Payne: Four-door freaks, Porsche Panamera S vs. Audi S7
Left-lane lollygaggers drive me crazy.
Americans take hours of driver's ed classes with instructions to travel in the right lanes unless they need to pass. Then we get our driver's license, develop instant amnesia, and spend the rest of our lives in the left lane driving like snails with a tail of road rage in our mirrors.
Say hello to the cures for the common lollygagger: The Porsche Panamera S and Audi S7 four-door coupes.
A brief sketch of the "four-door coupe" is in order. It's a freak of nature. An oxymoron. A rare breed of sedan that includes the e-mazing — if distance-limited — Tesla Model S that I fell hard for last year. Or the achingly gorgeous, painfully pricey Aston Martin Rapide. Like Grace Kelly, it offers unmatched beauty afforded only by Monaco royalty.
At half the price of the Aston with twice the range of a Tesla, the Panamera S and S7 may be the best all-around athletes in the auto gymnasium.
The performance variants of the already potent Panamera and A7 models, the Panamera S and S7 share their siblings' gorgeous lines and lush interiors. Just add steroids. About 420 horsepower will do.
These thoroughbreds were raised on the German Autobahn where they cruise comfortably in the left lane at 120 mph in a disciplined automotive culture where lollygaggers are locked away for life. On this side of the pond these lithe sprinters will find the fast lane clogged with obstacles — like Usain Bolt stumbling upon a pack of 1,500-meter runners mid-dash. One second you're zipping along, then — bam! — your grille's full of L.L. Lollygagger III talking to his broker at 55 mph.
Drive the Porsche and Audi home in heavy traffic and they will grow more impatient than Chris Christie at a vegetarian buffet. Cruising at 55 with the left-lane lollies feels like standing still. If the duo were sharks they would suffocate. No problem. Move to the right lane, punch the throttle, and surge forward like an F-14 shot off a carrier deck.
It's hard to decide which cure I'd recommend more.
Detroit News auto critic Payne goes zero to 60 in the luxurious--and fast--Audi S7 and the Porsche Panamera sports sedans. Henry Payne
On the Lodge, the S7 ate traffic like a humpback whale feeding in a school of plankton. One gulp and they're gone. The S7's insane, turbocharged, 420-horse V-8 has more torque than anything this side of a Tesla. The electric car-like kick is enhanced by the high-tech, cocoon-quiet interior. Its heads-up display and Google Earth nav system are futuristic. Its pin-striped accents, chrome cupholders, and quilted seats are boardroom luxe. Even with the V-8 engine exhaust set to DYNAMIC (other options: NORMAL and COMFORT), the rocket's thrust sounds distant, muffled. The landscape moves past your windows as if you had pressed a fast-forward button — dizzyingly fast, but silent.
The Panamera has other ideas.
This is a Porsche after all. Start button on the left side of the steering wheel. Instrument cluster with tac front and center. Quirky, fold-out cup holders. The Panamera is posh — but with 60 years of racing heritage at your fingertips. Literally. The Porsche has more buttons than an airliner cockpit. Want SPORT or SPORT PLUS mode? Hit the button. Want to hear the roar of your 420-horse twin turbo as it devours lollygaggers? Push the "dual exhaust" avatar and open the gates of Hell.
Springing to the right of a herd of lollygaggers on the Left Coast's arching San Diego Coronado Bridge, my Panamera tester erupted with a roar that sounded like Cerberus gargling with razor blades. The speedo spiked as I launched up the five-lane span, the exhaust barking with each lightning-quick paddle shift. If I had kept my foot in it I surely could have hurdled downtown San Diego and returned to Earth near Palm Springs. And attracted every cop west of Vegas.
The 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 replaces the previous gen V-8 — but, thanks to the exhaust special effects, it retains much of the eight-holer's aural pleasure.
Porsche styling is behind the eight-ball compared to the S7, but Porsche if it cares. No. It's about tradition.
A motorhead pal quips that the Panamera looks like a 911 stretch limo. The 911 sports car is Porsche's signature. The iconic, fast-backed shape. The countless racing titles. Vehicle styling trends come and go, but the 911 is the Rock of Gibraltar, impervious to the winds of time.
Porsche might have called the Panamera the 911 sedan, but this is no 911. The Panamera kicks the engine from the rear to the front. The addition of two, surprisingly roomy rear seats interrupts the coupe-like greenhouse, making the sedan appear butt-heavy. It's attractive like Kim Kardashian — if you don't mind the caboose.
The effect is unmistakably Porsche, however, and — along with the Cayenne SUV — has hugely expanded the sports car maker's consumer demographic from motorhead to luxe. In a Birmingham parking lot recently I asked a well-dressed gentleman emerging from his Panamera what engine he had under the hood — a question every 911 owner could instantly answer.
He had no idea — and admitted he didn't know what was under the hood of his wife's Panamera either. Porsche is smiling all the way to the bank.
The S7, meanwhile, reaches for motorheads beyond Audi's core luxe buyer. Squint hard and an Audi A4 bears a family resemblance to the VW Jetta. The 7 is a breed all its own. Its sloping ducktail is revered. That pretty new Chevy Malibu unveiled in New York? Audi S7 inspired. Ditto the fast-backed Ford Fusion.
If you want the prettiest four-door coupe, buy the S7. If you want a four-door Porsche, the Panamera is your drug.
Allow me to recommend all-wheel-drive in both. Despite their slender lines, these coupes are heavyweights, tipping the scales over 4,500 pounds. Driven hard, my rear-wheel-drive Panamera could be a handful, its long front end in a different time zone from the rear. For $5,100, the Panamera 4S adds AWD. The S7 is the bargain with AWD standard.
Ah, handling. It makes these predators enjoyable even after you've left the expressway. After a long squawk up north on I-75, take a left at Gaylord and treat your S-of-choice to the S turns of Route M-32.
Just hope the lollygaggers don't exit with you.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2015 Porsche Panamera S
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sport sedan
Price: $93,200 base ($116,140 as tested)
Power plant: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6
Power: 420 horsepower, 384 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 7-speed PDK automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters
Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.6 seconds (manufacturer)
Weight: 4,586 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway/21 mpg combined
Highs: Comfy backseat buckets; engine special effects
Lows: Old-school European, fold-out cupholders; price
2015 Audi S7
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, four-passenger sport sedan
Price: $82,500 base ($88,875 as tested)
Power plant: 4.0-liter, turbocharged V-8
Power: 420 horsepower, 406 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 7-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters
Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (manufacturer)
Weight: 4,508 pounds base
Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway/20 mpg combined
Highs: Gorgeous; liquid-smooth power
Lows: Tedious, rotary dial-operated infotainment screen; steering-stalk triplets can confuse