Discovering Sun Moon Lake with New Panamera

By Lee Pang Seng

MENTION the popular tourist spot, Sun Moon Lake, in Nantou County, Taiwan and the last thing you would think of is a fast drive around it in Porsche Panameras. That was our reaction when we received the invitation to experience a drive impression of the latest Panamera. Were we supposed to enjoy a scenic drive around the lake? That would be ironic for a performance car.

Were we in for a surprise and a nice one at that. Sun Moon Lake is a dam much like what Kenyir Lake is in Kedah is. It’s called by that name as its shape is like the moon on one side and the sun on the other. The perimeter road is about 30km and is twisty with varying road widths, similar to the winding stretch to Cameron Highlands.

As for the star of the show, the second generation Porsche Panamera continues where the first one left off. At a glance, it could be mistaken for the old but closer inspection would reveal the new details. Styling-wise, the freshly profiled LED (light emitting diode) headlamps with the four-point LED daytime running lights and new A-shaped air intake stand it out from the old. At the rear, Porsche has given it the desired individual look with the fresh rear light clusters connected by an LED strip, which stands out clearly at night.

Other styling details include the visually lengthened arrow-shaped bonnet that is lower than the previous model towards the front. This is to enhance the contoured powerdome effect as the lines now run all the way to the bumper, aided by the stronger flares of the front wings. Porsche says the lower front end is possible with the more compact new engines, although existing ones could be accommodated as well.

Dimensionally, the new Panamera is bigger, although marginally in some places; at 5049mm long, it is 34mm longer but only 6mm wider at 1937mm and 5mm taller at 1423mm. The roof now tapers to the rear by 20mm more without affecting headroom to maintain a lower and more extended look.

A big difference is in the wheelbase as it is 30mm longer at 2950mm. This is achieved by moving the front wheels forward to shorten the front overhang while the rear overhand stays constant to reflect a longer and more powerful impression for a four-door coupé. Having a longer wheelbase also means a more spacious interior with better legroom.

The Panamera accommodates four only as the central console is extended right till the rear seats. Porsche is confident that it would serve its role well as a chauffeured car if need be. As it were, the rear seatrests is split 40:20:40 to extend boot space from 495 litres to 1304 litres to take on board bigger or longer items.

A significant change is the digitalisation of the Porsche interior that was first introduced in the 918 Spyder. One could customise the interior and car functions via the central 12.3-inch touchscreen accordingly, such as the suspension settings and even the air-conditioning system. That explains the absence of air-cond switches and rotary dials.

Initially, its four-door coupé body was frowned on by Porsche purists as it was seen as straying from its performance benchmark. But the market in China was too huge to be overlooked and the general preference was for four-door cars. The important thing was to provide such a model without losing the characteristic power and handling. And that Porsche has fulfilled with the first model developed from the 911 that was launched in Shanghai in 2009.

The media drive in Taiwan was to press home the characteristic traits that are continued in the second-generation Panamera. The event was thus named ‘Two Trails’ drive; to showcase the Panamera’s ability to serve as a comfortable and luxurious four-door coupé and to be dynamically efficient when taken quickly through winding roads.

Taiwan was picked for the event as it was the first country in the Asia Pacific region (China is a market in its own right) at that time to launch the new Panamera. This Porsche has since been introduced in Malaysia. As we were not privileged to be invited for the launch event, we can’t describe the models that are available in Malaysia or the prices that they carry.

Lest we stray further, we shall continue with what the new Panamera has to offer, in particular the power department. Porsche provided two models for the Taiwan Two Trails drive, these being the rear-wheel drive Panamera and all-wheel drive Panamera S. There are actually four models in all, the other two being the Panamera 4 and Panamera Turbo.

Don’t be misled by the model names as all the engines powering the Panamera variants are turbocharged units. That in the Panamera Turbo is of a bigger engine displacement with more output to ruffle the feathers even more. However, the Panamera has the older engine while the Panamera S comes with a new unit.

That in the Panamera is a 3.0-litre V6 displacing 2995cc. It has twin-scroll turbochargers, direct fuel injection with central injector configuration, VarioCam Plus and active air intake flaps. It pushes out 243kW (330PS) from 5400 to 6400rpm and 450Nm that develops early at 1340rpm and holds till 4900rpm. The transmission is an eight-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK). There is no manual transmission model.

In performance, this Panamera scoots to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds, to 160km/h in 13.6 seconds and in-gear acceleration from 80km/h to 120km/h in 3.8 seconds. Its top speed is 264km/h and its combined fuel consumption is rated at 7.5 l/100km (13.3km/l).

The newly developed engine in the Panamera 4S is a 2.9-litre V6 displacing 2894cc. As the specifications did not reveal the bore and stroke, we couldn’t tell the engine configuration between the two other than the fact that the newer engine has a lower compression of 10.5 against 11.2 for the older unit.

