Glinting in an eye-grabbing shade of metallic Mamba Green, the 2021 Porsche Panamera 4S sampled here drew a surprising amount of public interest. It received several thumbs-ups and garnered paparazzi-esque snapshots, with one person asking whether it was the new electric Porsche.
Ironically, that interaction occurred while the car was parked at a gas pump. Since there's been a lot of buzz about the Taycan EV sedan, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Panamera, we gave the silver-haired gentleman a pass and explained that it's actually Porsche's gas-powered sedan (we feared that calling it a hatchback might lead to further confusion). He nodded approvingly, then ended the conversation by saying, "I'm not so sure about those electric cars yet."
The Panamera offers a selection of plug-in-hybrid powertrains, which can be a bridge for folks who aren't ready to go all electric, in the 552-hp 4S E-Hybrid and 690-hp Turbo S E-Hybrid. For the EV-averse crowd, the updated-for-2021 Panamera 4S is a compelling conventional option. It features a twin-turbo 2.9-liter V-6, an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and standard all-wheel drive. Porsche squeezed another three horsepower from the engine this year, so output is now 443 horses and 405 lb-ft of torque. With a recalibrated electrically assisted steering system and new tires, all 2021 Panameras are said to handle better. Other updates include a newly standard air springs, improved infotainment features, and styling tweaks such as a full-length LED strip connecting the taillights.
Driven on the street, the Panamera 4S feels like a 911 limousine. Although it weighs 4543 pounds and measures 76.3 inches wide and 198.8 inches long, our example was shockingly agile in tight spaces, largely thanks to its rear-axle-steering system, part of the $5450 Sport package. Also included is a sport exhaust and the Sport Chrono package (dash-mounted stopwatch, Sport Plus drive mode, launch control). Our 4S rode on $2980 21-inch wheels with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, sized 275/35 up front and a massive 315/30 out back. They contributed to an impressive 1.02 g's of cornering grip and helped the strong, fade-free brakes stop the car from 70 mph in just 153 feet. A 2017 Panamera 4S we tested had similar results, but it wore Continental ContiSportContact 5P summer tires.
The newer Panamera 4S was a tenth slower to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile, though, completing them in 3.6 seconds and 12.1 seconds at 113 mph, respectively. Despite being almost as quick as a 1000-pound-lighter 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4, the hatchback's sizable dimensions and tomblike cabin diminish drama during takeoffs. At least we enjoy the subtly sinister exhaust note that growls at startup and produces sonorous tones as revs climb. Too bad we observed a fuel economy of just 16 mpg in mixed driving, 4 mpg shy of its EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined. Equipped with high-tech chassis components, including the $5010 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control Sport with electronically controlled anti-roll bars and brake-biased torque vectoring, our hefty 4S stayed fearlessly flat through corners and never felt floaty. We also didn't feel any harsh impacts on roads that typically induce such reactions.
The Panamera's driving position draws parallels with the 911, with a low-slung seat and the best steering wheel in the business. The helm has primary controls discreetly built into the upper spokes, and the leather-wrapped rim is the perfect thickness. The wonderful wheel also delivers something that competitors such as the Audi S7 and Mercedes-AMG GT53 can't replicate: terrific steering feel. Effort builds progressively as you move off center, and there's sufficient feedback to interpret the front end's grip.
Less impressive compared with some rivals was our Panamera's staid black leather interior, but Porsche offers numerous color choices. Annoyingly, the center air vent can be adjusted only by using the touchscreen, a particularly silly gimmick. Likewise, the glass panel on the center console collects dust like a CD in a sawmill. Happily, the newly added wireless Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly and saved us from fiddling with the infotainment system's busy menus. We also appreciated the different-size cupholders between the front seats. The larger one ensured we didn't have to use our inner thighs to secure hot beverages in bulky containers, a potentially catastrophic scenario.
Inflated by $21,690 worth of options, our Panamera 4S had an as-tested price of $128,040, a reliably jaw-dropping number to the admirers who asked how much it cost. We're not sure whether the attention was due to our car's look-at-me paint job or the fact that onlookers thought this was the new electric Porsche; it may have been a little of both.
Surging Taycan interest, however, signals a changing of the guard, as it outsold the Panamera 4414 to 3870 in 2020. Compare that with the 6625 Panameras that Americans bought the year before. With Porsche recently confirming that the 718 Boxster and Cayman will go all electric for 2025, the brand's transformation to electrification (with the exception of the 911) is inevitable. Meanwhile, those—like the gentleman at the start of this story—who are seeking to sidestep the move to EVs will find refuge in and be rewarded by the Panamera 4S.