THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Beautifully finished cabin, sports-car like cornering capability, refined ride.
- What’s Bad: Expensive, overactive start-stop system
If you take a look at the full-size luxury sedan segment the Porsche Panamera doesn’t quite fit. Long-established entries like the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class line up in size and price but the essence of them are completely different.
Where the big Bimmer and Benz waft you along in complete silence and comfort, the Porsche puts driving pleasure at the forefront. It’s still a large and heavy sedan that offers all the expected creature comforts one expects when shelling out well over six-figures for a luxury automobile but in a package that’s much more driver-focused.
First introduced for the 2010 model year, the Panamera’s styling was polarizing but offered performance worthy of the Porsche shield earning it a place on the driveways of affluent consumers looking for a bigger helping of sport in their luxury sandwich.
The Panamera got a ground-up redesign in 2017 and also introduced a second body style—the Sport Turismo—essentially a wagon variant with seating for 5 and even more cargo room.
Realizing that Porsche was on to something Mercedes developed the AMG GT Sedan that like most AMGs attempts to bludgeon the senses where the Porsche takes a finer-edged approach to performance.
Much like the 911, there’s an almost endless number of permutations in which to spec a Panamera, with multiple powertrain options ranging from turbocharged V6s and V8s to plug-in hybrids.
We’ve driven them all, and now there’s a new one—the Panamera GTS. For those that don’t know, GTS is short for Gran Turismo Sport and when that badge is slapped on the rear decklid it indicates a Porsche with an even sportier predilection.
GTS models are traditionally lighter-weight, more athletic, and tuned for the track but still comfortable enough for daily use. The very first Porsche to wear the GTS badge was the 1963 904, a road-going version of a racecar produced in small numbers for homologation purposes. A couple of others used the moniker in the 80s and 90s but it wasn’t seen again until the Cayenne SUV brought it back in 2008.
Today, every Porsche has a GTS variant and ordering one means that you get a plethora of go-fast bits and stylistic enhancements for less than it would cost you to spec each item individually. In the Porsche world, a GTS is considered a bit of a value proposition.
The Panamera GTS gets blacked-out trim on the front and rear fascias and 20-inch black Panamera design wheels adding an extra dose of sportiness. A standard 3-chamber air suspension system with stiffer spring rates and a 10mm lower ride height improve chassis dynamics. The sport chrono package is standard and out front you get a 4-litre twin-turbo V8. It is essentially the same engine in the Panamera turbo with the boost dialed back. It makes 453 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque in this application and pushes that through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic to drive all four wheels.
Larger brakes measure 390 mm in the front and 365 mm in the back, and are modulated through a stiff pedal that provides plenty of feedback and displays excellent linearity.
The Panamera’s cabin is stunning and materials and build quality are beyond reproach. GTS models add lots of Alcantara trim on the doors, centre console, and steering wheel. Black anodized aluminum panels add a technical look and seemingly every other surface is covered in beautifully stitched leather. For an extra $3,980 the threadwork can be ordered in contrasting Carmine red, like on this car, which also adds red seatbelts and embroidered GTS logos on the headrests.
That steering wheel feels just about perfect in the hand, not too thick, and that grippy yet supple Alcantara wrap is brilliant. The centre console is a slick black buttonless panel with touch-sensitive areas that click when pushed, replacing the old one’s long array of buttons. Under the hatch, you’ll find an enormous cargo area. Fold the rear seats down to create a space more commodious than a Manhattan studio apartment.
In typical Porsche tradition, there are many, many options to pick from and if that’s not enough, the Exclusive Manufaktur program will allow you to customize your Panamera even further.
The particular GTS I was driving had just over $30,000 worth of extras including the new full-colour head-up display and Innodrive, Porsche’s version of adaptive cruise control. Other worthwhile options were the rear-wheel steering system, and the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system that equips active anti-roll bars and a torque vectoring system with an electronically controlled locking rear differential. If that sounds like a mouthful of technical jargon, it is, but it basically means you can throw this long, wide, and heavy sedan into turns like it was a much smaller car.
Agility coupled with fast, laser-sharp steering and only the slightest hint of body roll gives the lucky driver of a Panamera GTS supreme confidence no matter how challenging the road conditions get. Defying physics is the Panamera’s forte and the GTS pushes the boundaries even further.
Yes, it still weighs over 2000 kg and there’s no light-weighting regimen to be found here but the GTS-specific suspension tuning makes it feel the most playful out of the Panamera lineup. More so than even the more expensive Turbo models, although those do have significantly more grunt.
There has to be some number fudging going on somewhere, though, because going by my butt, a highly scientific measurement tool, the GTS feels quite a bit more powerful than its numbers suggest. Now, this wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. Many of the German manufacturers do this. BMW is famous for it. And so is Porsche, who are usually quite conservative even with their factory acceleration times. In the case of the GTS, 100 km/h from rest will arrive in a claimed 4.1 seconds, but it’s more than likely a couple of ticks faster than that. It certainly feels like it is.
Out on the open highway or 2-lane country road, the Panamera GTS is in its element. Smooth, quiet, firmly sprung but still very comfortable. It covers long distances effortlessly blitzing mile after mile. Getting fuel consumption ratings in the low 10L per 100 km range even with a heavy foot. And because it has a 90-litre fuel tank, you could theoretically go 900 km between fuel stops provided that it’s mostly on the highway. You do have to be careful with your speed, though, because you’re always going to be travelling faster than you think you are.
Dialing up the sport or sport plus driving mode sharpens everything up and opens up the standard sport exhaust system, complete with burbles and pops when lifting off the gas. It always sounds refined, never brash, with that unmistakable V8 rumble at low revs and a satisfying howl as the tach needle moves towards the redline.
This bright red Panamera turned heads wherever it went. Something that a 7-series or an S-Class doesn’t seem to do. While the styling might not be everyone’s cup of tea, this new body is an order of magnitude better than Porsche’s first attempt at building a sedan.
The more time I spent with it, the more I liked it. I found the shape highly refined, even pretty, dare I say it. The arc of the roofline is 911 inspired and most convincing when staring at it from the back, at which point you can’t help but notice the rear wiper, a $420 option that mars the clarity of the design. Probably best to just leave that off the order form, then.
It’s as close to perfect as sports sedans get, but…you know, nothing is ever truly perfect. Right? With the Panamera, it’s more nitpicking than anything else. Like the side mirrors, which are rather large and can obstruct your view out the side windows. And a start/stop system that’s overly-active. It kills the engine moments before coming to a complete stop, good for making the shutdown nearly imperceptible but not so good when you end up moving again before actually stopping.
The infotainment system has great visuals on a large 12-inch touchscreen and is very responsive but it’s menu heavy and will take time to master, and having to control the position of the centre air vent on the screen seems totally unnecessary, especially when the vent right above it on the dashboard is adjusted manually. A cool party trick, but not sure why.
Then there’s the price. As listed the Panamera GTS I drove around for a week was nearly 180 grand, and that’s a hell of a lot of cake. That kind of cash can buy you a 911 GT3, or a BMW M3 and a new Corvette because everyone needs both. Or 5 Mazda Miatas, so you can start your own racing league. Maybe I took that too far but I digress.
With the GTS, Porsche has sharpened the already good Panamera enhancing its dynamic capabilities without sacrificing its core attributes of comfort and refinement. The Panamera GTS still coddles but doesn’t mind being man-handled around a twisty road every now and again. It truly is the 911 of luxury sedans and might be one of the best examples of what’s possible with four doors.