot long Panamera markedly easier to manufacturer in urban traffic…”

    I’m guessing you mean “maneuver” in urban traffic. But maybe Porsche is making them on the go.

    Great article and I agree. The Panamera looks like an LA chop shop had its way with a 911. I’ll take an S-Class if I want a luxury sedan and a Cayman if I want a Porsche.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Inspired by the e500 on BAT? ;)

    You’re right though, subtle and tasteful are words that no longer exist much in this world. If people are going to be spending this kind of money, they want everyone to know it from a mile away.

    In terms of the Panamera, the only one I’ve liked from the outside (the interiors of them I think are pretty amazing) is the recent wagon concept unveiled at Paris. That one seems to have come together rather well in basic shape, so I’m really hoping we see it on the road soon.

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    “It’s not even really the zenith of Mercedes-Benz performance cars;”

    Yes it is.

    Nice review.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “Porsche needs to diversify beyond impractical sports cars to ensure its survival in the future.”

    Maybe if they made something other than a bunch of 911-looking cars yes, but not over-priced mommy-SUVs, ugly sedans, nor compact pseudo mommy sedans.

    Porsche’s on its way to loosing its identity if you ask me.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Just when I was getting tired of the umpteenth rant about protectionism, this piece comes down the hopper.

    All is forgiven . . . a lovely write up. Well done!

    I think this car is a more extreme version of a number of cars which beg the same question: What is the point of this car? The other cars would be the aforementioned S8,, the various AMG-branded Benzes, the CTS-V, etc. These cars are insanely powerful sedans, whose full capabilities will never be used but are just there for bragging rights. Some of these cars — and some cheaper cars like the SRT-8 300C have “character” which is a polite way of saying they are dangerous in inexpert hands if the driver attempts to explore the edges of the performance envelope. But some of these have bred just about all of that danger out.

    Oddly, if you really want character, then you do acquire an aircooled Porsche turbo, with its on/off power delivery, its willingness to swap ends if you lose your nerve in a corner and lift, its noise, its stiff ride, etc. This is a visceral car.

    But this other stuff is fast, but not visceral and not particularly elegant either.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “Oddly, if you really want character, then you do acquire an aircooled Porsche turbo, with its on/off power delivery, its willingness to swap ends if you lose your nerve in a corner and lift, its noise, its stiff ride, etc. This is a visceral car.”

      I’m sure you know this but you’re preaching to the choir. I doubt that most who buy the Panamera are looking for any type of visceral experience. Expensive car… Check; Fast… Check; Porsche badge…Check-Check-Double Bonus… I’ll take it.

      I try not to be cynical but it seems that being seen is becoming the overriding factor in many of our purchases.

      Pass the collection plate.

  • avatar

    I had secretly hoped (if not realistically expected) that VW’s acquisition of Porsche would mean that Porsche could un-diversify, and go back to being Porsche, doing Porsche things like building uncompromised sports cars and storming Le Mans. But I suspect we’ll be getting more of this in the future, not less. Oh well, at least there’s still Ferrari, and Aston at least has yet to build an SUV…

    • 0 avatar
      Micah

      Scratch Aston… they built the Cygnet. Not an SUV, but worse.

      • 0 avatar
        sckid213

        My God. I had not heard of the Cygnet before your comment. That is Cimarron-level bad, if not worse.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        The Cygnet exists solely to satisfy a regulatory requirement which specifically exists to distort the market away from what it wants and to force sales of what other people think you should buy.

        If you don’t like the Cygnet, don’t blame Aston. Blame the government regulations which forced it to be built.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        OTOH, the Cygnet may be the only car sold by one of Europe’s grand touring brands that weighs as much as a sports car should.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Sir Stirling bought a Cygnet for Lady Moss. http://www.autoblog.com/2011/07/12/stirling-moss-gets-an-aston-martin-cygnet-for-his-birthday/. I haven’t read any more details about this “purchase”. I suspect Aston Martin gave Sir Stirling the Cygnet out of respect for him and his skills and what he means to Aston. If they didn’t, they should have. I hope Sir Stirling is hooning the wee beastie around London.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    I heard one of these the other day. It’s exhaust was so loud I did a quick glance around for a mustang or camaro with loud pipes, but apparently it was the panamera S that had just passed me. I liked it.

