Form may follow function, but Porsche's Panamera is arguably one case where form and beauty have had a serious disconnect. However, that does not mean the looks and even the dynamics of this seriously good to drive four-door Porsche can't be improved with a little tweaking.
Although the aftermarket has only produced five Panameras so far, these takes range from mild to wild. The wildest is most definitely the FAB Design car that debuted at the Dubai Motor Show, where it looked totally at home. The Oakley Design and SpeedArt cars make up the opposing camp with relatively subtle conversions, while the TechArt offering strikes the middle ground.
"As a company with roots in motorsport, we only make mechanical changes to our cars that improve performance," said Oakley Design's founder, Jon Oakley. "The aerodynamic parts like the front spoiler lip, more deeply sculpted side sills, rear wing cover with Gurney flaps, and the rear diffuser with its deeper boundary layer fences and longer exhaust pipe lips were all wind tunnel tested."
The GT2 style carbon-fiber "moustache" between the top of the front bumper and the bonnet is also fully functional and helps to extract hot air from the big radiator. The only purely cosmetic add-ons are the carbon covers for the roof panel and door mirrors.
Oakley's seven-piece carbon engine bay kit adds a touch of flair to the otherwise drab acres of black plastic that dominate the underbonnet view. The kit includes larger air intake ram pipes to help the twin-turbo V8 breathe more deeply. Unlike some tuners who use carbon-look parts, all of Oakley's carbon-fiber components are formed in an autoclave.
The wheels and exhaust system also fit the Panamera S and 4S, as do the body components, apart from the front spoiler lip and rear wing cover. The front spoiler may look the same at a glance, but if you put a Panamera 4S and a Turbo side by side, you'll see a slight difference in the curvature of the factory bumper. Because of this, Oakley makes an equivalent spoiler lip for the normally aspirated cars, along with a new rear wing cover, since the non-Turbo cars have a single rather than double rear wing.
Changes inside the cabin are minimal, but make a big difference to eye appeal. The black carbon inlay kit and kick plate inlays contrast perfectly with the light gray leather and black carpet mats. The finishing touch is the limited edition plaque on the center console.
Following hot on the heels of Oakley's very successful GT3 and GT2 programs, the Panamera is the third Porsche to be tuned here. "We had to be very careful not to unbalance its strengths in the process," Oakley says. "This is the main reason we decided to stick with 20-inch wheels and the same tire size as the largest factory option." And while Oakley may use the factory wheel and tire sizes, taking 15 pounds out of each wheel has had a positive effect on all-around suspension performance.
"Most people are surprised to learn that wheel and tire weight actually has a bearing on acceleration," Oakley says. "With lightweight wheels and factory PCCBs fitted, you can peel a couple of seconds off the zero to 125 mph time. That's like adding another 25 hp."
Oakley Design uses Dymag two-piece wheels with magnesium centers married to carbon-fiber rims. In spite of their size, these wheels weigh just 18 and 21 pounds front and rear, respectively, which makes them about 20 percent lighter than a forged wheel, and up to 50 percent lighter than a conventional cast alloy wheel. Total weight savings is 77 pounds. Additionally, offsets are 5.0mm greater to bring the wheels closer to the arches. This slightly wider track helps handling and gives the car a better stance.
Oakley spent a lot of time on road and track working to optimize the car's handling for the 580-hp engine upgrade. The factory suspension bounce and rebound settings are so well executed that extensive testing found no better solution. In the end, the only modification made to the suspension is the installation of a piggyback ECU module to lower the ride height by 25mm in all its settings. In combination with the lighter wheels and their different offsets, the only work done here was re-calibrating the suspension geometry to make all four rubber patches work optimally across their broad treads.
"The factory settings have too much toe-out for my liking, so we brought this back closer to parallel," Oakley explains. "Then we increased the negative camber at each corner to around 1.5 degrees. These modest changes sharpen up the handling and improve turn-in noticeably without introducing any nervousness."
Initially, the aftermarket Porsche tuners rubbed their hands with glee when they learned that the Panamera would use the same basic engines as the Cayenne. This meant most of their existing engine upgrades could be carried over to the new car.
However, the first thing they realized when they finally got their hands on a car was that the newly upgraded Direct Fuel Injection V8s were now run by a Siemens rather than Bosch ECU. DFI was not the issue as it is controlled by the ECU, but the Siemens controller had more layers of protection that took time to hack through.
"Luckily, we have one of the best electronics engineers in the business working for us, so this was only a temporary hold-up," Oakley says. "Thanks to our larger air intakes and a free flowing exhaust, we managed to find over 70 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque with just a modest increase in boost pressure."
