July 18, 2024

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Automotive rocks

2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S First Drive Review: First-World Remedy

Porsche has given its Panamera lineup a midcycle refresh, tweaking the exterior styling, changing up powertrains, and unlocking the electronic goody bag to add more standard features. We’ve already covered the upgrades in detail, but to quickly recap the major ones: The entry-level Panamera gets the newer Audi-developed 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 of the Panamera 4 instead of the old single turbo 3.0-liter engine; Porsche’s own 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 gets 20 more horses in GTS trim and makes 620 horsepower in the new Turbo S model; and the 4S E-Hybrid’s powertrain now makes 552 horsepower and will take the Panamera 33 miles on all-electric power alone thanks to a bigger battery.

The 2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S replaces the Turbo in the company’s luxury four-door lineup for one simple reason: Customers asked for it. Porsche had positioned the 680-hp PHEV Turbo S E-Hybrid as the pinnacle of the range, but that apparently left those who wanted the ultimate, pure internal-combustion-engine-powered Panamera feeling shortchanged. As if having to live with a mere 550 horsepower under the hood was a hardship…

The Panamera Turbo S remedies that very particular first-world problem courtesy of a version of Porsche’s excellent 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 under the hood that pumps out 620 horsepower and 604 lb-ft of torque. For the record, the Turbo S E-Hybrid will ultimately remain the most powerful Panamera you can buy, but it’s not being launched with all the 2021 upgrades for a few months yet, so for now the Turbo S is the alpha dog Porsche four-door.

Porsche engineers in Weissach coaxed an extra 70 horses and 37 lb-ft out of their V-8 with new, higher-flow-rate fuel injectors and modified turbines in the turbochargers that generate higher boost. New spark plugs have a higher platinum content in their electrodes to improve durability, and the crankshaft, connecting rods, pistons, and timing chain drive have been optimized to handle higher load peaks. The compression ratio has been dropped from 10.1:1 to 9.7:1 to reduce knocking. Porsche claims the 4,751-pound Turbo S sedan (the same powertrain is of course available in 2021 versions of the Sport Turismo and long-wheelbase Executive Panameras) will surge from zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and to 100 mph in 7.2 seconds en route to a top speed of 196 mph, using Launch Control in Sport Plus mode.

The extra thrust is immediately noticeable on the road, but what’s most impressive about the Panamera Turbo S engine is how, once the tach needle swings past 2,800 rpm, the engine pulls like a locomotive all the way to the 6,800-rpm redline. There’s none of the tightness you get from many turbo engines as they reach the upper limits of their rev range. Porsche has thankfully resisted the temptation to dial in childish pops and crackles from the exhaust, even in Sport Plus mode. The Turbo S merely purrs harder when you start pushing it.

The V-8’s muscle and flexibility is adroitly exploited by the eight-speed PDK transmission, whose shifts are slick and quick regardless of engine load and drive mode. It’s probably the sweetest drivetrain of any performance-oriented luxury sedan in the business.

But what’s more impressive is how comfortable and composed the 2021 Panamera chassis feels. Careful recalibration of the triple-chamber air suspension, a 48-volt powered anti-roll system, and the Porsche Torque Vectoring system have endowed the Turbo S with a lovely, languid primary ride with the suspension in Normal mode—all without compromising the car’s balance and precision through the corners. Standard rear-wheel steering helps the 198.8-inch-long Porsche feel more agile in the twisty bits, and the standard PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes—16.5-inch diameter at the front and 16.1 inches at the rear—will handle anything you can throw at them.

But the real improvement has been at the front end, where new engine mounts better steady the 772 pounds of engine and transmission against lateral forces, and new front axle bushings work with revised electronic steering calibrations derived from the 992-series 911 and Taycan to improve steering response and feel. The steering of the Turbo S feels best in class, the dialog with the front tires enhanced by a steering wheel whose diameter is just right and whose rim is not too thick.

Most high-performance luxury sedans seem as though their high-performance hardware has been grafted on. The Panamera Turbo S is different; it’s more like a luxury sedan with sports-car DNA. The biggest tell is the roar from the tires—275/35 and 325/30 Michelin Pilot Sport 4s front and rear, mounted on 21-inch wheels. They emit a more intrusive sound over coarse tarmac than other rival big, fast four-doors apart from the raucous, rough-riding Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door, which the Turbo S recently bested around the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife.

The Panamera Turbo S is expected to arrive in U.S. Porsche dealers in late March next year. Pricing has yet to be confirmed, but that extra power and torque, the refinements in ride and handling, and the significant upgrade in standard goodies compared with the outgoing Turbo—rear-wheel steering, carbon-ceramic brakes, 21-inch wheels, to name but a few—suggests a price tag around the $178,000 mark.

No, it’s not cheap. But if you like driving and can afford to enjoy the finer things in life, the 2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S is probably the finest fast luxury sedan in the world right now.

2021 Porsche Panamera Turbo S Specifications
PRICE $178,000-$188,500 (est)
LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 4.0L/620-hp/604-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT 4,700 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 116.1 in
L x W x H 198.8 x 78.2 x 56.2 in
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE Spring 2021