However, a telling difference is that it is a twin-turbo V6 with a supercharger for low-end performance and a turbocharger for high-end punch. That explains its higher output for a smaller displacement engine, delivering 324kW (440PS) from 5650rpm to 6600rpm and 550Nm from 1750rpm to 5500rpm.

It has the same eight-speed PDK transmission to combine with the all-wheel drive ancillary system in apportioning power flow between front and rear. Perhaps that is why Porsche developed a more powerful engine to serve this drive format. Understandably, the Panamera S is faster despite being 55kg heavier at 1870kg kerb (DIN); it sprints to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds, 160km/h in 10.3 seconds and from 80km/h to 120km/h in 2.9 seconds. Top speed is higher too at 289km/h; so is combined fuel consumption at 8.1 l/100km (12.3km/l).

We started with the Panamera S for the morning session with the convoy heading to the highways to enjoy its luxurious pace. The route still included a winding section, albeit a two-lane one, that took us away from the tourist area and on which we had our first taste of the Panamera’s dynamic quality.

Initially we felt a greater tendency of the Panamera 4S to roll more than expected as we took to the fairly tight corners. We didn’t realise we were on Normal suspension settings. Selecting Sport mode via the touchscreen panel provided a more ‘level-headed’ drive through the bends, boosting out confidence to explore the car’s limits.

An opportunity came up in the form of an unladen truck being driven pretty quickly through this section. The driver probably knew these roads like the back of his hand with his gung-ho charge. But we had the power and Porsche dynamics and those were sound reasons for us to emulate the pace car in taking the truck driver on his turf.

The Panamera is independently sprung all round with aluminium double wishbone front axle and an aluminium multi-link rear set-up. This includes forged aluminium transverse links and lightweight hollow-cast aluminium pivot bearings in front. The steel spring suspension includes Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) that controls the damper function electronically. It is also electronically supported by the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) with ABS and extended brake functions, along with the integrated Porsche 4D Chassis Control.

All that mouthful aside, what that means to us was that Porsche was on the ball keeping us dynamically sound as we set about exploring its traction limits. The new electromechanical steering felt good, giving us direct feedback of how the front wheels were turning as we piloted the Panamera 4S through the ‘esses’. In addition, this all-wheel drive has the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) and Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV) systems as well.

We eventually found a corner that was wide enough for us to make our pass, accelerating above 100km/h to do so around the sweeper. Apparently, we clipped the road shoulder while doing so! The Panamera 4S showed its pace as we picked up speed effortlessly to catch up with the pace vehicle, a Macan GTS. It was looking good so far.

This was also enjoyed on the highway where we picked up strong speed along ‘safe’ stretches and enjoyed the quiet ride that the Panamera provided at a gallop. The aerodynamic profile of the Panamera 4S is 0.29, marginally more wind-resistant than the Panamera (0.28). Both cars have the same tyre configuration; 265/45 ZR19 on 9J alloy wheels in front and 295/40 ZR19 on 10.5J rims at the rear.

We took the opportunity to sit in the rear after the driver change to sample the chauffeured experience. The difference in ride between Normal and Sport settings was marginal on the highway. While the tyres rolled over the tarmac with less harshness in Normal mode, the ride was slightly firmer in Sport. As we picked up speed, the Panamera felt solid and the adjustable rear spoiler did its part here.

We were allotted the rear-wheel drive Panamera for the afternoon session, which was the dynamic drive around Sun Moon Lake. As it was midweek, there were fewer tourists and tour buses making their way around the lake. We did have our share of traffic but the pace leader managed the drive well to give us a good insight into the Panamera’s dynamic prowess.

It belied its bigger body dimensions, compared to the 911 and Cayman, as we were at home charging into the corner, turning the Panamera in and accelerating out to the next bend. It was as Porsche as you could expect; the electronic dynamic and traction systems worked well to give us that confidence to explore as close to the limits as possible. There were the usual tyre squeals at places where we pushed bit harder but the car stuck to its lines.

Body roll was well controlled and the optimum torque that built up early allowed us to maintain good road traction through the corners. We hardly felt any turbo lag as the transmission was always in the right gear to complement engine output to keep us well-grounded as we barrelled through the turn. We didn’t have to fight the steering either; it was simply a matter of turning the wheel, braking hard when we have to and floor the accelerator.
By comparison, our Malaysian colleagues in the Panamera 4S that we drove earlier appeared to accelerate slower out of the corner, despite having a higher output engine. Their observations were on the PDK transmission upshifting earlier and we surmised that it was electronically controlled to provide a more comfortable ride than a gung-ho one.

We could see the confidence that the Panamera bestow when we changed drivers; we saw how close the car was driven to the edges of the corners as our co-driver revelled in discovering the high dynamic limits of this Porsche four-door coupé. You could call it karma as he was probably having the same jitters earlier. It is all too easy to conclude that we are fully convinced you can enjoy luxury with dynamic performance in the Panamera.

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