The Panamera is possibly the most divisive Porsche of all. Many despise the way it looks and what it stands for. In my experience, almost all of those negative voices are eradicated if they spend any time in one, either as a driver or a passenger. Especially if you include very long journeys. At least 10 times a year I have to get from the UK to some other corner of the continent, and the Panamera Turbo is the best tool for the job.
The Turbo defence
But what happens when you remove the speed?
The Diesel version has just 250hp, and it weighs 1,880kg. It compensates with 405lb ft of diesel torque and the promise of some impressive fuel economy figures. From the spec sheet this car is the least appealing Porsche since the 911 SC was castrated in the late 70s for Californian emissions targets.
Honestly, having covered 2,500 miles in it already, I can't think of another car whose real-world behaviour is so far removed from its static credentials. In its own way, the Panamera diesel is one of the best cars Porsche makes - and that is just a plain bizarre sentence to watch creep from my keyboard. The reasons for this become apparent within a few minutes of first driving it. This is the best diesel installation around. It offers a faint crack when it fires, but after that it isn't just quiet, the noise that seeps into the cabin is a pleasant, deep, V6 rumble.
All that you need
Diesel meant ditching PDK for the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed auto, and that's improved the package further. Sometimes an engine and gearbox just gel; this is one of those instances. It is seamless in the true sense of the phrase and therefore incredibly soothing. That's what I want from a car of this type.
I also want it to be stellar over long distances and a recent smash'n'grab raid to southern Germany proved, beyond any doubt, that this car is world class in that respect. Three-up, and crammed full of gear it would cruise quietly at 120mph, still returning 30mpg. On the 612-mile return leg, which included some stationary time and a sustained stint in the 130-140mph window, the car averaged 37.2mpg. That is astonishing. Anything I might have gained in a Turbo pulling 150-180mph would have been undone by the need to refuel. I even did a stint in the back and nearly fell asleep. This is unprecedented.
Not just in terms of quality either. The Panamera's steering isn't just good, it's a flipping magic trick. It somehow makes this vast machine agile and instinctively easy to thread down narrow roads. The driving position - low, with the wheel at your chest - is terrific and it's just a fun car to drive fast. Again, I can't believe I've written that.
This car runs on standard steel springs, not the optional air-suspension, and on weeny 19-inch wheels. Yes, I specifically asked for the small wheels because they bring a fleshier 45-profile sidewall and the result is a firm but composed ride. It's no S-Class, but the overall compromise of agility and waftability is very pleasing.
As you can probably tell, I like this car. In fact the only negative aspects so far are apologetically droopy tail-pipe trims and the fact it's only a four-seater. Which, for those of us with three kids, renders the Panamera a bit useless. With Mercedes making its CLS Shooting Brake a five-seater, you have to wonder if Porsche is missing a trick not selling a five-seat version of this car.
I defy anyone to drive or be driven in a Panamera Diesel and not be profoundly impressed. The haters will always hate, but, right now, there isn't another car I want to be using the way I use this one. Oh, and I even like the way it looks.
Car: Porsche Panamera Diesel
Run by: Chris Harris
On fleet since: August 2012
List price new: £66,558 (base price £62,134 plus £777 for metallic paint, £1,457 for 19" Panamera Design alloy wheels, £243 for automatic dimming mirror package, £919 for Bose surround sound system, £227 for Universal Audio Interface USB/iPod connector, £526 for aluminium interior package and £275(!) for 'seatbelts in silver')
Last month at a glance: Diesel Panamera turns out to be one of the most capable, and likeable, cars in the Porsche stable