Our parents lied to us. From a young age they attempted to indoctrinate us with the idea that beauty exists only within and that book covers are untrustworthy fiends. And then we grew up and realized that we live in a superficial, shallow, surface-level, judgmental world and perhaps the only thing that our culture is clear about is that looks absolutely matter. It is this thought that dominated my mind after a weekend drive in a 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S.
Since its introduction in 2009 the automotive world has cried foul over the Panamera for mainly two reasons. There was the standard, collective, whine from the Porsche community about how the company had gone soft and turned its back on the 911 - you know, the usual. But more broadly the whimpering was, and still is, caused by the design. It was as if the creators started with a 911 and wondered how to move the engine forward, add two doors, and make it hatchback while still retaining some resemblance to the icon. Instead, the result was proof that the designers have a deep affinity for Quasimodo. The whole thing came together in a kind of strange, head-scratching, fumble of a design. Reactions at the Shanghai Motor Show that year must have been akin to the gasps that met the Homer. Regrettably, it was without the comic relief of La Cucaracha.
In the years since, we have seen Porsche make a nip here and a tuck there, but this of course has been more face lift than redesign. Nevertheless, if one told me Rosie O'Donnell came with a 420 horsepower twin-turbo V6 strapped to her I would have absolutely no qualms about giving her a go for the weekend. So when my friends at Pfaff Automotive in Toronto gave me the good word I accepted wholeheartedly.
This was a novel experience as my recent encounters with Porsche have been of the 911 sort. But what should be made of a non-sports car from the company? Fifteen years ago such a question would not have made much sense, however, things have since changed in a big way. We can no longer view Porsche as a sports car company, at least not if we're being honest with ourselves. They have quite obviously transcended that small, humble, light-weight sports car maker and have become a militant leviathan with imperialistic ambitions of global dominance. Political parallels should be avoided. But also, I wanted to avoid the painfully obvious question, 'Is the Panamera really a Porsche?'
To ask this question seems to also be asking if it is a sports car. And since we now cannot define Porsche solely as a maker of such cars the question seems a bit gimmicky at best. Further, plainly asking if it's a sports car is rather absurd given it's about 1300 lbs too heavy for that role. So what we have here is a rather homely, gigantic, very expensive (the tested car would be about $140,000), non-sports car, with a massive ass. Such conclusions can be reached even before buckling in.
And then I do buckle in and I realize that perhaps my parents were onto something. After merely a few kilometers I realize this is definitely a grand touring type of car. It covers distance with such ease that it seems to distort time. Also, I cannot see its face from the driver's seat and although that rump seems to be about 400 meters behind me from the rear view mirror, the car itself does not feel that large on the open road. In fact, the interior design seems to contradict the dimensions of the thing. Occupants are decadently cocooned in their respective quadrants surrounded by center consoles that resemble the dashboard of the Space Shuttle. Although there are about 6000 buttons and switches on said consoles they are somehow arranged in ergonomic perfection, each is very functional, and each satisfies that childish urge for a good button press.
Of course the 'sport plus' button attracts the most interest. Pushing this does indeed cause a transformation of sorts. No, I will not go back on my earlier claims about this not being a sports car, however, the touch of this button really causes the Panamera to do its best impression of one. The throttle awakens, the suspension firms up, and the whole car develops a sense of eagerness to it that coaxes the driver to cause a bit of trouble. This particular driver tried his best to avoid such trouble but I can attest to the fact that you would be an idiot to explore the limits of the 4S on the road. Introducing the right pedal to the floor is a seriously eyebrow raising, smile inducing, gut-wrenching affair. Take a corner with some speed and you are met with properly weighted steering and road holding that I didn't know existed outside of a 991. And this is in the cold and in the wet. Yes, it really is that impressive. Pushing the 4S leaves me with one pressing thought, what in the world would the Turbo S be like?
In actuality it also left me asking another question, does it matter what a daily driver looks like when it drives this well? Beautiful design seems to rest squarely in the domain of the Italians and the British and I typically would not refer to any modern German car as being 'gorgeous'. But really, when battling polar vortices and downtown traffic what could possibly matter less? This point was driven home when I parked the car underground in the heart of downtown Toronto. My rear passengers exited without receiving head trauma while also praising the backseat comfort; this gave purpose to that ostentatious backside. It was rather easy to park using the camera and sensors; this solved the issue of its size. And upon looking back at the parked car I realized thieves, vandals, and miscreants wouldn't bother with it because its face would scare them off. This is efficient and intelligent German design at its very peak.
I for one think perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the looks of the Panamera. When we begin to think in terms of efficiency we can see that the Panamera is perfectly suited for the environment in which it is mostly driven. Also apparent is that there is an interesting justification for its controversial design. And though I wouldn't call it pretty it does have a certain badassery about it from some angles. Combine this with a delightful ride and stellar performance and the enthusiast in me has no problem submitting to the German automotive overlords.
Returning the car was a bit of a melancholy affair contrasted with the upbeat atmosphere of a perpetually bustling Pfaff store. On a dreary and cold Monday morning in January I could have used the warm embrace of a big old brute, even one with the face of a Panamera.
The people at Pfaff Tuning are working on some really amazing project cars, be sure to check them out!