There are certain visual tricks that make a Porsche look like a Porsche. Dr Michael Steiner, director of the new Porsche Panamera "product line", is reminding me what they are. "A classic Porsche has a rear engine," he is saying, "so the bonnet is low with the wings higher on either side. The bonnet is narrower at the front. There are no sharp edges and no upper radiator opening, just a single lower intake. At the back, there are wide shoulders and the rear window tapers."
The tricky part comes in applying these themes to a type of car Porsche has never made before. Nor has anyone else. The Panamera is a long, wide, low, five-door hatchback with the potential for extraordinary pace. And, as you'd expect given that architecture, its engine is in the front.
Yet, to look at, it is unmistakably a Porsche. Not a beautiful Porsche, of which there have been few in recent years, but a slightly bulbous, awkward one. In the Panamera, we see the means to carry four people, in comfort, with greater speed and road-hugging than any car before it.
There are other powerful, very fast, very expensive four-seaters around, but they are mostly tuned-up derivatives of something more stately. This car's whole existence hinges on being a driver's pleasure machine while making sure the passengers enjoy the ride.
The sense of occasion is shared by all: the driver gets typical Porsche instruments with the rev-counter centre stage, everyone else can marvel at the banks of switches extending back along the edges of the centre tunnel and roof console. It's very aeronautical; you wonder if you should alert the control tower before taxiing away.
The Panamera brings you closer to that sensation of aircraft G-force than any other road-going car with four seats. The Turbo gets 500bhp from its 4.8-litre V8 engine (a lightened, tuned version of the Cayenne's V8) and a seven-speed, double-clutch transmission able to send that power to all four wheels as needed. Uniquely, it selects both first and second gears simultaneously when moving off for a smooth getaway. If your Turbo has the optional Sports Chrono pack, it will also have launch control (first aeronautics, now astronautics). Select Drive, keep left foot on brake, floor accelerator, let go of brake, hurtle to 62mph in just four seconds. In this hefty four-seater semi-saloon there's 188mph on offer if the opportunity arises.
It's a mighty machine, with a spec far beyond need but epic in its indulgence. (It's energy efficient for what it is, too, with less mass to carry than its rivals, a stop-start system and a far from shameful CO2 figure.) The suspension uses air springs with two chambers; when one is closed the suspension is firmer as part of an adaptive springing and damping system.
The way the Panamera defies the forces of physics is wondrous. It feels as agile as a two-seater Porsche Cayman, an illusion shattered only when you try to thread it through traffic, yet it rides bumps with limousine-like suppleness. The Turbo's engine is as docile as it is bombastic, and the way its rear spoiler opens upwards and outwards in two parts is a wonder of co-ordinated electro-mechanics.
Hyperbole? No, fact. So why do I prefer the Panamera S, the rear-drive-without a turbocharger for which Porsche predict fewest sales? (There's also a non-turbo, 4WD 4S.) It's because the S, though merely very fast instead of thermonuclear, is more fun at feasible speeds and it's cheaper – £72,266, as opposed to £95,298 for the Turbo. Its steering feels more fluent and its balance is purer in the way it lets you indulge in decorous, controlled tail slithers. Either way, though, I do wonder if it's time to repeal Newton's laws of motion.
Audi S8: £72,156.
Cheapest of these fast saloons, has a Lamborghini-related, 450bhp V10 engine, 4WD and all-aluminium body and chassis. Good value in this context.
Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT: £89,865.
Oozes character outside and in, sounds great with 4.7-litre V8 and 440bhp. Fearsome thirst. Looks apart, outclassed by Porsche.
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG: £96,063.
Hefty S-class with tuned 6.2–litre V8 (not 6.3 despite name) and 525bhp. Panamera Turbo price and power, but can't compete for pace and poise.Reuse content