(Around the Block)

Every time Porsche rolls out a Turbo model – a designation that can now be found in the 911, Cayenne and Panamera lines – it’s clear that Stuttgart is pulling its punches. That’s because the latest Turbo is inevitably followed by the Turbo S, an even faster model that unmasks the Turbo as a sandbagging back-of-the-classroom slacker. Turbo, why can’t you be more like your brother, Turbo S?

In keeping with the tradition, the Panamera Turbo S is like a Panamera Turbo that’s having a really good day. The S is a little bit brighter, a little bit sharper and a lot more expensive. Revised engine management and upgraded turbochargers bump the horsepower rating to 550, from 500, while the peak torque rises to 590 pound-feet from 568.

Porsche actually quotes two torque figures, one of them the all-day-long-on-the-autobahn number, and the other the “overboost” torque that’s available for temporary sprints and pulling stumps back on the farm.

I referenced the higher number because it seems more likely that you’d indulge in temporary full-throttle situations than constant-load slogging. But if you manage to bolt your Panamera motor to the propeller of a medium-size Louisiana shrimp boat, be aware that constant maximum torque will be only 553 pound feet.

In terms of outright capability, the Panamera Turbo S is on the extreme end of the sports car spectrum. Porsche claims 0-to-60 acceleration in 3.6 seconds, which puts the Panamera in roughly the league of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and the Audi R8. That’s decent company, considering that the Panamera is a four-door car with 44.1 cubic feet of cargo space. (For comparison, that’s within a couple of cubic feet of the cargo bed of a Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup truck.)

Because the Turbo S uses all-wheel drive and the PDK dual-clutch transmission, a scalding computer-managed launch demands little more than a prod of the right foot. Yet despite all the automated technologic wizardry under the skin, the Panamera makes an effort to involve the driver. For evidence, take a look at the center console, which is festooned with performance-related buttons. You can push a button for Sport mode, or, if you’re feeling sportier than that, Sport Plus.

There’s a button to adjust the compliance of the suspension and another for its height. You can push a button to deactivate the stability-control system and push another to raise the rear spoiler. If you’d like the exhaust a bit louder, there’s a button for that. There’s a system that kills the engine when you’re stopped – the V-8 reawakens with the subtlety of a sleeping rhino prodded with a sharp stick – but it can be deactivated. There’s a button.

As four-doors go, the performance of the Panamera Turbo S is essentially untouchable. But you do pay for that distinction, quite literally. For $200,000, would you rather have a well-optioned Panamera Turbo S or a trip into space on Virgin Galactic? Never mind; just sell four shares of your Berkshire Hathaway stock and say yes to both.

Now that we’ve dealt with the matter of value, I’ll turn to a couple of other quibbles. First, the Panamera’s horn emits an uncharacteristically feeble beep-beep, sounding like the Road Runner with mono.

Second, this car is conceited. Check out the self-referential keyfob, which is molded in the shape of the Panamera’s silhouette. That’s like carrying a photo of yourself in your wallet. The Audi A7’s key doesn’t resemble an A7, and that car’s sculptured beauty makes the Panamera look like Charlize Theron – Charlize Theron in “Monster.”

But looks are subjective. Performance is not. And the numbers say that the Panamera Turbo S is the quickest four-door in all the land. Sorry, Turbo.

TESTED 2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S

WHAT IS IT? Porsche’s 190 mph interpretation of a four-door 911 Turbo.

WHAT’S UNDER THE HOOD? A 4.8-liter V-8 with twin turbochargers (550 horsepower, 553 pound-feet of torque; 590 pound-feet with overboost) with a seven-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung automated sequential manual transmission and all-wheel drive.

IS IT THIRSTY? Yes, but it dodges the federal gas-guzzler tax with a rating of 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

- Ezra Dyer  © 2011 New York Times News Service

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