For a company that built its reputation on two-door sports cars, going into “mass” market four-door vehicles seemed rather unthinkable at the time.
However, with the runaway success of the luxury Cayenne sports utility vehicle introduced in 2002, Porsche ventured into another four-door model – the Panamera grand tourer – in 2009.
Today, both the Cayenne and Panamera are Porsche’s most sought after vehicles, outselling the two-door sports models which were the company’s only products almost a decade ago.
The Panamera, which looks pretty much like an elongated 911 model with two more doors, was available with a 400bhp 4.8-litre engine when it was launched.
To widen the car’s appeal, various engine specifications soon rolled out – among them a 550bhp 4.8-litre twin turbo, a frugal 3.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid and a 3.6-litre entry variant which I took for a spin recently.
Having tested the blistering 400bhp Panamera S a couple of years back, I had initial doubts whether a V6 3.6-litre engine packing 300bhp or a deficit of 100bhp could still pack the punch.
After all, the Panamera is quite a sizeable vehicle that is wider than a Mercedes-Benz S Class albeit a bit shorter and lower.
But there is something extra that the Panamera has – aluminium construction for its hood, front wings, doors, tailgate and a large portion of the chassis, engine and transmission – that makes the car comparatively lighter at 1,760kg or some 140kg less than the S 350. This translates into a more agile car.
Driving the Panamera out from local distributor Sime Darby Auto Performance’s office in Shah Alam, a stomp on the accelerator was enough to convince me that the 3.6-litre engine shared with the Cayenne was still gutsy enough for the daily adrenaline fix.
The Panamera claims a 0-100kph sprint in 6.3 seconds and top speed of 259kph, which I can say pulls it ahead in the performance game against its similar-powered albeit usually heavier Teutonic rivals.
While it loses out in speed and acceleration to the V8 Panamera S, the entry level engine, boasting direct injection and VarioCam Plus technology, makes up for this with some 11% better fuel economy at 9.3-litre per 100km in a combined driving cycle.
Though the dark interior does not differ much from its more powerful sibling, getting into the driver’s seat of the Panamera is always a moment to savour.
A low seating position with bucket-like leather seats and a Vertu phone-inspired high centre console that runs all the way to the rear seats conjures up a wraparound feel of piloting a fighter jet rather than a driving car.
The instrument cluster is a five-dial type, consisting of tachometer, speedometer, fuel, water temperature and oil pressure readings as well as a small LCD screen for displaying sat-nav and vehicle information.
All four seats are individually adjustable and moulded in similar form so the seating experience is pretty much the same whether you are at the front or rear.
Besides getting their own air conditioner with settings for blower speeds and temperature, rear passengers can also cosy up to generous elbow space and legroom. Even those above six feet will still have enough head room.
Its standard adaptive air suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) can alter the ride and damping modes from comfort to stiff (Sport Plus).
But as the unit I drove came with the optional 20-inch wheels instead of the standard 18-inch type, the ride was quite firm even when I had set the car to comfort mode.
However, this did not cause the ride to be fussy or uncomfortable on rough patches.
I also did not mind the larger wheels as I felt they accorded the rear-wheel-drive Panamera sharper handling and better road grip during the fast drive up the twisty stretches of Genting Highlands.
Steering feedback and precision were very good for a car of the Panamera’s size, taking corners gracefully. The PASM did its job well to resist body roll and keep the car level at all times.
Going up Genting Highland is effortless for the Panamera, even with the accelerator at half throttle.
From a standing start, cars with dual clutch transmissions are not usually as smooth on the initial take-off compared to a torque convertor automatic.
The seven-speed Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) seems to be the smoothest by comparison so far. Once the Panamera gets going, the PDK executes gear changes seamlessly.
At cruising speeds, the interior is quiet but mild wind noise starts creeping in around 160kph. A retractable rear spoiler deploys itself automatically above 90kph to provide additional downforce.
A standard Panamera costs RM740,000 and comes equipped with eight airbags, Porsche Stability Management, seven-inch colour touchscreen display, Park Assist with front and rear sensors, bi-xenon headlights and power tailgate. Included is a four-year warranty, and a four-year/100,000km free service and maintenance package.
The unit I tested was kitted to the hilt with no less than 30 optional items, among them the special GT Silver paint work, sunroof, Porsche crest embossed on seat headrests, reverse camera, BOSE Surround system and Sport Chrono clock, that add some RM140,000 to the final price.
At that price, the Panamera is a strong alternative to traditional luxury limousines. It has the Porsche sporting pedigree which its rivals lack.