The first-generation Porsche Panamera was a classy saloon that offered a sportier alternative to cars like the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A7. While you got a high-quality interior, fantastic handling and plenty of punch in most variants, it was hard to recommend due to high running costs and so-so levels of practicality.
Despite appearances, Porsche decided to start with a clean sheet of paper for its second-generation super saloon. The looks may be a sharper evolution of the dumpy original, but under the skin is a new chassis, suspension, engine and gearbox. There’s more space, improved economy and even more performance.
That’s especially true of the initial diesel offering. While the original Panamera oil-burner offered similar acceleration times to a hot hatchback, the new Panamera 4S Diesel is fast enough to outpace the quickest current Cayman or Boxster.
What's the 2016 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel like to drive?
The secret to the Panamera’s prodigious acceleration sits under the long bonnet - a 4.0-litre V8 with a pair of turbochargers. You may be drawn to the 416bhp power output, but more telling is that peak torque is available from just 1000rpm.
This makes the engine remarkably strong at low revs; capable of flinging the Panamera up the road at great speed with the merest flex of your right foot. Tread gently however, and you’ll find the engine spinning at barely over idle as you cruise down the road.
Not only is that good for economy, it also means the engine is virtually inaudible much of the time. Ask it for a little more acceleration and it’ll grumble a little, while full throttle sees it emitting the kind of noise that only a V8 could.
The new gearbox – an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic – proves smooth under normal use, yet it’s capable of rapid shifts in Sport Plus mode. It doesn’t get flustered even if you suddenly switch from a gentle cruise to full throttle, it simply drops into a lower gear to enable hard acceleration.
Standard-fit four-wheel drive ensures all the power reaches the road; accelerating hard out of low speed bends did little to upset the balance of the car despite our best efforts. Indeed, the way this sizable saloon can get down a road is deeply impressive.
In Normal mode, the ride is comfortable over all but the sharpest-edged bumps. What’s surprising is that even in Sport or Sport Plus mode, the ride is still bearable. You do feel more of the imperfections in the road and it does jiggle you around more, but it never crashes, bangs or bounces.
What it does do is reduce body lean to a minimum, helping to give the Panamera a real feeling of agility in spite of its two-tonne kerbweight. There are, however, two flies in the ointment. The first is the steering; it’s very precise but is lacking in feedback from the front tyres. The second is the sheer size of the car – you need a wide road to confidently push the Panamera hard.
What's the 2016 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel like inside?
Porsche may not have any trouble making a car handle, but we’ve had our reservations about its interiors. Although you can’t fault the quality, the myriad of buttons between the front seats looked messy and it could be hard to find what you’re looking for.
For the new Panamera, Porsche has moved many of the controls to a touch sensitive panel with other functions controlled via a 12.3in touchscreen in the centre of the dash. At first glance, it looks good but can prove problematic on the move. You often have to look down to see what you’re prodding while the steering wheel blocked off part of the infotainment display.
To help deliver even more information, a pair of configurable 7.0in screens flank the rev-counter. They’re effective, but still not as impressive as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit in their clarity or ease of use. We also found the electronic aiming of the central air vents front and rear to be more of a gimmmick than actual progress.
A small growth spurt has certainly helped practicality. The rear seats have enough head and leg room for a couple of six-foot plus adults, even with six-footers up front. Meanwhile, the boot is big enough to swallow four suitcases, although the load lip remains on the high side.
Should I buy one?
In the world of luxury saloons, the Panamera remains a niche choice. The Mercedes S-Class offers more interior room and a comfier ride, while a BMW 740d xDrive is plenty quick enough for most people.
That said, a sporty luxury car is always going to be a niche, and it’s one the Panamera fills very well. It’s remarkably agile, fast and – with official fuel consumption of more than 42mpg – potentially pretty frugal, too. If you can live with the hefty price tag, you won’t be disappointed.
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2016 Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel
Engine size 4.0-litre diesel
Price from £91,788
Torque 627lb ft
Top speed 177mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 42.2mpg
CO2/BIK band 176g/km/35%