DRIVEN: Porsche raises bar for cabin design with 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S

The often-controversial Porsche Panamera has entered its second generation for 2017, bringing the four-door sports car a new look, new engines, new technologies and, most notably, a striking new cabin.

For well-funded folks after a roomy luxury drive without taco-truck steering, or suspension more squishy than the underside of a pregnant walrus, Panamera is a compelling pick. The tested Panamera 4S ran Porsche’s new 2.9-litre V6, twin-turbocharged for 440 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and a next-generation, paddle-shiftable, eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission.

High tech stuff — and that’s not even mentioning a suspension that can actively alter stiffness and ride height, or self-level the car in corners. Or the rear-wheel steering. Or the availability of radar-driven safety systems that alert drivers of hazards nearby.

But none of this is even the best part of the latest Panamera. The cabin is.

The last-generation cabin was a uniquely striking bit of design work, and the new one moves light years ahead, raising the bar for luxury cockpit design in general.

The tester’s clean, tidy and organized cockpit featured a simple black and aluminum palette, the colours playing gorgeously off of one another. The detailing is immense: you picture a designer tweaking certain panel angles and positions to best capture reflections from the various glossy surfaces.

There’s even a centre climate control vent, comprised of thin glossy slats, that tips open when the engine is started, greeting you with a bit of theatre, and a glint of light from the reflective surfaces.

The centre console is a giant back-lit, gloss-black touch-pad. Other than a few aluminum hard switches, this touch-sensitive surface looks simple, high-tech and dramatic. Tap something and the whole pad clicks like a mouse button.

The instrument cluster is a pair of high-definition display screens angled toward the driver, set to either side of a conventional, centre-mounted tachometer for a three-dimensional look.

The monstrous wide-screen central touch-screen display houses a new infotainment system that’s logical, responsive, and liquid-smooth at all times. You feel like you’re driving a gigantic top-of-the-line iPad. So, here’s a cabin that overwhelms visitors, big-time, every time.

Four tall bucket seats flaunt embossed and perforated leather. Entry and exit, as well as the seating position, call a sports coupe to mind: occupants drop down into the seats, and are fixed in place by bolsters and steep bucketing. It’s a four-door sedan with seats that could do double-duty in a race-car.

Further back, a motorized tailgate opens up on a generous cargo area with room enough for four people’s worth of luggage, or a weekend worth of shopping.


The 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S is powered by its 440-horsepower, 2.9-litre V6, twin-turbo engine. (JUSTIN PRITCHARD)

The tester’s new V6 enables 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds. Full-throttle power is strong, almost overwhelming, the sound at full song is a tastefully restrained howl, and the engine is happy to rev to nearly 7,000 RPM, delivering a low-RPM torque-surge that melts into a high-revving power peak. At 440 horsepower, most drivers won’t find the Panamera 4S lacking for sauce, but those who do have numerous higher-output options to consider.

Responses to all driver inputs are pleasing when pushed. Applied gently, a slight numbness at the top of the brake pedal travel prevents them feeling too touchy, but they become more precise the harder they’re worked. It’s similar elsewhere: Panamera feels like a big, comfy cruiser, but positively comes to life the harder you drive it, more so in sport mode.

The tester felt heavily locked-on, more confident than playful, and beautifully stable at all times. Even giving it absolute hell, in typical Porsche fashion, it never feels out of its element. Expect lots of grins as you direct this big machine around flatly, with just effortless little flicks of the wheel.

The new 8-speed transmission is a mixed bag. No issue driven in an automatic drive mode, though when paddle shifted, the new gearbox made me wish for the old unit, which responded faster, executed shifts more quickly, and performed its duties more smoothly when pushed. At times, when driven hard in paddle-shift mode, the new transmission can feel clumsy or even harsh.

On its 21-inch wheels, the tester rode on the stiffer, sportier side of comfortable — in a similar ballpark to a sport-package equipped 5-Series, XF or E-Class. It feels composed, solid, durable and robust in any drive mode, and even bigger upsets in the road fail to make the Panamera feel like it’s crashing into bumps. Engage sport mode, and you feel more of the road, but a layer of comfort remains.

Panamera’s high-tech suspension hits the mark when sporty comfort, and sporty handling, need to co-exist. Here’s a creamy cruiser that’s capable of hugging curves more tightly than Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscars dress, losing nothing in between.

It’s the Porsche of luxury sedans, after all. And though the new PDK transmission lets the experience down a little, the latest Panamera effectively blends loved Panamera characteristics with the segment’s must-have cabin, for a must-drive contender in the segment.

The specs

Model: 2017 Porsche Panamera 4S

Engine: 2.9-litre V6, twin turbo, 440 horsepower

Drivetrain: all-wheel drive

Transmission: 8-speed PDK dual-clutch

Features: keyless start, LED lighting, motorized tailgate, adaptive suspension, navigation, Bluetooth

What’s hot: creamy-smooth drive, athletic handling, punchy engine, absolutely fantastic cabin

What’s not: PDK transmission has lost its edge, easily-smudged touch-pad surfaces

Price as tested (Panamera 4S): $134,470

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