2011 Porsche Panamera Introduction

The Porsche Panamera has quickly earned credentials as one of the world's best large sports sedans. It has the luxury, space and performance to go toe to toe with cars like the Aston Martin Rapide and Maserati Quattroporte, not to mention more familiar luxury-sport models such as the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series. Panamera's core engineering values will feel very familiar to longtime Porsche enthusiasts.

For the Panamera's second model year, Porsche has introduced the 2011 Panamera V6. Powered by a 300-horspower 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine, with optional all-wheel drive, this new base model might be the most impressive Panamera of all. We can't think of another large luxury sedan that delivers the V6's combination of exhilaration, practicality and impressive fuel economy (18 mpg city, 27 highway, according to the EPA).

The Panamera's unique two-box exterior design is based on two objectives: Porsche styling heritage and space efficiency. The look seems to be a love-hate proposition, with haters ahead slightly and very little middle ground. Yet those who can embrace the styling will be rewarded with a truly substantial, satisfying automobile.

The Panamera is only slightly smaller than the BMW 7 Series, and it delivers the sporting performance of a world-class sports sedan with the comfortable ride and refinement of a luxo-cruiser. Those extremes required a lot of careful engineering. Porsche builds the body from lightweight materials and puts the engine low and as far back as possible. The Panamera's standard adjustable suspension can change the ride from soft but stable to race track-ready.

All Panamera models are fast, as is expected from Porsche. The new V6 hits 60 mph in as little as 5.6 seconds, despite the impressive mileage. The V8-powered Panamera S models drops the 0-60 time to 5.0 seconds, and raises top speed to 175 mph (from 160). The Panamera Turbo cuts that time to a sports-car bashing 3.6 seconds, with little if any turbo lag and a rush of power that pins you back in your seat.

The Panamera is truly roomy, with back-seat headroom, legroom and hip room that rival that of a Mercedes S-Class sedan. A standard full-length center console divides the Panamera into four distinct and comfortable seating positions. The feel from the driver's seat is much like that in Porsche's iconic 911, only slightly higher off the ground. All of the seats are supportive without being too firm or too deeply bolstered. The space inside still surprises us. The rear seat has enough head room for an NBA point guard and plenty of leg room, too.

The other thing that surprises is the level of refinement here. This is the most luxurious Porsche ever, well appointed and equipped. Navigation is standard. Leather upholstery is standard, as is the choice of carbon, aluminum or five varieties of wood trim. The fit, finish and quality of the materials rival any competitor. Its cruising manner is impressively smooth. Indeed, the serene cruising demeanor belies the world-class handling and performance available whenever the driver starts pushing harder on the pedals.

The hatchback design makes the Panamera useful as a family vehicle. With the rear seats up, the rear cargo area is as roomy as the trunk in a mid-size sedan. With the seats down, the Panamera has more cargo room than a luxury wagon, with easy access to a fairly expansive load floor.

Porsche reached the production milestone of 25,000 cars just ten months after the Panamera was launched in October 2009. That's a lot of volume for a Porsche, and it may be because the Panamera offers the best of many worlds. It's a fine luxury sedan and one of the best sports sedans anywhere. It's fast. It handles like a dream, carries four in comfort and has plenty of cargo room, and even the Turbo delivers better mileage than other cars of similar capability.

The Porsche Panamera doesn't come cheap, and as it is with any Porsche, options can add 50 percent or more to the model price. Yet on another level, given its impact and relative performance, the base Panamera V6 might be considered a deal.

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