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    Nice piece, Derek. Couldn’t agree more than those who truly have taste, money, and a sense of history, would prefer to spend their $160K on a pristine 500E and a classic air-cooled 911.

    • 0 avatar

      I really like the Panamera, but I am also a strong advocate of luxury sleepers, cars that exude elegance but will still show their back-ends to would-be-racers. Lately, anything that doesn’t look like a Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce doesn’t sell, and there is something to be said for the simplicity and understated-styling of the cars of yore.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    The era of the wolf in sheep’s clothing hasn’t really passed away yet. It just shows up in cars like the Genesis 5.0, 550i, E550, and IS350. The M5, E63, IS-F and Panamera have neither the understatement nor formality to fill the shoes the 500E left.

  • avatar
    jjklongisland

    I must admit, if I could afford a high end supercar one day, the Panamera. I am not a huge fan of Porsche’s but the Panamera to me is the most practicable of the impracticable cars made today. As a family man with a kid, who loves having a truck and somewhat of a sports car, this one hits the nail on the head for ultimate in practicable sports cars. The interior is awesome (I love buttons), the exterior is completely different than any other vehicle on the road, you can fit an adult in the back seat, and its the ultimate winery cruiser. Dreams….

  • avatar
    hubcap

    I’m no fan of the Cayenne but I can get behind the idea of the Panamera. I just wonder why Porsche decided to ape the 911. Let the Panamera be the Panamera. Porsche had a chance to make a beautiful sedan that offered world class performance. One out of two ain’t bad…I guess.

    And maybe it’s just me but I’d love to have a Porsche M3 fighter.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    You guys are as bad at being Porsche haters as Chris Harris is at being a blind Porsche shill

    The existence of the Cayemera have had no ill effect on the cars Porsche makes that matter. They are a company that makes money. Would you rather they ditch these profit generators and go the way of Lotus? Let’s be serious.

    Haha on the point about the proportionality between income inequality and automotive vulgarity. The Panamera is hideous, but at the end of the day its recognizable, which is all that matters to most of the folks who buy them

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      You really ought to drive a Panamera, before insinuating it has any more than the badge in common with the Cayenne. The Cayenne is a tarted up Tuareg. The Pan really is a true P. As in, if the guys at P had to come up with the best 4 door they could, based on the same criteria for “good” as the guys who design 911s apply to a rear engine 2 seater. Of course, even the 911 of today might not be pure enough for the air-cooled brigade, and as good as the Pan is at being a Porsche, I’d still rather see them do a 4 door with the engine in the rear. But even with the Bimmer layout, the Pan is still lower and much sportier feeling than even the M5. More like a hopped up, bulked up RX8.

      Anyway, the tranny isn’t really all that for cruising the “financial district”, but it does work wonders for LA-Vegas (or LA-anywhere) along back roads, which is what a GT is supposedly built for. If PNA could just offer the manual they supposedly sell in Europe, even mythical M3 Wagons could easily start coming off as also-rans. Particularly when their puny tanks leaves them stranded next to their CTS-V brethren somewhere in the Panamints :)

  • avatar
    cc-rider

    Nice article. Anything writing that praises the 500e gets my approval. I could care less that modern sedans can blow it doors off.

    My current project is a 95 E320 wagon with a 3.6 amg motor. My friend and I just got done with rebuilding the entire suspension and have brought it up to 500e specs.

  • avatar
    NorthwestT

    Maybe it was a long shot, but Inconvenient Truth won at least one Oscar. So maybe someone should place a bet on a W124 500E for today. I’d praise it on the internet.

  • avatar
    hachee

    The two car combo of 500E and a late model 993 is too awesome to contemplate and is pretty much perfection in my book.

    And you can count me among the many that hated the idea of the Cayenne and the Panamera and what they were “doing” to the Porsche brand and mystique. I understood the business argument, but I still didn’t like it. But then something funny happened. Maybe I just got used to the idea that they were here to stay, and I should stop fighting it. Yes, the Panamera really just doesn’t look too good (on the outside). Yes, most people who buy these things are buying them for the badge. Yes, I think it’s weird when I see a 60ish so woman driving one (and I just know she has no idea of its capabilities and that she’d be just as happy with a Lexus, or probably happier).

