The Panamera's fresh synthesis of existing Porsche bits and pieces, along with more than a dash of completely new technology, make it stand out from the crowd like...well, like a certain rear-engine sports car did 50 years ago. Its looks are either a stylish homage to Porsche design history or a clunky refusal to break the mold, but there's no denying the Panamera's lineage. The roofline could be from no other manufacturer, the rounded rear quarters and large hatchback are reminiscent of the 928 (or maybe a Crossfire), and the front end is pure Porsche, with its rounded fenders embracing a steeply sloping hood, large intakes supplanting a conventional radiator grille, and oval headlamp clusters reclining behind body-conforming lenses.
The Panamera may weigh two tons and be longer than two Shaquille O'Neals laid head to toe, but that's what it takes to enter a new dimension of spaciousness and luxury. The four leather-clad buckets are supremely comfortable, even for big American butts, the rear hatch opens to reveal enough luggage space for a foursome on holiday, and scattered around the superbly tailored cabin are all the creature comforts demanded by the car's intense competitive environment. Most impressively, all this was accomplished without compromising the carved-from-a-block-of steel-feel of the smaller, faster Porsches.
Big and heavy is rendered moot, too, when powerful and lithe become the primary factors of the equation. Even when I was pulling up the hill toward Road America's front straight, both of the engines did well to hide the weight behind varied levels of effortless acceleration. And around the bends, the Panamera cut lines like German steel slicing through a Black Forest ham.
Not surprisingly, the Panamera Turbo was my favorite. The standard adaptive air suspension (an option on S and 4S models) was nothing less than remarkable, adjusting each corner as needed to keep the car's considerable heft within the parameters of complete control, and the 500 horses almost had me fooled into thinking I was driving a lightweight two-seater.
Best of all, my laps in the Turbo were the first time I'd ever had Road America for lunch.
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo
4.8-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, turbocharged
Seven-speed PDK automated manual
Peak Power: 500 hp @ 6500 rpm
Peak Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
0-60 mph: 3.8 sec.
Top Speed: 188 mph