First Drive: Porsche Panamera V6

Porsche's Panamera V6 is a more economical option than the V8 S and Turbo models

It’s strange, almost a little perverse, that one of the factors that resonated most strongly with the luxurious, high performance Porsche Panamera V6 was the efficiency and competency of the stop-start fuel saving system.

What impressed was not simply the smooth shut-down and restart, no doubt aided by the inherently creamy nature of a V6 engine, nor the ability to continue operating sharply in heavy stop-and-go traffic, but the fact that the car could be left for upwards of three hours and still retain enough engine heat to ensure the system ran immediately on restarting.

A small consideration maybe; but one that impressed none-the-less and would certainly provide returns over the course of ownership.

Some might consider it strange that a 300bhp, four-door luxury saloon has a stop-start system at all but it’s important to remember that, despite the borrowing of many of its design cues and features, the Panamera is not a 911.

In a large four-door like the Panamera an extra dose of sensibility is required. That might come in the form of greater refinement or economy – both of which the stop-start system aids. It also comes via increased practicality and a more tractable day-to-day nature than a less compromising sports coupe.

The V6 powerplant is a dose of sensibility in itself. Originally launched with a choice of V8 or V8 Turbo engines, the Panamera lived up to the performance expectations of a Porsche but was competing in a very narrow sector within the large saloon market, against prestige models from the likes of Maserati.

Of course, this was no accident. A company that built its reputation on the production of high performance models is unlikely to announce its entry into a new sector with a humble offering.

Regardless, the large saloon models from other premium manufacturers are available with more efficient V6 petrol and even diesel engines, and the arrival of a V6 option for the Panamera broadens its appeal and puts a greater number of competitors in its sights – particularly as rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive platforms can be specified.

The engine itself produces a very reasonable 300bhp – more than enough to keep performance respectable – but allows the car to return more than 30mpg on the combined cycle.

It’s an impressively tailored combination of sportiness and refinement. There’s a traditional growl when the key is turned; for a fleeting moment the unit emits a noise not dissimilar to that of the 911’s flat-six powerplant, before settling to a quiet hum and not causing too much of a disturbance again until called upon to do so.

Naturally, being a Porsche unit, it’s happy to be revved but strong performance across the board means it’s also a highly competent cruiser.

Available as an alternative to the six-speed manual transmission supplied as standard for the rear-wheel drive model, the Porsche’s seven-speed Dopplekupplungestreibe – or PDK as a thankfully shortened alternative – makes the most of the engine’s twin personalities.

In everyday driving mode, the transmission opts to pull away from rest in second gear and provides seamless gear changes at low rpm, resulting in an effortlessly refined and impressively economical experience.

Greater aggression with the throttle encourages the gearbox to allow the engine to rev higher, pushing the Sport button changes the transmission map further, meaning high revs are held longer and downshifts come sooner and more sharply.

Some refinement is sacrificed in this scenario, as the pre-emptive downshifts can cause a little jerkiness, but this can be overcome with the wheel-mounted paddles – although their fussy configuration is not perfect.

Interestingly, the standard steel suspension settings are not altered depending on driving mode, which goes to show how slickly engineered the chassis is to be able to offer GT comfort and sports car-like handling simultaneously.

If it wasn’t for the sheer size of the Panamera making it less-easily wielded on tighter roads it could comfortably give many a sports coupe a run for its money. Lined up against traditional four-seat luxury saloons, the Panamera is a racing snake. Lithe, manoeuvrable and quick to respond, despite its considerable proportions, the rear of the two-wheel drive model can be provoked and easily controlled just like its coupe stablemates.

The 911-inspired styling means the Panamera is actually a five-door hatchback rather than a saloon, which provides impressive practicality, but there’s little shying away from the controversial exterior. It’s a vehicle that commands attention and divides opinion, but on the inside these issues melt away thanks to an exquisitely crafted four-seat interior.

The button-laden centre console gives a highly contemporary feel and although initially daunting, proves ergonomically sound. Touches such as the instrument dial that can display trip-computer, audio or navigation information and the crafted interior lighting add to the luxurious feel.

Porsche may have received some criticism for allegedly not putting enough effort into the Panamera’s exterior design, but it’s the attention to detail in every other area that makes the V6 model such a polished, well-rounded and universally appealing machine.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Porsche Panamera 3.6 V6 PDK, £63,799 on the road.
Engine: 3.6-litre petrol unit developing 300bhp and 295lb/ft of torque.
Transmission: 7-speed automatic transmission, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 161mph, 0-62mph 6.3 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 218g/km.
Economy: 30.4mpg. 

By Richard M Hammond

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