    And I’ve always gotten the “point” of the Panamera, even if I preferred the all sports car Porsche company of old. Sometimes a small sports car (like a 911) really doesn’t work for the guy with growing kids. And a big luxury car like an S Class or 7 Series or A8 is just too big, even if they are quite sporty in their sporty guises.

    But then I went along with a friend to a Porsche track event, and I drove a whole bunch of brand new Porsches, including a Panamera GTS. And while I haven’t driven any other recent big luxury cars, I honestly can’t imagine any being more desirable than the GTS. The car was awesome, period. The performance, the interior feel/design/quality/comfort, the sound – all just unbelievable. I like that it’s neither fish nor fowl. Now if they could just make it look better next time around….

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The 911 is a timeless, iconic design. The Panamera looks like a mocking, unflattering parody of that icon.

    I can appreciate that the trend these days is to brand cars around a common face. But Porsche took it too far by extending that approach to the rest of the car’s styling. It particularly fails at the rear, where the look is just grotesque.

    The resulting design looks like a 911 that is badly in need of a trip to a fat farm. There are other ubersedans that are more nicely proportioned, which is an easier task when there is no perceived obligation to crib every design cue possible from a uniquely shaped compact sports coupe.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I’d honestly prefer Porsche build cars like this than churn out more Boxsters for the “$30k millionaire” niche that just want a Miata with a Porsche badge to impress their friends.

    The “why” for this sedan is that it’s something unique and different instead of another Mercedes S class or 7 series BWW that are ubiquitous in affluent neighborhoods, or just another high dollar SUV.

    It’s my “second” favorite sedan, right behind the Audi A7, but is nowhere near the kind of money I typically throw at my cars.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      A Boxster is a “Miata with a Porsche badge”? Really? Seems like you haven’t driven either.

      But I give the both this: they are what they intend to be, serious sports cars at different price points, and with correspondingly different performance envelopes.

      But this thing is what? A car for a guy who wants to make sure he can dust off a Boxster at a stoplight and thereby tell himself that he’s cool because he has a “sports sedan”?

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      What in the world is a “$30k millionaire”? DC Bruce said it better than I could: “serious sports cars at different price points, and with correspondingly different performance envelopes.” Miatas have a strong on-line community with lots of helpful people. They are easy to maintain, repair, and (oh yes!) modify with common tools. I’m to cheap to get a Boxster. Any comments from Boxster drivers would be welcome.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    What they tried, design-wise, with the Panamera CAN work. Do a search-engine image search for Porsche 989. Granted, it was years ago, but they got it right the first time. This time, not so much…

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the earlier Panamera prototypes looked more like that 989 than does the final production version. It’s well known that Piëch insisted that the rear seat headroom be increased during development.

      • 0 avatar
        vaujot

        I think it was not Piech but then-CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, who insited on more rear seat headroom. AFAIK, Wiedeking is about 6’4″ while Piech is of significantly shorter stature.
        Photo evidence: http://www.n-tv.de/img/51/5113041/O_1000_680_680_DI10106-20120101.jpg2364732828238459139.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        OK, that makes more sense. And would also explain why I couldn’t find anything on the internet searching with Piech’s name. I knew I remembered the story about insisting on increased rear headroom, and I guess my brain just attributed it to Piëch because, well, he’s Piëch.

  • avatar

    I actually quite like the Panamera’s shape (no, really!). But at the same time, I understand your points about brands and their vehicles becoming watered-down and losing their identity in order to maximize profitability. Unfortunately, the truth is that purist-type products are disappearing because the demand for them is falling. The typical Porsche owner doesn’t WAN’T to arrive at his meeting drenched in sweat with his ears still ringing from the high-shrill of a flat-six engine. He wants to disembark from his commute smelling like cologne and leather. And he may not ever even explore the limits of the car. He wants his sports car to be his limousine too. And that’s where we get these jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none products.

    Still, some cars must remain sacred. For a princely sum you could have a Morgan Aero Supersports or a Weissman GT MF5 or a Shelby Supercars Ultimate Aero, all of which provide rich purist experiences.

    Or, failing those, you could build a kit-car. Find one already designed or take some pre-owned Corvette guts and stick them in a custom frame and body. This last option has Mister Mehta written all over it.

