As our plane touches down in San Francisco I realize the three hour time difference between east and west coast – a difference that normally seems exaggerated on these late night flights from Boston - is almost non-existent. Is it the anticipation of picking up our Panamera 4S press car? It’s not like we haven’t driven the Panamera before. Heck, we’ve even played with it on the track. However, this is the first time we’re going to spend any real time behind the wheel; six days in San Francisco and Napa to be precise. Yeah, it’s definitely the anticipation.
After grabbing our luggage from the carousel we make our way out of the terminal and over to the appropriate bus that will shuttle us to our awaiting Porsche. As we climb into the bus I can’t help but feel that something is different with this trip. Then it hits me, it’s the luggage. Normally, we pack light for these trips as storage space is, at times, a bit of a challenge in a Porsche. Not this time. We each have a full-size suitcase, a rolling carry-on and a backpack. Let’s hope the storage space is as good as we’ve read.
The driver drops us at our car, gives us our keys and bids us adieu. Lurking menacingly in the dark before us is all 16+ feet of our Panamera 4S (that’s a good 20” longer than a 911 and 5” longer than our Cayenne). It is a big car, there’s no way of getting around that. Looks like luggage shouldn’t be a problem…
Popping the trunk I quickly see that maybe I was wrong about the luggage. You see, while the Panamera has considerable storage space (44.6 cubic feet), if you opt for the removable luggage compartment cover (which our test car came equipped with and you can see in the picture above) vs. the standard retractable one, you actually eat into your cargo space because you can’t make use of all that extra height the unique design of the rear-hatch provides. Remove the cover and you have no problem. Thankfully, the Panamera’s rear seats fold down independently of each other allowing for extra space and a variation on how you pack. Just don’t plan on bringing guests along if you utilize this feature.
Enough about Luggage, Let’s Drive This Sucker
With our luggage safely stored it’s time to get to the hotel and get some sleep. Opening the driver’s side door reveals a cockpit that would seem more at home in an airplane than a sedan, resplendent with overhead switches, controls and toggle switches (here's a press pic that show's a much better shot of the Panamera interior). The seats are exceptionally comfortable and the driver’s position is as good, if not better, than that of a 911. First time Porsche drivers, or even seasoned drivers of Porsches from years gone by, might be a bit overwhelmed by all the switches and buttons lining the center console and overhead. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it in time. Trust me.
Kick the Tires and Light the Fires
A twist of the Panamera shaped key brings the V8 hidden under the long hood to life. Dropping the 7speed PDK transmission into reverse quickly highlights one of the very few gripes we have with the Panamera. Blind spots. This Porsche is chock full of ‘em and backing out of a tight spot at night without the aid of Park Assist would be a harrowing experience. Do yourself a favor, if you’re getting a Panamera (and by the end of this review we’ll want one for our own driveway) option it with the Park Assist. Even better, spring for the rear-view camera bundle. You’ll thank me later.
With our on-board radar having helped to avert a parking lot disaster, it’s time to hit the road. Pulling out of the parking area at SFO and onto the access road removes any doubt that the size and heft of the Panamera would get in the way. The 400 hp 4S practically leaps onto the highway. The throaty growl from the exhaust is a pure Porsche eargasm. This is a sedan? Wow! I can’t wait to throw this against the hills and curves of Napa.
The Next Morning
I call the valet and ask to have our car brought around; we’re ready to head out. “No problem Mrs. Irving, it will be here when you come down.” I just love the San Francisco Four Seasons. Everyone’s so polite. The only problem however, is that at times, it can take more than a few minutes for your car to be retrieved; if it’s busy you might as well bring a book. Not this time. We’re down in the driveway less than 5 minutes after my call and the Metallic Green Panamera is right out front parked immediately behind a white Panamera V6. Looking around we see the only other cars given this type of treatment are a Bentley and a Ferrari. The Panameras are clearly the winners in this valet vanity contest.
Our first destination is Muir Woods National Monument. If you’ve never had a chance to visit, make the time. It’s worth it. The scenery is breathtaking and their little café in the woods should have at least one Michelin star. More importantly –and more on topic- the ride north from San Francisco is a treat for any Porsche lover. Who minds traffic when you’re in a luxury sport sedan and on vacation? Heading out of the city we make our way toward the Golden Gate Bridge. With PASM set on comfort you're hard pressed to remember that the city is crisscrossed with trolley tracks and elevation changes that can challenge even the cushiest of Cadillac’s.
Once over the bridge, traffic thins and it’s time to step on the gas. Again, I can’t help but notice the throttle response of this big Porsche. If this is 400 horses, what can the 500 horse Turbo do? It’s not a 911, but it’s more than we expect for a car with such heft.
