Say “station wagon” to a generation of Americans and you’ll conjure memories of long roads trips in a Chrysler Town & Country, wood panels and all, with kids screaming “Are we there yet?” in the backseats.
It’s a class of vehicle that has, to the dismay of enthusiasts, fallen out of favor in recent decades, replaced largely by the SUV (and the more compact CUV) by drivers who want plenty of space but more ride height, too.
That’s a shame. Even though manufacturers have gotten smarter about giving SUVs and crossovers a sportier ride through tweaks to the suspension and chassis, simple physics dictates that a higher center of gravity means worse cornering performance. A wagon, which has the same center of gravity as a sedan or hatchback, offers all of the room of an SUV or CUV without any of the compromises on handling.
You’ll find more fans of the wagon body style on the other side of the Atlantic. German carmakers are making some of the finest examples of performance “sportswagens,” whether it’s the Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S Wagon, the Volkswagen Golf R wagon (tragically not available in the U.S), the Mini Clubman, or BMW’s “touring” editions of its 3 and 5 series.
Now Porsche has entered the fray, adapting its Panamera sedan into a wagon—or in Porsche nomenclature, a “Sport Turismo”.
Porsche lent me a Panamera Sport Turismo—specifically a $174,730 (as optioned) high performance Turbo version—for a week of spirited driving and decidedly less fun commuting. While the Panamera hatchback’s looks have been improved considerably since its awkwardly-reared first generation, something about the elongated roof-line makes the wagon edition look sleek and purposeful, losing the “stretched 911” look of its sibling.
One of the benefits of a wagon is more cargo space, and while the Sport Turismo does offer more capacity over the regular Panamera, it’s only an additional 0.7 cubic feet (2 cubic feet with rear seats folded down). But that cargo space comes in very useable dimensions and with a lower load height, perfect for shopping trips to ABC Carpet or wherever it is drivers of an $180,000 station wagon buy furniture.
Don’t, however, confuse the Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo for a humble family-hauler, though it’ll do that well. This vehicle is absolutely a sports car: a four-liter, twin-turbo V8 capable of 550 horsepower sees to that. In fact, its driving performance and feel is eerily similar to the Porsche 911 GTS I reviewed last year, which had a rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive. That’s partly thanks to the rear-axle steering (a $1,620 option) which virtually shortens the wheelbase of the car when cornering and mitigates the understeering effects of the Panamera’s all-wheel drive. Steering is quick and predictable, speed is there in spades, and the exhaust note in Sport+ mode is delightfully throaty. You can be extremely impolite, very quickly, in this otherwise very sensible-looking car.
Acknowledging that most miles done in this vehicle will be racked up commuting, I took the Panamera out during rush hour for a drive to Fortune’s offices in Lower Manhattan from my home 60 miles to the north. (I suffer for you, dear reader.) Enjoyable blasts eating up country backroads soon made way to standstill traffic, but I cared little. The Panamera boasts one of the most comfortable cockpits of any vehicle I’ve reviewed and the dual-clutch transmission is extremely well-behaved in stop-go traffic. And, of course, the car has all the power on tap to drive confidently if a gap in the traffic opens up.
It might seem odd that Porsche would produce such an expensive car in an underloved segment, odder still that the folks in Stuttgart would introduce it to the U.S. market. But we’re certainly glad they did.
Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo
Price: Base $154,000, as tested $174,730
Engine: 4.0 liter twin turbo V8: 550 horsepower/ 567 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 8-speed PDK dual-clutch automated manual, all-wheel drive.
0-60 MPH: 3.6 seconds / 3.4 seconds with launch control
¼ mile: 12 seconds / 11.8 seconds with launch control
Top track speed: 188 MPH