Let's get this out of the way first: It is possible for the entire world to be wrong about a thing.
Case in point – the 2011 Porsche Panamera.
Motor Trend called it "styling by Jelly Belly."
USA Today said it was "an ugly, elongated lump with a stretched hood ill-suited to the hatchback rear."
And Jeremy Clarkson called it "uglier than an inside-out monkey." (If you don't know who Jeremy Clarkson is, put down this magazine and don't come back until you've seen a season's worth of episodes)
Yes, it is possible for the entire world to be wrong about a thing. Because it's F'ing beautiful. We've now had the Porsche Panamera twice, and both times, strangers have posed for pictures with it in parking lots – even in towns where cars with six-figure price tags are common. Valets have parked it out in front of other European luxury cars, so that it would be seen. Women have walked by, trailing their fingers along its flanks.
Don't get us wrong – we know it's got a lot of ass. But the look is just right for this car. It looks better in person than in pictures, and people react to it with a primal lust. It's what we all feel when, after Hollywood throws a million botoxed waifs at us, Christina Hendricks walks into the room. It changes the situation, this kind of beauty.
Yep, Clarkson's full of it, as usual. The Panamera may have had long-time Porsche lovers screaming that a four-door, front-engine Porsche weighing in at 4,000 pounds – but it's a whole new kind of gorgeous.
When it first hit dealerships, Porsche purists were as upset about the luxury of the Panamera as they were about finding the engine up front. A Porsche, they said, was supposed to be minimalist inside. Added features were just added weight.
But this is a different kind of car, and its sumptuous cabin is just right for what it is.
The leather is exquisite. We drove a black V8 with tan leather and a blue V6 with grey, and trust is, the tan color looks a cut above the others. But both are soft and supple.
The Panamera offers four bucket seats, rather than the rear bench you'll find even in many of the most luxurious cars. Porsche engineers developed a new, highly-supportive and luxurious sport seat for the Panamera, then took the unusual step of mounting it at all four positions. It makes the rear seats as adjustable and comfortable as the front – V8 models even offer integrated heating and cooling in the rear.
But the driver's seat is still the place to be. A high center console separates it from the passenger's seat, giving the impression you're sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet. An endless row of buttons down the center gives the same feel – but here, you'll want to opt for the 400 horsepower V8. In that beastly thing, there are buttons to raise and lower the car, buttons to adjust the firmness of the suspension, even a button to open baffles in the pipes, deepening the engine's throaty roar. In the 300 horsepower V6 we tested, many are missing – blank buttons in their places leaving you to wonder what features you didn't pay enough to get.
To be completely honest, you'll want the V8 on the road, too. Oh, the V6 is plenty quick. It'll post a six second zero-to-sixty time…something very few cars that will carry four adults in comfort can ever say. But the V8 is monstrous. It gets to 60 in 5.2 seconds, and feels even faster. But the difference is more than raw speed. It's torque, road feel, and glorious noise.
Both engines run their power through Porsche's mind-blowing PDK seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which shifts gears faster than you can think "time to sh…"
Both models, however, break the laws of physics once things are underway. A 4,000-pound car should not corner like a Formula One car. But it does. A car that is four inches shorter than a full-length minivan should not hold as tight a line in a hard corner as a Lotus Elise. But it does. The suspension engineers who tuned the Panamera should be given the task of settling all Middle Eastern disputes on a Tuesday afternoon. These guys can do the impossible.
So, yes, the Porsche Panamera is everything the iconic Porsche 911 is not. It carries its engine up front. Its back seat is extraordinarily comfortable. And it's long enough to carry four large adults in luxurious comfort. But the purists are wrong – this thing is every bit as sporty and ferocious as anything Stuttgart has ever built, and it's worthy of the Porsche name.
After two rounds in the 2010 Panamera, we have only one complaint – that V6 model. Though it’s 11 grand cheaper, it just doesn't make sense.
The easiest way to explain the difference is this – both engines come with a start-stop function. An idea borrowed from hybrid cars, it shuts the engine off at stoplights to keep it from idling and wasting gas. The engine re-starts as soon as you step on the go-fast pedal.
But the engine doesn't just re-start in the V8 model. It detonates. It shakes the whole car (literally – we had coffee spill in the driver's side cup holder). Small animals scurry up nearby trees. Small children cling to their mothers' knees. Women's skirts blow up to waist level. It's terrifying.
In the V6 model, it sounds like an engine starting up. It's an impressive engine, laying down 300 horsepower. But it doesn't sound life-altering. It doesn't startle everyone else in traffic.
Which defeats the purpose of a car like the Panamera. A car like this should be terrifying. A car like this doesn't make sense unless it intimidates the neighbors every time it launches.
All Panameras are Christina-Hendricks-in-a-tight-dress beautiful, no matter what you may have heard. But only the 400 horsepower V8 models (and the 500 horsepower turbo editions) strike fear into passersby with their awful noise – and have that little button that turns it up, if for some reason someone decides not to run.