Barely perceptible visual changes aside, mid-life updates to Porsche's four-door deliver big results
Master Juggler PHOTO: TORQUE

It seems like the Porsche Panamera has been around forever, but it's actually only been four years since it made its debut, which means it's about ripe for a mid-life nip-and-tuck. Given that the current-generation 911 still bears a strong resemblance to the 50-year-old original, it should probably come as no surprise that the visual updates Porsche have made to the Panamera are so subtle as to be nearly invisible.

If you haven't been able to spot the changes, here's what they've done. The front bumper is more assertively styled, with a squarer jaw and larger intakes. The lower inside corner of the headlamps has been chamfered for a bit moredefinition. The side skirts are slightly more protruberant, and there's a range of new wheel designs. The biggest change (relatively speaking) is at the rear, where the entire tailgate is new and incorporates
a flatter, wider rear windscreen.

In a bid to tidy up the rump, the taillights have been redesigned and their
layout simplified, the rear bumper is more pronounced, and the number plate has been moved to the bumper's lower edge.

Overall, it does look better, but still slightly amorphous, especially from the rear three-quarters. For an idea of how good a Panamera can look with a different rear end, check out last year's Panamera Sport Turismo concept car, with its practical and achingly cool station wagon body.

As part of this update, Porsche has also created a stretched version of the Panamera, which it calls the Panamera Executive. With a 150mm longer wheelbase and 120mm more rear legroom, it's targeted at the Chinese market, where the typical Panamera owner spends more time in the back than in the front. The longer glasshouse arguably also improves the car's proportions and adds visual gravitas.

But to the dismay of local towkays, the Panamera Executive won't be sold in Singapore as only left-hand-drive versions will be made.

Enough about the aesthetics, perhaps the most significant change is the
introduction of an all-new 3-litre twinturbo V6 engine under the hood of
the Panamera S and four-wheel drive Panamera 4S. This engine takes the place of the old 4.8-litre, naturally aspirated V8. In time, this powerplant will also serve duty in the Cayenne.

Despite being 30 per cent down on displacement, the new powerplant punches out 420bhp of power and 520Nm of torque, trumping the outputs
of its predecessor by 20bhp and 20Nm respectively and at lower revs, too. Incidentally, these are remarkable fi gures for an engine of this size – the equivalent 3-litre forced-induction engines from BMW and Audi, for instance, dish out power figures below 350bhp and torque in the range of around 450Nm.

With the added urge on tap, zero-to-100km/h sprint times in the Panamera S and 4S drop to 5.1 seconds and 4.8 seconds respectively (previously 5.4 seconds and 5 seconds), and top speeds rise to 287km/h
and 286km/h (up from 283km/h and 282km/h). As you'd expect given the
downsizing, the new engine is also far more frugal, its headline consumption figure dropping by an impressive 18 per cent to 11.2km per litre.

Another happy consequence of the smaller engine is a reduction in weight and a resultant rearward shift of the car's centre of gravity to the benefit of handling.

Any lingering doubts about performance from the loss of the old V8 are banished as soon as you ease away. Throttle response is immediate (better even than that of the facelifted 520bhp Panamera Turbo, which we also sampled), with no hint of turbo lag. Urge builds in a lovely linear fashion as revs rise, as does the aural intensity. The V8's backbeat is absent, but in its place is a keen, silken note that turns thrillingly
strident as you approach the 6500rpm redline. By which time, all 420 horses have been deployed and its acceleration would have become properly ferocious.

The familiar 7-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox has been revised, too. A new feature allows a controlled degree of clutch slip between gears, creating additional virtual intermediate "gears" for an even better match of engine revs to speed, to the benefit of both performance and economy.

On the move, this is indiscernible – to our relief, there's no CVT-style slippingclutch sensation. As always, the PDK is a gem of a gearbox, swapping ratios instantaneously and seamlessly, and adding a subtle,
exhilarating "kick" to each gearchange when in Sport mode.

Chassis-wise, Porsche has opted to tone down the overt sportiness of the first-generation Panamera. To this end, they've dialled back the firmness of the (optional) air springs, and recalibrated the dampers and the electronic damper control software for a more cushioned ride. Don't imagine that it's gone all pillowy soft though – body control over undulations remains stout, and roll is minimal.

Steering response also benefi ts from a new steering box, and the car’s handling and ride are further improved by lighter wheels for reduced unsprung weight.

The upshot is unruffl ed ride quality over all surfaces, coupled with keen turn-in and resolute grip. On really tight, twisting sections (such as some that we encountered at the press launch in the Bavarian Alps), the car can't disguise its five-metre length and near two-tonne weight, but on more open, flowing roads the revised Panamera is effortlessly, crushingly able.

While the Panamera S and 4S models hog the headlines with their new engines, the other petrol-engined Panamera models – the base Panamera V6 (in naturally aspirated guise), Panamera GTS and range-topping Panamera Turbo – all retain their existing engines, but receive power upgrades and improved consumption figures to boot.

The Panamera has from the outset brilliantly straddled the line between sports saloon and limo, and with this mid-term upgrade it has somehow managed to become even more adroit at both roles. That’s quite some juggling feat.

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This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Torque.

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