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First Drive: 2012 Porsche Panamera Diesel


While America's base PORSCHE Panamera model continues to be the 300-horsepower V-6, European buyers now have a choice in the form of the 2012 Porsche Panamera diesel. Powered by a 250-hp diesel V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic, it costs exactly the same as the gas V-6 and seven-speed twin-clutch PDK. Yet in official Euro tests, it uses only two-thirds the fuel with roughly the same performance.

No surprise then that Porsche expects the diesel to dominate sub-V-8 PORSCHE Panamera sales in Europe. The V-6 gas engine and even the vastly more expensive but barely more economical hybrid will likely lag far behind in the model mix.

So Porsche believes the diesel will be a big seller, but the engines's power isn't up to par with the competitive set's offerings such as the Jaguar XJ, the Mercedes CLS-Class, and VW Group stablemate Audi A7.

We asked the Panamera's product chief why his car trails on power -- it is, after all, a Porsche. His reply: "We don't want the diesel to be the performance derivative, but the efficiency derivative." He went on to admit that because a diesel wasn't planned at the start of the PORSCHE Panamera program, there isn't space to package Audi's new 313-hp twin turbo version of the same engine.

 To make sure the diesel edition sounds more like a luxury GT than the farm tractor Porsche built in its distant past, there's some extra soundproofing around the monocoque and the engine bay. Unfortunately, that adds some weight. The engine's iron block and the transmission's torque converter also add pounds compared with the aluminum-block V-6 and PDK gasoline version.

Apart from the badges, you can't tell the gas and diesel cars apart from outside. Inside, the giveaway is equally subtle: the redline position on the tach. The diesel is available with much of the luxury and sports equipment options as the rest of the PORSCHE Panamera lineup. Even the carbon-ceramic brakes are available.
Porsche says the PORSCHE Panamera diesel goes from rest to 62 mph in 6.8 seconds. The equivalent claim for the gas V-6 is 6.3, but the engineers say the difference is accounted for almost entirely by the slower step-off of the torque-converter diesel compared with the PDK-equipped gas car. One advantage to the diesel: The torque converter transmission does a better job of easing smoothly through near-stationary urban traffic than the PDK's clutch.

 Once underway, the diesel provides more than useful performance, and the 405 lb-ft of torque is an unbending, constant line from 1750 rpm to 2750 rpm. There's a knocking chatter from cold idle, but overall refinement is more than acceptable. A diesel six in the middle of its rev band sounds better than most gasoline fours.

But that doesn't mean the engine is any great pleasure to use. The throttle response is always slightly soft. There's no swelling of power or goading voice as it spins toward redline. No reward to be had from carefully timing your activation of the gearshift paddles, because the shape of the torque curve means their timing doesn't matter all that much.

That said, it's better than the hybrid Panamera, where the mating of the gas and electric motors and the opening and closing of the clutch between them causes all sorts of untoward inconsistencies and delays in gas pedal response.

But if the diesel powertrain is merely effective rather than actually enjoyable, there's plenty left to enjoy about this car. We drove two examples, one on a coil-sprung suspension with adaptive dampers and 18-inch wheels, and another on air springs with adaptive dampers and 19s.

 The coil-equipped car felt extremely natural. Porsche does a terrific job of matching inputs to outputs on the steering and brakes. We always felt we knew what the car was up to, and on twisty, undulating German country roads, it generated a gorgeous feeling of confidence. It was well-damped and low on roll. It was easy to get into a nice flowing rhythm, even though the PORSCHE Panamera never felt like anything other than a big, heavy sedan. It wasn't agile or sharp, but it was quick and rewarding. And the ride comfort was probably better than your average German sport sedan, aided by the long wheelbase and low-slung seating position.

The air-sprung car is able stiffen itself better for sharp corners in its sport mode, but the result feel jiggly and wooden. Like opting for ceramic brakes, going for this chassis and tire combo amounts to too much chassis for the engine power.

Accelerating hard everywhere, often to 80-mph-plus on these twisty routes, and then hooning down an autobahn gave us nearly 23 mpg combined in estimated U.S. measurements. Porsche will soon make a 26.4-gallon tank available for this car. That would allow for 550 miles of maximum-attack fun between fuel stops. Efficiency has its rewards.

.hdr {color:#ffffff;font:bold 12px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#343434;} .hdr1 {color:#000000;font:bold 09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#aba9a9;} .hdr2 {color:#000000;font:09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#dddddd;} .hdr3 {color:#000000;font:09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#FFFFFF;} 2012 Porsche Panamera Diesel Base price N/A Price as tested N/A Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD, 4-pass, 4-door hatchback Engines 3.0L/250-hp DOHC 24-valve turbodiesel V6 Transmission Eight-speed automatic Curb weight 4150 lb (mfr) Wheelbase 115.0 in Length x width x height 195.7 x 76.3 x 55.8 in 0-62 mph 6.8 sec (mfr) EPA city/hwy fuel econ N/A On sale in U.S. Never

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