Wild in the country

Being a Porsche driver is a tricky business. On the one hand you are the owner of the ne plus ultra of performance cars—a Richard Wagner in a carpark of Louis Walshes. On the other, you are derided as a jumped-up boy racer, a vulgar pillock and an arrogant “porker”—and that’s if you’re in your 20s.
In your 40s, the insults focus on your lost virility and your shiny head. But you don’t care because you are doing the one thing you love above all else—driving your Porsche.

But what, I wonder, will this group of obsessives make of the Germanic marque’s latest offering—the Panamera. It goes where few Porsches have gone before. It has four doors and four seats—four proper seats, not those pathetic folding jobs that most 911s come with. It has a boot, too. And it has an engine at the front! As you may know, Porsches are always rear-engined—it is a defining part of their perverse uniqueness and an act of faith that has imposed endless technical rigours on its engineers. But not the Panamera ...

This car is clearly aimed at the more mature buyer, at the family man (who, let’s face it, is clearly in deep denial over his responsibilities). Manufacturers always try to broaden their potential sales net by claiming their cars are multipurpose. So the Panamera is a “luxury saloon”, a “superfast hatchback” and a “sports car”. And like those all-in-one multi-tools, it makes a brave fist in all categories, but it never quite excels in any.

At first glance the Panamera looks like a beefed-up 911. Designer Michael Mauer has stuck with many of Porsche’s trademark cues, but the sense of heft about the car is off-putting. While the great four-seaters from the likes of Ferrari, Maserati and now Aston Martin conceal their bulk with long, elegant lines, the bulky Panamera looks like a teen bodybuilder who’s been slurping synthetic growth hormone.

Inside it is, naturally, exquisitely finished. The seating is sporty rather than luxurious. It is also crammed with technology—from controllable air suspension to a button that mutes the roar of the engine. However, the rear visibility is appalling and its vast width makes parking tricky. Still, this car isn’t about parking spaces, it’s about the open road.

To better sample its wares I asked a couple of chums if they’d like to come for a Sunday drive. It says everything about the brand that this was seen as a perfectly reasonable thing for three middle-aged men to do. Both are true Porsche men. One has owned two in his time, the other—incredibly—still owns four.

As the three of us sped into the countryside, the car seemed to become itself. It felt nimble, purposeful, rewarding. Like a lumbering sea lion sliding off its iceberg, the Panamera was finally in its element.

I asked my two Porsche judges what they thought. Does the car have the X factor? “A classic in the making,” said Porker 2. “Definitely through to the next round,” replied Porker 4.—guardian.co.uk

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