A new four-door sports sedan takes to the road

The Porsche faithful may think the newest Porsche Panamera has gone off-course, just like the Cayenne SUV.

Why, you ask? Unlike the tried-and-true Porsches of the past, the Panamera is not a sports car with two doors, a rear air-cooled engine and a true stick shift.

But fear not, faithful: This four-door, front-engined sports sedan, with a seven-speed, semi-automatic transmission still deserves the Porsche nom de plume.

The specs sure are up to the task. Three varieties are available for your driving pleasure. The “base” S starts with a 400 horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8 motor which drives through the rear wheels. The 4S model has the same power plant, but sends the power to all the wheels. And for those who want to help launch a Saturn rocket, there is the Turbo, with 500 ponies coming from the same size V-8. Zero to 60 times vary from a mere five seconds to the Turbo’s race car-worthy 3.8 seconds.

911 Surprise

There is no question of the styling theme and how masterfully the Panamera works. The assignment: Make a four-door, four-seater that looks like the current Porsche 911 sports car.

Lo and behold, it has worked.

In person, its resemblance to the 911 is especially surprising.

Panamera 4S

Engine: 4.8-liter V-8, 400 horsepower or 500 horsepower with Turbo model Acceleration: 0-60: 5 seconds to 3.8 seconds

Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes, 14.2-inch front rotor, 13-inch rear rotor Sound system: AM/FM/CD system with 235 watts and 11 speakers

Price: Panamera 4S $93,800; as tested, $120,340

A byproduct of this layout is that this sports sedan has some SUV practicality to it. With the low-sweeping rear deck, Porsche made it a hatchback with lots of storage room, and just like your typical SUV, the rear seats drop down for additional carrying capacity.

Inside, some traditional Porsche characteristics are retained, and all of the truly high tech gadgets are standard or available. Like all of its predecessors, the tach is in the center of the dash pod, and the ignition switch is on the left of the steering wheel.

Laid out on either side of the gearshift lever is a cadre of buttons to handle the climate system, suspension/performance settings, an optional rear window shade and the raising and lowering of a spoiler. There is an interesting on and off engine switch, which, when engaged, turns the engine off at stops and immediately restarts the engine when the driver lifts his or her foot off the brake, thereby saving gas in the process.

A large video touch screen dominates the center of the dash, with a navigation system covering Oahu at your command. Contrasting colors, shapes and materials, including lots of leather, present a very attractive interior.

Four true bucket seats service the driver and passengers; rear leg-room and even headroom are quite generous. Power adjustments galore control the comfort level of the seats.

Hit The Road

Unlike a true automatic transmission, which is based on fluid dynamics, the Panamera’s seven-speed auto-matic/manual system has real metal gears with a double clutch system, but sans a clutch pedal. Without being too technical, in everyday life, the automatic mode leaves the transmission to perform like any other. When more performance is called for, either hit the paddles on the steering wheel or move the gearshift lever over a notch and shift sequentially up and down. More speed and tighter handling are engaged by pushing the suspension buttons on the console.

Engine thrust is there instantly without hesitation and in relative silence. In the normal mode, the air suspension ride is compliant with no hint of what awaits when the suspension-changing commands are engaged.

911 Practical

Clearly the Panamera has moved the Porsche sports car brand into the high-end sedan field without substantially detracting from the Porsche experience. So in one stroke, this car can carry a family out and about without missing the sports car enthusiast’s need for handling, looks and performance.