Brawny sedans always come to Autocar
magazine's handling days with most to lose. More often than not, when the tires stop squealing and the votes are counted, they find themselves trailing.
It's the very luxuries that make mega-sedans such enticing real-world prospects which conspire to weigh them down, literally and figuratively, when they get to the track. This year's challengers, the Porsche Panamera 4S and Jaguar XFR, are no exception, tipping the scales at 4,100lbs and 4,169lbs respectively.
Both counter their mass with serious brawn, and although the Jaguar boasts an extra 100hp (503hp vs 394hp), both ended their hottest laps of the 2.4-mile circuit within 1.1sec of each other. Goodwood motor circuit is a track that rewards grunt, but even so, the fact that both cars managed to beat the Lotus Evora still stands as testament to their fundamental sortedness.
On track, the Porsche's combination of massive grip and imperious stability meant it could monster Goodwood's quicker corners in a manner befitting its Nurburgring-bred chassis settings. Many of us failed to gel with the steering's artificial-feeling resistance, but once trust had grown in the fundamental accuracy that lay behind this, the big Porsche could be chucked in at seemingly impossible speeds in the certainty that it would hook up, find grip and deliver you to the exit without drama. “Ridiculously well composed for such a big sedan,” reckoned senior road tester Jamie Corstorphine. Editor-at-large Steve Sutcliffe agreed: “Very surprised how well sorted this feels.”
Not that the Panamera's PDK gearbox won many friends. Like the new 911, Porsche has wired up the steering wheel gearchange rockers in the opposite way to that suggested by both logic and experience, meaning that you have to pull back to change down and push forward to change up. That makes it far too easy to find yourself heading up the gearbox while slowing down. Several of us ended up leaving the selector in D, which sums up the Panamera's relentless competence.
The Jag was both less composed and more involving on track, thanks to its softer springs and sharper steering. With serious power battling through just two driven wheels, traction was an issue on all but the fastest corners. And despite the best efforts of the clever diff, drivers got used to the sight of the XFR's stability control light flashing angrily as the system battled to find grip. Or alternatively, with nanny kenneled, the Jag barely needed to be persuaded into some truly lurid powerslides.
The XFR couldn't match the Porsche's phenomenal turn-in, and over-optimistic corner entry brought understeer and body roll. But the Jag's ultra-sweet steering also gave it a delicacy of touch that the Panamera couldn't match, making it easy to find the limits of front-end grip and to use the throttle to play on the chassis's benign natural balance and the gearbox's drama-free manual override. Senior contributing writer Andrew Frankel's conclusion – “Not as technically capable, but more fun to drive than the Porker” – spoke for almost all of us.
On the road, the XFR turned the tables on its German rival. The Jaguar's supple ride was developed on the unique playground of Britain's battered, cambered backroads, and there can be few more relaxing ways to make serious progress over one.
The Porsche's firmer springs and dampers left it feeling heavier-footed over the same terrain. And the effortlessness of the Jag's power delivery also gave it a clear edge in real-world pace; passing moves you don't need to think about twice in the XFR are distinctly marginal in the Porsche.
But when it came to the crunch, the judges were unanimous. Every single one of us scored the XFR above the Panamera, often by substantial margins. As special correspondent Colin Goodwin put it, “It's just got far more of a sense of fun about it.”
And that, at the end of the day, is the reason we're here.