Is a diesel Porsche a proper Porsche? That’s the big question that hangs in our minds before we jump into the low-set, leather-clad seat of the Panamera Diesel. Especially given that this one’s propelled by an engine you can find under the bonnet of certain Audis. Ok, it’s been heavily reworked, but still, this is supposed to be the pinnacle of trans-continental express transport and the starting price is £62,922.
Much to the irritation of Porsche haters, we’re afraid that the answer to that opening question is yes - it really does feel like a proper Porsche to drive. The biggest issue most are likely to have with the Panamera are its looks. Even having undergone a mild facelift - spot the new rear lights - the Panamera’s still got that difficult, hunchback thing going on. And at over 5-meters long it stretches the 911-derived Porsche aesthetic perhaps beyond what most people’s eyes will be comfortable with. It’s certainly our least favourite Porsche from the looks perspective and we hope the next Panamera will get a lot more of the flavour of the Sport Turismo concept Porsche showed at the Paris motor show last year.
Yet step inside and it all makes sense. The reason for its slightly large backside is that during the car’s development the engineers were asked to package the rear seats such that Porsche executives could sit and work in the back comfortably while being driven along Germany's autobahns. They could have made the roofline much more sleek, but then 6ft 2in German execs would have needed to detach their heads to get in the back. As it is, you can imagine sticking four tall blokes in the back and driving to the South of France without anyone's limbs going numb. Or simply having a car that’s got enough room for you and the family - and that includes a big boot - without having to resort to an estate or SUV.
But as with every Porsche, the person behind the wheel is going to be having the best time. That diesel engine might be Audi-derived, but that’s not a bad thing. Here, if anything, it sounds even more refined. It doesn’t quite have the pace of the S and Turbo Panamera models, but 0-60 in 6.8 seconds is hardly what you’d describe as slow, and last time we drove a Turbo Porsche, it wasn’t capable of returning high 30s, early 40s mpg like this is.
Zipping around the lanes and A-roads of North Yorkshire, the Panamera diesel made easy work of overtaking other cars and so refined is the overall experience that the real problem is you’re often doing 10-20 mph more than you’d guess before looking down at the speedo.
The engine’s attached to an 8-speed auto gearbox, rather than Porsche’s usual 7-speed PDK. Which means the upshifts aren’t quite as fast as you might expect, but when you’re just pottering around or clearing entire countries in the space of a day, the gearbox is smoother and requires less of your attention. You can still drive it via the paddles though, if you want to get more involved.
What might require your attention, though, is the array of switches that are scattered either side of the gear stick. Now a Porsche interior design signature - present in the Cayenne and new Macan - the console design reminds us of a Vertu phone and the buttons give you control of everything from the traction control to the heated seats.
Problem is, given every button's the same shape and there are so many of them, that until you’ve memorised their positions, it’s a little too easy to deactivate the traction control while trying to warm your behind. Or the other way round, which could get you a little overheated.
It’s on this switch bank that you’ll also find the button to firm up the dampers, and switch to sport or sport-plus mode. Do so, and you’ll be amazed at just how well an 1800kg Porsche dances down the road. It stays flat and square, but the ride never gets too harsh. Thank the air suspension that came on the model we tested for that.
In fact, while we’d forever struggle with the looks - maybe a spec combo different from white with black wheels would help - we can imagine the Panamera being a perfect car if you’ve outgrown the 911. The only thing we can imagine it struggling with is a tight car park, given its considerable size. Otherwise, around town, in the country and on the way to the south of France, it’d pretty much ace any other car you can name. Just how Porsche manage this in a package this big is some kind of black magic.
But the real question having driven the diesel model is just which Panamera would be best? As with every Porsche, there’s now a wide array of models. We’d still be tempted by the performance of the V8-powered S model or GTS. And if we owned an oil company, perhaps a Turbo.
However, as tech people, the one that really intrigues - and is perhaps the most obvious alternative to this diesel model - is the new Panamera S E-hybrid, which is not simply a regular hybrid, but one you can plug in to recharge, and drive several miles on electric power alone. When you hear it can hit 60 in 5.5 seconds too, it sounds like the Panamera that will let you have your cake and eat it. It sounds too good to be true. Hopefully we’ll find out whether that’s the case in the new year.