The narrow mountain carriageways around Taiwanâ€™s tranquil Sun Moon Lake are the last roads you want to be speeding on while in a hefty two-tonne car. Flanked by verdant overgrowth and fairly steep drop-offs, the twisty single-lane corridors double back so often that it feels like navigating a sine graph, with little visibility of whatâ€™s coming around the recurring bends. But conventional physics is moot when oneâ€™s behind the wheel of Porscheâ€™s largest sports sedan yet, the 2017 Panamera. Measuring more than 5m long and nearly 2m across, with four doors and four full seats, the behemoth is far nimbler than it has any right to be, taking on the corners and 180s with the acuity of a vehicle a few weight classes lighter. Soon the convoluted road becomes the conduit to a joyride.
ENGINE 2.9-litre, 6-cylinder twin turbo
POWER 440bhp from 5650 â€“ 6600 rpm
TORQUE 550Nm from 5650-6600 rpm
Only now is it apparent why Iâ€™ve been shipped to a rather touristy destination â€“ so named for the shape of its east and west banks â€“ thatâ€™s a whole four hours away from Taoyuan International Airport. Itâ€™s the perfect arena for showcasing the sedanâ€™s manoeuvrability. This smartly addresses the question foremost in most prospective buyersâ€™ minds: Can Porscheâ€™s newest four-door retain the marqueâ€™s characteristic sportiness?
A BEAUTIFUL BEHIND
That query was a huge sticking point for the first 2009 Panamera. Its rounded fastback rear (thatâ€™s when the roof flows into the tail end in one continuous curve) was awkwardly proportioned, resulting in an irregular teardrop figure that became a lightning rod for criticism. Not that it hampered sales; the carâ€™s adroit performance and the convenience afforded by â€œfour front seatsâ€ moved plenty of units.
But take two of the Panamera is a work of beauty. Think a lithe panther, with all its poise and focus conveyed by posture just before a pounce. The burly rear curvature has been smoothed out, the passenger windows have been stretched backwards, and the car sits lower than its predecessor. The result is a sleek yet voluptuous derriere thatâ€™s a nod to the iconic 911.
Thatâ€™s not all. Porsche designers are well aware that cars lose some identity when viewed from behind, so theyâ€™ve layered on memorable detail. The futuristic LED tail light strips run the considerable width of the trunk and nearly touch in the middle, imparting a certain sense of soul to the machine. And, get this â€“ the three-piece spoiler pops up from a hidden compartment at predefined speeds, unfolding into place a la a sci-fi concept. If you loved the Transformers in your youth, this is as close as it gets to befriending one.
And so it is that each time the group returns from stretching our legs at the utilitarian pit stops, a gaggle of locals and tourists alike scurry away abashedly, tucking their smartphones away â€“ they have been snapping away at the handsome Panamera convoy.
Getting out of the parking spaces and back on the road is a tense moment at Sun Moon Lake. If just a lone car â€“ or, god forbid, a pickup â€“ precedes your vehicle, youâ€™re doomed to trail behind until the laggard exits at a road fork. Fortunately for my group, such instances are few and far between and weâ€™re able to put the pedal to the metal many a stretch.
The Panamera is happy to devour the Taiwanese tarmac, although the convoy never pushes the theoretical top speed of 289kmh on the rather populous highways, much less the regular roads. Slingshotting forward with the launch control fast becomes an addiction, as the engine yowl has a goosebump-inducing timbre that I want to hear over and over again. The surge from 0 to 100kmh at 4.4 seconds â€“ once again, unexpected of such a robust car â€“ compresses one into the remarkably comfy leather seats.
Thereâ€™s a tolerable amount of tyre noise and a little more body roll than a Porsche enthusiast might be used to, but such is the trade-off between control and comfort. The roll is much less noticeable on the 4S variant, which sports an all-wheel drive, as opposed to the vanilla Panamera 4. The Sport or Sport Plus modes amp the responsiveness of an already tuned car, but Cruise allows true luxuriating in a car built to cosset its four passengers.
Adaptive cruise control is a godsend on the Nantou highways, where dusty lorries and Hondas weave in from the myriad towns and out again. The driving computer takes over the throttle so you donâ€™t have to dab repeatedly on accelerator and brake.
The interior designers at Porsche were hard at work on this one. Thereâ€™s been a complete overhaul of the instrumentation.
What was previously the panel of a fighter jet, with all its switches and knobs, has been swopped out for a sleek 31cm infotainment screen and touch-sensitive buttons. The system itself is easy to navigate, with text and visual cues so obvious that it can be mastered even on the go. The central air-conditioning vent is now motorised as well â€“ further assuring me of the carâ€™s state-of-the-art status. Some may mourn the absence of tactile controls, but it looks like progress.
The default configuration comes with electronically operated seats, dual-zone climate control, satnav capabilities and, most crucially, front and rear parking sensors. These are a must-have for commandeering a car of these dimensions.
On the options list, Iâ€™d recommend the massage seats, so you can fully dispel the notion that a Porsche canâ€™t pamper its passengers.
On the final evening, we sit down in the rooftop dining area of our hotel, overlooking the silent and dark lake. The wind, apathetic, whips at our faces as we soldier on through dinner, though our necks are insulated by the thick wool scarves weâ€™ve each been given. Over the course of the meal, weâ€™re whisked away from the table in pairs and trios for one last demonstration.
Weâ€™re taken on a spin on a nearby forested road thatâ€™s consumed by pitch darkness. The occasional villagers cross our path, and theyâ€™re spared the glare of the headlights by a feature thatâ€™s at last available to a Porsche: matrix beam tech. This detects oncoming vehicles and kills sections of the Porscheâ€™s headlights, so they donâ€™t blind other drivers even with the high beam on.
The second thing to appreciate is how crisp the on-board Night Vision Assist is. What I long assumed to be a feature of unrealistic Hollywood films is right there on the virtual dash: a sharp depiction of what the naked eye cannot make out. As we return to civilisation, my co-driver and I come to a consensus: Weâ€™re as duly impressed by this last nifty option as we are with Porscheâ€™s newest entrant.