Review and road test of the Porsche Panamera (2017 - 2020)
Bu Jonathan Crouch
Named after the Carrera Panamerican road race, Porsche's Panamera is the brand's offering to Luxury segment buyers wanting spacious rear seat accommodation and a properly sporting Gran Turismo driving experience. This model could have ended up being a four-door version of the company's 911 coupe or a low-slung interpretation of the marque's Cayenne luxury SUV. In the event, it proved to be very much its own car, a long, low five-door hatch that offers something very different in its sector. In this second generation '971'-series guise, it proved to be smarter, faster, more efficient and impressively advanced and here, we look at the 2017-2020-era pre-facelifted versions of this design. For boardroom buyers who yearn for Brands Hatch, they promise to offer a tempting proposition.
5dr 2.9 & 3.0 V6 / 4.0 V8 [petrol] / 4.0 V8 [diesel] [Hatch, Executive, Sport Turismo]
To understand this car, you have to understand the way that Porsche sees it. This contender may be priced against Mercedes S-Class-style Luxury saloons, but ever since the MK1 '970'-series model's original launch back in 2010, its role in life has been styled to be subtly different. The brand sees the Panamera as a 'Gran Turismo', the kind of car that allows two rear seat passengers to recline in comfort while the driver enjoys himself. Forget Audi A8s and Jaguar XJs. Think instead. Maserati Quattroporte or even Aston Martin Rapide. In other words, a four-door luxury conveyance to really get the pulses racing. This car won't be chauffeur-driven.
It shouldn't be anyway. It would, after all, be such a shame to ignore all of this Panamera's dynamic attributes and merely treat it as a limo. Porsche did though, made that option more of a credible possibility with this MK2 design (launched in 2017) by offering buyers an extra 'Executive' bodystyle with a lengthier wheelbase that provided prodigious rear cabin space. Platform variations like that were easier for the brand to deliver thanks to the flexibility of this second generation design's all-new MSB chassis, also shared with the MK2 model Bentley Continental GT. There was also a third bodystyle option too, the 'Sport Turismo', a kind of 'Shooting Brake'-style sports estate that offers a little extra carriage space and the option of taking a third person in the rear.
Whatever kind of Panamera you choose, you'll get a car that in its evolution to MK2 form was changed far more fundamentally than the lightly evolved looks might suggest. All of the second generation model's engines were re-designed and three of them were completely new - a couple of 4.0-litre V8s for petrol and diesel buyers, plus a 2.9-litre V6 petrol unit. There was also a new 8-speed PDK auto gearbox, a body structure with even more lightweight aluminium, a vast improvement in media connectivity and a completely re-designed interior that claimed to set fresh class standards. Just after this second generation model line-up's launch in late 2016, green-minded buyers were also offered the option of even more effective 'E-Hybrid' plug-in power too. The diesel engine was discontinued in 2018. This '971'-series Panamera was significantly updated in the Autumn of 2020, but it's the 2017-2020 pre-facelift versions of the car we look at here.
What You Get
Shut your eyes, picture what a four-door Porsche 911 sports coupe might be like and you won't be a million miles away from the reality of this Panamera. The original '970'-series MK1 version of this car set out to deliver on that brief too, but never quite managed it, sleek from some angles but distinctly awkward from others. Everyone seems to be agreed that this second generation '971'-series model is a much more stylish piece of work, thanks to its longer wheelbase and lowered rear roofline.
Take a seat inside and you get low-set sportscar positioning, while the tall centre console that runs down the middle of the cabin hems you comfortably in, fighter aircraft cockpit-style. Around the gearstick the fiddly little buttons that previously decorated the centre console were on this MK2 model replaced by a shiny black panel that comes to life with touch-sensitive controls once you fire the ignition. Just above lies the other defining feature of this cabin, the huge 12.3-inch colour touchscreen controlling the standard 'Porsche Communication Management' infotainment system. More screens are found in the instrument binnacle either side of the prominent rev counter gauge. All of it's configurable to your personal preferences as part of one of the most sophisticated cabins you'll find anywhere in this segment from this era.
What about the back seat? Settle in here and immediately, you feel a bit more special that you would in rival models thanks to the two individual sports seats that replace the usual bench. Another advantage to this layout is the way that it allows space for a big centre console optionally incorporating a 4.6-inch colour infotainment touchscreen similar to the one provided on the dash.