  • avatar
    kevnsd

    The 500E isn’t the only Benz that can work for an enthusiast. As it happens it was a beautiful day here on the New Hampshire seacoast and I decided to take the ’05 CLK 55 AMG Cabriolet to work. Took it easy on the way in at 6:00 but had a blast at lunch driving to York Maine on the very nice coastal route 103. Left the office at 4:00 and had a great run down 1A from Portsmouth to Rye. With just a single AMG badge on the trunk, different wheels and a very subtle lower front end treatment the CLK 55 is indistinguishable from its 320, 350, 500 and 550 cousins. But I’ll assure EVERYBODY reading this that with the top down on a sunny day and an interesting road to challenge you would have to have ice in your veins not to enjoy this ride. And with the traction nanny off even Baruth could enjoy himself in this well sorted German hot rod. Just sayin… and no disrespect to anyone with a different opinion or with issues with the three pointed star company.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “York Maine on the very nice coastal route 103″
      I’m jealous. Today, I was going to drive to Nubble Pt via Newburyport, Hampton, Rye, then 103 – and maybe a stop at the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away from work. 103 is awesome. Just one of many awesome roads in New England.

  • avatar
    hp12c

    Can’t help but think how much better it would be if Porsche designed something along the lines of a Tesla Model S rather than this thing.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    problem is… Porsche doesnt care and the (rich) public loves it… money talks and the mutant Porsches seem to sell well

    they also review pretty well… to compare to a Jaguar XF etc. misses the point in that the Porsche is tilted towards the driver. All the reviews tend to choose the Porsche if driver involvement is what you’re after.

  • avatar
    chris724

    I saw two Panameras on my drive into work this morning. I think my dad’s ’85 944 looked more cool. I learned to drive stick in that thing, and how not to kill myself on the country roads.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The Panamera is my favorite among Porsche’s products.

    Why must every Porsche be a 911 (or worse, an air-cooled 911), while every front-engine Porsche has been vilified over the years? Read old reviews of the 924, 928, and 944 to see what I mean.

    Typecasting kills any actor’s career; Porsche zealots do the same to the company they love when they love only the 911.

    • 0 avatar
      Darkhorse

      Good point. My first Porsche was 944 S2. Loved that car. It was nimble and fast but not harsh. Then I was seduced by the 911, in this case a 1994 RS America. It rode like a truck, had manual steering with wide tires. It was really a track car and not well suited for my daily commute. Sold it a year later.

  • avatar
    JohnTheDriver

    Another fine entry in TTAC’s never ending “Porsche Derangement Syndrome” series. What is it with Porsche and Apple products? Two brands that some people just love to hate. And the hatred spills over from the product to the people who purchase the product. And then the hilarity and shark jumping begins …

  • avatar
    LeeK

    I spotted seven of these cars driving in a convoy just north of Beijing last month. When I asked my Chinese friend about it, she said, “Oh, those are probably going to a wedding”. So Americans use stretched GM and Fords as their way of showing off at formal events, and it appears the Chinese are using Panameras. I think that bodes well for Porsche’s strategy of offering this vehicle over the outrage of the purists.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    A Jaguar is “infinitely” more elegant? Infinitely? But then, if so, how can it make “the same kind” of statement? I guess it must be the stupendous engine.

    Most people I know think the new Jags look pretty good…for a Lexus.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    “…what’s the point of the Panamera? . . . In this car, they are a simulacrum, a consolation prize given to you by Porsche because your wife wouldn’t let you by a 911.”

    I think you answered your own question… Even though it may read like a pithy joke, this was the solid demographic reason for its existence….

    Personally, I thin Porsche design would be infinitely more interesting if Stuttgart didn’t overuse the 911 design cues on every.damn.model…

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    “[I]t is neither fish nor fowl. It is dynamically brilliant but forever a mutt, stuck somewhere between supercar and sedan, with the worst attributes of both.”

    Since TTAC seems not to know what to call it, let me give it a name. It is a full-sized sport sedan. You know, like early BMWs before they became luxo-barges?

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Porsche went from S-cargo to I luv Turtle.
    it kind of looks like a cayenne squash from the top.

  • avatar
    Terrytori

    Panamera owner here, ( Panamera 4 ) laughing.

    terry


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