Remember the End of Days, when Porsche - the famously focused maker of sports cars and only sports cars - announced it was developing an SUV? Not only has the sun risen every day since, but the Porsche brand and lineup are stronger than ever. Today the Cayenne is the best-selling Porsche in the U.S., and even the Porsche purists who denounced the SUV have benefitted in the form of increased profits for enhanced 911s, better Boxsters and the introduction of the incomparable Cayman.

Now Porsche is introducing a four-door sedan (a hatchback, really, but one built to compete with sedans). Thanks to groundwork laid by the Cayenne, we've yet to hear reports of widespread panic.

A More Practical 911?

After our first couple days rotating between the well-bolstered driver's seats of Panamera S, 4S and Turbo variants, we're impressed. Is it fast? Very. Does it handle? Of course. Does it make us shake our heads in sheer disbelief at the way it melds with our driving souls, as does its 911 stablemate? Eh.

Contrary to what its distinctive but derivative styling might lead you to expect, the Porsche Panamera is not a four-door 911.

As a vehicle designed to compete with flagships like the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, however, the newcomer is a world-class athlete. And that's the more realistic, more relevant way of looking at, given that the Panamera is 20 inches longer than a 911, almost a half-ton heavier and has its engine located at the other end of the car.

The Inside Scoop

Then how does it compare to those big sedans in the accommodations department? Quite well, actually. The Panamera's passenger cabin is the nicest we've seen in a Porsche and among the richest interiors available this side of six figures. It's difficult, though, to regard the Panamera as a big-sedan alternative until you experience the surprisingly roomy backseat. Sure there's only room for two, but there's plenty of room for two. Is it big enough back there for your best clients? Without question. The hatchback design and fold-down rear seats even give the Panamera some Home Depot-cred.

Getting Down to Business

But we're talking about a Porsche here, and that means talking primarily about performance. The Panamera kicks off the conversation with a sharp, almost cautionary snarl at the turn of the key. Pull the high-mounted, firmly sprung transmission selector into Drive mode, squeeze the accelerator and the Panamera pulls away smoothly. Some will decry the lack of a manual transmission option, but we think the quick-shifting, seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK transmission seems a more natural fit for this big Porsche. In the city and in traffic, the PDK isn't always as smooth as a traditional automatic or a well-operated manual, but if you're going for max smoothness you're probably at a different dealership.

One unique feature worth noting here is the automatic stop-start system. Mimicking some hybrid cars, the Panamera's engine shuts off at full stops and immediately restarts when the brake pedal is released. The procedure is relatively painless once you learn to get off the brake pedal a beat early to get the engine restarted and ready to roll. Panamera drivers in America will have to opt-in for this feature at every restart. In a related and significant note, Porsche says the Panamera will offer roughly 20 percent better fuel economy than its luxo-sedan competitors.

Out on the highway, the Panamera is 99 percent effortless, one percent road noise. Merging is accomplished in a blink: Porsche says the turbocharged Panamera will reach 62 mph in 4.2 seconds. Panamera S and 4s models will accomplish the same feat in 5.4 and 5.0 seconds, respectively (the difference being the added launch traction of all-wheel drive). Not fast enough? Opt for the Sports Chrono Package and the launch control feature can shave 0.2 seconds off those times.

Keep pushing up to autobahn speeds and the front-engine Panamera tracks confidently and seems to maintain an endless reserve of passing power. The 400-horsepower S and 4S models are indeed fast enough in all situations to make the Turbo edition feel like overkill (which is the point, really). We haven't driven many cars that have allowed us to maintain such speeds with such confidence.

Proper perspective really comes into play when it's time to tackle the twisties. On one hand, the Panamera doesn't turn in as quickly as other Porsches, or offer the same level of feedback or involvement. On the other hand, you'll have a tough time finding a more fun four-door to take through your favorite stretch of meandering asphalt and paint.

Time to Start Saving?

If you've been waiting your whole life for a more practical Porsche 911, you'll be sorry to hear that such a car still doesn't exist. But if your favorite large luxo-sport sedans are those that put the greatest emphasis on sport - and if your definition of "sedan" is flexible - the U.S. arrival of the 2010 Porsche Panamera will mark the beginning of a new day (currently set for October 17, to be exact). At some point after that, the Panamera lineup will grow to include V6- and hybrid-powered models, as well.

2010 Porsche Panamera S
MSRP: $89,800
4.8-liter, front-mounted V8
400 horsepower @ 6500 rpm
369 pound-feet of torque @ 3500-5000 rpm
Rear-wheel drive
0-62 mph: 5.4 seconds (5.2 with Sports Chrono Package)
Top speed: 175 mph

2010 Porsche Panamera 4S
MSRP: $93,800
Same engine as Panamera S
All-wheel drive
0-62 mph: 5.0 seconds (4.8 with Sports Chrono Package)
Top speed: 175 mph

2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo
MSRP: $132,600
4.8-liter, twin-turbo V8
500 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
516 pound-feet of torque @ 2250-4500 rpm (567 pound feet with Sports Chrono Package)
All-wheel drive
0-62 mph: 4.2 seconds (4.0 with Sports Chrono Package)
Top speed: 188 mph

Noteworthy/Optional Goodies
Porsche Active Suspension Management (standard on all models, enhances both comfort and performance)
Adaptive air suspension (further enhances comfort and performance)
Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (reduces body roll while cornering)
Burmester DVD-Audio system (we hadn't heard of Burmester, either, but we're big fans now)
Sport exhaust system (turn up the volume at the push of a button)
Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes (identifiable by the yellow calipers)
Retractable rear spoiler (the turbo model's is a three-piece unit that unfolds wider and delivers increased downforce)

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