2010 Porsche Panamera (© Porsche Cars North America)Click to enlarge picture

A Porsche must look like a Porsche, which means the Panamera features design elements from the 911, which are obvious up front and in the rear haunches.

Porsche made a bold move in 2003 when it introduced the Cayenne. The SUV didn’t exactly fit into the automaker’s performance image. Even so, it is a performer, both on the road and in dealer showrooms. The Cayenne basically doubled Porsche’s sales to roughly 100,000 units annually worldwide, allowing the company to grow its dealer network and move into new foreign markets. A business has to evolve if it plans to survive.

For 2010, Porsche is taking another bold step with the Panamera, the company’s first-ever 4-door, 4-passenger sedan. According to the German sports car specialist, the Panamera can add 20,000 units to the company’s annual sales and fill a gap in the grand-touring luxury performance market where it has never played, but now wants to.

Model Lineup
Starting in October 2009, the 2010 Panamera joins the 911, Boxster, Cayman and Cayenne as the fourth Porsche. It will be offered in three versions: the S, which starts at $89,000; the 4S at $93,800; and, for the truly well-heeled, the Turbo at $132,600. All come with seating for four, but the S is equipped with rear-wheel drive, while the 4S and Turbo have all-wheel drive.

All Panamera models are loaded down with plenty of safety equipment, including dual front airbags, front side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, side-curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control. Rear side airbags, however, are optional.

View Pictures:  2010 Porsche Panamera

Design
Porsche wanted the Panamera to have the sporty look of a coupe, the back-seat room of a sedan and the cargo utility of a wagon. Those parameters led design chief Michael Mauer and his team to develop a rounded hatchback instead of a traditional “three box” sedan body style. The hatchback allowed for the rear headroom Porsche desired, as well as the rear cargo utility and the sporty coupe rear profile. “When we started this project . . .  [the design team] brought in our view on the package, on the proportion, on the dimension,” Mauer says. “We knew from the very beginning that a hatchback was the right way. Who needs just another three-box, conventional, boring sedan?”

However, the design team couldn’t deviate too far from tradition. “To do a really revolutionary change would not have made sense,” Mauer says. “The Panamera is pointing out a new direction, but we are also staying with our design language.” The 911 influences are unmistakable, but the rear end had to be new. Porsche kept the company’s signature rear “shoulders,” or haunches, but extended the roofline all the way back to the end of the car.

Critics will inevitably call the Panamera a 911 with a bulbous rear end that would make J.Lo jealous. Hidden at the back of the hatch is an active rear spoiler. It rests under a chrome trim strip and pops up at speed to increase rear downforce. 

Under the Hood
The Panamera comes with a choice of two V8 engines, which it shares with the Cayenne. Panamera S and 4S versions come with a dual-overhead-cam 4.8-liter V8 making 400 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque from 3500 to 5000 rpm. The engine features direct-injection and Porsche’s VarioCam Plus, which is variable valve and variable stroke timing for the intake stroke. Porsche quotes a zero to 60 mph time of 5.2 seconds for the S. The additional traction of the AWD 4S makes it even quicker, at 4.8 seconds to 60 mph. Both S variants top out at 175 mph.

Is the Panamera the right direction for Porsche?

The Turbo gets the twin-turbocharged version of the same engine. It produces 500 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 516 lb-ft of torque from 2250 to 4500 rpm. Porsche says the Turbo is capable of reaching 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds and has a top speed of 188 mph. Customers will be able to achieve that time using the launch control function in the optional Sport Chrono Plus package.

Both engines use Porsche’s 7-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) automated manual transmission. The PDK uses two clutches, one to hold the current gear and one to ready the next. It can shift faster than a human can shift a manual and never interrupts power to the wheels.

A start/stop feature is also on tap to turn off the engine at stoplights, thus conserving fuel. EPA fuel-economy estimates have not been released, but Porsche says combined fuel economy figures will be 26.3 mpg for the S, 25.4 mpg for the 4S and 23.3 mpg for the Turbo.