Just shy of overkill The latest Panamera packs 453bhp and a Sport Plus mode too ferocious to inflict on passengers. Yet, if you dial things down, it’s a consummate cruiser. By Georg Georgiou.
If you happen to be in the market for a Porsche Panamera, you now have more choices than ever. In the 400 to 500bhp bracket alone there are three models – 4E Hybrid (£81,141, 456bhp, V6 plus electric motor), 4S (£90,291, 435bhp, V6) and now this, the new GTS (£105,963, 453bhp, V8).
Why choose the GTS? Among the lesser reasons is that it’s the first Panamera with a trick head-up display showing up to six elements chosen by the driver (sat-nav, speed, warnings etc). Thankfully this means you don’t have to look at the dashboard – since it was redesigned in 2016, every square inch is filled with new dials, screens, buttons, switches and touch panels. It looks great in the brochure, but is confusingly complex on the road.
The GTS gets a bodykit comprising contrasting sill extensions, full-width dark skirts front and rear, black window trim and bespoke quad tailpipes. There are also black wheels and an interior composed of charcoal alcantara and bright polished aluminium. And just in case you forget what you’ve bought, prominent GTS logos on the headrests and revcounter let you know.
But the main reason to splash out on a GTS is how it feels. For a start, it’s faster than the others – despite being marginally down on power compared to the Hybrid, it out-sprints the 4E to 62mph by 4.1 against 4.6sec. At 183mph, it is also 9mph faster.
But the difference between the GTS and the 4S is not just 18bhp and 52lb ft of torque, it’s also about how the 4.0-litre V8 behaves compared to the 3.0-litre V6. The V8 is heavier and uses more fuel (27.4 vs 34.7mpg), but it’s a much more exciting powerplant with a wider range of talents.
The first section of the torque curve looks like the north face of the Eiger, the sports exhaust sweeps the streets clean in bellowing aggro mode, and the eight-speed DCT hammers through the gears. Everything about the GTS is firmer, tighter, noisier, less compromising and more focused. The steering works with an extra dash of enthusiasm, the chassis sits fractionally lower, the active dampers are more sportily tuned, and the rear-wheel steering increases the low-speed chuckability while enhancing high-speed directional stability.
The E-Hybrid, meanwhile, has efficiency written all over its inoffensive chops. It’s a torque-meister, and at 113.6mpg it is, on paper, as fuel-efficient as a gently-ridden moped. Up against this, the new GTS loses out in the value-for-money equation.
It’s not a lightweight special either, in BMW M5/AMG E63/Jaguar Project 8 style. To challenge that lot you’d have to lay your hands on the 671bhp Turbo S E-Hybrid, which doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway because top speed is almost meaningless outside Germany.
What does matter everywhere is driving pleasure, and that’s where the GTS scores heavily. In true Porsche style, the driving pleasure here is all about involvement and interaction, the dialogue between input and response. Although it can seat four (or at a pinch five) and hold 500 litres of luggage, this Panamera is first and foremost a driver’s car which tolerates passengers only as long as they are fearless and immune to motion sickness. Which can be an issue when the captain twists the Sport Response button from Normal to Sport Plus. In this mode, you’d better brace yourself for feral throttle response, truly physical gearchanges and a radical mix of very late redline-induced upshifts and shockingly early downshifts.
It can be a totally laid-back long-distance cruiser, or a hardcore high-speed autobahnmeister. It weighs in with oodles of grip, traction and roadholding, and yet it won’t shake the marrow from your bones when the going gets tough. Although it has AWD, ESP, adaptive dampers and four-wheel steering, turning the drive mode selector to Sport Plus is all it takes to trigger a change of attitude.
The sound of the engine changes, but more significant is the alteration in the steering: it attempts to make the car feel lighter, shorter, narrower and generally less of a porker. It succeeds to an extent, but a brisk turn-in puts about a tonne of front axle weight into your palms, and unwinding lock at the limit calls for perfect timing. To explore the handling characteristics unique to the GTS, switch off ESP, find a second-gear corner and wait for the drizzle to turn into rain. Thanks to all-wheel drive and the senior chip controller, the change in attitude from neutral to tail-happy is progressive, balanced and quite subtle by Porsche standards.
Instead of showing off, the brakes also simply do their job. Effort is unremarkable, pedal feel is progressive, response is immediate, deceleration is mind-boggling, fade is non-existent. If money is no object, Porsche will happily equip your Panamera GTS with carbon ceramic brakes, a 48-volt system complete with electro-hydraulic anti-roll bars, and torque vectoring. All this is nice to have, but it adds weight, the dynamic improvements are marginal, and in any case this is not a g-chasing sports car. The charm of the GTS is its ability to unite the best of both worlds.
GTS sits low and gains a bodykit; rear wing pops out at speed.
2019 PORSCHE PANAMERA GTS
Engine 3996cc 32v bi-turbo V8
Max Power 453bhp @ 6000rpm
Max Torque 457lb ft @ 1800rpm
Transmission 8-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 4.1sec 0-62mph,
On sale Now
Cruise to the track in class-leading comfort, turn a knob, go loopy. Alcantara-heavy interior is just for the GTS. It’s the first Panamera with HUD.
UP / AGAINST
BETTER THAN Audi A7 Just doesn’t quite Deliver
WORSE THAN Mercedes-AMG S63 Brash looking and pricey but hyper-effective and a proper saloon
WE’D BUY BMW M8 If it’s as good as we hope
LOVE + Performance and luxury
HATE – Heavy and expensive
VERDICT Clever blend of thrilling and practical 5/5