The Porsche Panamera GTS straddles the gap between the V6-powered 4S and the manic Turbo. But is it worthy of Zuffenhausen's famous 'GTS' badge?
The Porsche Panamera is the answer to a question select few get to ask. How do you enjoy Porsche-like performance, with the ability to carry your family in comfort?
You could, of course, opt for the Porsche Cayenne, Stuttgart’s large SUV that carries the family in high-ridin’ style with room for the dog, the cat and all your camping gear. But SUVs, as popular as they are, aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Enter the Panamera.
This second-gen Porsche saloon has been around for a couple of years now, the range starting with the plain ol’ Panamera, a V6 turbo-powered sedan with outputs of 243kW and 450Nm. It asks for $214,400 plus on-road costs, less than half the price of the range-topping Panamera flagship, the Turbo S E-Hybrid with its combined outputs of 500kW and 850Nm and an eye-watering price tag of $460,100.
But if a V6-powered Panamera with 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds seems a bit tame, and if half-a-million bucks for a 3.4-second hybrid seems a tad exxy, then Porsche has quite possibly built the perfect Panamera for you. Introducing the Porsche Panamera GTS, the seventh and probably final instalment in the large sedan range from the folks at Zuffenhausen.
The Panamera GTS is, fundamentally, the entry-level V8-powered Panamera. Powered by the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo found under the long snouts of both the Turbo and Turbo S E-Hybrid, the GTS is no slouch, capable of dashing from 0-100km/h in just 4.1 seconds thanks to its 338kW of power and 620Nm of torque.
Due in Australia in the first quarter of 2019, pricing for the GTS starts at $364,100 before on-roads for the four-door and $371,400 for the wagon-like Sport Turismo. Yes, that’s right, the GTS is available both as a sedan and a wagon, bringing the total Panamera range across all variants to 13.
As a side note, the ‘GTS’ stands for Gran Turismo Sport, making the wagon literally a Porsche Panamera Gran Turismo Sport Sport Turismo. No, really…
But let’s not get hung up on quirky nomenclature. Let’s look at what the GTS stands for in a real sense. In Porsche’s own words, the Panamera GTS is “designed to bridge the gap between the Panamera 4S and the Panamera Turbo”. What that translates to is an altogether sportier execution than the V6-powered 4S but without the manic levels of performance offered by the V8-infused Turbo.
That’s no to say the GTS’s performance isn’t outrageous. It is, in the sense that it’s bloody quick. Also in the sense that it’s a remarkably agile for a near two-tonne executive saloon.
But let’s start at the beginning. Any Porsche that carries the ‘GTS’ nameplate comes with expectations born of a lineage that dates back to the original, the 904 Carrera GTS, which made its debut in 1963. That car was designed to bring racecar-like performance and technology into a road-going homologation special. Just 106 were built to meet Group 3 regulations.
The GTS badge didn’t appear again until the love-it-or-loathe-it Porsche 924 emerged with the Carrera GTS moniker. Only 59 examples of this homologation special were built, making it the rarest Porsche to wear the GTS badge.
That was succeeded by the 928 GTS, a 5.4-litre V8-powered 2+2 coupe which remained in production from 1992-95 and saw 2904 examples roll off the factory floor.
The GTS badge then lay dormant at Weissach for another decade, only revived in 2007 with the 911 GTS before appearing on the original Panamera in 2011 (Read our review of that model). Which brings us to today, in Bahrain, for the international launch of the 2019 Panamera GTS and Panamera GTS Sport Turismo.
At first glance, the GTS looks the part. GTS in Porsche-speak means lots of black where chrome would otherwise exist. And it starts with the 20-inch Panamera Design Satin black alloys which immediately lend the GTS a tough stance. When married to black window surrounds, black front and rear trims, black side skirts, black badging, high-gloss black quad tail pipes and darkened tail light treatments, the GTS really starts to look the part of sporty tourer.
That theme continues inside, with swathes of black Alcantara complemented by either Carmine Red or Crayon (Porsche-speak for grey) contrast stitching. Even the brushed aluminium accents are finished in black, although you can option (at no cost) a dark walnut trim package, also in black. If that all sounds a bit dour, then rest assured, it isn’t. Instead, the cabin presents as a luxurious space, at once contemporary and sleek.
That’s an apt description for the infotainment system too, which boasts a 12.3-inch colour touchscreen that is simply out of this world crystal clear. It’s completely configurable too with users able to tailor the home screen to their personal tastes with things like favourite radio stations, or frequently dialled phone numbers or even preferred sat-nav destinations. It’s all remarkably clever and removes the frustration sometimes felt when having to toggle and swipe through multiple screens to find a specific function. Better yet, if the Panamera is a shared vehicle, the system can store up to six different user profiles.
That customisable function extends to the head-up display which can also be configured to display any number of functions according to a driver’s preferences. It’s a neat little function, a thoughtful touch that adds to the overall GTS experience. It’s also the first time HUD has been available in any Panamera.
Recent Porsches have been conspicuous for their absence of buttons and switches. And this generation of Panamera is no different, with a centre-console array that acts as a touchscreen with haptic-feedback surfaces controlling some of the car’s functions. Pleasingly though, Porsche has retained a volume dial and some beautifully-milled and damped toggles that control the Panamera’s climate functions. Nice.
As befitting a grand tourer, the back row of the Panamera GTS is spacious and beautifully appointed. For two. The GTS Sport Turismo can carry five, but only if you don’t like the fifth person very much. Porsche makes no apologies for this, styling the Sport Turismo as a 4+1. In reality, if you’re looking to carry five in comfort, Look elsewhere. Or buy a Cayenne.
