2013 Porsche Panamera
Highs: Beautiful styling, space-ship type engine whirr.
Lows: Horrible blind-spots. Clunky engine shut-down and start-up.
Someone recently commented that my blog was nothing but positive, over-the-top mush pieces about 5-star hotels, or high-end sports cars. I can’t tell if that comment was a better indicator that I’m a non-critical softy, or that some people are just cunts. It did make me think though, that maybe I’m not looking hard enough. Or maybe I’m not writing hard enough. Critiquing without sounding like a total asshole is a fine art. I’ve always been one to support rather than one to tear down, but even with the seemingly perfect, there are imperfections. Sometimes it is the imperfections that bring out the beauty.
Serendipity, true to its form ensured that my next item to review after this introspection was the single nicest piece of machinery I’ve ever driven in my life; the Porsche Panamera. A 2013, black on black with 22” rims – it had to be that my first prospect would make me rise to the challenge of finding “fault” with something.
This was my first Porsche, so I cannot compare my ride to any of their convertibles or coupes. But I have driven the majority of luxury sedans on the market. Benz S’s and E’s, BMW 5 series, the Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G’s and M’s, Cadillac CTS and ATS, and so on. So Porsche fan-boys may rip this review apart (if any of them ever see it J). But I’m not aiming for them, I’m aiming for the average car lover, or a buyer looking to move up a class.
The Panamera is infinitely drivable. It is fun enough, that you could drive it for eternity. Entry and exit height is easy great (though I’m 5’8”), the driver seat is perfectly shaped, and very adjustable. The driver can interact with the 7-speed gearbox through paddle-press tabs on the steering wheel, AND a Manual +/- mode on the gearshift. The Steering wheel shifters are push-tabs placed right where your thumbs would go if your hands are at 10 & 2, and move like a middle piece of a Jenga block, forward and back. To shift up, you press your thumbs (or thumb) in, and to downshift, you use your index fingers to push in moving the tabs towards your face. Points for style. More points for just being cool. The tip-tronic shifter knob is nothing new, but the gearshift has a little tab on the top like the one you’d flip back on a jet fighter to go weapons free – I never figured out what it was for, but it was awesome to play with. I fantasized a couple times about using it to blow cars off the road in front of me.
Manual modes are fun, but 7 gears mean that the rev’s climb quickly, and shifting happens often. But I found it more fun to put the Panamera into Auto-Sport mode and just let the car do the work. For me, if it’s not a real manual gearbox, I never get the same enjoyment from an Auto-Manual. Like watching a new David Blaine special, some part of me knows he’s fucking with me and I just can’t shake the feeling I’m being tricked.
Here’s my beef; and I’ll admit, it’s a lame one. Like many cars now, the engine shuts down at extended stops and moments when it’s not needed. But when it starts up again, half the time it felt very clunky and abrupt. A few times it started up at lights, and clunked and shook the whole car. Since I’m not use to it, my first reaction was “Oh shit, something’s wrong”. There’s nothing wrong, but I imagine it would take some time to get used to. I think as drivers we’re all programmed to attune to that constant whirring of the engine while driving, and when a hiccup, or lurch interrupts that whirring, our gut reaction is always “Damn, this is not good”. Same thing when you engine shuts off and you’re not used to it. At parking lots, or take-out windows when it shuts off and there are people lined up behind me, I get a second of flop-sweat that my car is dead, and I’m now going to have to now push it around a corner somewhere. But then it kicks-in and everything is fine. I get that it saves gas, and probably saves wear-and-tear, but I don’t know how long it would take for me to get used to it, and I’d prefer if until then I didn’t mini-shit my pants every time I stopped to grab a parking lot ticket. Can’t say it’s a huge gripe, but I’ll safely categorize it as a minor inconvenience.
Style: Typical of Porsche, inside and out, the Panamera is pretty. Sleek front lines and hood lines. Lengthy but doesn’t look like a station wagon, and who can forget an ass like that. Belongs in a Hammer video. That sexy, rounded ass does create the mother of all blind spots. With the rear windows tapering to a rounded edge, you couldn’t see a dump truck that was riding your right or left rear corner.
The interior controls are laid out so that most things are pushbutton. And there are a shit-load of them. But somehow, it doesn’t seem cluttered. Buttons run from your elbow by the door, up along the door, across the steering wheel, down the front-console, and along your right arm to your elbow in the center-console. But not cluttered. A beautiful analog clock sits in the center of the dash above the console, nearer to the windshield. When you’re sitting in the car before you’ve turned it on, the hands on the clock bounce around like it was a turbo-timer. Don’t ask me why.
Comfort: Of course it’s going to be comfortable. It’s Porsche’s venture into the 4-seater sedan market. With their reputation as a quality carmaker on the line, you could have bet that they would stick that landing. Beautifully smooth leather, brushed nickel accents. I had a 6’8 guy, and a friend who had hip-replacement surgery last fall in the back and they both commented on being very comfy. They loved the bucket-style seats. The 6’8er needed more room, but where does he not?
Electronics: The key is an electronic key –and-lock style port. Placed on the left side of the steering wheel. Which would have been fine, if I had not just broken my left thumb 3 weeks before. I’m sure it’s much less annoying for most of us, and even ideal for the 10% of us who are lefties ;)
The control center is everything it should be. Visually clean, easy to learn and interact with, AND you can use it while driving. **Beware, vacuous rant of 1st world problems coming up** I’m so sick of Lexus and Mercedes dictating that I can’t look down for a split second and spin a control nob to zoom on a map without spinning out of control, or that I can’t press to confirm a route guidance and not tear through a stop sign and T-bone someone. If you can change songs, lower a window, or mess with the AC and not die, a competent adult can plot a route, or connect his phone to Bluetooth just as easily. Give me back my liberty you cheats! And just for safety’s sake, improve the early warning and braking so that if I DO get carried away with the wee-dads, I don’t plow headlong into that bus of Kindergarteners that I’m tail-gaiting.
The driver controls on the steering wheel allow you to do everything that is pretty much standard on these luxury sedans. Make a call, change the song, check the oil and tire pressure, see heads-up directions, or set new favorite XM radio stations. Nothing new, but certainly nothing missing.
Overall: So I had this beautiful ride for almost a week. Back and forth to work, around a few spots in LA, once or twice on the freeway. But it was clear that I while it had been mine, I really hadn’t experienced it in its full glory. So I decided to take it for a spin, a real spin. Not knowing where I would go. Santa Monica at night seemed a clear choice, and from there the path to the empty PCH on a Tuesday night was irresistible. The best part of my trip happened by accident. I turned down a road instead of doing a U-turn on the PCH, and looked for a place to turn around. But with narrow shoulders and someone right behind me, I just kept driving up. When I hit the MAP button on the NAVI system, it popped up that I was on a windy mountain road called Los Flores. Unknowingly, I had steered myself towards the most fun I would have with this, and probably any car I’ve had in recent years. Twisting corners, tight S-turns, the tight grip of the tires on the road as it climbed around the bends and up the narrow road. It was perfect, and I’m lucky I didn’t come across one other car on the way up, because I was hogging the road, and taking up my share of the middle. Hitting Topanga Canyon on my way back down I could open the throttle a little a get a new thrill. This is what this car was built to do. Intensify. Exhilarate. Inspire. Made to put your hands on and have an experience. Put flesh to wood, and skin to leather, and end off feeling better than when you started.