Celebrating its 10th anniversary in, the Panamera has grown from marginalised niche to a principal pillar of Porsche’s global business strategy. Bolstered by strong demand in China and recently reinvigorated by a redesign, the current Panamera is a compelling package, melding the demands of executive and family transport with deceptive ease. But can a car that offers a viable luxury alternative to the Mercedes S-Class or Audi A8 ever be a true Porsche? As of now, yes.
The Panamera GTS is a product that, in the traditional vein of the GTS moniker, bridges the gap between S and Turbo, adopting all the performance trimmings available as options, increasing output and adding a host of interior and exterior design cues that set it apart from the rest of the range. On face value, this might seem like an odd thing to do to an executive saloon. Scratch the surface, however, and there’s a compelling logic to it all.
Porsche’s UK press office has made a bold fist of its first car, optioning Mamba Green Metallic and high-gloss black 21-inch alloys over the vast yellow callipers that signal PCCB ceramic brakes. It looks stunning and underlines the potency of the GTS, but a stealthier spec would no doubt have its own benefits, for there is something of the sleeper about a four-door hatch with 453bhp and the sort of grunt that will see off 62mph in 4.1 seconds.
Visually, GTS also means contrasting sill trim, bespoke black quad exhaust tips, black window trim and the familiar decals on the flanks. Small things that combine to great effect. Inside it’s the Alcantara steering wheel that you’ll notice first. That or the similarly trimmed Sports seats. It’s all pretty sumptuous still, but with a welcome injection of sporting purpose. Another first on the GTS is a head-up display, projecting both speed and a simplified satnav into your line of sight. The implication being that in this car the road will need your undivided attention.
Fire her up and that sounds entirely plausible as a bellicose rumble emerges from the outsized sports exhausts. Unlike the V6 4S that sits below it in the range, the GTS borrows the twin-turbo V8 from the flagship Turbo in a slightly less aggressive state of tune. It’s a 4.0-litre unit, finding 620Nm alongside the aforementioned 453bhp. A top speed of 181mph and that ability to rip from a standstill to 99mph in 9.6 seconds, in a car that weighs a whisper shy of two tonnes, is testament to this unit’s breadth of ability. The extra weight means it’s actually only a fraction faster to 62mph than the 4S, and markedly less frugal for an immaterial gain on paper, but a greater sense of drama and a more intoxicating upper rev range makes the case for the extra cylinders.
Across the board, the new Panamera is a tour de force of tech, and the GTS has not shied away from this in the pursuit of a purer driving experience. It’s available in all-wheel drive only, and can’t be ordered with conventional steel springs. You get all the bells and whistles of a map-controlled multi-plate clutch with your standard eight-speed PDK and PASM with Sport Chrono Package, so it’s clever adaptive damping doing the work of making this a sporting and involving driving experience.
While this might seem slightly at odds with the most driver-focused car in the range, it reflects the reality of the Panamera demographic more realistically. This is a premium, practical GT car. That it can be made to handle doesn’t detract from its primary job of pummelling the motorway into silky submission.
The miles do indeed evaporate with predictable ease, but it’s the cross-country legs that come as a surprise. Rotate out of the lazy waft of Normal on the drive mode switch and the GTS changes character in a way you notice far more than within the firmer standard settings of a 911 for instance. Limo-like ride quality swaps out for a tangibly stiffer set-up in Sport, complemented by an octave drop from the exhaust. In this mode, never mind Sport Plus with its addictive crackle on the overrun, the GTS becomes a car that belies both its size and weight, feeling massively responsive on the throttle and surprisingly free from body-roll.
Despite the lack of feel to the steering, the GTS invites you to lean on it in the corners, building confidence, and to keep the revs high as you power out. All-wheel drive as standard and the option here of rear-axle steering creates the illusion of a far shorter and more agile car. If it weren’t for the unmissable width of the thing, you could forget you were threading two tonnes of luxury through the narrow B-roads a GTS was never designed to call home.
As much as the Panamera has evolved primarily to taxi China’s business class in style and comfort, the performance DNA that underwrites it is very much in evidence here, more so than in the wildly fast yet less accessible Turbo. It is still, first and foremost, a luxury saloon, and one might call this a car for the enthusiast rather than the purist. But few other fast four-doors on sale today offer the sort of Jekyll and Hyde flexibility of the Panamera GTS. This is a car that better straddles the gap between refinement and entertainment than anything else around, offering if not the best of both worlds then the happiest compromise between the two.
Perhaps, through the prism of what a Panamera does day-to-day, and set against how much more the GTS costs than the quick and competent S, this car doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. Without options, a GTS will set you back £105,963, some £15,000 more than the 4S. And our car, nicely and not extravagantly optioned, managed to add another £25k to that. But for those prepared to dig that much deeper, the dividends will come daily. This is an unashamedly niche product, an emotive one and superb at what it does. It’s difficult not to love.
Engine: 3996cc V8, twin-turbocharged
Max power: 453bhp
Peak torque: 620Nm
All-wheel drive, 8-speed PDK
Porsche Active Suspension Management
Performance: 0-62mph – 4.1 seconds, top speed 181mph
Price: From £105,963