When a 500-hp Porsche shows up—especially one with four doors—some sort of irrational response seems appropriate. Usually someone says, “We should race this thing,” except our racing budget is exactly equal to the number of folding bills you’ll find in the editors’ trousers at, say, 10 p.m. on the second Wednesday after payday. Still, we could have raced the Panamera Turbo because it has more moves than a congressman at a pastry buffet. Consider: Against one of its competitors—let’s say a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG—the Panamera’s 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times are both 0.6-second quicker, and the Porsche arrives at 150 mph 2.4 seconds sooner.
All agreed that the Panamera’s cabin is exquisite. Center console (above) looks busy but was easy to learn, at least after multiple hits of coffee, Mountain Dew, and Vivarin (below).
But forget about comparing Porsche’s first so-called sedan with other four-door locomotives. Here are the numbers that put this thing in perspective: To 60 mph, the Panamera is 0.2 second quicker—and 0.1 second quicker through the quarter-mile—than the last 911 Turbo we tested. Which is odd because the Panamera is 689 pounds fatter than the 911. Might Zuffenhausen be fudging power figures, or are the Panamera’s seven-speed doppelkupplungsgetriebe (double-clutch gearbox) and its explosive launch control responsible? To find out, some sort of competition did seem in order.
A Brumos Porsche won the 2009 24 Hours of Daytona. We couldn’t even summon the entry fees for that race, so we invented an event, the 24 Hours of Dayton, in which we were the first entry, the last entry, the only entry. Apart from that one terminal vowel, the two competitions are much alike. Both are close to airports. Some of Dayton’s citizens wear Rolex watches. Dayton made the polonium triggers in atomic bombs, while Daytona made a podium. Daytona has those jet-powered track blowers, while Dayton has one of America’s most consistent street-cleaning schedules. Dayton is home to Huffy bicycles, while Daytona is home to huffy rules-makers. Dayton built the Nutter Center, while Daytona built a press box that should have been called the Nutter Center. From Dayton hails Rob Dyrdek, who can skateboard way better than Hurley Haywood. And Daytona lays claim to the notorious “Bus Stop” turn, while Dayton possesses hundreds of bus stops, not to mention an equally notorious crash-ridden intersection known to locals as Malfunction Junction.
So we sketched out a 356-mile lap—100 times better than Daytona’s wimpy 3.56-mile lap—that started, bifurcated, and concluded in Dayton. We collared four editors, each to take the wheel for six hours, followed by driver swaps in our unique pit lane, which was, in fact, the portico of a Hampton Inn. Herewith, a sample of our drivers’ logbook comments:
JOHN PHILLIPS, 6 P.M. TO MIDNIGHT
Distance covered: 302 miles
Exited the hotel under a 180-degree rainbow. Good sign. Cabin is as lavish as any Bentley’s, though I wish there was better rear-three-quarter vision. I kept stroking the A-pillars, covered in what looks and feels like white suede. Funny that there’s so much drag while coasting at less than 10 mph. Half-shaft friction? The PDK’s premature predilection for first gear? Frightening lightning in Xenia, a city lifted bodily in an Oz-like tornado in 1974. Seats are as firm as overinflated footballs, with narrow cushions; might these soon start nagging at my hips? Cruise-control stalk is directly beneath the signal stalk. Even after three hours, I was still confusing the two. Steering is quick—tracks like a champ—and is nicely weighted, which helps mask this car’s mass. No BMW 7-series or Benz S-class is as agile, yet the Panamera is as solid-feeling as either. Lost my temper with a left-lane loiterer and deployed all 500 horses, passing on the right. Sweet mother of Usain Bolt. Scared myself as much as the loiterer. Won’t be needing the Vivarin. Soothing to find a facility in Chillicothe called “24 HOUR BOND.”
