Rating: 9.0
Bottom Line:
It was about time the Porsche Panamera had a refresh, and the nine-version 2014 model lineup doesn’t disappoint. Power and efficiency are up across the board and the Panamera continues its role as one of the best driver-focused luxury cars built.
Pros:
  • Increased power with increased efficiency
  • E-Hybrid functionality
  • Still a driver’s car
Cons:
  • Love it or hate it styling
  • Stratospheric price tag
  • Control buttons difficult to differentiate

In 2009 Porsche took a gamble, introducing its first sedan to a skeptical public and enthusiast base. Did the 4-door really have a place in the lineup? But five years later, one out of every five new Porsches sold is a Panamera, so it seems to have won over the motoring public, despite all odds.

For 2014, with the model firmly established, Porsche takes steps to increase already stellar performance while improving fuel efficiency through transmission tricks, downsizing and an all-new hybrid system.

Model lineup
The expanded Panamera lineup grows to nine different versions at launch, with the Panamera and Panamera 4 with all-wheel drive serving as the two entry-level options. Four variants make up the exhaustive Panamera S line: Panamera S, Panamera 4S, Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Panamera 4S Executive. The Panamera GTS remains the edgier performer and the Panamera Turbo is still king of the hill.

Changes to the 2014 Panamera are subtle, but in typical Porsche fashion they make all the difference. A flatter, wider rear window with taillights that remind us of the European-only Volkswagen Scirocco (a good thing) casts a more athletic stance. The front end is also modified with more aggressive air intakes and redesigned headlights that offer an impressive LED option featuring Porsche's Dynamic Lighting System Plus.

New for 2014 is the Executive, which Porsche offers as the 4S Executive and Turbo Executive. The Executive gains 5.7 inches of wheelbase and comes with a laundry list of standard features such as low-noise and thermally insulated glass, automatic soft-close doors and park assist. The passengers in the rear seat enjoy a foot area that is increased by 4.7 inches, along with a 120-volt power point for accessories and heated and ventilated seats.

The revamped E-Hybrid is now plug-in capable and receives a larger boost from its electric motor and battery pack. Although it doesn't carry a "hybrid" badge anywhere, it is easily identified by Acid Green highlights on everything from the brake calipers to the needles on the gauges.

Standard features include Bluetooth connectivity, 7-inch display screen for navigation, Porsche's Stability Management system and auto-leveling bixenon headlights. As with all Porsches available today, the list of optional equipment is long enough to stretch from here to Stuttgart, with everything from a Burmester audio package to Porsche's amazing ceramic brakes. Also available are the driver aids you would expect on a car of this caliber.

Under the hood
The entry-level Panamera and Panamera 4 are powered by a 3.6-liter normally aspirated V6 engine that gains 10 horsepower to put out a more than respectable 310 horses, along with 295 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm.
The Panamera S, 4S and 4S Executive receive an all-new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 with 420 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque from 1750 to 5000 rpm (a 20 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque increase over the previous V8), along with a 17 percent jump in fuel economy. Under the hood of the GTS lies the normally aspirated 4.8-liter V8 with 440 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. The range-topping all-wheel-drive Panamera Turbo is motivated by a twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V8, producing 520 horsepower and 516 lb-ft from 2250 to 4500 rpm.

Worth extra mention is the new hybrid setup in the Panamera. While the supercharged 333 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine from the previous Panamera Hybrid returns relatively unchanged, the hybrid system is completely revamped. Output from the electric motor doubles to 95 horsepower, and an all-new lithium-ion battery pack increases storage capacity to 9.4 kilowatt-hours from 1.7 kWh in the old nickel-metal-hydride pack. Also new is a plug-in capability allowing the battery pack to be recharged in as little as two and a half hours with a 240-volt power source.

Using only electric power, the Hybrid can travel up to 22 miles and reach a speed of 83 mph. Combined output from the gas engine and electric motor is 416 horsepower with a plateau-like 435 lb-ft torque curve coming from 1250 to 4000 rpm.

Porsche also designed unique driving modes for the Panamera Hybrid. E-Power mode puts the car in pure electric mode, relying on the battery pack for power. The E-Charge mode allows you to recharge the lithium-ion battery while driving and Sport mode adds more responsiveness to the gas pedal.

An 8-speed Tiptronic automatic is the sole transmission for the Panamera Hybrid, while all other Panameras, both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, use a 7-speed PDK with some efficiency features. The auto start-stop is recalibrated to cut the engine off sooner when coasting to a stop, and the coasting function (not found in the GTS) decouples the engine from the transmission while coasting at speed, further reducing fuel consumption.

The coolest transmission feature is the virtual intermediate gears. In a nutshell, the PDK transmission engages two consecutive gears at the same time and manages the power through the wet clutch. This allows for the throttle to open wider when more power is needed but at a reduced load, thereby requiring less gas.

Inner space
The layout of the interior in the 4-seat Panamera is relatively unchanged, but we can't complain about that since it's one of our favorites on the road today. The four bucket seats are adorned in supple leather with options for heating, cooling and multiway adjustment. The added power meter in the E-Hybrid does a logical job of letting you know how well you are managing the electric power. We also think Porsche makes the best steering wheel in the business, hands down. In Alcantara leather, it's even better and is an available option on all Panameras. We highly recommend it.

A new option for the Panamera is the Porsche Connect app, which syncs vehicle information with your smartphone. It allows the user to access information such as the odometer reading, remaining driving range and vehicle location. If you have an E-Hybrid, you get a few extra features, including a charge timer that allows you to have the climate control set and ready for a predetermined departure time, since the climate control system functions off battery power.

Our only complaint with the interior, and it's a small one, is that the buttons on the center console all feel similar — and there are a lot of them — thus making it hard to differentiate without taking your eyes off the road. That being said, we'd take that trade any day for how beautiful they look, neatly arranged in rows.

On the road
We were really impressed by the new twin-turbocharged V6 engine during our time with the Panamera S; it makes us forget the V8 it replaces.The quickly spooling turbochargers help with low-end power delivery yet still manage to pull through the entire rpm range, atypical for a turbocharged car these days.

We forgot about the V8 engine, that is, until we drove the GTS. The naturally aspirated V8 still sings a sweet song and, along with a sportier calibration of the PDK and bigger brakes than the Panamera S, it is without question the "driver's car" of the family.

On the other hand, driving the Panamera Turbo is still otherworldly. The power feels like it should be measured with thrust instead of horsepower, and there is plenty to go around the entire rev range. Even though it has incredible power, Porsche's driver assistance systems still manage to keep you from getting too out of shape.

The Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy returns are decently respectable for a car of this size and performance. The normally aspirated V6 engine sips down 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway, and the twin-turbocharged V6 is marginally worse at 17/27 mpg. The V8 in the GTS attains 16/24 mpg, and the twin-turbocharged V8 slurps down 15/24 mpg. As of this writing the EPA has not released fuel economy numbers for the Panamera S E-Hybrid.

Right for you?
Nothing we're going to say here will make or break your decision to get a Panamera; if you're reading this, chances are good that you already want one. Prices are very wide-ranging for the 2014 Panamera. While a base rear-wheel-drive Panamera will set you back $78,100, a Turbo Executive is almost twice the price at $161,100 — and keep in mind those prices are before a very extensive options list. We're big fans of the Hybrid with its power boost, but struggle to understand who would buy it over a Tesla Model S. We are enamoured with the new twin-turbocharged V6. If you still want the full Porsche driving experience while hauling the family around the GTS is for you, and if you'd rather experience it from the back seat, step up to the Executive. Maybe hire Walter Rohrl as your driver.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.