On Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond admitted that the Panamera had plenty of poke but when the (now disgraced) Stig sped past them in it, they looked the other way, such was their dislike of the large, curvy design with the bulbous rear end and swooping roofline. Among my friends, there was a mix of opinions but it was the people who experienced the car from the inside and out who truly appreciated it. It looks better in real life than the first design sketches suggested.
When I picked up the entry-level V6 version, I loved the dark metallic purple shade called Amethyst - a nice change from the white or silver cars I often test drive. But the real proof of the Panamera is in the driving so I used all four seats and took three people on a ride through Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Umm al Quwain and back. The leather seats, with seat coolers in the front, are designed to look like stylised racing seats except these were extremely comfortable and easy to adjust. All four seats had their own climate control settings so we could vary the temperature and fan-blasting to our preferred levels.
Around the gear shifter is a dizzying collection of buttons. From here, you can do the following: control the temperature, try out the two sports modes (which just cause a lot of noise, higher revs and everything feels stiffer), adjust the suspension, raise and lower the window shades for the rear window and back doors (creates a similar effect to tinted windows,which will no doubt be a popular button in the UAE) and raise and lower the rear spoiler.
The central sat nav/reversing camera screen provides clear three-dimensional maps and is very easy to use. The entertainment is also controlled from here and it is instinctive and user-friendly. Above the front seat passengers is a sunroof, for which the weather will soon be ideal, and good map lights that won't induce eye strain. In a neat panel above the glovebox, the six-stacker CD player and retractable cup holders are elegantly hidden.
But for all positive points, the question remains as to whether this large, four-door beast really is a true Porsche. The 300hp engine sounded reassuringly Porsche and the first time I did a U-turn, I felt a cheeky hint of oversteer thanks to the rear-wheel drive but the traction control was firmly switched on and there was no way I was going to lose my tail. This was the first sign that this Porsche is the Captain Sensible of the collection.
The obvious sensible trait is the fact that it has four doors rather than two, so a Porsche purist will declare that it is not a Porsche at all. It has air bags galore and when I did an emergency stop after some fool slowed down for a green light, the hazard lights automatically came on. Very cautious indeed, especially in a nation where plenty of drivers put their hazard lights on for all sorts of reasons, very few of them valid.
Then there was the fantastic reversing camera, a gift in a car this large. This, combined with very sensitive parking sensors lowered the risk of hitting anything. These functions came into their own when I was negotiating inner city Abu Dhabi, where cars are parked in the most absurd places and the cars that are moving are driven by those who like to play the not-fun game of "invent your own lane where none exists".
This is a big, beast of a car and while it is a lot of fun at high speeds on the open road, it is best suited to people with a villa and a parking garage. As I have neither, I kept it parked a block away from my flat. Given that as I write this, my street is jam-packed with cars great and small, as well as an escaped shopping trolley, there was no way I was going to park Dh415,400 worth of automobile there. The car had made me more sensible. What kind of a Porsche was this?
The gearbox has seven speeds and while there is no clutch pedal, it is far more interesting when driven in manual mode than lazy automatic where it'll climb to seventh gear by the time you hit a leisurely 70kph. While Porsche purists will say "manual or nothing", it is nice - and less stressful - to have the option of manual and automatic in UAE traffic. Once you hit 120kph, the car makes a sound, as per GCC specifications. What is weird is that it's a hollow "bong" sound that makes you think you're 20,000 leagues under the sea in a submarine and it doesn't stop until you drop back under 120. What sort of Porsche is such a nanny when it comes to speed? Sure, at 300hp, this is the downsized engine, but it still likes to come out and play.
Very Porsche-like is the largest dial on the dashboard reserved for the tachometer - perfect for the obsessive who loves to know their rev count at all times. Underneath is a digital speedometer but for those, like me, who prefer to look at a speedo with a needle, it is much smaller and on the far left hidden largely by hand. So, seriously, what kind of a Porsche is this? As far as I can tell, it's a Porsche for the driver who loves his or her two-door Porsche, a nice little 911 for example, but two kids are now on the scene. The driver still wants the power and prestige of a Porsche but knows that the time in life has come to be, dare I say it, sensible.