By on June 23, 2012

After several hours of slinging a 991 Carrera S around the track (review to follow), I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to relinquishing the keys to the Porker for the keys to the, uh, porker. I was here to drive both cars, and I’d already had plenty of up-close views of the Pano through the windscreen of the 911 as it clogged up turn 3, seeming to flop over on its flank like the wounded Bismark.

Back of the pack out on the grid, I waved several 911s and a heavily-modified Evo ahead out of politeness, not wishing to be the clot in this small, fast group of experienced drivers (with one notable exception). Nice and easy through turn one and two, squeezing on the throttle a bit through the back straight, with an eye to unforgiving concrete barriers and a thought to the coldness of the tires and the track.

Over the hump at turn two, swing wide out to the right and squeeze on the power as I straighten out the wheel, and suddenly I’m thinking: well that’s not right.

Not right at all….

I love this thing!

As a card-carrying P-car enthusiast since childhood days of picking the nerdy 959 over the humina-humina F40, I know that I’m contractually obligated to hate the Panamera. It’s ostentatious. It’s enormous. It’s affront to the purity of the Porsche brand, and a Axe-body-spray-scented slap in the face to Ferdinand’s air-cooled ideals, etc.

It’s got huge tracts of land, but I can’t even come up with a clever way to describe the way it looks. The 911’s fat cousin? An 928 on Extenze? A Cayenne that got stuck in Willy-Wonka’s taffy-puller? Two Caymans having “relations”?

Still, this GTS has an attractive wheel package – which despite massive diameter, is somewhat overwhelmed by gargantuan swathes of sheetmetal in the rear. And it’s red: it’s a sow, but at least it’s a Rote-Sau.

Piloting it through the pit-lane, the steering feels a bit “hard a-starboard!” with the quickness of the 991 rack fresh in your mind. Then there’s the mass of the thing, that heavy V8 out in front and a lengthy wheelbase. Mission is a tight track, a brake-eater with short straights and off-camber curves.

Certainly, not a suitable battlefield for near-two-tonnes of titanic teuton. And in a field that includes an Ultima with a Z06 heartbeat, two GT3s, an F430 and a coupla 911 Turbos, the Pano should be a rolling-roadblock – particularly with yours slowly at the wheel.

But it ain’t.

Remember that grapefruit-sized sensory organ scienticians recently found in the largest whales? It’s intended to aid in lunge-feeding and, wouldn’t you know it, they’ve stuffed one in the nose of this Panamera.

“Lunge” is the perfect description for what big red does when you’ve got the wheel unwound and are flexing your right foot en pointe. “Wooooof!” growls the 4.8L V8 and the GT3 that out-braked you for the corner suddenly shrinks in the rearview mirror.

Trail-brake into turn four and don’t just clip the apex, devour the curb with a satisfied *glumph*: with cheater all-wheel-drive and the curb-weight of Australia, the Pano is as impossible to unsettle as a steamroller GTi.

Out wide for the throwaway 5, a blast through six, wheel-straight hard-braking on 7, a damn-the-torpedoes straight shot through the chicanes and then a late apex out; swing right as we use all the track exiting on to the ex-dragstrip long straightaway and unleash the… wait, lift-throttle.

This is a driver-training day, not a track event, and it’s point-to-pass. I’m suddenly crammed up behind the 991 and a 997 C4S: nobody wants to get passed by the Panamera.

After a moderate lap with my instructor admonishing me to stop trying to stuff the Red Menace into the 991 under braking, we pull into the pit lane for a slow crawl-through to create space.

There’s plenty of track to go around, but when we come out the far side, I’m just ahead of a 996 turbo and an F430. Through turn two I’ve already got my hand out the window and am pointing them both past: journalists trying out the 991 is one thing, I’m not going to ruin the day for the really quick cars.

Both lighter cars go hammering past, brake properly and are dwindling on the horizon as I pick back up the double-bass handling rhythm of the Pano. The trick seems to be in the trail-braking to get the nose to bite, though once the big car’s turning, the AWD lets you stomp-throttle a little early.