If you've found one of the very rare long wheelbase 'Executive' models, then 150mm of extra body length will allow board-level buyers to really stretch out. Wealthy families meanwhile, could also consider this car, courtesy of the way that the 'Sport Turismo' shooting brake estate variant incorporates a small '2+1' centre rear seat that could be used for a child. With everything flat, a massive 1,340-litres of space is available in most standard variants.
What to Look For
The usual Panamera issues to look for hold true here. We've heard reports of malfunctioning for the automatically operating rear spoiler (stuck or lopsided). And occasionally, you come across various issues with the 'PCM' 'Porsche Communications Management' centre-dash infotainment screen. Some report warning lights advertising 'PASM' chassis system faults. One owner reported overheating at idle. And in some cases, the air conditioning system has been known to blow warm air.
Otherwise, it's just the usual stuff. Check the bodywork carefully for dents and scrapes as these will be expensive to repair; the same for the alloy wheels. And obviously, insist on a fully stamped-up service history. Shortly after the start of production for this '971'-series model, Porsche recalled 197 Panameras over concerns that the connecting links on the rear axle anti-roll bar might fail over the life of the vehicle. This would lead to excessive noise and an activated yellow warning light. Check that remedial work, if necessary on the example you have in mind, has been carried out.
(approx based on a 2018 Panamera E-Hybrid - Ex Vat)
Porsche parts aren't particularly cheap - but you'll be expecting that. To give you some examples, front and rear brake pads both cost in the £165 bracket. Rear brake discs cost in the £220 bracket . A wiper blade can be quite cheap though - around £5-£10.
On the Road
Really clever engineering can defy the laws of physics. If you want proof, here it is in the metal. The original '970'-series Panamera handled quite impressively for a model of this kind, but this second generation '971'-series version is far closer to the kind of car Porsche always wanted to make in this segment. Thanks to fantastic steering and an astonishing lack of body roll on fast, flowing roads, this two-tonne, four-seat Luxury segment contender feels almost as agile as a Porsche 911. Or at least it does when specified with all of the brand's expensive dynamic drive technology. There's a lot of it - adaptive anti-roll bars, 'PTV' torque vectoring and a rear-axle steering system are amongst the highlights. 'PASM' adaptive damping is standard, but most original Panamera customers embellished it with the optional air suspension set-up.
That's one option that's pretty important to have on this car; another is the 'Sport Chrono' package that gives you F1-style Launch Control and a 'Drive Mode' system that allows you to alter throttle response, steering feel, stability control thresholds and the reactions of the 8-speed PDK auto gearbox that was standard-fit across the range. Plus the 'Sport Chrono' package gives you a 'Sport Response' button that helps with a burst of acceleration when you need it. All the engines on offer are well capable of providing that. Only the entry-level 3.0-litre V6 petrol and diesel units were offered in rear-driven form - the base petrol model puts out 330bhp and from new could be specified with 4x4 traction as an option. All other MK2-era Panameras featured 4WD and featured the three fresh biturbo engines introduced into this second generation line-up. There were two fresh petrol units, the 440bhp 2.9-litre V6 used in the 'Panamera 4S' and the 550bhp 4.0-litre V8 used in the 'Panamera Turbo'. Both also made an appearance in the petrol/electric 'E-Hybrid plug-in variants. The other fresh powerplant was the 422bhp 4.0-litre V8 Diesel used in the 'Panamera 4S Diesel' model, a searingly quick variant that was also capable of up to 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and as much as 176g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). This black pump-fuelled MK2 Panamera is a rare find though, because diesel engines were banished from the entire Porsche line-up in 2018.
The market has always offered very fast, very luxurious full-sized Luxury saloons. Rarely though, have they been very rewarding to drive. The Panamera has always been different, very much in a class of its own for boardroom buyers who don't spend all their lives wafting up and down autobahns. In its original form, it was so nearly a truly great car. So nearly the impressively complete contender this second generation '971'-series model is.
In summary, if you still enjoy driving and like the way that this contender looks, you'll love the way it rewards you at the wheel. The Panamera's unconventional. It's unique. But best of all, it's a proper Porsche.
Porsche Panamera (2017 - 2020) review by Bu Jonathan Crouch