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2011 Panamera has a misfit's looks, but a Porsche's feel

Not all cars are created equal, at least not in the minds of their prospective buyers. When I get a new midsize sedan delivered, it's greeted with moderate enthusiasm at best. When I had the new Porsche Panamera delivered, the question I was aske...

Not all cars are created equal, at least not in the minds of their prospective buyers.

When I get a new midsize sedan delivered, it's greeted with moderate enthusiasm at best. When I had the new Porsche Panamera delivered, the question I was asked most often was, "Did people stare at you a lot?"

The answer is yes, they did. Look at this model; you'll know why.

Porsche's first four-door sedan tries to marry the front and rear of a Carrera to a four-door sedan. But something is amiss in the styling. At first, I thought the car attractive from certain angles. From the front, it looks handsome, like a larger 911 Carrera. But walk around to the back and the car's sloping roof line, which seems positively graceful on the 911 Carrera, looks incredibly dumpy here. Its looks recall those of a newly constructed tract home: Queen Anne in the front, Mary Anne in the back.

So people do stare at the Panamera -- but is it worthy of admiration or pity?

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If they had a chance behind the wheel, it would most assuredly be the former. It's then that you realize that Porsche has created a sedan that feels like a Porsche, and handles better than any car in its class.

Those statements come with caveats, however.

Unlike Porsche's mid- and rear-engine sports cars, the Panamera has its engine up front. Regardless, the car still has that great steering feel and quick turn response one expects of a car with this nameplate. Cornering behavior is exemplary. Carving through corners is easy: The car stays flat. Controlling this car is as easy as judiciously nailing the accelerator and steering. It's a whole mess of fun.

But unlike, say, a Boxster, you'll feel this entire vehicle's mass when maneuvering, stopping or starting. There's no escaping its weight.

And then there's the issue of engines.

The Panamera's V8 comes in three models: the rear-drive 400-horsepower Panamera S, an all-wheel-drive Panamera 4S, and the all-wheel-drive 500-horsepower Panamera Turbo. All produce more than enough oomph to move this car with authority. The seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission is razor-sharp. This manual transmission is perfect for the expert who enjoys the cut and thrust of the rush-hour grand prix. (By using two clutches, one for odd gears, the other for even, dual-clutch transmission shifts are actuated quicker than a traditional manual; and there's no clutch pedal to work. The system was developed for Porsche's race cars in the early 1980s.)

By contrast, the Panamera and Panamera 4, the model line's new entry-level versions, feature a 300-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. It's not nearly strong enough to furnish the sparkling, effortless acceleration one expects from a Porsche. The V6 is best described as perfectly adequate, but not exciting.

The V6 is further hobbled by a stop/start feature, which shuts off the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop. It restarts when you lift your foot off the brake. It sounds like a good idea, but falls flat in execution. For some reason, Porsche has decided that you need to feel the engine stop and start, and it does so with a tremendous rumble.

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What's worse is that when you come to a stop and need to accelerate quickly, you can't. You have to wait for the engine to restart. Of course, opting for 8 cylinders alleviates this.

Inside the Panamera, you'll find one of the finest interiors in the industry. Each occupant gets a bucket seat. A center console, trimmed in piano black on the test vehicle, runs the full length of the cabin. As you'd expect in a German car, the seats are very firm, but hold you in place during enthusiastic driving. The cabin is fairly quiet, save for the symphony of the engine.

As good as Porsche was at developing the vehicle dynamics, there are some items that need massaging. The Bose audio system is OK, but could use an upgrade. And someone should program the navigation system with more complete information.

Nitpicking? Maybe, but not considering this car's price.

The base car, rear-drive with a V6, starts at $74,400. The test vehicle had all-wheel drive, which added $4,500 to the price. Opting for an 8 would add $15,400 to the base model's base price. For that kind of money, I want perfection.

Is the Porsche Panamera worth the scratch? If you like its head-turning style, powerful acceleration (with the V8) and exemplary handling, spring for it.

As the old saying goes: " 'To each his own,' said the woman as she kissed the cow."

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2011 PORSCHE PANAMERA:

--What we say: Stunning in more ways than one

--Pro: Beautifully crafted interior, impeccable handling

--Con: Start/stop feature is clumsy

--Engine: 3.6-liter V6

--Wheelbase: 115 inches

--Length: 195.6 inches

--Weight: 4,430 pounds

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--Cargo space: 16 cubic feet

--EPA rating (city/highway): 18/26 mpg

--Fuel consumption: 19.2 mpg

--Fuel type: Premium

--Base price, base model: $74,400

--Base price, test model: $78,900

--As tested: $86,690

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