Holy button overload, Wendelin! Center console is quite daunting, but the placement of the controls is system-specific—driver’s climate in the northwest quadrant, passenger’s in the northeast, and so on. These are the best seat-ventilation fans I’ve ever experienced—sweaty back to assicles in 10 seconds. This car feels wide, and sitting so low in it exaggerates the sensation. In fact, it’s wider than a Cayenne—wider than almost every sedan in the U.S. Funny that there’s so little interior storage—map pockets can barely handle a notebook. The all-wheel drive’s hefty rear bias is startling. On cold tires, the rear end breaks loose rather consistently. I’m getting a sashay out of the tail when I’m not even looking for it. Stumbled upon launch control almost by accident: Select “sport plus,” turn off the stability control, then brake torque, and . . . Wow. The rush is immense, fearsome. On some portions of the drive, I’d have preferred an S-class’s comfort, but the Panamera feels lighter and more agile—it dives into corners and feels smaller than most luxosedans. PDK shift buttons are just dopey. Bring back normal paddles.
TONY QUIROGA, 6 A.M. TO NOON
Distance covered: 180 miles
A sleep-derived Quiroga divided his time between Starbucks, the Waffle House, and idling in pastures.
Drove straight to a Starbucks located in a 24-hour supermarket. Videographer Tom Adams then wandered over to the magazine rack, grabbed a copy of C/D, and began to broker a deal with the Starbucks clerk for my autograph. May have heard Adams say, “Celebrity,” then again, he could have been talking about her car. Panamera’s interior might be my new favorite. Dash mimics the 911’s with its five gauge pods, and the tall center console is a thing of beauty. Other 911 traits include narrow but comfortable seats. Exterior mirrors are tiny. Shifts come brutally quick, with 90 mph arriving at about the time you think 60 oughta. Adams told me that his daughter used to hide in the cornfield when she didn’t want to take her horse-riding lessons. I told him how much I love the Waffle House. Adams fell asleep in the back seat but woke up after I turned on his seat heater. I hate getting out of this car because then I have to look at the forced 911 styling cues that don’t work on a sedan. Hit the Waffle House by 11:30. Don’t tell Phillips. You should try their bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Really. Then K.C. Colwell arrived. He ordered a waffle, which he ate with a spoon.
K.C. COLWELL, NOON TO 6 P.M.
Distance covered: 296 miles
In the Hills Colwell described the Panamera as “flat hooked up.” During testing, he observed 190 mph.
In Ohio’s Hocking Hills, this car is flat hooked up. There’s a good amount of understeer, but the brakes and the Saturn V thrust make this an intensely rewarding back-road experience. At the same time, it masks speed well. Merging onto the freeway at 100 mph is a common occurrence, which elicited at least one middle digit from a fellow motorist. From the driver’s seat, the cabin seems tight, and the corners of the car vanish into the horizon, making it tough to maneuver through crowded parking lots. Fantastic interior—like a concept car’s. Should I mention that, while testing this thing, it achieved 190 mph and was still pulling as I ran out of road? Probably shouldn’t. I don’t think I’d want to be in any car’s back seat at 190 mph.
On at least three points, our drivers reached consensus. First, the Panamera is the spiritual successor to the 928 in the same way that Christopher Buckley is the spiritual successor to W.F.B. Jr.: related in name but not so much in philosophical purpose. Second, the Panamera is handsome from a front-three-quarter view but otherwise is an ovoidal festival of lava-lamp lumps. Third—and most crucial—this isn’t a luxosedan. It’s luxurious, oh, God, yes, is it ever. But it’s a sports car that happens to have two roomy rear seats. No BMW 7-series or Benz S-class is as gutsy, as connected, as direct, as prejudiced toward instant-gratification agility and white-hot velocity. So you might call it a “tweener.” You might also call it wonderful.
In the end, we dominated the 24 Hours of Dayton like no one before, even though none of us completed a full lap. Our Porsche covered 1078 miles versus the Daytona-winning Porsche’s 2617 miles. We celebrated not with Moët and free Rolexes but with a carwash and bacon, eggs, and cheese at the Waffle House. We might have seen Hurley Haywood there. Not sure. Maybe.