Porsche’s Panamera has always been an interesting proposition. Long and low, comfortable yet quick, and always with handling that seemed to belie its prodigious dimensions, the model has defied expectations. Now, for the third generation of this unusual sedan, Porsche is pushing for luxury.
Though the company that Ferdinand built isn’t quite ready to show exactly what the new Panamera looks like on the inside or out, they did give me the keys to not one but two prototypes undergoing final validation in Spain, approaching the end of a road that has taken nearly three years and three million miles of testing.
The result won’t be substantially different from what’s come before, but it will deliver a level of refinement above previous Panameras. It starts with doing away with conventional suspension. For this third generation, all cars will ride on air, with twin-chamber adaptive air suspension now standard. Able to dynamically adjust firmness, that suspension combines with other tweaks to the chassis to push the comfort side of the Panamera equation further. Now slightly more supple, Porsche’s Active Suspension Management absorbs road imperfections without transmitting as much disturbance into the cabin. That’s helped by some other changes to reduce noise intrusion, like replacing a formerly aluminum beam—located ahead of the windshield—with steel, lining it with foam, and reducing the number of holes in the firewall.
The overall result is a space that isn’t quite as tomb-like as the Taycan, but is extremely calming and quiet just the same. At least it is until you uncork the optional sport exhaust. On the Turbo, the sound of the twin-turbo V-8 then fills the cabin, a delightful but refined roar that is slightly boosted in amplitude by the car’s sound system, still provided by Burmester on higher trims.
That engine has been revised largely in the sake of emissions, single-scroll turbos replacing the former dual-scroll units—a change that’s said to increase efficiency. Porsche promises some power updates as well, but nobody was ready to quote any figures there. However, I can say the revised plug-in E-Hybrid unit now offers 140 kW purely from the electric motor, up from 100 kW before. That’s paired with a larger, 25.9 kWh battery pack that should provide significantly more range than the outgoing model, which is officially rated for 18 miles on a charge.
Driven in purely electric mode, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid is remarkably fun. Though only drawing from the electric motor, the acceleration from zero is strong, and plenty enough to dart around town. It’ll take you all the way up to 89 mph, too, before it fires up the engine to go faster. That revised electrical-drive system facilitates something else: a wholly new, optional air suspension. Available only on E-Hybrid models, this single-valve air suspension elevates the suppleness and refinement to another level while adding some interesting tricks.
Called Porsche Active Ride, the system is capable of keeping the car level through corners, under braking, and acceleration by dynamically stiffening the suspension on whatever side needs it. If that weren’t enough, the car can be set to spring upwards by 50 mm (just shy of two inches) whenever someone opens a door, making it easier to slip into or out of the notoriously low machine.
The effect is almost comical as the car jumps to height in less than a second. It’s also slightly disorienting from inside the cabin, but the self-leveling aspect is actually compelling. It’s designed not so much to improve handling, as it is to improve comfort, keeping the car level to minimize motion for passengers. It’s a very interesting sensation from the passenger seat and it could make for a much more pleasant riding experience—if Porsche decides to bring it to market. It’s still in testing.
What will definitely make it to market is a vastly refined interior, borrowing a lot of ideas from the streamlined Taycan. Most of the formerly physical controls have been moved into the 10.9-inch central touchscreen. While the HVAC functions still have buttons, driver and passenger will now need to dig through menus to adjust the aim of the flush dashboard vents. That’s not exactly progress in my book.
A second, 10.9-inch display can be added for the passenger, offering access to vehicle settings, navigation, and even streaming movies. That display is cunningly shaded so that it looks like a black square from the driver’s seat, eliminating any concern about causing distraction.
The steering wheel and its controls are much the same as before, but a large, curving digital cluster now sits behind, offering up to five separate circular gauges, plus a heads-up display—projected on the windscreen—that’s bright and clear, even with polarized glasses.
All of the improvements to ride quality and comfort do make for a better Panamera to be a passenger in, but the best seat is still there behind the wheel. The car’s additional genteelness hasn’t dulled its always surprising degree of willing handling, optionally bolstered by rear-steering. It cuts a line far more aggressive than a car this size should and, thanks at least in part to the new Bridgestone Pilot Sport S 5 tires, grips tenaciously.
I ended my time testing the new Panamera prototypes at a verdant winery in Spain, outside Barcelona, the sun beaming down on what couldn’t be a more perfect afternoon. The car leapt to attention when I opened the door to step out, then settled down as the door soft-closed behind me, silently regaining its poise ahead of yet more miles of development. It’s a car as joyful to pilot through the twists and turns as it ever was, now just that much calmer during the boring bits in between.