Four Hour Drive: 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS

Thanks to my friend, Chris, I took this 2013 Porsche Panamera GTS for a 240 mile drive, to and from Roseville, almost entirely on the very boring I-80. This kind of highway driving is *exactly* where this German "executive luxury performance sedan" excels. 

Let's start with the most polarizing aspect of the Panamera: when it came out, everyone hated how it looked. At the time, I thought it was trying too hard to look like a stretched out 911. Ten years on, I actually kind of like how it looks. Think of it as a Porsche hatchback, and it suddenly makes sense. It presaged the look now made ubiquitous by the Tesla Model S, but with more personality. And compared to the new BMWs, it's positively beautiful. Funny how our impressions change with time. 

tl;dr: fast, comfortable, quiet. Despite the big V8 engine in front, this car is a quiet highway cruiser. Turns out, having a quiet interior also really makes the stereo sound a lot better (certainly better than the similar Bose system in my 2002 911 Turbo). And the naturally-aspirated engine is delightful, with plenty of power available on demand. 

The car has three driving modes: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. Each changes the transmission, the suspension, and the engine behavior. I spent almost the entire drive in Comfort, which kept the car smooth, quiet, and in 7th gear at almost all highway speeds. I used Sport mostly when on city streets, where the quicker throttle response was appreciated. It also unleashes the V8 a little, yielding what I would call a classy amount of noise.

As for Sport Plus, I think I'm against it. I mean, I see its appeal. It turns up the noise and delivers violent launches off the line, revealing just a hint of mayhem. But I kind of think it's not consistent with the overall personality of the car. This isn't a 911 GT3, and it seems a little cruel to make it try to pretend. But if you want proper engine snarl, then, by all means, get the GTS with chrono package to get Sport Plus.  

As for the automatic transmission, the PDK is as good as everyone says. Instant and smooth shifts, even across multiple gears, and it does a surprisingly good job guessing what I wanted. I never once thought "oh, this would be better in a manual." 

Another thing: what a great steering wheel. This one was equipped with the three spoked "sport" steering wheel, which omits buttons and switches and other non-driving crap. I don't mind reaching over to change the stereo volume. And the cruise control stalk is easy to reach (not that I used it). So nice to see an uncluttered steering wheel. If only I could be as enthusiastic about the actual steering. I suppose this is just the reality of electric steering in a 4000+ pound car. Very accurate, very responsive, easy to point the car wherever you want. But zero road feel. Some of this is doubtless also just the insulated driving experience generally. This is not really a complaint about the Panamera -- I'm sure none of its competition offer anything significantly different

Now for the more minor points. 

First, Porsche, why do your turn signal stalks still feel so cheap? Also, what's with the window switchgear, which have seemingly all broken off their underside bits? And why do modern cars get the whole key thing so wrong? So you have a proper, modern, electronic key, but then *also* a key-like protrusion from the "ignition"? This is the awkward transition period between keys and push-button starts.

Speaking of buttons, it turns out that I love all the buttons alongside the shifter. Many people complain about that "airliner cockpit" vibe, but after an hour in the car, all of them made perfect sense, and I could find them without looking. And I like the actual buttons with actual clicking haptic feedback. Much better than the new Porsche fingerprint-prone touch panels. 

Porsche Nav is pretty damn good. Maybe the first OEM nav solution that I could imagine using instead of Google Maps (well, if it had reliable voice input, instead of a primitive, 2013 "enter the address using a touchscreen keyboard" interface). 

This one had an aftermarket headunit upgrade to add CarPlay/AndroidAuto, which was very nice to have. Maybe essential. But I have to admit that I prefer a dial interface in my Miata to the Porsche touchscreen, if only because it takes more of my attention to aim my finger and know if I've actually touched the right spot than it would to spin the dial selector. And Porsche putting the dial selector all the way over on the right of the center cluster -- that's a dumb call. It should be in the center, right in front of the armrest (um, cuz we don't need the ashtray there!). Having tried Lexus, Porsche, and Mazda, I gotta say Mazda's dial-oriented pointer is my favorite! 

I also love the seats. Porsche seats, in my experience, are all great, but it's such a nice luxury to be able to adjust the seat so many ways, with multiple memory presets to recall them all at a single button press. 

The visibility was OK. Sure, the rear window is small and the C pillars are huge, and I guess the door sill height is pretty tall, but I thought I could see pretty well. 

The little "elbow ridge" on the driver's door should be softer. The window sill is too high, and the armrest is too low for elbow resting. They thoughtfully included a little middle ridge for your elbow, but it's hard and shallow. Sigh. 

The interior overall looks and feels great for a nearly 10 year old car. And it feels tight and well-put together, despite nearly 90k miles. Kudos to Porsche. I did hear one little buzzy rattle in the driver's door, probably the window regulator or door locking mechanism? But that was easily obscured by turning up the music or switching to Sport Plus. 

Overall, there was a lot to like! I'm left wondering how much the 6 cylinder engine give up to the V8, and also how much of an upgrade the Burmester stereo would be...


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