You know us Cayman owners love our cars. We spend a lot of time writing, posting, defending and arguing about them. Just look at the sheer volume of posts, answers, advice and retorts on this site alone. Now add dozens and hundreds of other sites…we are a vocal group. There must be thousands of tiny details that we fret over. We want to make them faster, handle better, brake better, look better, individualizing and tweaking them until they are just perfect. The 911, 914, 944, 986, 996 and even 928 guys all do the same. What is it that we all share? Passion. Passion for our cars, passion for this brand. I will say one thing; we are a loyal bunch.
So that leads me on a quest. The idea was to find out if the Porsche brand; the driving dynamics and character that make Porsche unique, transfers to cars other than the light and nimble Boxster and Cayman and that automotive cultural icon that is the 997 Carrera. My quest leads me and a fellow gearhead buddy to Park Place Porsche in Dallas, TX. There Jason Putnam (sales consultant extraordinaire) and Jon Griggs (new car sales manager) allowed me to drive cars that might be new and foreign to us sports car guys, kind of the new kids on the block; the 2011 Panamera 4 and 2011 Cayenne.
The Cayenne, most of us know; but this one is the new improved version, fully updated for 2011. For a lot of readers, this Panamera thing is a completely new; a 4-door Porsche sedan. My buddy and I had expectations about these two cars. Maybe I should stop here and introduce him. For anyone that has kept up with my Blog(My life with Porsches) they will know him as Kip, the guy that drives a huge 4WD pick-up…very aggressively. So much so that I noticed people tend to wave at us as we drive past (especially after he just cut them off). “Hey Kipster, they are waving at us! Oh wait, they were waving with their middle finger….” Yeah, that guy.
After proving that I am legal to drive a car in the state of Texas (providing TX DL and proof of Insurance) Jason tossed us the keys to a new Panamera 4. It was white, with a beautiful tan interior. It was the entry level V-6 version and funny as it may sound, that is exactly what I wanted to drive. I have no doubt that the V-8 and Turbo versions are “all that” and they should be considering the large pile of Benjamins that Porsche charges for them. This one came in at a sticker price of $86,220. Wow! Entry level…Porsche Panamera 4…. The first thing that greeted us as we settled into the aggressively bolstered front bucket seats was all the room. The shoulder and leg room were extraordinary (or at least a lot more than my Cayman S). I adjusted the front seat to the way I like it and jumped in the back. I probably sit a bit closer and upright than a lot of people (that stems from doing a lot of track events where you are taught that the straight out arms and legs driving position is not the best to wrestle a sports car around a track) and I had a lot of rear seat leg and knee room. Not sure my 6’7” son would fit comfortably in the back, but come to think of it, he does not fit in the back seat of many cars. And I loved that the rear seats cradled you with serious seat bolsters too. Hustling this car along the back roads “4-up” will not have the rear passengers sliding around in the back.
Returning to the front, I pressed the key (which by the way is shaped like a Carrera) and started the car. The dash has five round gauges (with the built-in dual display) and is pure Porsche, even the key is in the place it should be…to the left of the steering wheel. The center stack reveals the other display, a large centrally placed LCD that along with the climate and ancillary controls are angled towards the driver. The controls, a black edgy design are pure science fiction and look like they just dropped out of an episode of Star Trek (but the newer one, not the original) and are raked towards the driver. I set the temp control to auto and selected 68°F. The interior is indeed a very nice place to be.
OK enough talk of the interior, how does it drive? Does it imbue enough Porsche qualities and dynamics to deserve the Porsche crest on it hood? And speaking of hood, the sheer size of it will really grab your attention. It feels like the large sedan (or Saloon) it is. And it seems a bit surreal, sitting in a Porsche and seeing the hood disappear into the horizon. This Panamera was the 4WD version and you could really feel the additional traction as we headed out on the road. Incredibly the car shrinks around you as you take it out into traffic. It is so sure-footed, it belies its size as it pulls away smartly and takes a set as soon as you press the “go-pedal”. We were hampered by midday traffic in mid-Dallas so we could not stretch it out too much, but it just soaked up the potholes and chatter along a badly paved road. The confidence it inspired was very refreshing and you felt in complete control. Steering input was direct and I did not detect any on center vagueness. Using the accelerator with bit more urgency, the Panamera 4 stayed in gear for much longer than you think it will. Taking on a quick romp up to 3rd gear (in automatic mode), I released the throttle and the PDK transmission did not kick it up into 6th or 7th gear like it does under partial acceleration, but remained in 3rd gear, on rev, giving you options of staying in 3rd and getting back on the throttle or settling in for a more sedate run. I really like that. Taking a highway on-ramp, it was glued to the turn, no body roll, no unsettling motions; it just took a set and carved the turn perfectly.
