Full speed ahead: Road testing the Porsche Panamera Turbo S at Dubai Autodrome
The braking performance and grip were astonishing for a car that should be luxury transport first, missile second
Is there such a thing as a one-size-fits-all luxury sports car? A vehicle that goes beyond a spirited sports tourer and is also a track-day weapon while being capable of taking the children to football and impressing in the office car park all at once?
Outside of SUVs, this is a hotly contested sector of the luxury car market, with BMW, Audi and Mercedes-AMG all claiming to own it with their respective M5, RS6 and E 63 models. But then along came Porsche.
The unrivalled king of German performance, Porsche was a sports car manufacturer first and then moved into saloons, as opposed to the other way around for its competitors, so you could argue that this new Panamera Turbo S would be most at home on the track, despite weighing 2,155 kilograms and accommodating four adults.
After hearing that one had recently clocked a sub-seven-and-a-half-minute lap time around Germany's famed Nurburgring circuit, I took the bait and instead of a long country drive, took this 630-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V8 saloon straight to the racetrack.
After a check of the pressure in the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres upon arrival at the Dubai Autodrome, the helmet went on and we went straight out on to pit lane.
The first thing that hit me was the performance for a heavy car. The Panamera Turbo S rocketed into Turn One with little reason to doubt Porsche’s claim of 2.9 seconds from zero to 100 kilometres per hour. A few launch control starts on the main straight confirmed its blistering acceleration.
After a sighting lap to get everything warm, I was clear for a number of quick laps and, straight up, the braking performance and grip were astonishing for a car that really should be luxury transport first, missile second.
While there is the option of even more track-focused tyres by way of Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2s, the 4 S do a great job, but all Turbo S models come standard with other performance-enhancing extras, such as 48-volt active anti-roll bars, rear-wheel steering, a Sport Chrono package, sports exhaust and meaty carbon-ceramic brakes that pulled it up from a 235kph mash into Turn One every time.
It displayed excellent body control thanks to the active management systems, as well as a chassis that didn’t seem to get upset by sudden, high-speed change of direction. You can just really hustle this car along and marvel at the engineering required to make the Panamera drive so well beyond its comfort zone.
The Turbo S replaces the old Turbo as the top model in the Panamera range and so its engine also gets a makeover with revised camshafts, as well as new turbochargers, pistons, conrods and crank among other things.
This explains how they managed to squeeze an extra 70hp and 50Nm from what were already impressive figures for a four-litre engine and boost its top speed to 315kph.
Still a road car
Half an hour of track time and the 4 S tyres were starting to cry as the Panamera’s traction control systems began working overtime to correct understeer and a bit of oversteer that began to creep in as the tyres lost grip. So it was time to park it and let both driver and car cool off.
Upon reflection, there was hardly any turbo lag and it offered all the torque you could ever need, while the eight-speed PDK transmission remained smooth all the way with fast changes, although the ECU did drop the car’s redline towards the end to play a safe bat and remind me that this is still a road car.
However, my conclusion after the track time is that I doubt I have driven a four-door car that feels quicker than this Turbo S. The air springs and adaptive dampers did their job to keep it flat and now it was time to take it out on to the streets and see how it performed in regular traffic.
After shifting the settings from Sport Plus back to Comfort, the air suspension reverted to provide a cushy, supple ride, and it was then that I could appreciate some of the upgrades that have been made to the 2021 model.
Changes inside are minimal with the exception of a new steering wheel borrowed from the 911 and Taycan, and a recalibrated navigation system. Panamera already had one of the best interiors in a luxury car with intuitive controls and excellent materials, so there’s not much, if anything, that really needed tweaking.
Externally, you can spot one in the traffic by way of a new front fascia while the rear has been further refined and now features the sleek corporate look that incorporates new taillights with a full-width LED strip.
The Panamera Turbo S is a revelation in that it delivers an executive, on-road experience while, at the same time, upholds Porsche’s reputation for building the best performance cars for the track, regardless of class.
Updated: December 15, 2020 12:32 PM