What follows is how I've been using Panthers lately.
Let's start with the advantages:
Front Armor - The Panther has a front armor of 10, which is still proof against any direct-fire weapon, save for those specifically designed to destroy Panthers. So yes, a Panther may lose going 1-on-1 with a Firefly, which was not the case in the past. The horror.
High Anti-Tank - The main advantage of the Panther is its high AT of 14. Even when attacking American and British tanks from over 16" you are all but negating their saves. True, from that distance they will bail on a 6, but the Panther remains more than competent at blowing-up any Allied tank in the game (Jumbo's excluded).
Mobility - The Panther moves as a standard tank, plus it gets Wide Tracks and Stormtrooper. This is a key part of keeping your Panthers in the fight, as I'll explain in a bit.
Again, I love these models
Now for the bad stuff:
Cost - 3 Confident Veteran Panthers are 560 points. That's quite an investment for an army of any size. Really, though, they are not that over-priced. The fact is that they are a very good unit and very good units cost a lot.
Side Armor - The side armor of 5 isn't that bad compared with other tanks. Where the Panther loses out though is with the lack of German Schurzen. This vulnerable side armor and lack of Schurzen pretty much eliminates the Panther's assault capabilities in the Late War environment.
Top Armor - Top armor 1...for artillery and aircraft the Panther might as well be a Stuart. That's not a good feeling and it represents what I believe to be the Panther's chief vulnerability when played properly in the current environment.
"Contact, right!" said the German crews as they practiced English
This really sums up the advantages and disadvantages of the Panther tank. When we take a look at these parameters we are left with a vision of a tank that is alien to the way that it has been played in past versions of Flames of War. For most of Version 2 a German player could march his Panthers across the board with impunity. Now, especially in Late War, the Allies have the tools to effectively counter such foolishness.
Therefore I have found that the most effective way to use my Panthers is in the role of a sniper unit. Find the enemy's most fearsome armored threat and eliminate it with your Panthers. To do this you will need to be tactical. You will also need a recovery vehicle.
I have had the most success lately with moving in and out of terrain, utilizing hit-and-run tactics to frustrate and whittle down my opponent. Against a trained Allied unit of trained, late-edition Shermans (front armor 7), we can statistically expect to destroy close to two tanks per 6 shots of shooting over 16", while bailing even more. Stormtroopering back into terrain will help mitigate return fire, and possibly eliminate it entirely.
I believe that attacking at range is your friend in this instance. Does it make the enemy harder to hit? Yes. But the Panther's AT of 14 is still going to punch right through Allied armor, whereas if the enemy engages you from over 16" the Panther is effectively getting front armor 11. By holding your Panthers back and sniping enemy armor we also reduce the threat of tank destroyers making surprise moves around our flanks.
Obviously in some missions it is impossible to just stay back and snipe the enemy. In these situations it is extremely important to use terrain to your advantage. Remember that your Panthers have a statistically insignificant chance of bogging, so plow those trees out of your path!
On a more strategic sense, I believe that Panthers are best suited to support an infantry or mech company as opposed to a tank company. In my opinion what makes the Late War Allies so deadly is the synergy that they can achieve between their units. The Germans don't have the numbers or the special rules to achieve this (all Allied nations have special artillery rules, which will absolutely gut your Panthers). If you're fielding a German tank company, then you simply don't have the points in most standard games to take Panthers as a support option.
'Hold them back!"
Taking them as a support option from the Aufklarungs Company in the newly-updated Panzers to the Meuse PDF is a potent option. The Panthers will get to make a Spearhead move into an excellent position before unleashing a full-rate-of-fire swath of destruction against the enemy. Fielding a mech company can also leave more points left over for support options, such as mortars for smoke (smoke enemy observers if possible).
There really isn't much left to say. If you were hoping to have a new, unbeatable tactic unveiled to you then I apologize, but succeeding with Panthers now takes a fair amount of generalship. Remember: it is a poor carpenter who blames his tools. The Panthers will likely be a main target of your opponent, but they can't be discarded as bait. Be smart, be cautious, and be alert. Use terrain and mobility to your advantage.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter, where I seem to be doing most of my community interaction lately @piflamesofwar. I got my first 50 followers, help me get my next 50.