Devotees of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and the other bloke will doubtless recall an episode of Top Gear, several seasons ago, when the trio pitted the same number of super saloons – an Aston Martin Rapide, a Maserati Quattroporte and a Porsche Panamera – against each other. Subjecting the three machines to the usual series of thoroughly unscientific tests, including the mandatory lap by The Stig, they eventually – and to no one’s great surprise – judged the Porsche to be the winner. The requisite moments of buffoonery, however, were also provided by the German car, whose humpbacked styling was declared by Clarkson to be more “hideous” than a “genital wart” and had him covering his eyes in disgust each time it was driven past.
For all their clowning, the TG guys had got it pretty much spot on, for if the original Panamera was fast, hugely accomplished and remarkably satisfying to drive, its ungainly appearance was – to put it a trifle more tactfully than Jezza – unfortunate. The latter was mostly down to the fact that, as a Porsche, it needed to reference the 911 coupe – and as the company’s halo sports car is at best a 2+2 and has its engine at the back (unlike the full-size, four-seat and front-engine Panamera), that was never going to be the easiest of calls.
In fact, one suspects that nowhere was that dilemma appreciated more fully than in the design department at Stuttgart, for just three years into the old model’s life one vision of its likely successor was unveiled at the 2012 motor show in Paris. This retained the Panamera’s lengthy sloping bonnet but tellingly dispensed with its bulbous rear end entirely, replacing it with something more resembling the roofline of a traditional shooting brake. Named the Sport Turismo and with styling that was tauter and way more good-looking than the existing car’s, it was presented as a concept, but one that Porsche strongly hinted would eventually see light of day as a production model.
Now almost six years later the old Panamera is history, replaced in 2016 by a new model whose lines, while still debatably handsome, are undeniably more harmonious and agreeable than the first-gen car’s, and whose dynamic abilities are widely regarded as verging on the brilliant. This in turn was joined last year by the Sport Turismo wagon, little changed on the exterior from the 2012 show car, and offering increased load capacity, the ability to carry five people (at a pinch) and a design that’s more resolved, charismatic and distinctive compared with its four-door-coupe brethren. Judged solely by its cover, this shooting brake – the company’s first – finally hits the bullseye the Pana has long been aiming at, and as I’ve been itching to drive the car ever since I first saw it, I’ve got hold of a Turbo Sport Turismo to see whether it really is as good as it looks and, more to the point, whether you should buy one.
Granted the multi-syllabic (there are 11, count ’em) name is a mouthful, but beyond that there’s little cumbersome about this new estate car, which masks any utilitarian intent with a silhouette that’s low, sleek and purposeful. Length- and width-wise, its measurements are identical to those of the regular Panamera, with which it differs mainly in the slightly higher roofline – a minuscule 5mm – longer rear doors, a bigger load aperture and a tiny active spoiler atop the tailgate. Seated in the front, with a high-def, digital touchscreen cockpit gleaming at you, you’ll notice no differences between either car, though the Sport Turismo’s rear bench can accommodate one additional passenger over the saloon’s four (Porsche calls it a 4+1) and taller passengers won’t feel quite so challenged.
Much the same goes for the architecture, power units and running gear. Just like the Turbo saloon, the ST is built largely from aluminium, sits atop an MSB platform (shared with the new Bentley Continental GT) and gets Porsche’s exemplary 4-litre V8 that breathes through a pair of centrally mounted twin-scroll turbochargers, is fettled with cylinder-deactivation technology, and produces 542bhp and 770Nm. That considerable power, which is delivered to all four wheels via an eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission (with seventh and eighth being overdrive ratios) and the brainy Porsche Traction Management system, means a 0-100km/h time of just 3.6 seconds using launch control and a maximum of 304 – numbers that hardly tally with conventional notions of estate cars.
As it’s dynamically no different from the saloon, that also means the Turbo Sport Turismo is like few other wagons you’ve driven, so loading up with antiques or a pair of slobbering hounds are unlikely to figure high on your list of priorities. As in a genuine sports car, you sit low down in a superbly bolstered chair and gaze through the steering wheel at a digital instrument display dominated by an analogue rev counter at its centre – further reminders that, whatever its size and shape, this is no less authentic a Porsche than a 356 Carrera or even a GT3 RS.
Yet as you quickly discover, no machine from Zuffenhausen (though to be accurate, this one’s built in Leipzig) ever glided quite so effortlessly, for the Turbo rides on active air suspension that isolates its occupants from all but the most violent undulations. Crucially for a properly sporting motor car, though, the air springs never banish the essential sense of connectedness and control, just as the transmission serves up rapid-fire shifting in Sport+ mode yet is almost undetectable in Comfort.
Given that maximum torque is available at your right foot from just 1,960rpm, the surge of acceleration is unrelenting – and by switching drive modes and ensuring you’ve also hit the exhaust button, your disappearing act towards the horizon will be accompanied by a suitably stirring soundtrack. But thanks to the chassis’ genuine poise, the impressive body control, stability and grip, and the beautifully modulated steering there’s nothing frantic in the way the Turbo goes about this. Wherever necessary you depress the throttle, flip the gearshift paddles, turn the wheel and touch the brakes, and you find the traffic behind you has just – vanished. If that all sounds a bit spooky, you also soon realise that it’s incredibly easy and even relaxing to drive this thing quickly.
Drawbacks? Beyond the facts that those shiny, touch-sensitive surfaces can get awfully grubby from fingerprints, and that Apple CarPlay is rubbish – both of which criticisms I could make of the regular saloon – I really am racking my brain.
So, yes, the Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo is wickedly fast as well as remarkably refined, and as a result of its wonderfully pliant underpinnings it’s also amazingly comfortable. True, that can also be said of all second-gen Panas, but the ST also has increased versatility and practicality in its favour – and if 25 litres of extra space over the saloon with the rear seats up and 80 with them down aren’t huge amounts, they’re not to be sniffed at either. Still not convinced? Then how about that it’s hands-down the best-looking car in the line-up?
For me, though, the clincher is that the Sport Turismo asks a simple question: do you really need that SUV? Because if you’ve driven this sublime shooting brake there can be only one answer – and it’s definitely not in the affirmative.