We cycle through Cascade Corners and… catch up to the Ferrari on the back straight? He squirts ahead on the chicanes and then we’re both apexing out onto the straight and… and that Ferrari’s not going anywhere.

Both it and the turbo 911 run through another lap just ahead of the Pano; two squirrels fleeing a big panting labrador. The brakes are starting to feel a bit mushy, but still haul the big car up short time after time.

Look, I’m no hot shoe. In this business, braggadocio and ego are commonplace; trackday stories are always full of 11/10ths exploits and unlikely giant-slaying. Put it plainly, I don’t normally do the track-day gigs because that’s not my thing. I’m – theoretically – just like you: a mere mortal behind the wheel. Feel free to take my dynamic analysis with a grain of salt.

But as we circle slowly through the last cool-down lap, I reflect back on the day and came to a curious realization. The 991 flowed beautifully, but the Panamera?

Clifford the big red Porsche made me laugh, where the 911 didn’t. Good car.

Sorry, it costs how much?

Porsche provided the cars tested and instruction time with Morrisport, whose instructors are like Job, except more patient.

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27 Comments on “Clifford The Big Red Porsche...”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Huh. I looked at the first pic and figured they were both 911s, one slightly older and therefore slightly less lardy.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the great read Brendan. Now if only I can find that winning lottery ticket I left lying around somewhere…

  • avatar

    This posting features lots of what I like best about TTAC: received wisdom is acknowledged, but not worshipped. Writer takes his subject more seriously than he takes his ego. New things learned, fun had by all. Well done.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 mshenzi. It comes through in Brendan’s writing. He takes cars seriously, writing seriously, and humor seriously, but he never takes himself seriously.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on this as well. It’s not always easy to put one’s expectations and preconceptions aside when approaching and examining something. Nicely done, Brendan. A fun vehicle with huge tracks of land. Great stuff.

  • avatar

    This is an interesting conterpoint to Jack Baruth’s articles on the Panamera – good for TTAC for allowing different points of view.

    I see these quite often downtown where I work. Although I have never driven one, and am definitely not in the market for anything in this market segment, I can’t get past the looks.

    If I wanted a fast, luxurious, sedan I would either save a whole lot of cash and pick up a CTS-V, or save up a bit more and go for a Rapide.

  • avatar

    Beautiful car. Glad it drives as good as it looks.

  • avatar

    Love the Monty Python reference!

  • avatar

    I’m in the minority here, but if I were in the market for a serious luxury saloon, I’d definitely look at a Panamera.

    I thought they were smart looking from day one, and if nothing else, there is nothing quite like it on the market.

    I’d like to see Hyundai/Lexus/Infiniti try to rip this one off as they have MB/BMW/Audi oh so often…

  • avatar

    Brendan, how did you find the steering feel in the 991? You mentioned the quickness vs. the Pano, but not anything about feel and feedback. That’s been the major complaint I’ve seen everywhere about the 991 – the “this ain’t no 911” electric steering.

  • avatar

    I’m sure it’s a very nice car but I’m not sure why I would buy it compared to another more practical 4 sedan from the likes of Audi, BMW or MB. Not that I could afford it mind you.

  • avatar

    Reading the story, the car sounded great. Fortunately, the placement of photos of the car prevented me from forgetting what the subject matter really was.

  • avatar

    Big, heavy for its segment, rear- or all-wheel drive, large V-8, tarted-up interior. Okay, how is this substantially different from a Charger SRT-8?

    It’s a serious question. They are both unlikely track cars, but Baruth had mostly good things to say about the dark-horse first-gen Chrysler 300 on track. The second-gen Charger SRT-8 would have to be better, right? Let’s compare them, see what happens.

  • avatar

    I know I’m on an island here, but I love the look of the Panamera. It’s big, weird, expensive-looking and silly. I’ve found myself more and more drawn to bizarre German muscle-rockets, such as this and the over-the-top Black Series AMGs, over their more serious counterparts lately (I.E. every new BMW M-car of this generation except for the 1M).

