1600hrs. Porac to Clark South. Patrolman co-driver is sitting in his white SCTEx Hilux cab, monitoring the afternoon traffic pace, as the driver is cruising somewhat close to the enforced speed limit. Suddenly, sharp piercing LED day time running lights appear from behind, like a UFO sweeping down into the Hilux's reflectorized slash pattern tailgate. The car is slowing down from warp speed at a rapid pace, a Divine Hand is retarding its forward progress.
Its the sharp nose of a Porsche. Slowly, the Porsche signals, pulls out into the overtaking lane and nudges the enforced speed limit, gently passing the Patrol Hilux. Our Patrolman is happy he won't have to deal with speeding offenses as the Laser radar speed traps are several exits up the road. His mental note: its a Porsche, so its surely speeding. But management has deemed irrelevant the California style VASCAR radar where one has to follow a target speeder over 3 miles before activating the wailing sirens and command "pull over" on the bullhorn.
The Porsche passes. Its longer than usual, but its as sexy as ever. It pulls back in front and begins to increase the distance between the patrol vehicle and the escaping horizon. There's no telling how fast its going but the raised tailgate spoiler is a sign as it only deploys at exactly 100km/h and it stays up at speeds triple that. The waffling burble of its front engine is "musica campesina", befitting the rugged horizon and blue skies of the Porac exit. Its the Panamera, Porsche's first 4-door limo. My mental note: how would the excuse "Officer, this was Dr. Ferry Porsche's dream car" play to evade a speeding ticket?
It can only be de ja vu. In 2002, Porsche joined the bandwagon and produced the Cayenne SUV. As with any hallowed name, the fiercely loyal fans were naturally up in arms. Purists decried heresy. But it provided Porsche their first foray into the 4 wheel drive 5 passenger SUV market. And, it was not lacking in the kind of performance Porsches are known for. When the Recession struck, Cayenne sales took up the slack as 911, Cayman and Boxster sales plunged. Not only did Cayenne save Porsche's books from a sea of red ink, it powered Porsche's stock value to heights that allowed the Porsche family to buy a commanding ownership stake in Volkswagen, a company several hundred times its size.
The 7th year
Seven years later, Porsche has upset its purists again with the Panamera. Launched in the middle of another great Recession, Porschephiles harrumphed at another cold blooded business-is-business abuse of the brand, another cynical marketing ploy to make plutocrats part with their Euros and RMBs. But in the one and half years the Panamera has been on sale, it has proven to be another Porsche balance sheet savior. Stockholders of Porsche KG, now Porsche SE, have no reason to complain.
Dr. Ferry Porsche's dream
If Porsches are every car nut's dream car, the Porsche family themselves had their dream cars too. After all, the 356, the Porsche that defined what a Porsche is to be for the rest of time, was a dream car of Ferry Porsche, son of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, Germany's inventive genius of 1931. In the hopeless ashes of post war Germany, Ferry clung to the dream of building the 356 sports car.
As Porsche built dream cars, their success let the family members build their dreams. After agonizing about keeping the 911, Porsche, in 1977, broke with tradition and built a water cooled front engine and rear transaxle 2+2 GT and named it the 928. On the 75th birthday of Dr. Ferry, Porsche employees and engineers surprised him with the Porsche 942. It featured a 928 wheelbase longer by 254mm and an extended roof above the rear seats to better accommodate tall passengers. It had 4 doors. But it never entered production. The early 90s Porsche 989 was to bequeath the 942, now renamed 928-S with sophisticated engines and all wheel drive. But the door count remained at two.
The type 970 Panamera was launched on 19 April 2009, from the 94th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center. Though the dream for a 4-seat Porsche started in 1984, that was the only link the Panamera has with Dr. Ferry's 75th birthday gift. In fact, the Panamera, besides being the second Porsche to accommodate more than 2 passengers in decent comfort, has nothing in common with the Cayenne. Nor Volkswagen for that matter. The base model 300hp 3.6 liter 90 degree V-6 is not the same as the Cayenne's VW Touareg based 60 degree V-6. Its a derivative of the Porsche V-8 with 2 cylinders loped off. Reason given is that the 60 degree VW V-6 was too tall for the Panamera's low hood. Moreover, the Porsche engine comes with variable valve lift. The Panamera also has the S models with a 400hp V-8 and a 500hp turbo V-8.
Four seater sports car
On interior looks alone, the base 3.6-liter V6 model is far more luxurious making the 911 or even the Cayenne look utilitarian/racing austere. But whether its a 911 or a Panamera, Porsche doesn't need to entice you with the ambiance "sense of occasion". Being in a Porsche is its own sense of occasion. Porsche says that the Panamera is the world's first lightweight 4-seater sports car. At 1773kgs., the base model variant weighs only as much as an Audi S8. Besides the 4 seats, the Panamera, next to the Cayenne, boasts of being the only Porsche with a big trunk at 445 liters. And not all Porsche's come with side window sun blinds and water repellant glass. Its got the optional air suspension which, unlike most air suspensions, not only manages damping but also air volume for instantaneous changes in spring rate. Tuned in conjunction with Porsche's PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) system, the Panamera manages the kind of supple ride that its targeted competition - Mercedes S, BMW 7, Bentley Continental Flying Spur, Maserati Quattroporte, Aston Martin Rapide - possess. Without sacrificing sharp, sports-car-like handling, which is Porsche's hallmark. Environmental conscience is appeased with automatic stop/start in idling traffic.
Direct injection power
The V-8 and Turbo variants have the oomph and handling to match the AMG and M division tuned sports sedans of the other German marques. Being a Porsche means that even the base V-6 is no slouch with 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds and top speed in excess of 260km/h. The paddle shifter PDK 7-speed automatic clutch transmission calms the revs at a very un-Porsche like legal speed limit, and it merits an eco-responsible 12.41kms/liter. The V-6 engine note is more strident than the V-8s, but its thrust under a heavy foot is not in anyway modest. In sports mode, the PDK obliges down shifts with a race car driver blip of the revs. Without a doubt, pedal to the metal toll plaza to toll plaza driving is its element.
Limo, not track car
As a limo, the low roof entices takers of any of the 4 seats to lean back, luxuriate in excess legroom and relax, assuring one that Porsches don't need to be wound up to be enjoyed. Behind the wheel, the vista of a 5-dial instrument cluster assures Porsche sensibilities. To make up for the space robbed by its low slung silhouette, Porsche had to make the Panamera a bit wider, Chevrolet Camaro wide. And it feels it, at 59mm wider than an S-class Mercedes. Perhaps, in a nod to the purists attached to the 911's shadow, the Panamera tail had to be compromised to taper towards the rear, in order to keep the rump as 911-DNA positive as possible.
Disappointing purists happens all the time. Specially when one has such a long established fan base. Porsche is not immune to disappointing its fans. A drive in the Panamera proves that it still drives like a real Porsche, but it has the added ability of playing the soothing limo/gliding Gran Turismo role just as well. The Panamera has, perhaps, the most opulent of Porsche interiors, so a base model,never feels lacking in anything save for the optional reversing camera. But even the 942, Dr. Ferry Porsche's one off birthday gift in 1984, didn't have one. Doubtless, 911 fans will be disappointed. But then, if they had their way, Porsche would have only one model; the 911.