4 people ride in Porsche style in 2010 Panamera

is doing well, even in a U.S. economy that's struggling to recover.

No doubt, buyers of the 2010 Porsche Panamera, whose starting retail price is $90,775, are well insulated from the economic turmoil — and that's before they are encased in the Panamera's 4,000-pound mass, 16 feet of metal from bumper to bumper.

Only about 4,700 of these rare cars have been sold in the United States so far, and the drive in a Panamera is special.

The V-8 engines deliver awesome power and acceleration so quick, a driver can race up to other cars in traffic in a heartbeat. At the same time, the Panamera's interior appointments can be sumptuous and the array of driver-controlled buttons for seats, suspension settings and more, overwhelming. Throughout, the heaviness of this extra-long vehicle serves as a constant reminder that this isn't a usual Porsche.

Launched in this country in October last year, the Panamera has been available in three levels, all with V-8s. The base model, with 400-horsepower V-8, is rear-wheel drive, while the mid-level 2010 Panamera 4S, has the 400-horsepower V-8 plus all-wheel drive and a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $94,775. The top 2010 Panamera Turbo comes with a 500-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V-8, all-wheel drive and a starting retail price of $133,575.

A new entry model with 300-horsepower V-6 is planned for introduction shortly, and it will carry a starting retail price of around $75,000.

Panamera competitors include other high-performance, luxury sedans such as the 2010 Mercedes-Benz CLS550, which has a 382-horsepower V-8, rear-wheel drive and a $74,575 starting retail price tag.

The size and styling of the test 2010 Panamera 4S made onlookers do doubletakes. From the front, the car looked like a two-seat 911, but with a longer hood that's needed to accommodate the front-mounted V-8. It's only when people started to take in the full side view of the car — seeing the four doors instead of the 911's two doors and the extra length — that it began to sink in that this was a different Porsche.

Driving the Panamera, I had to adjust, too. I was accustomed to slipping into tight parking spaces with the Porsche 911s I had tested. But the Panamera is a foot wider, outside mirrors included. It also has long doors, so I had to skip compact-sized parking spots and seek wider and longer spots instead.

The Panamera has seats for four lucky riders who travel in style. Seat cushions are thick, supportive and comfortable for long drives, even in the back seat. And the optional luxor beige full leather interior looked and felt rich in the test car. The only problem came in certain sunlight conditions, when the light-colored leather swathed on the dashboard reflected up to the windshield, creating glare. The same situation occurred at the parcel shelf behind the rear seats, because it, too, had the light color and would reflect up to the rear window.

The 4.8-liter, double overhead cam V-8 in the Panamera 4S was mated to a dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission that operates normally as an automatic but can be shifted manually sans clutch pedal. Torque peaks at 369 foot-pounds at a commendable 3,500 rpm, which provided good get up and go in nearly all driving situations in the test car. I had to watch the pressure I put on the accelerator, because the accelerator in the test car needed more than a light touch.

Shifts could be noticeable in both slow-speed, easygoing travel as well as aggressive driving. And the brakes in the test car, with more than 4,000 miles, took some getting used to because braking power didn't come on linearly. Rather, there was a sense of artificiality in the brake feel and brakes would grab, rather than smoothly slow the car at times.

For a test car that topped out at more than $100,000, the Panamera 4S seemed to be showing some wear and tear early. For example, the 19-inch tires were worn in areas.

Everyone rides low to the pavement in the Panamera, so views out the front are limited to the back ends of taller vehicles. But once the traffic is behind the Panamera and roads open up, the car moves purposefully and flawlessly, with the body mass well-controlled, in turns and on twisty roads. Also, the test car's steering was precise, but not twitchy.

The interior was quite quiet, unless the car was accelerating hard, and then deep V-8 sounds came to the fore.

Fuel economy is poor. The all-wheel drive test model was rated at 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. This is worse than many sport utility vehicles. The Panamera has a large 26.4-gallon gasoline tank, allowing it to travel more than 400 miles before needing a fillup. Premium fuel is required.

The cargo area of 15.7 cubic feet expands to 44.6 cubic feet if the back seats are folded down.

The Panamera comes with a full complement of safety equipment, including antilock brakes, curtain air bags and electronic stability control. But some driving aides, such as parking sensors, are options.

In the spring, more than 3,100 Panameras were recalled because their safety belt locking mechanism might not work if a front seat was adjusted "towards an extreme position" at the time of a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.