As we enter the hills I switch into sport mode allowing the computer to adjust the throttle mapping and tighten the suspension. It’s amazing how a push of a button can completely change the personality of a car. We just went from an elongated touring sedan to what feels like a road hugging coupe; magic! Just think, I still have Sports Plus in reserve. What else can the Panamera pull out of the hat?
If you’ve never driven in this part of the world, find a way to get here and do so. Not only is the scenery unmatched, but the twists and turns will warm the heart of any automotive enthusiast. I chose to use the opportunity to see just how well the Panamera handles. With a clear road in front and a line of cars behind, it took less than a ¼ mile to lose all but one of our followers (a Porsche Boxster). Hmmm. This could get interesting.
Mindful that on these roads the wrong steering input or over confidence, in either car or driver, can result in a long, wet and most likely fatal plunge into a ravine or the Pacific, I switch to Sports Plus. Let’s see what that Boxster driver is made of! More to the point, let’s see what the Panamera is made of. I know how well the Boxster handles (seemingly better than the 911) and don’t hold out much hope that we’ll lose our tail any time soon.
Porsche Panamera Tears Through the Corners
To my surprise, and John’s horror, the Panamera tears through the tight turns at 50 mph with out the slightest whimper of protest from the tires. The 19” tires grip with fierce force. As we approach a particularly hairy hair-pin, an overzealous application of the brakes seemingly reverses the rotation of the earth (and these aren't even the PCCBs). If not for our seat-belts we would have had an up-close and personal experience with the giant front windshield. Despite it’s long length and heft, the Panamera 4S slows from 60 to nill in 108 feet (not bad for a 4100 + lb Porsche). Even with continued punishment the big brakes performed each and every time with no noticeable fade.
While we didn’t lose the Boxster, we did garner the admiration of his owner. Turns out he (and his wife) were headed to the same destination as us. Arriving at the parking lot he quickly jumped out for a closer look at the Panamera, explaining he had only seen them in pictures and was “driving with everything he had” to keep up with us in the turns.
After a romp through the redwoods it was back on the road and north on the Shoreline Highway toward Stinson Beach. At this point the highway gets quite narrow and even more twisty with lots of elevation changes. The road speaks to you, faster, faster. Thankfully, common sense takes over and you realize the amazing scenery is a bigger hazard than anything else in its continuous distractions. It’s as if with each turn Mother Nature is trying to outdo herself. I realize I’m so distracted from the amazing scenery I best just sit back and enjoy the ride. Turning off the Sport function the Panamera morphs back to a luxury ride in a plush sedan.
Upon arrival at Stinson Beach we decide to stop for food at the Sand Dollar Restaurant, smack dab in the middle of downtown. Even though it’s a weekday and the weather is a bit drab, there is still a good lunch crowd; a mix of locals and tourists soaking up the sights and sounds. Pulling the Panamera into its parking space, the party of eight on the front porch stops their conversation and simply stares. I’ve driven a lot of Porsches and a good many other exotics, Not one of them received as many looks as the Panamera. The comments ranged from “What the hell is that?”. To, “Beautiful car”. Not one disparaging remark (at least not while we're in ear shot).
A quick lunch and we’re back on the road. This time, we’re headed east on the aptly named Panoramic Highway. With more twist and turns than a normal karting track, the Panamera is getting its exercise. Surprisingly, even with a heavy right foot, many starts, stops and an average speed of 42 mph (according to the computer), we’re still averaging about 19.2 mpg (this is better than 18.9 we regularly see for mixed driving in my 2009 six cylinder Cayenne).
Calling it a day
After a total of 6 hours and 220 + miles we’re back in the city. As I've never been to San Francisco before John suggests we head over to Lombard Street to check out this famous road. While an enjoyable attraction, it does highlight my only other gripe with the Panamera. The nose on this car is so long that when cresting the steep hills in San Fran you almost need to take it on faith that there's still a road in front of you; it really is that hard to see over this very long hood.
Now that we're back in the city, I notice a difference from previous drives. Usually after a drive of this length I’m tired and looking forward to relaxing. Not so today. While I’m happy to get back to the hotel, I'm already anticipating our drive to Napa tomorrow. I won't even mind being designated driver!!
As I pull into the Four Seasons, the valets jockey for position to open my door. I'd like to think it's me, but I'm wondering if maybe I should start noting the mileage before I hand over the keys. No matter what, it seems like I won’t have to wait long for my Panamera tomorrow. John has talked about replacing his big four dour Mercedes with a Panamera. After today's drive, I'm definitely good with that!
To see more pics from our trip, including my drive to Napa, please take a look at the PorschePurist Facebook page. Be sure to "like" it when you stop by!!
If you’re interested in a Panamera of your own (and we think you should definitely give it a try), you might want to check with Wally at Porsche of Hilton Head. He’s as big a Porsche nut as anyone we know (check out his Porsche blog) and there’s always a decent amount of stock available.