Cape Town - The latest furore in the local motoring landscape is the anointment of the Porsche Panamera as 2018 SA Car of the Year. It is rather embarrassing to have had four Zuffenhausen victories over the last six years but the problem lies not with the Panamera.
Enough is enough, is it not?
That might be the reaction of many a car lover – and even non-lovers with only a peripheral interest in the world of wheels – to the announcement of the Porsche Panamera as SA Car of the Year 2018.
Disappointed? Dismayed? Dazed and confused at the news that the highest accolade in SA motoring has, yet again, been bestowed on a Zuffenhausen product – the fourth in six years?
Or are you simply 'die dônner in' at the ongoing Porsche/COTY love affair? Don’t be.
Not in this case.
Unlike 2013 and 2014 – when the Boxster and Cayman S galloped to COTY honours, courtesy of somewhat naïve and immature jury sentiments – the latest Porsche victory can be explained in one very simple sentence: the Panamera might just be the best car that’s yet been built, in the 132 years since Karl Benz’s Velocipede.
So, douse the flames, calm down and let’s analyse Zuffenhausen’s contributions to the motoring world over the last 12 months. Today’s article will cover the Panamera, whilst the 911 GTS, GT3 and GT2 RS will follow soon.
Read them as one single message, and you’ll discover why the Panamera is the new COTY king. Porsche is, right now, simply one of the best car manufacturers on the planet.
What do you think of the 2018 SA Car of the Year winner? Does it deserve the title? Email us
Panamera range and electric power
Excluding Sport Turismo models as well as long-wheel based Executive versions, Porsche’s second-generation Panamera (internally coded as G2) is represented by seven models, all of which are available locally.
The range starts to kick butt straight out of the blocks with an entry-level rear-wheel driven Panamera, before it goes all-wheel drive from the Panamera 4 upwards, swapping V6 power for V8 grunt when signage on the neatly shaped rump – now so much sharper than before – reads “Panamera turbo”.
That’s a lot of firepower, right there – 405kW and 770Nm to be exact, in the Turbo S version – all of which is boosted, by an electric motor, to 500kW and 850Nm once the word “e-hybrid” (trimmed in a yellow-green neon) has found its way onto various Panamera body panels.
At least for the time being, brake callipers in precisely this neon-lit Acid Green denote hybrid power, whilst blue clues (like all-blue rims) might yet turn out to be Zuffenhausen’s signature colour for full electric.
For the purposes of this review, we’ll stick to the car that was entered for COTY 2018, the Panamera 4 (see below).
But first, a little note on the E Hybrid.
During the car’s international launch a year ago in Cape Town, I took it for a couple of drives in and around the Mother City.
The first 40km – covered at an average speed of almost 40km/h in Sunday afternoon traffic on Rhodes Drive, the old De Waal Drive, the new Philip Kgosana leading into Gardens and then up the hill over Kloofnek, on to Camps Bay and Clifton – were almost exclusively covered on battery power.
Fuel consumption, in fact, averaged 1.2 litre/100km. Think about the implications if you live within a 40km range of your office, whilst using the Panamera E Hybrid for daily transport, five times a week, charging the car during down time at either end of your commutes.
The second eye-opener came during a run on Cape Town’s famed Blue Route, with the Hybrid easily reaching 138km/h – all on pure electric power – before traffic forced a back-off.
Those are impressive real-world figures. Porsche are at the forefront of making the future happen. Last year’s slinky all-electric Mission E four-door sports coupé (with two electric motors, one nestling between the front wheels, the other between the rears) will go on sale in 2019, whilst this year’s follow-up at the Geneva Motor Show was a CUV (Cross Utility Vehicle) called Mission E Cross Turismo.
Check the “connected drone” released from the Cross Turismo’s luggage compartment in the following video and note the car’s Sport Turismo-like rear.
The latter, in fact, was the donor car for the development of the Cross Turismo concept.
And that’s as good a start as a car could possibly get, seeing that the Sport Turismo, in turn, is basically a wagon version of the Panamera itself.
Panamera 4 and COTY
So, what is it that makes SA’s latest Car of the Year so formidable?
The G2 iteration of Porsche’s sport limousine stretches to almost 50mm beyond 5 meters, whilst the Panamera 4 variant, as it was entered for COTY, weighs in at 1.85 ton.
Now, that might sound like a lot, but for a 5 meter-long luxury car it’s not. The Mercedes-Benz S450, also driving all four wheels from a 3.0-liter V6, weighs in at 2.1 ton, equivalent to a Panamera 4 with two Eben Etzebeths in the back.
The Benz mill is an absolute work of art: smooth, creamy, strong and refined and a bit more so, on every count, than the Panamera 4’s 3.0-liter V6, the latter charged by a single turbo, the Merc by a bi-turbo.
To be fair, the rankings are reversed when Porsche’s 2.9-liter V6 – this time as a bi-turbo – is dropped into the Panamera 4S.
Yet, even with the older, less powerful single turbo V6 the Panamera 4 is that tiny little bit quicker than the Benz S450, courtesy of its weight advantage.
One quick glance will confirm that the Panamera has indeed been slimmed down; G1’s hunchback, for starters, has been styled out of the aesthetic equation.
In its place G2 boasts a svelte fly line flowing from a roof that never rises higher than 1.423 m.
That’s low. Watch the Panamera on the road and the first thing you’ll notice is how flat and almost stealth-like it seems to be. G2 is lithe and lean. It carries its newly-shaped body with ease and grace, even on standard issue 19” wheels.
