NEWBERG, OR – Porsche, the brand that proved it could succeed with a premium cross/utility vehicle, the Cayenne, is redoubling its efforts in the 4-door car market with a refreshed Panamera.

On sale now at Porsche’s 189 U.S. showrooms are nine improved ’14 models in the Panamera range (a 10th variant with a diesel engine is not available in the U.S. or Canada).

The lineup begins with the base $78,100 Panamera powered by a 3.6L naturally aspirated V-6 and tops out with an all-new addition, the $161,100 Turbo Executive with a wheelbase stretched 5.9 ins. (150 mm) to accommodate a roomier backseat – ideal for China, Panamera’s No.1 market – while remaining agile through backwood hairpins here.

But sales have trailed off this year in the U.S., which has purchased a quarter of the 100,000 Panameras produced in Leipzig, Germany, since the sedan arrived in October 2009, just in time for a resurging luxury-car market.

In each of the past three years, the Panamera outsold stalwarts such as the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ in WardsAuto’s Upper Luxury car segment, but lagged the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-Series and Lexus LS.

Porsche executives say the Panamera’s 2013 slowdown (3,948 deliveries through September) is to be expected after four years in the market, as potential customers wait for the facelifted models. A complete Panamera redesign is not due for another three years.

By comparison, the sedan is the underachiever of the U.S. lineup, well behind the Cayenne (13,913 deliveries through September), 911 (7,498 units) and the Boxster/Cayman (6,190 units).

Overall, Porsche sales in the U.S. are up 26% through September compared with like-2012, while Panamera deliveries are down 52%.

Improvements to the lineup are bound to bolster volume. New to the range is the 416-hp Panamera S E-Hybrid, Porsche’s first plug-in gasoline-electric fuel-sipper.

A more powerful electric motor easily propels the parallel full hybrid without consuming a drop of gasoline from the 3.0L supercharged V-6, a Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner four years’ running for sister brand Audi.

A new 9.4 kWh lithium-ion pack (replacing the 1.7 kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery in the previous hybrid) delivers up to 22 miles (35 km) of zero-emissions driving at speeds up to 84 mph (135 km/h).

The car is plenty fast in electric mode, and the silent whoosh as it accelerates from a standstill serves to recalibrate one’s thinking about Porsche. No, the sound of a flat-six mounted just behind the ears doesn’t fill the cabin with music, but improved efficiency is its own reward.

Helping coach the driver is a gas pedal with built-in resistance to maximize electric driving. Pushing on through that threshold to pass, for instance, will trigger the gasoline engine for more power. 

The hybrid comes standard with an internally designed Porsche Universal Charger and two power cables for 120V and 240V electrical outlets, as well as a locking dock that can be mounted to a wall. Charging on a standard 120V wall socket takes about eight hours, or 2.5 hours with 240V service.

Hybrid pricing begins at $99,000, and the vehicle goes on sale in the U.S. in late November. Estimated fuel-economy numbers are not available yet, but several test drives of the hybrid on a mostly rural route here achieve up to 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km).

That number may sound middling, at best, in the world of hybrids, until compared with the gasoline-powered Panameras that will generate most of the sales.

The Panamera S, which starts at $93,200, comes standard with an all-new 420-hp 3.0L twin turbo V-6 capable of 17/27 mpg (13.8-8.7 L/100 km) city/highway both in rear- and all-wheel-drive configurations.

This magnificent new engine is derived from Porsche’s 4.8L V-8, but with two cylinders lopped off, and a shorter stroke. It sounds refined and sporty at the same time, exhibits zero turbo lag, loves to rev hard and lets out subtle wastegate whispers with each gear shift under hard acceleration.

Rollicking test drives here by heavy-footed journalists push average fuel economy in several of the S models as low as 14 mpg (16.8 L/100 km).

The next step up is the AWD Panamera GTS, which starts at $113,400 and carries the naturally aspirated 440-hp 4.8L V-8 that used to be available in S models.

Throaty and at times coarse like a vintage muscle car, the GTS likely will not be shopped for its fuel efficiency, rated at 16/24 mpg (14.7-9.8 L/100 km). Some journalists pummel the GTS to a real-world 11 mpg (21.4 L/100 km).

Both the V-6 S and V-8 GTS benefit from Porsche’s fast-acting 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission, which works well in automatic or manual paddle mode.

But the GTS gets the edge with a ticklish throttle that is sensitive to the slightest touch. Stepping on the gas is a bit like poking a bull that was spitting mad to begin with.

Other changes across the Panamera range include rounded headlamps, which replace the previous units that tapered to a point; modified front end with larger air-intake ports; bolder rocker panels; a wider and flatter rear window for better visibility; lane-departure warning; enhanced stop/start functionality; and redesigned taillamps, liftgate and tailpipes.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

 

'14 Porsche Panamera 4S
Vehicle type Front-engine, 5-door, 4-passenger all-wheel-drive sedan
Engine 3.0L DOHC direct-injection twin-turbo V-6; aluminum block/heads
Power (SAE net) 420 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 384 lb.-ft. (521 Nm) @ 1,750-5,000 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 96 x 69
Compression ratio 9.8:1
Transmission 7-speed PDK dual-clutch
Wheelbase 114.9 ins. (292 cm)
Overall length 197.4 ins. (501 cm)
Overall width 76.0 ins. (193 cm)
Overall height 55.8 ins. (142 cm)
Curb weight 4,123 lbs. (1,870 kg)
Price as tested $142,695 (including $975 destination charge)
Fuel economy 17/27 mpg (13.8-8.7 L/100 km)
Competition Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class
Pros Cons
Great way to spend your fortune Decent housing can be had for less
China’s in love with this car Lagging U.S. sales problematic
Specific output exceeding 140 hp/L Just another gas-guzzling muscle car