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Porsche Panamera 4S (2017) review

The Panamera was always about a sporty drive. The new one now injects a good dose of comfort, as well.

The Panamera could be considered as the weakest link in Porsche's model lineup. No, it wasn't a bad car. In fact, the four-door from Weissach has created the benchmark in its class for being the sportiest car to drive. But for its price, Porsche fans would merely go for either the legendary 911 or versatile Cayenne SUV.

It's probably something Porsche couldn't do much about, so it's apparently business-as-usual for the second-generation Panamera. But despite having the same mission of luring buyers from traditional luxury saloons, there are many new happenings taking place in the latest model.

The first is the design. Some people have criticised the first-gen model for its somehow queer profile. Well, the successor seems to have rectified that to a certain degree with more balanced proportions, a 911-esque rear and 718-aping lights up front.

The more important news come in the cabin. Just like when we first got a taxi-ride in a running prototype of the new Panamera last year in Germany, we find the new touchscreens more pleasurable to use than the button-festooned console of the preceding model. As well, they help add a sense of classiness and modernity to the Panamera's interior.

But after taking the driver's seat for the first time on Thai roads, we found those welcoming features not always full of roses. Yes, the whole idea of more streamlined functions is cool, but some functions are still overlapping here and there. For example, the drive-mode selector can be operated via the central touchscreen or via that small rotary dial on the steering wheel. That's only one.

But once you've got yourself acquainted reasonably well with how things work in the cockpit, it's quite a nice place to be in. The driving position is virtually spot on and the sporty seats feel both shapely and comfy to sit. The same goes for the rear whereby similar perches are to be found, as well as touchscreen functions for passengers to play around with.

Mind, though, that the Panamera is a 2+2 because Porsche wants to underscore its sporty mission. In fact, many other luxury saloons -- be them traditional three-box saloons or sleek fastbacks -- are also being sold with just two rear seats because many owners would be chauffeur-driven especially in this part of the world.

If you really want more practicality, there's the Cayenne to choose from. But to ensure that the Panamera is not entirely unliveable, there's hatchback practicality whereby the rear seats can fold down for more cargo space.

Speaking about the Panamera's body concept, the fastback that comes closest in matching it is the Audi A7 Sportback, which is about to be renewed in second-generation form this year with technical credentials shared with the Porsche.

Other choices that aren't as old-fashioned as the Mercedes-Benz S-class include the BMW 6-series GranCoupe, Jaguar XJ and Maserati Quattroporte. You might also wish to know that the all-new LS from Lexus due later this year is ditching its conservatism in favour of a Panamera-like body. In one way or the other, the Panamera is looking to become a trendsetter for luxury fastbacks.

Low-speed ride has new levels of comfort.

Another major area of development is drivetrain technology. Although the new Panamera has only been on the market for several months, there's a myriad of engines to choose from ranging from the sensible V6 petrol head, super-fast V8 diesel to plug-in hybrids. The sole transmission is eight-speed dual-clutch automatic driving either the rear or four wheels.

The variant we're sampling this week is the all-wheel-drive 4S, which sees an all-new bi-turbo 2.9-litre V6 replacing the older 3.0-litre one, which still propels the basic Panamera with 330hp. Some cubic capacity in the new 4S may have been lost, but power rises to 440hp (up 20hp) and 600Nm (80Nm) when compared to Panamera Mk1 facelift.

This means that the 4S is the mid-of-the-range Panamera. In spite of that status, the 4S is still a very quick car. Straight-line performance is impressive when you floor the gas pedal, although you're always reminded that the Turbo V8 is the king of the range.

But power delivery doesn't always feel immediate when picking up pace from low speeds. There's some turbo lag and the throttle response isn't that sharp, even when you switch the drive mode to Sport. It's a little bit nagging for a car wearing a posh and racy badge. But as soon as the turbos spool up, the 4S rapidly disappears into the horizon with alacrity.

The next novelty for the Panamera is the driving characteristics. Featuring the Volkswagen Group's latest MSB platform may have helped increase the Panamera's footprint (and interior space, as well) on the road, but it's the way the chassis has been tuned that beckons.

There's a newfound level of ride comfort at low speeds. The primary ride feels quite plush, nearly as in a BMW 7-series, and only some small vibrations over rutted roads spoil the Panamera's secondary ride. There also seems to be less din in the cabin, adding some sense of serenity to help boost its opulence for comfort-looking owners.

And the good thing is that the Panamera still can handle like a sports car when asked to. Sure, the suspension will automatically firm up when you engage Sport mode. But it's mostly unnecessary because the softest setting is still good enough, even at high speeds. Which is why the separate switch to operate the suspension setting comes in handy.

The steering is delightfully tailored. It hardly feels light or heavy and simply maintains a nice and crisp weight. Another thing that has helped out on low-speed agility and neat cornering abilities in high-speed turns is four-wheel-steering, which, alongside the acceleration-enhancing Sport Chrono package, is being made standard on Thai-spec Panameras.

The 4S may not be the quickest Panamera around, but many of its intended rivals are not readily available with similar performance in Thailand like the 650i GranCoupe and supercharged V8-powered XJ. But again, the 13.5 million baht price the 4S is asking for isn't the best deal around. The M760Li xDrive from BMW -- trying to be a wolf in sheep's clothing -- is offering a 1 million baht discount over the 4S with its 610hp performance.

Worse for the 4S is in the Panamera's own game. Due to special taxes for hybrids in Thailand, you can get the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid for 9.65 million baht with similar performance. We haven't driven it yet. But judging from our previous experiences with Porsche's hybrid drivetrains, that near-4 million baht savings should be worth contemplating.

Whichever way you're going to land with the Panamera, you are most likely to be guaranteed with the usual credentials: big performance and great to drive. And, for the first time, the Panamera also glides with comfort many Thai punters can come to expect of.

Despite integrating new and nice-to-use touchscreens, some functions are overlapping.

Rear has only two sporty-shaped seats; occupants also get touchscreen facility.

There's the same versatility of hatchbacks in the rear.

Bi-turbo V6 packs a punch but isn't that responsive.

The 4S isn't the immediate choice of Panamera.

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