In his fanatical weight reduction quest, Oakley decided titanium was the only way to go. The new cat-back system is less than half the weight of the OEM system, taking 90 pounds out of the car in one fell swoop. The exhaust also contributes to a gain of around 8 hp through lower backpressure.
The different resonance characteristics of this exotic metal deliver a deeper, more mellifluous tone under acceleration. On a light-throttle cruise, the exhaust note disappears into the background, which is how you want things in a long distance express.
The modifications take output up from 500 to 580 hp, and torque from 516 lb-ft to a dramatically enhanced 656. Taking the PCCB brakes into account as well, the Oakley Panamera Turbo tips the scales a good 210 pounds less than a stock Turbo with the same factory options.
The stopwatch now reads 3.8 seconds for the zero to 60 mph sprint. Compare that to the factory Turbo's time of 4.2 seconds, with the Sport Chrono pack and launch control. We're talking two full car lengths by 60 mph here.
The engine upgrade is seamless, and in normal driving you don't notice the difference. But when you drop the hammer, the Oakley car quickly establishes its greater mid-range and top-end punch. The standard Turbo is not lacking in this respect, but the extra power and torque is really icing on the cake, and its performance is truly ballistic when the two turbos are on full song.
The counterpoint is that thanks to the efficiency of DFI, the good aerodynamics and relatively low weight, over a long motorway trip, this near 600-hp autobahn stormer can return a claimed 23 mpg.
Deploying that level of power and torque in all conditions would be asking a lot of any rival German super saloon, and this is the reason Porsche wrote AWD into the Panamera script from day one. Divide 580 hp by four, and you have a mere 145 horses going through each big Pirelli P Zeros. So even with the elevated outputs, the Oakley Panamera Turbo scythes fluidly into bends, holding a near flat cornering attitude with immaculate body control all the way. With boost rising rapidly as throttle input passes its apex, this big car simply rockets out the other side with a NASCAR-grade roar emanating from its four big exhausts.
The supreme refinement of the factory Panamera Turbo robs you of the kind of emotion you get from a GT3 RS when you are simply out for a fun drive. But Oakley's Panamera adds that something extra to get enthusiast blood stirring. And if you care to roll down a window as you accelerate through a tunnel, the spine tingling thunder of its V8 soundtrack bouncing off the walls makes you want to turn around and do it again.
Even before it was launched, the initial design drawings of the Oakley Design Panamera created a lot of interest amongs potential customers. Sight of the first car in the UK really ramped things up, and a couple of high profile sports personalities in the UK and Spain were the first to put down their money for the limited-edition cars.
"We're launching it as a limited edition of 10 complete cars," Oakley says. "You can also buy the individual parts separately in any combination you like. But even if you were to duplicate the limited car in every other respect, it wouldn't be one of the 10."
Who is oakley design?
The man behind Oakley Design is Jon Oakley. He's not yet world famous as a Porsche tuner, but he is a very quick test and race driver, which is a good place to start, especially as his speciality is setting up cars for some well known road and race teams.
While the name may leave you scratching your head, it should be pointed out that this totally car-tuning oriented business bears no relationship to the famous Oakley eyewear firm of American origin. The two companies have a mutually beneficial cross promotion agreement, but are not related in any way.
"Oakley Design was born in a roundabout sort of way," Oakley explains. "I had been working with specialist car manufacturers as a test driver for several years, gaining experience with many types of high performance cars, particularly in the areas of suspension and aerodynamics.
Then one day back in 2005 I was at a test track doing demo laps in a Porsche when a wealthy enthusiast came up to me and suggested I start my own company to tune Porsches," Oakley says.
"It was not something I had considered before, but when I thought about it, I realized that I held one piece of the puzzle in the form of the hard-won knowledge it takes to make a car handle, steer and stop better than standard."
And so, in the winter of 2005, Oakley Design was born.
"The first car we developed was the 997 GT3, which received great acclaim in the press and with our customers," Oakley says. Being hard-core enthusiast oriented, Oakley Design concentrates on GT2 and GT3 cars. The Panamera is the third model in the Oakley Design range, and like the stock version, it perfectly fits the bill for Porsche enthusiasts with a family. -IK
Oakley Design Panamera
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
4.8-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Sport air filters, titanium sport exhaust, ECU remap
Seven-speed PDK automated manual
OEM PCCB assemblies
Wheels and Tires
Dymag magnesium/carbon wheels, 20-inch
Pirelli P Zero
Oakley Design front spoiler lip, side skirts, rear wing and diffuser
Carbon trim kit, kick panels
Peak Power: 580 hp
Peak Torque: 656 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.8 sec.