Transformer in Disguise

Is it an SUV? Is it a sports car? Erm, we're not sure. One thing we do know is that Porsche’s Panamera Turbo is a flight of fancy.
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If you’ve seen Michael Bay’s Transformers movies you’ll know there are only two good things about them: the ’bots and the bods. With the former, it’s Bumbleebee – a robot that turns into a Chevy Camaro (a car so aggressive it can make a Corvette cry with one blip of the throttle). With the latter, it’s Megan Fox – an actress who embodies the ‘can’t act, doesn’t weigh much’ generation. Ah… the lovely Miss Fox… Fox by name, fox by nature. She can wax my car any day…

Er, where was I? Ah yes – working my way towards the Porsche Panamera Turbo. Sadly, the newest addition to Porsche’s stable is not quite as good-looking as Megan Fox. In fact, it’s a bit odd-looking really. Not ugly, per se. But more like one of those celebrity crushes you wouldn’t admit in public. You know, like Amy Winehouse. Carol Smillie. Er, Sonia.

But, the Porsche is as clever as a Transformer. Take the spoiler, for example. At first glance, the rear of the Panamera follows a familiar contour, traced effortlessly down like the iconic Porsche rear we’ve come to know and love. But hit 60mph, and a mechanical ballet begins, the type of which Optimus Prime would be proud of. Two spoiler wings emerge with a central plate rising to fill the gap in between.

The result is a blade-like wing that creates enough downforce to cope with even the most heavy-footed among you. Although it is automatically deployed, there is a button so you can put it up and down at will, which kept me amused for hours.

There’s also a button for erecting a screen in the back – ostensibly a sunblind, it’s also useful for ensuring your rear view mirror isn’t offended by any lesser vehicles trying to keep up with you. There’s also a button for making your seat hot. And another for making it cold. In fact, there are generally a lot of buttons – it’s more flight deck than dashboard.

But unlike pretty much every other manufacturer, Porsche has managed to make these buttons look good. Diagonal lines, chrome-plated edges and ethereal white lights mean that rather than a visual distraction they’re part of the attraction.

"Sadly, the newest addition to Porsche’s stable is not quite as good-looking as Megan Fox. In fact, it’s a bit odd-looking really. Not ugly, but more like Amy Winehouse. Carol Smillie. Er, Sonia."

Generally, the inside of the Panamera is a very pleasant place to be. Swathes of melted-butter leather and panels of carbon fibre allude to the car’s multiple personalities. And then there’s the Burmester sound system. Despite sounding more like a sausage than a stereo, Burmester is one of the world’s most exalted high-end audio manufacturers. The only other car in the world that has been fitted with a Burmester system is the Bugatti Veyron – illustrious company, indeed.

But this is the first time the company has worked with a manufacturer to create a bespoke unit. There are 16 individually controllable loudspeakers, including a 300-watt active subwoofer and a total output of more than 1,000 watts, creating an unparalleled surround-sound experience.

A great artist to test it with is Adele – who, on a bad stereo, sounds like she’s gargling with nails. But played through the Bermester system, her voice washes over you like an angel’s honeyed whisper.

It’s outside the cabin, though, where the real noise is. Never has one car’s styling caused such a tumultuous stir from the motoring fraternity. From the front, it’s wide, aggressive and menacing. From the rear it’s pert and proud. From the side, it’s, er, different. Neither a sports car nor an SUV – the Panamera does seem to suffer from an identity crisis.

The question is: is it a try-hard, or an overachiever? Well, in the engine department, there’s no doubting the Porsche’s caliber. A 4.8-litre V8 creates a spine-tingling 500hp, which ramrods the Panamera to 60mph in just over four seconds. That’s the same time as the Lamborghini Gallardo I reviewed last month – and the Porsche is bigger with a smaller engine. Simply staggering.

The Panamera does what every great Gran Turismo should – it’s a soft, Andrex puppy when you want it to be, but press the sports button and it becomes a rabid rottweiler. It is, at least to that extent, the ultimate transformer.

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