I shifted into manual mode and used the PDK shift buttons on the steering wheel. I have had a flappy paddle car before (Audi A3) so I did not mind the buttons on the steering wheel. The design and placement of these buttons have taken a beating in the press, but I liked how they fit under my thumb for up shifts with a large button on the back of the steering wheel for down shifts. They clicked with authority; you know you have selected another gear by the audible click. We did a casual 0-60 time and got a respectable 6.6 seconds. I know that Porsche says 5.8 seconds and I believe it, for our time we used a stop light (trying to guess the light change) and the stop watch function on a Blackberry. We probably need to work on our technique and data gathering…
Satisfied that we liked the car, we returned the Panamera and met Jason who had a Cayenne waiting for us. This Silver V-6 model did not have a lot of options, and was priced accordingly at $58,965. But I will say, lacking only Sat-Nav, I found it quite well equipped. We both had huge expectations for the Cayenne. I used to own a VW Touareg so I know a little bit about the platform and I will say that I found it to be a better truck than the Touareg in every way. But…it is still a large SUV; siting high and rolling a bit more in turns than you might expect. And sharing the same engine with the Panamera 4, it does not have the extra oomph that the Panamera has. I think the extra weight really hurts the Cayenne in the performance department. It feels heavy, which it is.
I cannot fault the interior which shares similar design influences with the Panamera. The dash and center stack (with different styled AC vents) along with the switchgear point to the new direction of Porsche interiors and I like it. I just hope that Porsche design management tone it down just a bit for the new Boxster, Cayman and Carrera as they start to roll out in 2012. But on the Panamera and Cayenne these new design elements work; giving the interior high marks for quality and layout and functionality. I did the same seat experiment and could not believe the rear seat leg room. Porsche must have really focused on increasing the room in the back seat versus the previous model. I think that my 6’7” son will easily fit in the back.
Out on the road it felt like a sure-footed, albeit heavy SUV. I suspect that more power and more aggressive suspension settings in the “S” and Turbo models change the driving and handling dynamics a lot, making them feel more car like, but I am not so sure you can ever get away from the fact that this is still a SUV. This base model is where a lot of potential American owners will land and I do not think that they will be disappointed. It is a bit more urgent under full acceleration and does not pile on speed the way the Panamera 4 does, but it moves down the road pretty darn quick. I liked the Cayenne, but I liked the Panamera better…it is more in the spirit of what I think Porsche people expect as they move from sports cars into bigger vehicles. When we pulled in, I was not as sad to get out of the Cayenne as I was the Panamera. Don’t get me wrong, I like it and if shopping for a luxury SUV again, it would be at the top of my list. It is just that the Panamera is the better vehicle, the driving experience more closely aligned with the Porsche brand. Even VW management backs up Porsche on this, indicating that all future big luxury sedan engineering and development will fall to Porsche, full sized SUV development to Audi.
So did Porsche nail it? Did they transfer the driving dynamics, that essence of the brand, that “thing” that sets Porsche apart from others? Did they make the leap from the sports cars to sedans and SUVs? Porsche launched the Cayenne and now the Panamera to expand their line-up, but to also bring new customers to the brand. So far the sales figures have backed up management’s decision. But what about us sports car guys, did they create larger cars and trucks that we can love, that we call our own? I think the answers to all these questions is no….and well…yes.
How can a large sedan or SUV behave in the same way as a Carrera or Cayman? Even if you stuff a 500+HP motor under the hood, they can’t. It is like the eternal debate between the air-cooled vs. water-cooled camps; the traditionalists will scoff at the idea of anything but a 2-door sports car. But in their own way, each car still rings true to the Porsche ideal. Kip and I discussed this very question. Porsche made the best sedan and SUV they could, adhering to Porsche design philosophy. They embody what a Porsche 4-door, what a Porsche SUV is supposed to be like. They do not have to be a Carrera, they aren’t and they can’t be. But they can (and should) be a 4-door and SUV that are instantly Porsche. They are vastly different than a Boxster, Cayman and Carrera, but have different missions. They are supposed to take A8, Quattroporte, S600, XJ, 760i, X5, Q7, Land Rover customers away from those brands and deposit them in the Porsche camp and I cannot fault that goal. Capture them with a sedan and or SUV and then get that customer to step up to a Carrera, preferably a Turbo or GT model, where there is serious money to be made.
The styling on these cars can be galvanizing. Both contain Porsche design cues, especially in the rear end treatment of the Panamera. I did not care for the styling of the original Cayenne, but I like the new one. And most of the reviews and comments about the Panamera’s styling are mixed. Not sure that anybody loves it, but I could live with one in my garage. In the end, I am a Porsche geek and I am proud of it (take that J. Clarkson!). I could not walk out of a Porsche dealer empty handed. I did buy something that said Porsche on it. A new hat (at a steep PCA discount); my wife was pleased as it did not involve a trip to meet with our banker…
See you all next month.