Many believe there is an unwritten rule that the amount of fun you can have on four wheels is inversely proportional to the number of seats a car has.
Moreover, that two seats will always be better than four and only couples should be allowed to enjoy the best the motoring world has to offer – not, heaven forbid, parents with children.
Well, there’s at least one car on the market that does not insist you compromise – the Panamera E-Hybrid, out of the stable of the world’s largest sports car manufacturer, Porsche.
The Germans may be best known for their brash two-seater sports cars but this is a plug-in hybrid version of their first upmarket four-seater saloon model which launched in 2009.
Now in its second generation, like the Cayenne, the Panamera appeals to those wanting both the prestige that comes with the badge as well as something more functional than a 911 or a Boxster.
I am pleased to say that Porsche has seamlessly blended the best bits of its sports cars into 2.2 tonnes of the best sporting luxury saloon I have ever tested.
But what I found most surprising is that, while the Panamera incorporates design elements found in the 911, Boxster, 718 and Cayman, in many areas it could perform at least as well as them, if not better.
To begin, this 2.0 version is a big step on from its predecessor. It boasts a more exquisite interior and sharper styling that takes comfort to the next level.
Underneath the Panamera’s very sharp exterior is a very familiar skeleton as it shares its platform with the Cayenne. Its shell is a slick coupe design offering plenty of room for four (it’s strictly four not five thanks to the bucket seat set up in the rear) and a large boot, and not to mention a very hi-tech interior (more on that later).
This all adds up to it being not just more practical but more agile. This is hands down the most comfortable I have felt sat behind the wheel of any car since the Bentley Continental GT.
But despite being more than 5m long and almost 2m wide, the Panamera edges it on being arguably the liveliest large luxury car money can buy.
We took our model to Stratford-Upon-Avon for the weekend and it is not just a comfortable ride and comfortable drive, it is exhilarating.
The steering is beautifully weighted and the Panamera’s grip and traction felt more like a sports car if not better; despite hauling a heavy electric battery there was no noticeable negative affect on agility.
The feeling of being in precise control made for an utterly confidence-inspiring drive. The car throws you up hills and out over them with a grin (air suspension comes as standard) and into corners and out of them with exceptional stability and a punch.
The E-hybrid is available in both saloon, executive saloon and estate versions. There is a choice of V6 or V8 engines to power the rear or all four wheels, with eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive as standard.
But perhaps more importantly, it can do around 30 miles on battery power alone. If you have a driveway with a plug socket and short round-trip daily commute, that’s going to have you boasting about your CO2 emissions down the pub. Despite owning a Porsche. That’s a bit wow.
You can easily toggle between where the power comes from on the dials. The result is the Panamera can be exceptionally quiet one minute, but then flick it into Sport mode and press down on the throttle, and it feels like you’re driving with a bag of tigers under the bonnet trying to escape.
Combine all the power options and the Panamera’s whopping 670bhp can achieve 0-62mph in a staggering 3.4 secs with the sport chrono package – two tenths faster than the standard turbo – with a top speed of 192mph. Fuel economy is said to be around 27-37mpg in tests.
But there is more to the package than performance. For a start, despite this being a big hatchback with a sizeable luggage bay, the new-look Panamera’s sleeker lines make this a bit of an eye-catcher when you spot it in a street.
Yet, it is inside the car where most of the joy is to be had, as the Panamera boasts an unparalleled in-cabin experience that feels unlike anything from any other car manufacturer.
The materials and build quality are as high spec as you can imagine. Indeed, the character of the interior has you feeling as if you are bathing in luxury – from the aspect of the leather and Bose speakers to the glass panel central console with high-res screen and slick touch-sensitive controls. This is where the magic happens, from traffic jam to night vision assist.
Inside comprises a very sophisticated multimedia system; you can make the car a wi-fi hotspot for in-car internet and, using an array of funky apps and Porsche’s Connect Plus system, find out things like fuel prices on your trip. But most importantly, it is easy to use.
The Panamera also has hands down the best sat nav I am yet to drive in any car – other manufacturers take note, this should set the standard.
There’s excellent leg room in the rear and great boot room with 315 litres rising to 1,150 litres if you fold down the rear seats.
So, the Panamera is a car that drives like a 911 but delivers on luxury and boasts the practicality and spaciousness of the Cayenne. What is not to like?
Well, they may say money cannot buy you class, but I would argue you can price it from £140,132.00 incl. VAT before options that will probably be worth the price of another (small) car. But obviously that is way out of 99% of drivers’ budgets.
Then, whereas I would argue the driver’s seating position is stupendous – with the low-slung seat adding to the overall sports car feel – some will feel there’s too great a compromise on visibility. I found it easy to park in tight spaces with the parking sensors that come as standard – but some will want to consider the optional 360-degree camera as a must-have extra.
The truth is, the Panamera is the perfect blend of practicality, luxury and performance. In fact, the only thing I disliked was the luminous yellow border around the lettering on the bodywork, which I imagine (hope) you can opt out of having.
The Panamera is both a great upmarket four-seat car and fun – and I haven’t really gone on about how beautiful this car looks when I could have. Who would not want it sat on their driveway? And how often does anyone ask that about a family car?
If you’ve been thinking about getting an BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 or Mercedes-Benz S-Class then think again.
If I could afford one, the Panamera would be at the top of my shopping list.