620-hp, ceramic brakes and more will carry Porsche’s flagship sedan into battel vs. new Mercedes S-class

Detroit Free Press

I think we can all agree 2020’s a bummer, a rabid raccoon that wandered into the back yard and refuses to leave. Things can always get better, right? They almost have to, don’t they? Please?

They will for sure if you’re shopping for a high-end Porsche next spring. I just spent an afternoon driving the 2021 Panamera Turbo S sedan, a blisteringly fast sport sedan that’s also a roomy all-wheel-drive luxury car.

In a sterling example of Porsche’s ability to walk and chew gum at the same time, the automaker’s engineers honed this gasoline-powered large car to a ninja edge of performance at the same time the company was developing the futuristic zero-emission Taycan electric sports car.

The Turbo S — 620 hp and 604 pound-feet of torque, not to bury the lede — is one of four new blades in the Panamera’s sheath for the 2021 model year. The others are the Turbo S Sport Turismo, an extended-roof model that manages not to be completely graceless, and a pair of plug-in hybrids, the 4S E-Hybrid and 5.9-inch longer 4S E-Hybrid Executive.

All were developed to make life uncomfortable for the new Mercedes S-Class, debuting at the peak of German luxury this fall, and all are likely to succeed.

Driving impressions

The Panamera’s sheer physical presence is always a surprise, its size disguised by styling that leans heavily on the brand’s classic 911 sports car. But the Panamera Turbo S is 198.8 inches from nose to tail, longer than Porsche’s more obviously large Cayenne SUV — not to mention nearly 3 inches longer than a Toyota Avalon. The Panamera’s long hood, 911-style headlights and fastback combine to create the impression of a smaller car.

That changes when you slip inside. The Panamera is roomy, advanced and luxurious.

I spent an afternoon driving a preproduction Panamera Turbo S that’s so early it had European software for smart phone connectivity and navigation. The computer managing those functions is supposed to be quicker for ’21, but I didn’t experience it.

There’s plenty of headroom, and door openings big enough for easy entry and exit from front or rear seat despite a relatively low roof.

The front seat is roomy, with easy-to-use controls and plenty of storage. The touch screen is responsive, though some of its touch points are small enough to be a challenge in a moving car. Porsche’s configurable gauge cluster can display maps and navigation instructions in its right binnacle.

The Turbo S will be the Panamera line’s performance king. Power is immediate and stunning, accelerating to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and capable of 196 mph — “on the track,” Porsche says with one eye on U.S. liability laws that bewilder and terrify German automakers.

The additional power comes from new turbochargers and fuel injectors on the 4.0L V8, which got additional damping to keep engine vibration from intruding on the cabin. The interior is quiet at highway speeds and in enthusiastic driving, despite the Turbo S’s grippy and aggressive 21-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

The Turbo S’ handling is imperturbable in any sane maneuver on public roads. The steering system was retuned to give the driver more feedback. Porsche’s Active Suspension Management system (PASM) also got new calibrations.

New equipment includes standard four-wheel steering for improved maneuverability and ceramic brakes with massive stopping power.

Visible exterior changes include new fascia and bigger front air inlets.

How much?

Porsche won’t reveal prices until the Turbo S goes on sale next spring, but expect it to start around $180,000. The twin-turbo 4.0L V8, eight-speed automatic transmission and performance tuned all-wheel drive are standard.

That’s a pretty good deal, essentially the cost of 21-inch wheels, suspension and brake options on a 2020 Panamera Turbo, and a small premium for the engine upgrades, which boost horsepower 70 hp, torque 37 pound-feet, cut 0-60 time 7 seconds and increase top speed 6 mph.

Ceramic brakes, rear steering and 21-inch wheels — all options on the 2020 Panamera Turbo —will be standard on the Turbo S.

A full list of features and option prices — it’s a Porsche; no matter how high the base price, there will be options — will be available closer to when the Turbo S goes on sale in spring 2021.

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