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Just in: 2012 Porsche Panamera S

Consumer Reports News: April 02, 2012 11:38 AM

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Upscale luxury sedans with the look of sporty coupes have become very fashionable in recent years. These pseudo-coupes are aimed at drivers wanting to combine the style of a two door with a more practical four-door body. Porsche expanded into this burgeoning niche, bringing its sports-car DNA into the realm of sedans, or actually, a hatchback. We recently purchased one to test.

Traditionally based on existing models, the coupe-like sedan trend has been led by the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen Passat CC, both of which have lower rooflines and racier looks than their more upright stable mates, at the cost of less passenger room, impaired visibility, and more difficult access.

When Porsche decided to enter the four-door fray, the carmaker had no existing model to restyle. The result was the purpose-built Panamera, a large hatchback that looks vaguely like an inflated, elongated version of the 911 sports car. The design may arguably be less graceful than some competing models, namely the gorgeous Audi A7, but it does result in a usable two-person back seat with sufficient head- and leg-room for six footers.

Available with rear or all-wheel drive, we chose a rear drive Panamera for testing, in part because that is the same configuration as our recently tested Jaguar XJ, its closest competitor, as well as the Fisker Karma, another highly styled, luxurious, and expensive four-door sedan.

But where the gasoline-electric powered Fisker is marketed as a supercar for greenies --at least as much as any 5,395-pound, 16 and a half-foot-long car costing $107,850 can be described as green--our Panamera S makes no apologies for its mission. It is powered by a 400-hp, 4.8-liter V8 engine paired with a seven-speed automated manual transmission. Acceleration is blisteringly quick and smooth, much like our recently tested Porsche Cayenne SUV. The interior is awash with leather and brushed aluminum, and it is impeccably finished, even if some controls are complicated.

Porsche's token gesture to the green-car enthusiasts is the Panamera Hybrid, but that version accounts for a tiny portion of overall sales. Our $105,110 example is a relatively low-end version. Besides the Hybrid, other Panamera variants offer all-wheel drive, and turbocharged powertrains that can jack the price up past $180,000 with options.

The Panamera S starts at "only" $90,300 (a fair bit higher than the base $75,000 Panamera)--but good luck finding one on a dealer's lot at that price. Porsche's option list comes on fast and furious. Our window sticker chronicles the tally with $790 for Carbon Grey metallic paint; $1,990 for Bose audio; and $1,090 for keyless entry and ignition. A Premium package, with 14-way power seats and adaptive air suspension, adds $4,750. At that point, what's another $3,380 for 20-inch 911 Turbo II wheels? In the end, our car has a 2012 Nissan Versa worth of add-ons.

While their powertrains and performance are very different, the Panamera and Karma do have a certain amount in common, and they are targeted at buyers with similar bank accounts. We'll see how they compare once break-in miles have been racked up and the formal testing begins.

Jim Travers

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