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First Oz drive: Panamera is cross-country king

Westward ho: Porsche set out around Australia to give motoring journalists plenty of time to soak up the charms of the new Panamera sedan.

Porsche's first limo takes lap of luxury around Australia in 17,000km launch run

8 Sep 2009

THERE is no better way of establishing a grand tourer’s long-haul credentials than heading for the highway.

Porsche did exactly that with its bold new Panamera sedan with a round-Australia press tour leading up to the car’s official launch on October 3.

The 17,000km, 33-day clockwise circumnavigation of the continent began in Melbourne on September 1 and returns to Victoria’s capital city to coincide with the Panamera’s official national launch. The journey retraces much of the drive route taken by the first Porsche 356 to arrive in Australia as it competed in the first round-Australia Redex Trial in 1951.

Two cars, a Panamera S and Panamera Turbo, are on the journey with a Cayenne diesel support vehicle. Go Auto joined the transcontinental tour in Adelaide, and drove the 2500km via the Barossa Valley, Flinders Ranges and the Nullarbor to Esperance, on the Western Australian south coast.

The Panamera made itself a talking point before its wheels had even turned on a road test. The exterior design gives a more than just passing nod to the classic 911 at its nose and tail, while the Panamera has stretched flanks to allow for an extra pair of doors and extra rear legroom.

25 center imageThe result is an unflattering view in pictures, but in the metal the lanky frame looks no more offensive than the beautiful Maserati Quattroporte. Certainly, the Panamera’s body is no latin steel craftwork – it’s far too Teutonic – but no worse for it.

Grab the Panamera’s door pull and the door swings to any point you choose, with the hydraulic strut holding it in position. Not the first car to do this, but nice touch just the same. If you somehow missed the grand tourer intent of this car on the outside, the interior surrounds you with it. Hard, bolstered seats that envelope you as you slide down into them, the large tachometer taking the central instrument position, flanked by a speedometer that swings to 330km/h in the Panamera S (350km/h in the Turbo).

The dashboard is stitched in leather and encases brushed silver highlights and the large signature Porsche dials. The centre console is much taller than you might expect and this means the array of control buttons and the gearshift are easier to access. The buttons control the separate zones of climate control (driver and passenger) and various suspension settings, hazard lights and so on.

The first day from Adelaide to Tanunda was barely a warm up as we settled into a freeway cruise, the cabin of the Turbo almost silent at 110km/h. The next day, from Tanunda to Wilpena Pound, the roads became more twisting and undulating, and with it a coarse-chip rumble that penetrates the Panamera cabin, especially the Turbo with its optional 20-inch wheels. With the speed rising, conversation is almost at shout levels.

The Turbo feels big on these narrow roads that thread their way like a patchwork quilt to the lower spine of the Flinders Ranges. The steering feels nervous, the driver’s seat position low and view forward flanked by thick A-pillars and the hunkered arches and rounded bonnet.

The PDK transmission, fidgeting irritably and jerking at parking speeds, here begins to stamp the first frankings of its touring speed authority. Shifts are decisive, smooth, and when the Turbo’s lungs are breathing hard the tempo of shifts transform from tipsy slurring to whip-crack clarity.

Soon enough the steering no longer feels so edgy as you become accustomed to its want to follow minor undulations, and the reward of relaxing into it and trusting it to send to Panamera where you direct it reveals a precise, feedback laden and superbly weighted steering. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The Turbo soaks bumps well even in the ‘Comfort’ setting (the alternatives being the harder settings, Sport and Sport Plus) and lacks the S’s slight wallowing sensation over mid-corner bumps on fast corners.

The Turbo’s comfort setting relays more information about the road surface than you might want during touring, and the Panamera S offered the better ride comfort. While the S was equipped with the (optional) air suspension that the Turbo had as standard, the S had 19-inch wheels instead of the 20-inchers on the Turbo. Taller tyres and 200kg less kerb weight no doubt in part accounts for the S’s more relaxed ride.

The wide, open Eyre Highway invited an easy, steady cruise-controlled progress, the arrow on the two Satnav screens – one in the centre stack and the other a menu selection in the instrument cluster – inching inexorably west. The mesmerising metronome pace of the white centre line jumps to a frenetic crescendo as we pass road trains. Here the Turbo drank in the horizon greedily, the unyielding acceleration still absolutely breath-taking after four days’ of driving.

The S ambled along, feeling a little more laid back and while it may lack the Turbo’s hard and unyielding punch forward, it ropes in the road at an assertive pace and never feels wanting for power or the long legs required for a swift B-double overtaking manoeuvre.

By Esperance, where we left the Panameras for other journalists to continue their around-Australia journey, the two cars had travelled about 3700km since their departure from Melbourne. In this time, the Panamera S averaged 11.6L/100km and the Panamera Turbo averaged 13.4L/100km. Not bad, considering the headwind across the Nullarbor.

Sitting in the Panamera for long days gives you an appreciation for the incredible comfort of the interior. Even a short, 30km stretch sitting in the back – in what appear to be almost identical seats to those in the front – was an easy, comfortable ride with acres of shoulder, head and leg room.

The lift-up tailgate reveals a load space that will take a reasonable 450 litres of luggage - not ample but sufficient for a weekend away. You would buy something else if you were tempted to carry the kitchen sink along on big trips.

The Panamera is a beguiling car, one that entreats you to drive it hard as every good Porsche should, and makes it seem too easy while doing so.

Of course it is a big car, and we felt every centimetre of it in tight city parking situations (but naturally it has parking sensors).

However, its seating comfort, interior space and features, plus the sheer competence of the engine, brakes and chassis, stamp it clearly as one of the world’s best grand tourers.

2009 Porsche Panamera range pricing:
Panamera S $270,200
Panamera 4S $282,400
Panamera Turbo $364,900

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