Experience the Driver’s Seat: Panamera S

The Panamera is proof positive that Porsche goes its own way. It’s also proof that time heals.

When Porsche unveiled the Panamera in 2009, legions of Porsche purists panned the four-door sports car, charging that the storied sports car manufacturer was selling out yet again.

Beyond the philosophical debate over the company’s direction was the simple fact that photos on a computer screen or printed page don’t do the Panamera justice. It is a machine you must experience to appreciate.

Total redemption is in the driving. When it comes to automobiles, vast reserves of power are never a bad thing when used well and responsibly. But power, without balance and absent solidity, is a veneer that wears thin quickly.

The Panamera means you don’t have to choose between fun-to-drive, done the Porsche way, and creating memories with friends and family members—two- or four-legged. For 2014, the Panamera gets a facelift.

But the tweaks under the skin–especially the hood–are what Porsche devotees care about. New powertrain choices abound, and in this game, power always seems to climb.

The Panamera S, which we wrung out, now comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making 420 horses, 20 ponies more than the former V8. It starts at around $94,175, but with the Porsche’s air suspension, 14-way memory seats, heated and cooled seats and four-zone Climate control, the bottom line was around $106,000.

Soon a new S E-hybrid version will arrive, packing better lithium-ion batteries feeding a more powerful electric motor—and for the take-no-prisoners camp, there’s the Panamera Turbo with 520 horses and a top speed of 189 mph.

For us, the “S” hits that sweet spot. When you’re in “born to be wild mode” use your right foot to release the beast. The turbos respond quickly, the chassis remains rock solid and Arnold Wagner would approve of the refined, yet authoritative, exhaust note. But the Panamera’s forte

is delivering exhilarating acceleration and tautness with utter luxury. The rear seats, split by a full-length center console, are roomier than most people might imagine. If you need more legroom, there’s the new-for-2014 executive versions with a wheelbase that’s been stretched 5.9 inches.

We would like to see Porsche embrace the “less is more” school of thought and come up with a cover for all the switches and buttons that adorn the console up front. With the holidays upon us, the Panamera—in black or red—would make a great gift. And we suggest it’s time to slay tradition, talk Santa into trading in his high-mileage sleigh and let the Red-Nosed One retire. Because once St. Nick gets his mitts on this latest Porsche Panamera, he’ll really be jolly.

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