    Maybe part of it is the contrarian in me – the super-serious, muted-color, silver-and-black-only look that forum fanboys think is the only way to go in German cars is absolutely boring to me. This thing is quirky, comedic and looks like an absolute blast.

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    Great read, thanks. I like the Panamera from the front and the idea behind it. I can only hope that the next generation will be more successfully executed from a styling standpoint.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure if the Panamera gets more grief for being a four door Porsche and Porsches shouldn’t have that many doors or because it’s so damn ugly. Either way at least it performs like it should.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the Panamera.

      I think it gets grief because so many Porschefiles believe the only true Porshe is rear-engined. Hard-core Believers eschew water-cooled engines, too. The hatred began with the 928.

  • avatar

    For me, cars like this don’t make a whole lot of sense simply because they are too expensive. At this price point, I can have a sedan to do boring sedan duties AND have a sports car. Both cars cost much less and are less compromised by trying to do all things. However, for the man or woman who has everything, I guess a car like this makes sense

  • avatar

    I understand that if you cover the badge and don’t look at it the outside it’s one of the most brilliant cars ever made. Still, I don’t see my self lookingly over my shoulder at this car as I walk away from it in a parking like I would a Quattroporte, Aston Martin Rapide, Audi A8/S8, or Jag XJ (no 7 series or S class for me. To big, heavy, frumpy, and gadget filled).

  • avatar

    Yes, absolutely. I was neck and neck with one of these babies on the New Jersey Turnpike yesterday. We had wild sprints up to 5 mph. We growled, and huffed and puffed. We went 2 mph for about an hour. His efforts to make everyone in his path disappear at the sight of him tailgating were unsuccessful.

    Its more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow. My VW was right at home at 3 mph, the porsche? The driver’s toupee was wet with sweat, his face twisted up in a snarl.

  • avatar

    Agreed. Without the winning lottery ticket or equivalent income stream this car makes no sense whatsoever. However, for the market segment it’s made for, what’s the better highway cruiser that doesn’t cringe when mountains get in the way? I know Top Gear are posers etc. but the better sound of the Maserati or looks of the Rapide wouldn’t pull me away from the combination of road prowess and comfort offered by brand P *IF* price were no object. It is though. So, for me, this car is ridiculous. Somewhat like an enormous friendly talking red dog that lives on an island and eats a boatload of food at a sitting. But I do love that it exists in someone else’s real world. Makes me smile.

  • avatar

    The first sign that you don’t do many track days is that you are still attached to the idea that the car has any relationship to someone’s pace.

    Up in the advanced groups, it does matter, but anywhere else, it really is the drivers, not the cars. And some of the slowest drivers I’ve seen on tracks are in Ferraris. But I always give anyone credit for getting their car out there.

    As for the Panamera – the problem I have with it is that it can only make the numbers through tire use. Almost every journalist is super-excited that it’s fast. Yay. They only drive it for a day or two. The problem is that it needs new tires constantly when driven that way. At Porsche events, they were doing tire changes midday.

    No matter how much money one has, getting new tires every track day is a major PITA. I’d rather have an honest luxury car and an honest sports car than that ridiculous beast.

  • avatar
    CA Guy

    Good choice of word, imag. I see lots of Panameras in SoCal and virtually all of them are driven by petite women who appear to be struggling to park the beasts in the tight confines of the westside communities of LA. And they are beasts in my opinion; one of the ugliest cars on the road, a modern day version of the bathtub Nash Airflyte.

  • avatar

    Funny timing on this story for me.
    I had a choice of spending the Friday with a Cayenne Hybrid or a Panamera. I fall into the “The Panamera is far from attractive” crowd.

    That said, I didn’t want to give it back. I actually had a base Panamera 4 so only 300 HP and while it might not be the quickest model, it was certainly quick enough.

    My wife was stunned when I told her “I could forget how ugly this thing was from the inside. If I had $86K laying around I’d be keeping this car”.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    I guess the laughing part comes after you discover the price. Pricing for P-cars in Canada is seriously comical.

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