Ride and handling
Now, the Panamera 4, as entered for COTY, rolled on massive 20” wheels, shod with low profile rubber (275/40-ZR20’s at the front, 315/35-ZR20’s at the rear) which could have led to a catastrophe in terms of ride quality, seeing that a good ride is central to luxury car aspirations.
So, how then to balance sporty aspirations with this crucial aspect of the luxury drive? The latter cries out for higher profiled tyres; the aforementioned for the opposite.
On the Panamera 4, Porsche found a quite acceptable mean on standard steel suspension. On more expensive models, G2 is equipped with new three-chamber (versus two-chamber) air springs. The increase in air volume is 60% and the improvement in ride quality is noticeable, hiking it up at least to a level comparable with that of big, fast and expensive Merc-AMGs.
That’s a huge test and a massive Nike tick for the Panamera, to be on a par, even when indexing the car’s weakest suit – for the Porsche really shines in other disciplines. Like handling.
The latter is not so much outstandingly good, as it is outrageously good. Dynamically, the G2 reigns over the luxury segment like a Caesar over Rome. You can barrel into corners, chuck five meters of metal around, fling it and go bonkers, but the Panamera will stick.
The Michelin Pilot Sports might squeal a bit in tighter stuff, but what you’ll get in terms of dynamic behaviour won’t be called understeer. Pictures might show the Panamera not to be on a dead even keel through the apex, but from within the car the compression of the outer springs is so progressive and contained and damping is so smooth and well-controlled that the lean angle won’t ever be classified as body roll.
With air springs, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) will even limit the outer units, especially at the front, to single chamber usage, if only for a second or two, to stabilize the car and improve control. PDCC also uses electric motors to tighten up active front and rear anti-roll bars, whilst Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus) sharpens the car’s rotation and improves traction.
So, there’s a technical marvel, right there, no matter how you dress the chassis up. Even on steel springs, the Panamera displays a remarkably flat posture with phenomenal grip and traction. Car balance is well-nigh on perfect and the electro-mechanical ZF steering system spot-on: quick, sharp, easy, accurate, fluid, alive, never too tight, rarely too light.
G2 also offers rear wheel steering, if you so wish.
The end result, even without the fancy stuff – to which you can add Sport Chrono and the like – is that 1.85 tons of Panamera can perform mind-bogglingly impressive road gymnastics.
And just as an interesting little factoid: the total lines of computing code are now a 100 million strong!
Image: Wheels24 / Janine Van der Post
Gearbox, packaging and cabin
Panamera G2 is all new, from the floor up: platform, chassis, engines, gearbox, infotainment, electronic architecture, electronic driver aid systems, infotainment, connectivity, styling, dash, materials. . .
The body-in-white is even built in a new plant, with new techniques; G2’s outer aluminium skin, including the roof and floor, is glued to the body-in-white’s steel structure by a newly-developed bonding process.
All of that was important in getting to a target weight of 1850kg, to begin with.
But packaging also received a lot of attention.
As a grand turismo, see, the Panamera has never been destined to carry a bigger mill than the Turbo’s new 4.0-litre V8. To reach into the power stratosphere, V8 delivery would have to be augmented by electric motors. And to create enough space for such components between the gearbox and the V8, the old 7-speed PDK box had to go.
ZF was therefore tasked to supply a 142 mm-shorter box with an extra ratio, to improve consumption, plus the ability to handle 1000 Nm, resulting in a wonderfully quick, efficient and smooth 8-speed PDK.
The rest of the car’s packaging has been equally clever. Notwithstanding a low roof, relatively narrow side windows, an upright dash (in Porsche’s classic sports idiom) and a feeling of being well-ensconced, the cabin also creates a relaxed sense of calm and silence, mostly via smooth contours, clean surfaces, slimline seats and a brilliant new dash with haptic-reactive control.
The clarity and precision of icons, for instance, are astonishing. Ditto for materials, stitching and fit-and-finish.
It all adds up to cool modern elegance of the sort that you won’t even find in a Lear jet. The Panamera, besides, can fly just as well.
It’s road legal, too. And parks a lot easier.
I understand the uproar about the Panamera’s COTY win. It is simply wrong to bestow South Africa’s ultimate motoring accolade on one Porsche after another.
But here’s the dilemma: should you penalize a car as brilliant as this one, for the sins of the past? In 2013, the BMW 3-series should have won, no questions asked. In 2014, it should have been the Golf or the Audi A3, finish and klaar.
But never the Boxster and the Cayman S. Not with the type of competition they faced.
Even this year, I would have been happy with any of the cars that eventually filled positions 2 to 5 on the final score sheet: the Volvo S90, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Suzuki Ignis and Kia Picanto, in that order.
My own personal score sheet read: Panamera, S90, Giulia, Picanto and Ignis, all closely bunched together – and before factoring in the weight allocated to each different judging criterium: engine, gearbox, design, ride quality, value for money, overall excellence, etcetera.
In an ideal world, I thought, affordability should have been weighted in such a way that the Panamera, Ignis and Picanto should end up in a dead heat, right at the top, with the Volvo and Alfa nipping at their heels.
Any of these cars would then have been a deserved winner. It was clear, in any case, that it would be close; this has been one of the two best fields of finalists ever, 2014’s being the other.
It was equally clear, from the off, that the Panamera had the potential to win, if only by the narrowest of margins.
That the car impressed COTY judges enough to do so, is further proof that Porsche, right now, is on top of its game – and on top of the game.
So, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to the latest SA Car of the Year. If ever there was a luxury limo that deserved the ultimate accolade, it is the Porsche Panamera.
PS: Look out for Egmont Sippel’s soon-to-be-published report on Porsches current 911 crop, including the mighty GT2 RS.