The highways and byways of Bahrain may not seem like the ideal hunting ground for Porsche’s latest GTS-badged powerhouse. But a blend of urban desert and long stretches of highway with a finale at the Bahrain International Circuit offers plenty of scope to test the Panamera GTS’s mettle.
Starting out with a slow but steady crawl through what passes for Bahrain’s morning peak-hour, it’s immediately apparent the GTS is cut from the grand tourer cloth. It’s at once quiet and comfortable, cosseting even. The ride around town on roads that closely resemble those found back in Australia – that is to say, patchy and coarse – is on the firm side of comfortable, but not gratingly so.
There are drive modes (of course) and leaving the steering-wheel mounted dial in Normal makes for a touring experience of the, not exactly plush limo-like kind, but certainly comfortable enough.
Once out on the highway, the largely deserted highway flanked by nothing but Gulf desert, the GTS begins to prowl with intent. A flick of the dial into Sport firms up the suspension, adds some weight to the tiller and some enthusiasm from the eight-speed PDK transmission which willingly and longingly holds onto gears to maximum effect.
The rush of acceleration isn’t manic, despite Porsche’s 4.1-second claim, but the GTS piles on speed effortlessly, quietly and quickly. Before you know it, the speedo is nudging you into jail-time territory in this part of the world. Porsche even helpfully supplied a book outlining Bahrain’s road rules and associated penalties with many even minor infractions potentially costing you six months in the slammer.
Local tip; activate the adaptive cruise control, set and forget and cruise the island highways without fear of a stint behind Bahraini bars.
You’d expect a dollop of theatre from that 4.0-litre V8 under the long bonnet of the Panamera GTS, but you’d be misplacing those expectations. Yes, there is an unmistakable V8-tuned growl, but it’s not raucous as say, anything from a Merc-AMG. Instead, a symphony of muted cylinders dancing plays soulfully along, like background music rather than the main act.
The GTS’s active all-wheel drive underpinnings were put to a real test when an unlikely and violent thunderstorm hit the island nation, flooding the road within minutes. Simply, the GTS ploughed through the treacherous conditions with ease, with Porsche’s traction management system shuffling torque between the front and rear axles to provide maximum grip. Can you feel it at work? Not unless your butt is hyper-sensitive to such things. What you can feel, however, is confidence in the GTS’s ability to stick to the bitumen, despite that bitumen resembling a river of churning sandy water.
That confidence didn’t extend to Bahrain International Circuit, home of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, a snaking and dipping and swooping 15-turn, 5.4km ribbon of pristine tarmac. With the rain abating shortly after our arrival at the circuit, the track glistened with the sheen of slick, slick rain. Trepidation overload even if, by the time our track session got underway, the track was – mostly – dry, with just a few damp patches remaining. A perfect canvas then, in which to test the GTS’s track credentials.
The reality is, these cars are unlikely to ever see a race track, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. With 338kW and 620Nm available under your right foot, there’s plenty of scope for some playful fun, if playful fun means hurling a two-tonne executive sedan around a slightly damp race track.
Any trepidation was soon dispelled with the GTS behaving with a poise and agility belying its 5053mm length. Certainly, you can feel its heft, but the pulling power of that V8 is phenomenal. Powering out of corners, the GTS hunkers down and hurtles you towards a distant braking marker which looms larger at an alarmingly rapidly rate. There’s an element of trust that the big 390mm rotors up front and 365mm at rear will pull you up cleanly. And they do. Every single time.
But pulling 250km/h down a 1090-metre long straight and then sloughing off that speed for a near-180-degree corner is one thing – how the big GTS handles those corners is also surprising.
Because it sits 10mm lower than a standard Panamera, the GTS remains flat and composed, even when pushed reasonably hard through some pretty challenging sections of the track. The GTS’s four-wheel steering too, comes into play. Like most systems, the rear wheels turn in tandem with the fronts, either in the opposite direction (at slower speeds) or the same direction (higher speeds) to provide a level of turn-in that again, works to alleviate the GTS’s hulking mass. And you can feel the system at work too, on the track at least, as the GTS glides around corners, both fast and slow with ease.
It all helps to inspire confidence, allowing you to explore limits that on paper, seem unlikely in a car of this size, in a vehicle of this weight. The sum of these parts translates to an engaging and spirited experience on the track and a comfortable grand tourer on the road.
And here’s the thing, the Panamera GTS is unquestionably a sportier version of the base Panamera, a car that remains driveable in all conditions. Will it ever see a track? Only the most ardent owner would explore its limits in that way. What it does do, and does well, is chew up kilometres in comfort and style. It’s frugal – relatively – on fuel. Against Porsche’s claim of 10.3L/100km our combined road loop through some gnarly traffic and 120km/h sign-posted freeways, we recorded 11.9L/100km. That’s not an unreasonable return for a heavy, V8-powered sports saloon.
The Panamera GTS also gobbles up your gear, in both sedan and wagon trim. The sedan’s boot offers a decent 500-litre capacity, expanding to 1340 litres with the rear seats fold in 60:40 fashion. Opting for the Sport Turismo doesn’t add as much capacity as you’d think, with 520 litres expanding to 1390 litres, gains of just 20 litres 50 litres respectively. You do though, in the eyes of this reviewer at least, gain one of the most stylish executions of the ‘sport wagon’ theme yet.
If your auto tastes run to Porsche, but a 911 doesn’t quite meet your practicality requirements, then the Panamera GTS is a worthwhile alternative.
It is stylish and luxurious and in GTS trim, has enough performance to satisfy the most primal need for speed and handling, should the right environment present itself. That it can lug your family in comfort, and swallow the usual accoutrements of day-to-day life, is merely the icing on the Porsche cake.