Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

WITH its recent mastery (third in a row, and 19th overall) of the iconic proving ground and event that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Stuttgart-based car maker Porsche didn’t just add to a trophy cabinet of 30,000-plus accolades in racing but, perhaps more significantly, underscored yet again how the brand has become synonymous to motor sports.

Spanking the Panamera around Sepang
Panamera Turbo is a limousine that packs 550hp and 770Nm.

This affinity, of course, ultimately proves a welcome positive boost to the reputation of Porsche among sports car fans and aficionados — not to mention the segment that the brand is most keenly eyeing: the Porsche buyers.

While all car brands engaged in the domain of racing invariably cascade their learning into commercial production models (while commensurately leveraging its marketing potential), nothing quite compares to the dint of success — the much-coveted grail that bridges the gap between mere positioning and tangible, quantifiable reality.

A healthy dose of quantifiable reality was exactly what selected members of regional media received via a recent staging of the Porsche Media Driving Academy, set at the pristine 5.5-kilometer, Formula 1 venue that is the Sepang International Circuit in Selangor, Malaysia.

On the menu is a succulent array of Porsche pocket rockets ready to be pushed and prodded — ranging from the sprightly mid-engine 718 Boxster, to 911s, and, of course, the all-new Panamera. While there is plenty of hype and talk surrounding Porsche’s luxury four-door saloon, whose second generation was first unveiled last year in Berlin, the proof of its vaunted attributes such as muscularity and sports car prowess were yet to be experienced on the track, at least by the motoring media in the region.

Spanking the Panamera around Sepang
Porsche’s other models displaying their on-track prowess at the Sepang circuit.

During a short briefing before we were ushered off to a day’s worth of hands-on experience, Porsche Asia Pacific PR executive James Wong averred that classical sports car tenets have been bestowed on the Panamera, and that designers have “infused more Porsche elements into its DNA.”

Mr. Wong said designers have optimized and improved the Panamera chassis — optically reducing its height into a wider, sportier profile. Crucially, even during nighttime, the car stays true to its Porsche look via strategic lighting of its rear fascia. “Many cars lose that [characteristic] in the dark,” he underscored.

The new Panamera is also significantly lighter through structural changes and a shrewd choice of materials. Even the seats have shed an astounding eight kilograms each without compromising safety and comfort. After all, Mr. Wong stressed, the car offers “business-class seating for four.” But again, while the values of luxury are readily seen and accessed, the promises of performance are only realized [as they should] in the right venues — like Sepang.

And just to make our stint behind the wheel of a Panamera 4S and Turbo a little more surreal, we were paced around the track by none other than two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Earl Bamber. The Kiwi, along with Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley secured the aforementioned 19th overall crown for Porsche.

Spanking the Panamera around Sepang
The author (right) is star-struck by Porsche driver and Le Mans winner Earl Bamber.

First up for me was the Panamera 4S. While powered by a marginally smaller 2.9-liter V6 (the outgoing had a 3.0-liter) the new engine is not only lighter but more fuel efficient — while blurting out greater power and torque (440hp and 550Nm). As we waited for our go signal to depart from the pit stop, I had a brief opportunity to behold the spacious cabin of the vehicle. Immediately obvious is the cleaner layout that not only employs a massive 12.3-inch touch screen that functions as a central PCM control and display unit, but uses it to the hilt via high-definition, 360-degree cameras to help motorists navigate better by seeing the world around in beautiful, crisp rendering.

Set to Sport Plus, the most potent among Porsche’s drive settings, the 4S took off with steady, growling power. The eight-speed PDK transmission shifted quickly and smoothly. Keeping up with a convoy of speeding smaller Porsches was easy. Mr. Bamber cheered us on, and adjusted his speed to allow everyone to keep up. We were able to gradually realize some velocity on the straights. I noted an effortlessness in this Porsche that almost nonchalantly breached 200kph without breaking a sweat or creasing a brow. The best part is feeling it can give you a lot more — I believed we topped out in the vicinity of 210kph before we needed to brake for a turn. I wondered how lovely an airport runway strip would be just about then.

If the 4S was an unflappable businessman at speed, the Turbo proved an angry beast who seemed to taunt me to egg it on. Blessed with a 4.0-liter V8 (again downsized but upgraded from the departing version), this variant sticks out its tongue with a stout 550hp and absolutely brutal 770Nm. Despite its heft compared to other Porsches, it was at home and comfortable devouring meters of track in mere heartbeats, with nothing save for an incriminating roar (and the velocity, of course) to indicate to occupants who can obviously continue to luxuriate in style sipping expensive champagne from pristine flutes. Drivers though will be tempted to progressively reward themselves with compliance from such a rarefied, refined vehicle with but some pressure on the gas pedal.

Still, while the Panamera is unmistakably at home on the track where every Porsche’s roots ultimately lie, this Porsche is a rare combination of luxury, comfort and docility that is meant to spoil those who are fortunate to find themselves ensconced within — at speed or even at standstill.